Beloved Enemies: Our Need for Opponents
Beloved Enemies: Our Need for Opponents
0 Center for Problem-Solving Th erapy
Beloved Enemies: Our Need for Opponents, by David P. Barash. Amherst,
NY: Prometheus Books, 1994. 309 pp. $25.95 cloth. ISBN 0-87975-908-9.
Centerfor Problem-Solving Therapy
My experience of reading the book Beloved Enemies: Our Need for
Opponents, written by David P. Barash, was one of contradictory thoughts and
feelings. Barash offers a paradigm for understanding and explaining the
seeming proclivity that humans have to divide the world into polarized
constructs of "us" versus "them," "good" versus "bad," etc. He asserts that we
seem to "need" to have "opponents," or "enemies," to help us define who "we"
are, to focus on something external in the service of quelling or redirecting our
deepest internal fears, pain and uncertainty. He suggests, "Virtually whenever
it appears, excessive enmity can be traced to pain, injury, loss, and rage" (p.
208). He suggests that humans engage in a competition and "enemy making"
not only for biological and psychological reasons, but also for important
sociological reasons. He argues, "the underlying functions of groups is to
identify members of other groups as different from themselves. . . . They
exaggerate any existing differences, partly in the service of getting a firmer
grip on who they are themselves" (p.89).
Barash suggests that this way of "seeing" the world has many unfortunate
ramifications, such as ipso facto "creating" enemies where none actually exist,
which can then lead to very real but unnecessary violence, conquest, and also
a sort of "self-destruction." Barash calls on useful metaphors such as
Melville's Ahab, whose "quest for revenge almost literally devoured him, just
as a malignant tumor might have done" (p. 209).
Barash describes several contexts where he sees evidence of this process.
For example, he cites the "description" of enmity that Americans have
rendered to leaders such as Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and
Milosovic — in part to satisfy a collective need for opponents. He asserts, "..
. not only do we need an enemy, and not only do we tend to exaggerate this
enemy and dehumanize it, but we also insist that this enemy have at least a
recognizable face, typically the face of a leader through whom national
identity — and antagonism — is filtered, and in whose image a complex
welter of aspirations and antagonisms are congealed and personified" (p. 44).
Herein lies, for me, some of the difficulty that I have in fully embracing
the author's thesis. I agree with him that only rarely "do we seriously consider
our own role in the process, the degree to which we may have created these
enemies by our own self-righteous insistence that we are right and they
wrong" (p. 45). I also tend to believe mat "enemy" might be a useful
distinction to ascribe to an "other," whether it is a home intruder or a country's
aggressive neighbor who is violating borders through violence. The author's
bias is clearly demonstrated in that he reduces an array of group, national, and
international events to his constructed dualism, when, in my view, these events
are often far more complex or contradictory. For example, "others" often
behave like enemies, and this is not merely a construction that we create to
divert attention from "in-group" divisiveness or to satisfy other needs. So,
while second order cybernetics informs us that we are always part of the
system mat we are observing, that our own lens creates some of the "reality"
that we "see," and the author highlights the destructive ramifications of
operating within the confines of an "enemy system," he fails to take into
account the extent to which his own lens has shaped "evidence" to fit his
Notwithstanding this criticism, I believe that the author is on to something
with which we have seemingly made little progress. That is, is it moral and
even utilitarian to create and exaggerate distinctions over difference when
there is often more commonality in characteristics and purpose between
groups? Can we rise above this seeming tendency, when it does exist? Or, is
our persistent description of "enemy" some of the "water" that the proverbial
fish can never seem to see because it is so immersed in it? We need more
conversation about this!
Mending The Torn Fabric: For Those Who Grieve and Those Who Want
to Help Them, by Sarah Brabant Amityville, NY: Baywood. Death, Value
and Meaning Series, 1996. 162 pp. $28.95 cloth. ISBN 0-89503-141-8.
University of California, Riverside
Mending The Tom Fabric makes an important contribution to our
understanding of the grief process. Written with a sociological perspective,
this effective and compassionate book helps to clarify the multilayered,
multifaceted impact of a loved one's death. Brabant writes in a personal and
engaging style that makes the subject matter easily accessible. The purpose of
the book is to provide guidelines and insights within a recognizable
framework that will aid those affected by death to make their way through the
difficult and sometimes lengthy process of mending. Drawing from
professional and personal experience, the author's insights serve surviving
loved ones as well as those who want to support and encourage them, lay
persons and practitioners alike. The book flows from its initial explanation of
the torn fabric analogy and tools for mending, to its later chapter directed to
those who want to be of help. The concluding chapter addresses the
professional's interest in the book's theoretical foundations. Throughout,