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Communication in Crisis / Construction of the enemy

The existential need for enemy

Social relations as we have seen in the previous chapters can take constructive as well as destructive course. In order to survive human beings cannot live alone. Instead they are compelled to associate with human beings identified as friends. Associations with friends, however, implies separation that can result enmity. According to Carl Schmitt, who like Clausewitz had not seen to much difference between war and politics, human beings have an autonomy to make the distinction between friend and enemy (Schmitt,1985). This distinction is to be made existentially which is to assert that the enemy is an alien, with whom conflicts in the extreme are possible.

Carl Schmitt observes that the actual substance of the enemy can be anything. And where anything can happen there eventually anything will happen. No doubt, that without enemy there is no destructive social relationship. Construction of the enemy is the pre-requisite of the destructive social relationship serving ground of justification for the deeds aiming at to eliminating the adversary.

The image of the enemy

The secret of ruling is the freedom to create or break associations. Associations are made between friends while enemies are products of breaking the association. Conequently, the image of the other has a key role in the formation of constructive and destructive relationships. Social identity theory supports the view that the actual substance of the enemy can be anything (Tajfel, Turner. 1986). The experimental studies of Henry Tajfel carried out in laboratory within the „minimal group” paradigm had shown that without any clear conflict the mere categorization into in-group and out-group was sufficient to produce the „friend-enemy” dichotomy resulting in the emergence of in-group favoritism. Realistic conflict theory states that conflict of interest and competition with the prospect of uneqivocal loss or gain of one of the parties heightens ingroup soildarity and engenders hostility.

In conflict each party holds negative, stereotypical images of the other stemming from the need to justify the deeds of hostility. The negative and simplified stereotypes are needed in order to simplify the conflict excluding discoveries of similarities between the groups in conflict. The individuals in intergroup conflict systematically tend to misperceive each other to accentuate differences.

The resulting images tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes of each other containing oversimplified, inaccurate and derogatory beliefs concerning the other group that are identified as the enemies. The image of self, in contrast, reflect glorification everyone who are alike. A mirror image emerges in which each party sees the other one negatively and itself positively.

On the basis of the overgeneralized difference stemming from the categorization into ingroup and outgroup the group members in each group necessarily will be pushed into the labyrinth of cognitive biases which are the cornerstones of the hostile image of the other.

The concept of ethnocentrism captures not only how group members tend to develop unconditional positive evaluations of those who are alike and simulatenously to reject and denigrate those who are unlike. Ethnocentrism is a powerful cognitive means of defending group members from the experience of chaos providing them with a sense of order and security. In encountering with members of the other group the order of the take for granted environment becomes challenged. Norms and values are at stake that are the foundations of the much needed positive self-identity. Consequently, the mere exposure to otherness in terms of norms and values represent a threat which must be overcome.

In relations between human beings there is a general tendency to see other persons as personally responsibe for their behavior. In intergroup relations this tendency is especially pronounced in the case of perception of negative behavior. Due to the difference in the taken for granted stock of knowledge of the groups involved the likelihood of negative evaluation of the perceived behavor of the outgroup member is rather high. Subsequently, the personal characterstics that were perceived as a result of the biased attribution tend to be be generalized as group characteristics unleashing overt and covert manifestation of hostility such as suspicion, distrust, fear, discrimination and aggression.


The biased attributions that individual ingroup members make about the behavior of the outgroup members play a crucial role In the formation of the image of other. Negative, undesirable behaviors and events are seen as results of stable or unstable personal causes that are transformed into collective stereotypes.

Consequently, hostility could be stopped from the outset by halting the biased attribution of the behavior of the other. Enemies and friends are made by decisions based on judgments about the causes of behaviors of others. Cognitive biases are serving the decision concerning the question who is enemy and who is friend.

Negative attribution of the outgroup members tends to be echoed by the group members concerned strengthening the mirror image as well as fueling antagonism between the groups as each accuses the other for the conflict they are in.

You can open the (larger) image in new window."Degenerated Music" - Nazi propaganda poster against Americamusik_full.jpg"Degenerated Music" - Nazi propaganda poster against America

Anti-ism occurs when there is no intent to stop the escalation process. The perception of the difference becomes metaphysical including the basic values of human life. Projecting own hostility into the other party anti-ism takes for granted the hostile intentions of the other party which were embodied in the pre-existent negative stereotype („They are all parasites”)

Escalation based on anti-ism cannot be stopped easily because of the disproportional responsibility of the parties. Escalation usually stems from a threat by one party to gain its rewards. The threat is met by a counterthreat from the other, and the reciprocal course of interaction results in a climate of higher level of mistrust. The escalation process is perpetuated by the self-fulfilling prophecy of defensively motivated aggression. Groups locked into destructive conflict, however, can be made able to descalate and resolve the conflict on their own unless none of them is obsessed by anti-ism.

Deconstruction of the enemy

Crisis management aims at creating conditions of descalation which must deal with the beginnings that is with the image of the enemy. The process of reconciliation results in the deconstruction of the enemy dissolving the cognitive biases stemming from misunderstanding and anti-ism.

Parties of the destructive social relationship were not willing to perceive each other in terms of equality. The perpetrator was keen to dehumanize the other and develop images of him as an evil enemy. Harmdoers and victims should find the way to cope with the bitter past. Forgiveness is a precondition of reconciliation. The victim might want confession, apology, restitution, compensation. Forgiveness is likely whenever the victim and perpetrator accept the conditions and cease to perceive each other in terms of enmity. Humanization of the other reverses the previous dehumanization presenting the the parties in bridgeing roles such as parents, children, fans of everyday popular culture.

Sustainable solution of conflict between groups can be based on expectations of growth that go beyond the expections of win-lose outcomes. Only the possibility of win-win alternatives can result change in the image of other. Enemies can be transformed into friends as a result of the pursuit of superordinate goals (Sherif, 1958). The stronger is the appeal of the shared goals the higher is the likelihood of the formation of cross-group positive ties, especially friendship (Ashmore, Jussim, Wilder, Heppen, 2001).

Morton Deutsch warns that there is no destructive social relationship without extremists who have vested interest in the continuation of the conflict. Overcommitment makes impossible to return to the priciples of fairness, equality and justice (Deutsch,20009.

The relationships between human beings are far from being eternally constructive or destructive. War and peace are not end states. Men are free to decide whom they consider as friends and whom as enemies. People, however, frequently forget that their own judgment as well as the judgment of others may be not unfallible.

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