Towards an understanding of bias, prejudice and violence


Source: PX Media

Prejudice, bias and violence, and the resulting individual and collective behaviors, are complicated topics that have interested philosophers, researchers, politicians and psychologists for years, including Freud, Volkan, Young-Bruehl and many others (see Strozier et al, 2010; Lifton, 2020). But questions of “cultism and fanaticism” (Lifton, 2020) have rarely been examined from the perspective of early development and the effect that affect, cognition and language have on their germination and expression.

When looking at groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Nazis, Jihadists, Proud Boys, QAnon and white supremacists, who embrace violence, and individuals within these groups, it is important to ask how their members are joining the group and how they feel about aligning with these causes.

This can help us develop strategies that reduce or eliminate the harm caused by these groups and the behaviors of their members. These strategies involve bringing about change from the top down (i.e. through social policy and in social groups) and from the bottom up (by helping individuals who are attracted to these groups to change) .

This is not a comprehensive overview of these dynamics, but an introduction to how an understanding of early development and affect, cognition and language can enhance the ability of individuals, therapists and society to disperse, dilute and modify these harmful effects. beliefs and actions.

On a Spectrum: Bias, Prejudice and Violencecand

  • bias suggests an inclination or perspective.
  • Prejudice is defined as an adverse opinion or learning formed without due cause or prior to sufficient knowledge; an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group or their supposed characteristics.
  • Violence describes the exercise of physical force in such a way as to injure or mistreat.

Cults: religious and ideological

Robert Jay Lifton puts it this way: “We must ask ourselves why worship, both religious and ideological, is so persistent, why it appears and reappears in endless forms” (2020, p. 419). Lifton notes two important sources of worship within the human psyche: “The first has to do with the very prolonged period of human helplessness and dependence…this tendency may also express itself in the need for an omnipotent guide with a power superior even to that of his own. parents” (p. 419).

The second is the pervasive question of death for human beings. “We have an uneasy awareness of death and spend our lives struggling with that awareness. The almighty guide, the sacred guru, offers a vision of overcoming death, of living in the eternal, of transcendent mystical experiences in which time and death disappear” (p. 419-420). This is the basic view – but while these life experiences are shared by all humans, only some find solace in sects and alien groups. We must therefore look beyond.

There are other precipitants of the cult. For example, many cults are triggered by unbearable and chaotic circumstances and social suffering – food and water shortages, poor health conditions, unemployment, financial instability and social/political upheaval. Some religious cults form in response to threats to a group’s beliefs, including a perceived threat to comfort those holding the religion, such as an afterlife and perpetual existence. These different developments can trigger intense negative affects, such as distress, fear, and anger. Cults can also reinforce the good feelings conferred by positive affects – interest and pleasure. Cults can help members validate themselves, have a common purpose, and fellowship.

Similar or Different?

In trying to understand groups that embrace prejudice, fear and, often, violence, we have to ask ourselves, are groups such as QAnon and ISIS, Proud Boys and KKK similar or different or both? They appear similar in their processes (e.g., affects, psychodynamics, motivations) and different in terms of specific goals, targets, and degree of violence (e.g., white ancestry, repression of women or the supremacy of a specific religion). And any group can have characteristics that encompass both similarities and differences.


Negative affects and their consequences abound: These groups bring together people who experience varying degrees of distress, fear and shame, sometimes reactions of rage and violence. The various groups tend to elevate their members above outsiders, inflate members’ sense of self-esteem, mobilize fear of “the other”, and then attempt to annihilate “the other” d one way or another.

The positive effects of interest and enjoyment are also apparent, and the benefits of joining a group seem similar across groups. These groups give members a sense of belonging, of being understood and of being validated. They reinforce members’ sense of self-cohesion and sense of purpose, often giving each member a sense of superiority over the others. Additionally, the “unity” of fighting a common enemy, an outlet for anger and rage, and a utopian vision – sometimes of the afterlife – are all appealing to people struggling to find their place. in the world, self-acceptance, hope and love.


What are the differences between the groups? There seem to be two major issues: the targets (victims) of the perpetrators and the degree of violence involved. First, targets can be chosen for various “reasons”, ethnic, racial, political/ideological, religious, etc. One group may target immigrants while others target Muslims, infidels, and people of color.

Second, the degree of aggression towards each other can be quite different from one group to another. Some may at times use words, lawyers, and courts to further their attack on others, as a Washington politician fueled by hate may do. Other groups may use varying degrees of violence, torture, all-out war to achieve their goals.

What form of “otherness” is at the center of fear and anger?

An interesting question about the differences between these groups concerns which type of “otherness” arouses more fear, anger and shame than the others? Facial features, skin color, ethnicity, customs, body shapes and sizes (e.g., tall/short, fat/thin, tall/short), religion, gender, wealth , language, education, prestige – all of these can be associated with some degree of antagonism, even violence. But what psychological, social, physical, and historical variables explain why an individual or group focuses on one or another of these qualities is an important question for understanding the underlying motivations and dynamics.


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