Category Archives: History

Finding a Human In-group in the Wake of a Ravaged Japan

By P. Getty

Much of the research tackling questions regarding our shared human identity seems to focus on the infra-humanization and de-humanization of out-group members (Paladino & Vaes, 2009, for example), or how human norms effect our reactions to victims and perpetrators generally and more specifically in the context of historical atrocities (Greenaway & Louis, 2010). While these research programs are vital to understanding “the human element” of inter-group attitudes, I think they ignore an even more elemental phenomenon that I like to call spontaneous human-in-group affiliation (Getty, in progress). While we are hopelessly bound to humanity, people rarely, if ever, name humanity as a salient in-group. In fact, Lickel, Hamilton and Sherman (2001) studied lay theories of groups and found that the abstraction of group extended only as far as loose affiliations of interests (e.g., Coltrane fans). Not once did they suggest that species-level affiliation was seen as a viable in-group. However, studies of de- and infra-humanization showed that strong identifiers from diverse groups report believing that their in-group posses more human-like qualities than out-group members (Castano & Kafta, 2009). What does this mean? It could be that our species-level affiliation is simply a distant, abstract concept concealed in our allegiances to in-groups, but present nonetheless. The question I’m tackling, then, is, when do we shed our lesser in-group identity and spontaneously identify as “human beings” when being human is not a salient self-categorization?

One clue to answering this question might have been revealed in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes and following tsunami that ravaged much of the northeastern coast of Japan. While there is little to report about the details of the disaster that goes above and beyond the facts already reported in the media, there does seem to be an interesting phenomenon that might be related to my concept of spontaneous human-in-group affiliation. If one were to follow the link below to the Web site discussing the disaster they would find at the bottom a number of posts (one of which is mine) from concerned and empathetic people from around the world. Some of these people come from countries that have had historical conflict with and mistrust of Japan  (China, for example). Even still, for one reason of another, these folks have been compelled to take the time to write and express their concern for the suffering of others who would normally be out-group members, if not for their human ties.  I commented on this observation: “It is amazing how human beings from around the world, despite strong in-group affiliations and histories of conflict with each other, find their humanity in situations of suffering. We find our human in-group and that, I think, is a fragile good that comes from these situations.”

I still have much work to do to answer the question of spontaneous human-in-group affiliation. My own personal good to come from this disaster, however, is a testable hypothesis: Spontaneous human-in-group affiliation occurs in the wake of natural disasters (Getty, now in progress). You will have to wait for the “why” of this hypothesis when the manuscript is done.

In closing, there is little to say other than to express my sincerest empathy for my fellow humans suffering in Japan. I hope those of you who read this, and are able, will join me in following the link below to contribute to the American Red Cross, who is equipped to help those suffering in Japan, or contribute to other charitable organizations that can do the same.

Follow link to donate funds for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief via the American Red Cross

Follow link to VOA news and comments about the Japanese disaster.

Paladino & Vaes, 2009

Greenway & Louis, 2010

Emotions as a Source of Motivation

Walk proud… walk like an Egyptian!

I was in Egypt from Tuesday 25 January through Saturday 29 January 2011, i.e. the first five days of the people’s up rise.  I witnessed a series of events, actions that have left me flabbergasted.

Cairo at 11.00 am on the day of the peaceful protests that were to start at 02.00 pm seemed  busy and peaceful all at once — like it always is. It seemed that the day would develop as usual. 

For the larger part of the day, I stayed tuned to Al Jazeerah and Al Arabiyah  — two cable new channels — to keep track of the walkout that was about to begin.  The crowds began to gather in and around Tahrir Square.  They came from all social strata.  Most people carried peaceful signs that pronounce five clear-stated demands:  that the President steps down; that neither he nor his son run for office again; that the Government Cabinet be dissolved and new Ministers be appointed; that the Shura Council be dissolved and new fair elections take place; and that the Constitution be amended. There was a lot of security on the streets but there was no engagement between them and the protesters.  Surrounding streets were closed off from vehicles to prevent needless confrontations.

For several hours, the events were developing rather peacefully.  Many of my family members and friends were amongst the demonstrators and I felt envious of their strong sense of civic engagement, patriotism and willpower.  A strong sense of identity dawned on each and every Egyptian, as well as anyone who has any link to Egypt.

Shared identity in action in Egypt Then as the early hours of the evening kicked in and the tone of the events was slowly shifting.  Tension was building up. People did notdisperse and go home.  People declared they would remain and their tone became far more hostile.  The protest went on into the late hours.  Outside, you could hear the sound of ad hoc gunshots and glass breaking.

Day two of the uprise seemed a mixture of patriotic youth still making the same demands in addition to hungry people demanding change to be able to feed their families.  These were two distinct groups.  Yesterday’s protesters had split.   Additionally, one could notice the huge number of security guards on the streets, especially on the streets leading to Tahrir Square and important Government offices.  However, they only stood there, anticipating problems that may arise on this second day of demonstrations.

How did this all start?  A few people on Facebook and other social networks thought they could arouse the interest, the anger, the despair, the humiliation and the revolt of the Egyptian people towards the 30-year Mubarak regime.  Did they not realize that Egypt has a population of 80 million of which only a small percentage would be able to grasp the ideologies they were voicing and would know how to respect the boundaries dictated by what is termed “peaceful protest”?  Did they not realize that there were many angry and suppressed people who would take advantage of the situation to escalate it into the adversity it has become today?  Now what???

Day three was filled with mixed feelings:  people were left confused between their sense of solidarity and fear from the turn of events. Emotions led their motivation.  The same three distinct groups prevailed.

People remained glued to their television screens if they were not physically present at the protest.  People waited.  What were we waiting for?

I suppose we waited to see the reaction of the Presidency… where was President Mubarak?  Why had he not yet addressed the people of Egypt?  The people of Egypt were waiting and so was the world.

Late into the night, the mobile networks and internet networks were halted.  People felt angry, cut off from the world.  It was the first time that we all realised that  for over 10 years now, we have grown to be dependent on our mobile lines and most of us did not know anyone else’s landlines! 

Day four was labelled Angry Friday. History was in the making.  The afternoon progressed fairly quietly and well into the people’s newly developed routine for the past three days our eyes remained focused on television, television and more television.  The events were escalating and the tension was mounting.  Another caliber of people had hit the streets of Cairo:  people were breaking and entering shops and companies, looting them of their goods.  Banks, ATM machine, airline offices, etc… everything was being raided!  What happened to the peaceful protest?  Where did the Facebook community and other social networks go?  They were being replaced and outnumbered by a number of street bullies who seized the opportunity to disrupt the peaceful protest and transform it into the “up rise of the thieves” as it was now being labelled.  Chaos was everywhere and the only conceivable response was to instate a curfew from 6.00 pm to 7.00 am the next morning in attempt to limit the people’s movement on the streets.  Did it work?  Not really for protesters remained camped out in Tahrir Square and chanted “We will not leave until he (the president) leaves!”

The weight of the situation was taking its toll on everyone.  Everyone sat quietly watching the live feeds on television.   People’s tolerance was hitting rock bottom.  People were upset at the way the protest was turning into a confrontation amongst protesters.  Some newcomers who supported the Government challenged the crowd that was striving for it to be dissolved.  People were being influenced by the president’s speech.  Egyptians are emotional people and their position may be swayed if their emotions are triggered.

Gunshots continued well into the night… a sound that everyone had grown accustomed to for four nights straight now.

I left the next morning to the airport as soon as the curfew was lifted.  

This journey seemed to take “forever”… this same route I had enjoyed four days before in the opposite direction.  However this time, frantic pedestrians filled the highway.  Most of them walked with nude torso swaying their arms in the air with pocket knives, and other arms. They were attacking passing cars.  They banged on the hoods and trunks of the cars in attempt to scare the drivers into stopping so they could loot them.  Meanwhile a”City Center” was going up in flames… that same shopping mall that stood tall and busy a few days before was slowly melting away.  In the midst of this sad scene, the-hungry-people-of-Egypt-turned-thieves robbed whatever goods and food they could get hold of from the inflamed stores.

I went through several road blocks until reaching the toll stations preceding the entrances to Cairo International Airport.  There I was subjected to a thorough car search before being allowed to proceed.  Inside the terminal, I battled my way through people sitting, laying, sleeping on the floor waiting for news of their flights that had not even flown in; people rioting in front of airline offices demanding answers to their million and one questions regarding their flights; and security guards trying to keep everything under control!  People were angry, tired and confused.

What other emotions will they feel next?

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Hopkins, N. (2005). Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 547-568.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2010). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. Psychology Press.

A Week to Be Nice: Force Festive Feelings for this Holiday Season

By P. Getty

Since it’s the week of Christmas, my wife’s favorite holiday in December, I’ve been forced to promise not to write anything “negative” or “angry” for this weeks entry. Because I love my wife, and fear for my life, I go against my gut, which is telling me to give both barrels to the medical and insurance industries (the second part of my continuing series). Nevertheless, because I still have a mind to be bad, I will keep this short and sweet, adhering to that age-old proverb instructing me not to say anything if I don’t have anything nice to say.  Indeed, I will appeal to my clenched-teeth cheeky festive side and just say, “Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, a colorful Kwanzaa, a prosperous New Year, and a swell whatever other day of merry making exists that I don’t rightly know about that others may observe!”

No one really wants to do work this week, including me, so rather than connecting this week’s thought to some piece of psychology, I would like to direct your attention to a couple of articles and Web sites that I found interesting, fun or in someway related to the holiday season.  Enjoy!

A Child’s Christmas in America: Santa Claus as Deity, Consumption as Religion, by R. W. Belk

Seasonal Variation and Meteotropism in Suicide…, by A Preti

The Best Christmas Song Ever Sung, “Merry F’ing Christmas” by Mr. Garrison.