Envy, Prejudice, and Self-imposed Slavery

This piece begins with an overview of the conception of prejudice for two leading reasons. Prejudice and xenophobia share common roots. These biomental perspectives arise early in life and are subject to both learning and unlearning within the family, especially in the first six years of childhood. Their social and cultural implications have clear-cut and pragmatic significance.

Attitudes of prejudice denote both conscious and nonconscious ideas and decisions made without an awareness of the relevant facts that may modify or contradict prejudiced beliefs. Such prejudiced beliefs are typically rigid and categorical. Their tone is egocentric and has a “group-centric” imperiousness.

Authoritarian fixedness is a core feature of prejudice. Along with this overall sense of rigidity, a rather inflexible conscience finds it difficult to address matters of forgiveness both with regard to self and to others. These perspectives pivot on the perceived superiority (justified correctness) of one’s group identity or affiliation in stark contrast to that of another. Obdurate nonconscious splitting mechanisms are inferred to underlie the rigid polarization preventing cognitive and affective reconciliations. Thus, the impenetrable fence (evolutionary-genetic roots?) around the sense of superiority at the core of prejudice functions as a default or bedrock preventing its being tempered. This phylogenetic or evolutionary root should not be underestimated since it makes self-reflection difficult, and taking personal accountability a colossal challenge.

Most prejudice is displayed as pronounced favoritism toward one’s identified group along with a negative attitude with regard toward “the other” or outside group. The negative attitude—always detectable to some extent--may span the spectrum of barely perceptible avoidance, through implicit disdain and contempt, to explicit hatred.

Prejudice may be likened to self-imposed slavery--being a slave to one’s dark side of envy, greed, and jealousy. Being nonreflective of this personal slavery correlates with impaired empathy and by extension, impaired compassion toward others. Thus, hatred, persecution, and all other forms of inhumane control, manipulation, and enslavement may display themselves with a ruthless ferocity.

Prejudice is often described as “discrimination,” taking forms such as racism, sexism, classism (social and economic discrimination), faithism (religious discrimination), homophobia, ableism (discrimination against the disabled), and so forth. “Legitimizing myths” are cleverly constructed in each case to rationalize and provide apparent justification for an in-group’s assertion of superiority. As mentioned, there may be some significant evolutionary components predisposing to prejudice. Thus, its roots are deeply entrenched and often obscured to conscious exploration, especially to the holder of the belief. Yet, there are many experience-near components that have been learned, and so can be unlearned.

Some of the strategies that have proved successful in modifying prejudice are the following: enhancing more detailed knowledge of groups other than one’s own; identifying and addressing the anxieties stirred by intergroup tensions; and by increasing perspective taking and enhancing empathy, both of which have been central themes throughout my book, Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting. Self-refinement activism is advanced.

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