Made up Rivals in Our Lives


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If an enemy does not exist, it is necessary to invent one” – and it was invented, for instance, in the totalitarian model by A. Hitler, in Russian communism by Lenin, Stalin, and so on.

An imaginary rival usually can be an individual or a group that was already hated, feared or.. envied. V.I. Lenin, a Russian communist revolutionary, politician, blamed the plight of workers on money-grubbing capitalists. Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist revolutionary and the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, found  his rival in wealthy landlords and then in “capitalist roaders.”

Mass movements can rise and spread without a God, but never without a belief in a devil,” – once said Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher. But that doesn’t mean that this psychological fact encourages us to boost our human nature’s dark side.IMG_5957+kopia-2

In order to understand why there is a need to make up rivals in politics and, generally, in life, we discussed with Dr. Beata Pająk-Patkowska, MA in Psychology and PhD in Political Science (Adam Mickiewicz University).


–         Mrs. Pająk-Patkowska, when and why do the states in a certain political regime need to invent political rivals (like in the totalitarian model)?

–         There are many reasons of inventing political rivals or enemies. In totalitarian regimes, for instance, this is a part of political process. The totalitarian regimes need outsider and insider rivals to their existence. In democratic countries it could be a part of political marketing used to differentiate from political rivals and to win an election. It could be also used during the crisis, especially economic crisis which touch first of all ordinary people. They point out that group or groups who are responsible for the tough situation. In social psychology it is called as scapegoat theory.  For example, during the crisis in Germany after the World War I, Hitler’s propaganda blamed Jews for it. What is more when we create imaginary rival we could focus people’s attention on the fight against him. Then it is possible that people forget about unemployment, poverty and so on. Anger and aggression of people will be displaced from the governing regime to this group. Having an enemy is the way of integrating the group as well.

–         How do the imaginary rivals impact on people’s psychology?

–         There are many effects of creating enemy in society. From psychological perspective I can list some of them. For example, it is easier to understand complicated nature of political and economic process. The stereotyping which is part of creating enemy is the way of simplification the process of thinking and reasoning. What is more, human beings need to have enemies and allies. They help us to overcome our fear of death which calls terror management theory. When we have enemy, we easily identify with our group and it helps us to overcome our fear.

–         Very interesting.. Well, which countries do still use this political trick today? And why?

–          I think most countries. The reason is that we can observe this process not only in totalitarian countries (like North Korea), but also in authoritarian (like Russia) and in democratic ones. There are many reasons to do it in politics. Nowadays inventing political rival is also used to justify a war. Like American war against terrorists in Iraq after the 11/9 or annex of Krim by Russia. War is the way of overcoming the economic crisis or to cover the crisis.

–         Why the negative side of an individual is more powerful and influential than the positive one?

–          Both sides in human being are strong, and it is possible to move this better side of our nature as well. However, it is more difficult. On the one hand, we need other people to survive, but at the same time it is very easy to divide us and to induce fighting the others. Henri Tajfel, a British social psychologist, conducted many years ago an experiment who showed that we can divide people very easily for any reason. In an experiment he created two groups by random.  In very short time members of those 2 groups started to identify with their group and dislike members of the other group. Besides the most important tools used in inventing rivals and diffusion their images are media and pop culture. For both more interesting is the dark side of  human nature.

–         How can an ordinary person protect himself/herself from so-called imaginary rivals or recognize which is true or false image?

–          The best way to recognize what is true or false, or in short – what is just propaganda, is the education. In democratic regime citizens must be taught from the very beginning what is propaganda, how it is made and for what reasons. Many psychological researches showed that if people are well educated, particularly in humanities science, they are more resistant for propaganda and it’s black and white vision of the world.


Posted by on Dec 17 2015. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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