Alienation, Nationalism, and Inter-ethnic Conflict
Thomas J. Scheff
Sept 15, 1997
Protracted conflict between neighbors driven by ethnic nationalism
is a perplexing problem on a world wide scale. What can be done? This essay
will explore the link between fanatic nationalism and alienation. I argue
that protracted conflict between parties is caused by a type of alienation
called engulfment within each party. I suggest that young males who are
poorly integrated in their family, education and work are particularly liable
to engulfment in nationalism. As a start toward decreasing conflict, I
recommend reforms in education and welfare which would decrease the alienation
of young males.
In two companion papers to this one, I have suggested: 1. a short-term
approach to local peace making through community conferences on political
and terrorist crimes, and 2. Some steps toward reduction of hatred and rage
at the individual, cultural, and social structural levels. In this paper,
I consider a related theme, the reduction of alienation.
I explore the idea that fanatical nationalism and the conflict it produces
are caused by alienation. When a person is deeply alienated from self and
others, nationalism creates an illusion of community. In this way, persons
who are alienated from others, from self and from their work or school can
feel that they belong to a community, even if this community is partly or
even mostly in their imagination (Anderson 1983). This idea is a basic tradition
in the social sciences. Historians and early sociologists proposed that
nationalism is an attempt to replace the close social bonds that were lost
in the dislocations of the industrial revolution (Smith 1971). The move
from small rural communities to large and impersonal cities has long been
seen as fundamentally disruptive to the human psyche.
Many studies have made the point that parties to protracted conflict
are alienated to the point that each party demonizes the other. Although
humans ordinarily have strong restraints against maiming and killing , these
restraints are lifted when the other is dehumanized. In the language of
alienation theory (Scheff 1994), isolation between conflicting parties can
be so extreme that each party sees the other only in contrast conceptions.
That is, rather than extending at least a modicum of sympathy, understanding
and fellow feeling to the other party, each contrasts the other with their
own valued qualities to the point that the other is reduced to subhuman
status. For example, in the Nazi assault on the Jews, they referred to their
assault as extermination, implying that the Jews were not human, but vermin
(noxious insects). In this way isolation between conflicting parties is
an important component in the causation of slaughter and mayhem, such as
terrorism and genocide.
But there is a serious limitation to these studies. They focus almost
entirely on the alienation between the conflicting parties, saying little
or nothing about alienation within them . In this essay I will take a contrary
direction. Not that the studies of isolation are unimportant. On the contrary,
I emphasize their importance by seeking the causes of isolation and the
resulting demonization of each side by the other. Here I propose a theory
of the way in which social and psychological conditions within opposing
parties cause violent and protracted conflict between them. I call this
idea the theory of bimodal alienation (Scheff 1994).
The theory suggests that the fanatical nationalism which leads to extreme
isolation between parties is produced by, and produces, a particular type
of alienation within each party which I will call engulfment. The idea of
engulfment or fusion, as Bowen (1978) and other family system theorists
called it, although not widely current, is found in many different theoretical
positions. In family systems theory it is contrasted with both a secure
bond and the type of alienation already mentioned, isolation. The idea of
isolation is widely understood as extreme separation between persons or
groups. Durkheim's (1905) notion of egoism as a cause of suicide is one
rendering of isolation.
Engulfment, on the other hand, involves suffocating closeness. Social
scientists often conflate what I am calling engulfment with solidarity.
In engulfment, however, one conforms to the group by giving up important
aspects of self that go against the majority view. In true solidarity, one
respects the majority view, but one also shows respect toward one's own
view, balancing and negotiating between the two. Durkheim's idea of fatalistic
groups is parallel to the idea of engulfment. He argued that in such groups,
the individual could easily sacrifice his or her life to maintain the dominant
The theory of alienation propounded here points toward fundamental aspects
of social structure which drive protracted conflict. It also suggests some
basic reforms which might decrease alienation within the groups in conflict,
and therefore the impulses toward destructive conflict between them.
Alienation and Nationalism: Two Case Studies of Individuals
Engulfment usually arises as a defense against isolation. The individual
sacrifices aspects of his or her unique identity to avoid being left out
of the group. If this is true, then one would expect to find that individuals
who are securely integrated into family and other social groups would be
less liable to fanatical nationalism than those who are not. In particular
we would expect to find that a person with a secure bond to spouse or lover,
the most important single bond in modern societies, and who has secure and
meaningful work, would be less likely to be a blind nationalist than a person
without a secure interpersonal bond to spouse or lover and who was without
secure and meaningful work.
I will use two historical figures to illustrate this idea, Samuel Johnson
and William Blake. These illustrations are not intended to serve as support
for my hypothesis, but only to flesh out an abstract idea by applying it
to real persons. Because of the comprehensiveness of the biographical data,
we know a great deal more about the relationships of these two persons than
we are likely to know about the living subjects of contemporary social science
studies. Samuel Johnson was perhaps the greatest English intellect of the
18th century, towering in his creative achievements over all of his countrypersons.
But in one way he was much like the majority of his less intelligent compatriots:
he was a patriot and an English nationalist. The test of nationalism during
his time was the war against the Colonies. On this issue he was a hawk,
like most of the other English.
Johnson's biographers (see, for example, Wain 1972) have contended that
his conservatism and patriotism were not extreme or fanatical, but well
reasoned and level-headed. That is true of his writings on this topic. But
there are hints from his life that Johnson's nationalism was not completely
rational, that it had an intense emotional component not understandable
in terms of his rational arguments in favor of the war.
Boswell (1906, V1, p. 95), Johnson's companion and biographer, recounts
an episode in which Johnson and one of his friends, wandering through London,
were "in high spirits and brimful of patriotism, [and] resolved they
would stand by their country." On another occasion, Johnson stated:
" I am willing to love all mankind, except an American." Apparently
Johnson's utterance carried a great weight of emotion, since Boswell (1906
V.2, p. 209) noted that Johnson, in making this statement, was "bursting
into horrid fire" (Both of these quotations are cited in Billig 1995).
It would seem that Johnson's nationalism might have had its source not only
in his intellect, but also in deeply felt emotions. The striking way in
which Johnson excluded Americans from his professed love of all mankind,
and the intensity of the passion suggested by Boswell's phrase "horrid
fire" is indicative of a fanatical, rather than a merely intellectual
Another towering figure of the same period was the printer-engraver-poet
William Blake, who was as emotionally anti-nationalist as Johnson was nationalist.
Blake's disgust with the war against the Americans and British nationalism
was expressed in many of his poems and writings. Here is a sample from the
ending of one poem, Lullaby, which, in its entirety was a ferocious protest
against the war on the Americans:
...When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
and sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand? O who hath caused this?
O who can answer at the throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it!
Blake's emotional revulsion from the war against the Colonies, intense
enough to have been prosecutable as sedition, seems to be every bit as passionate
as Johnson's defense of it.
The hypothesis that links nationalism with alienation suggests that
a courageous anti-nationalist like Blake should have been profoundly integrated
with his family and his social world. The Blake biographies confirm this
part of the hypothesis. Blake's marriage was based on love and deep mutual
respect. It was a life-long love affair. Several of his poems suggest that
his marriage included mutual emotional and sexual fulfillment. Here is an
What is it that men of women do require?
The lineaments of gratified desire.
What is it that women of men do require?
The lineaments of gratified desire.
As suggested below, sexual fulfillment and emotional closeness appears
to have been as blatantly missing from Johnson's life as they were present
Blake's work relationships, for the most part, suggest close integration.
As a highly skilled printer and engraver, he was in great demand for most
of his work life, both by commercial and artist customers. There were a
few lean years, but nothing compared to Johnson's plight. Blake was also
recognized as a poet both by the public and by the contemporary literary
world. In both his personal and professional life, Blake was closely integrated
within his social network. In the language of the theory I will outline
here, his bonds with significant others were secure. In sociological language,
he found solidarity within his social network, rather than alienation.
The hypothesis is also supported by the details of Johnson's life, which
leads us to expect that as a passionate nationalist, he would lack a secure
bond with a spouse or lover, and that his work, in the main, was neither
secure nor meaningful to him. As one of the first freelance writers in England,
Johnson's work was far from secure for most of his life. His biggest project,
writing and editing the first English dictionary, was financed mostly by
pleading with sponsors for money, which placed him in a position that was
little better than begging. And the dictionary also involved many, many
years of tedious, eyesight threatening work.
Although Johnson was a creative writer and great prose stylist, writing
many novels and essays, most of his income came from hackwork, such as
preparation of the words for the dictionary, and translation. So insecure
was his income that some of his activities could have been prosecuted as
fraudulent. For many years one source of income was writing Parliamentary
Reports, supposedly reports of speeches in Parliament. In actuality, Johnson
seems to have never heard a single speech, since listening to the lengthy
speeches would have further reduced his already low rate of pay. Instead
he relied on brief comments by acquaintences or even strangers who had
heard the speeches. His parliamentary reports were widely admired; perhaps
they represented what the speakers should have said rather than what they
Johnson was married for fifteen years, but his wife Tetty's early death
left him a widower for the rest of his life. During the marriage, moreover,
Johnson seemed to neglect his wife, spending many months at a time away
from her. After Tetty's death he was cared for many years by his friends
Henry and Hester Thrale. After her husband died, Boswell thought that Hester
and Samuel might marry. However, as was often the case in his perceptions
of women, Boswell couldn't have been more mistaken. Hester had no interest
whatsoever in taking care of Johnson any longer than she had, since she
saw him as in endless need of serving, and expressing little affection or
Johnson's biographies suggest that his relationships with both his wife
and with Hester Thrale were distant, each being little more than his servant.
Although Johnson had many male friends, like Boswell he seemed incapable
of closeness with a woman. For most of his adult life Johnson suffered from
the torment of sexual frustration, from agonies of sexual desire and sexual
fantasies (Wain, 1972). He apparently was seldom able to obtain sexual satisfaction
from his wife or a lover. Unlike Boswell, he didn't even frequent prostitutes.
In both his personal and work life, Johnson seems to have been far from
having a secure bond, and secure and meaningful work, as suggested by my
Interpersonal Relations and Work in Social Theory
Existing theories of nationalism are so crude that they don't get much
further than distinguishing between rural and urban contexts and class position.
As far as I know, none has suggested that the level of micro-integration
in family and work might play a causal role in nationalism. With one exception,
none of the existing social science theories concern integration in families
as causal factor in any kind of social phenomenon.
The single exception is found in the work of the social psychologist
Shibutani. In his treatise (1961) on society and personality, he described
in some depth how the interplay between interpersonal and social relationships
makes up the fabric of social structure and process. Of course, C. Wright
Mills (1959) also made a similar proposal, asking for links between personal
and private worlds. But unlike Shibutani, Mills's suggestion was purely
programmatic; he never spelled out the conceptual and empirical linkages
the way that Shibutani did.
Shibutani (1955) also offered a daring hypothesis linking religious,
nationalist, and other types of conversion to interpersonal relationships.
He proposed that a person's perspective would "tip" to a new
one when her interpersonal relations with the carrier(s) of the new perspective
were more positive than her relationships with the carriers of the old one.
As far as I know, this hypothesis has never been tested, but it suggests
a stimulating path toward uniting the micro and macroworlds of nationalist
and other beliefs. The hypothesis suggests that the interpersonal relationships
among nationalists are more rewarding to converts than their relationships
with those who held non-nationalists beliefs, their parents, siblings, teachers
The idea that rampant nationalism is provoked by economic dislocation
and unemployment is widely held among social scientists. For example, most
historians and political scientists who try to explain the widespread appeal
of Hitler to the Germans in the Weimar period, between the two World Wars,
point to inflation and unemployment as key factors. Although Hitler did
not particularly emphasize the creation of jobs and employment, certainly
not as much as the Socialists and Communists, he was seen as a man of action
who might be able to cope with the economic and other crises that faced
Weimar Germany. But these analyses, and the many other similar ones, do
not single out young males as being the most vulnerable to extreme nationalism,
as I do here, nor their comprehensive lack of any integration, not just
However, some theories of the criminality of young males point to their
lack of integration as a causal factor. The case is best presented by Braithwaite
(1989). First he establishes that males aged 15-25 commit a highly disproportionate
number of crimes in all known societies (p. 44-46). If he had included only
violent crimes, the type of crime that is at issue here, the disproportion
would have been even more striking. Braithwaite also established that there
is a strong connection between crime, social and racial class, and attachment
to schooling for young people. Highest rates of crime are uniformly for
males at the bottom of their society, members of racial and ethnic minorities,
who are either unemployed or not in school or not closely attached to their
school. There is also the suggestion in the data that Braithwaite reviews
that unmarried males may be more likely to commit crimes.
A more recent study (Sampson and Laub 1993) makes the point more strongly:
employment and marital status are highly correlated with crime. As Sampson
and Laub put it: "the stronger the adult ties to work and family, the
less crime and deviance... strong marital attachment inhibits crime and
deviance regardless of the spouse's deviant behavior, and job instability
fosters crime...(p. 248)." The present state of evidence strongly links
lack of social, educational, and economic integration with crime, especially
This review suggests a point of application for the hypothesis presented
here, the vast army of unemployed or underemployed young men. By far the
largest number of this army are working-class males aged 15-25 who are nominally
in school, but actually so weakly linked to school that they are an easy
prey for conversion to fanatical nationalism. The most damaging conflict
for this group of males is not inter-ethnic conflict, but conflict with
their own teachers along class and ability lines. To see this point, it
is necessary to refer to a classic study of the world of working class males
by Sennett and Cobb (1973).
Although The Hidden Injuries of Class (1973) carries a powerful message,
it is not an easy book to summarize. The narrative is developed from quoted
excerpts from the interviews, and the authors' interpretations of the meanings
of these quotes. They do not devise a conceptual scheme and a systematic
method for analyzing their interviews and observations. For this reason,
the readers are required to devise their own conceptual scheme, as I will
The book is based on participant-observation in communities, schools
and local clubs and bars, and 150 interviews with white working class males,
mostly of Italian or Jewish background, in Boston for one year beginning
in July of 1969 (p. 40-41). The hidden injuries that Sennett and Cobb discovered
might be paraphrased in this way: their working class men felt that first,
because of their class and occupational position they were not accorded
the respect that they should have gotten from others, particularly from
their teachers, bosses, and even from their own children. Secondly, a more
subtle injury: these men also felt, in some ways, that their class and occupational
position was at least partly their own fault Sennett and Cobb imply that
social class is responsible for both injuries. They believe that their working
men did not get the respect they deserved because of their social class,
and that the second injury, lack of self-respect, is also the fault of
class, rather than the men's own fault, as most of them thought.
Sennett and Cobb argue that in American society, the respect one receives
is largely based on one's individual achievement, the extent that one's
accomplishments give one a unique identity that stands out from the mass
of others. The role of public schools in the development of abilities forms
a central part of Sennett and Cobb's argument. Their informants lacked self-respect,
the authors thought, because the schooling of working class boys did not
develop their individual talents in a way that would allow them to stand
out from the mass as adults. In the language of the sociology of emotions,
they carry a burden of feelings of rejection and inadequacy, which is to
say chronic low self-esteem and shame.
Sennett, who did the participant-observation part of the study, reported
most fully on a particular grammar school, "Watson School," that
he observed. He suggests that "teachers act on their expectations
of the children in such a way as to make the expectations become reality"
(p. 81). One of his observations concerns a second-grade class:
In this class there were two children, Fred and Vincent, whose "...clothes
were pressed and seemed better kept" than the other children's' clothes.
"In a class of mostly dark Italian children, these were the fairest
skinned. From the outset the teacher singled out these two children...To
them he spoke with a special warmth in his voice. He never praised them
openly... but a message that they were different, and better, was spontaneously
conveyed" (p. 81).
Sennett and Cobb argue that teachers single out for attention and praise
only a very small percentage of the students, usually students who are either
middle class or closest in actions and appearance to middle-class. This
praise and attention allows the singled-out students to develop their potential
for achievement. The large majority of the boys, however, are ignored and,
in subtle ways, rejected.
"... by the time the children are ten or eleven the split between
the many and the few who are expected 'to make something of themselves'
is out in the open... [The mass of] boys in class act as though they were
serving time, as though schoolwork and classes had become something to wait
out, a blank space in their lives they hope to survive...(pp. 82-83).
This statement is a damning indictment of public schools. There are a
few working class boys who achieve their potential by virtue of their superior
academic or athletic talents. But the large mass do not. For them, rather
than opening up the world of culture and accomplishment, public schools
close this vision off. Education, rather than becoming a source of personal
and cultural growth, provides only shame and rejection. For the majority
of students in public schools, surviving the days and years of large classes
means running a gauntlet of shame and embarrassment everyday. These students
learn by the second or third grade that is better to be silent in class
rather than risk ridicule or humiliation of a wrong answer. Even students
with the right answers must deal with having the wrong accent,clothing or
physical appearance. For most students, schooling is a vale of shame.
The class bound public schools that Sennett and Cobb described are not
unique to American society. They are describing, I think, the situation
that is endemic in all public schooling in Western societies. By the time
boys have reached the age of ten or eleven, they carry the double burden
of shame and rejection that Sennett and Cobb found in adults. In this context,
the excluded boys first bond with each other. If they can't be good, they
can win each other's admiration and praise by being bad; they reject their
rejecters. Criminal actions become a way of finding pride and acceptance
from the other excluded boys. As the boys grow older, they begin to form
gangs so that they can demonstrate their loyalty to each other. In societies
where there is inter-ethnic conflict, finally, the excluded males can earn
praise for political and terrorist crimes not only from each other, but
also from a large segment of the adults in their ethnic community.
In his study of working class boys in a high school in the Midlands
of England, Willis (1977) describes some of the steps leading from feeling
rejected by teachers toward crime and violence. The students he observed
called themselves "the lads," in contrast to the conformist boys,
who they called "earholes" (a reference to their passive listening
to the teachers, and also an allusion to a nearby word, "assholes.")
The lads formed what Willis called an oppositional culture, that is, a culture
in opposition to the teaching that went on in the school. The boys themselves
described their opposing actions as " 'aving a laff." Some of
these actions, such as thwarting the teachers, did not involve crime. But
most did, with crimes ranging from vandalism, theft, extortion, to violence
against minority students (Pakistanis and Haitians).
The idea that the "lads" have of the conformist students as
"earholes," passive recipients of learning, is not totally inaccurate.
Just at the nonconformist boys, the "lads," are alienated from
their teachers in the isolated mode, being too distant from them, the conformist
students are alienated in the engulfed mode, too suffocatingly close to
the teachers. Their bond with the teachers is not really secure, since they
give up important parts of themselves in order to fit into the teaching
that is offered them. A secure bond with teachers would mean listening and
learning, but critically evaluating everything, developing in one's self
the ability to think and feel independently. Reform of public schooling
is needed as much for the conformist students as for the oppositional ones.
But for the purpose of this paper I focus on the oppositional students,
because they bear the most burden of rejection by their schools.
A careful study of working class students by MacCloud (1995) published
first in 1987, with a follow-up eight years later, supports most of Sennett
and Cobb's and Willis's findings. (Also see Sexton 1969). For a study showing
similar effects of schooling on working class women students, see Lutrell
(1997). Writing about American society, Rubin (1994 p. 38) comes to a conclusion
very similar to that of Sennett and Cobb:
The belief that we are society without class distinctions... is a convenient
fiction, on that has both psychological and political consequences. Psychologically,
it frees the successful from the guilty knowledge that they had a head start,
while it also fills those who don't make it with a sense of personal inadequacy.
Politically, in perpetuating the myth, we insure the status quo, since,
when those at or near the bottom...internalize the problem as one of their
own making, they implicitly absolve the society for responsibility for their
fate (emphasis added).
Most people find chronic shame and rejection an unbearable burden, and
will do almost anything to relieve themselves of it. Gangdom, racism , nationalism
and the crimes committed in their names provide for the shamed and rejected
a haven of pride and acceptance. Understanding the rejection of working
class males by their societies may be a key to the willingness of whole
groups to engage in inter-ethnic war, and war between nations as well (Scheff
1994). To the extent that young males are integrated into education, employment,
and families, the sources of fanatical nationalism and crime will be closed
Family, Work, and Welfare: Three Reforms
For males in the age group 15-25, the principle perpetrators of violent
crime, their principal work is education in elementary schools, high schools
and colleges. For this reason my recommendations will focus on reforms in
schools that might integrate this group better into their society. The major
fault with public schools, as I see it, is the class-bound nature of their
reaction to their students. Correcting this fault would require a major
overhaul of whole school systems, if we want to integrate young working
class males into them. But even though a massive challenge, the reform of
public schools could be achieved by public pressure and intervention.
The issue of integrating young men into families is challenging for
a different reason. Family and marital relationships are highly personal
and idiosyncratic, and therefore not likely to be much influenced by public
policy. However, even in this area, schooling could play a part, if a class
on family relationships could be developed that would educate young people
on improving their personal and romantic relationships.
The larger problem of reforming schools has been well formulated by
Braithwaite (1989, p. 176). He argues that schools should be "redemptive"
by avoiding turning the majority of students into outcasts by ability grouping.
In schools that integrate all their students, every student must have a
means of creating a unique identity and earning acceptance from teachers
and peers, "everyone can be someone." Braithwaite suggests that
cooperative problem-solving, competition against each student's own past
performance rather than against other students, and intergroup competition
would allow every student to contribute to the success of his or her group.
However, Braithwaite's suggestions do not come fully to grips with the
class-bound nature of public schools. Changes in teaching procedures are
unlikely to change the attitudes of the teachers, most of whom are middle-class
or aspire to be, toward their working-class students. These teachers need
to be re-educated in a way that would make them more aware of themselves,
especially the way in which they unconsciously reject the less able of their
students, a large majority of those they teach. One direction would be expanding
continuing education for all teachers in public schools. Classes on the
history of the labor movement could be organized in a way to build sympathy
for the working class and their struggles. (For a study which shows the
need for such classes, see Anyon (1983)). Another class on teaching technique
could be organized around videotapes of actual classrooms, showing the difference
between rejecting and accepting behavior of teachers. Classes such as these
could shock many teachers into awareness of their practices without demeaning
or humiliating them.
This latter class would required a large number of candid camera videotapes
showing teacher and student classroom interaction, including early grades.
A large number of episodes showing how most teachers play favorites with
a small number of their students, but reject the rest, as per Sennett and
Cobb's observations, should be shown. The episodes have two key components
that need to be identified and interpreted: how rejecting the teachers are
toward the majority of their students, and the facial reactions of the rejected
students. I think that the pain of seven and eight year olds, who have not
yet learned how to hide their anguish, will be enough to melt a large proportion
of the teachers in the audience. Even the control and tightness of older
students reactions to rejection, if pointed out, will make an impression
on many teachers.
However, there undoubtedly will be a group of teachers who will go unmoved
by this type of class. They are not evil people, but they are so closed
off to their own emotions, particularly to their own shame, that they would
need a follow-up class after flunking, so to speak, the first class on the
shame of students rejected or ridiculed by teachers. This second class would
encourage the teachers to explore their own shame. In classes of this type
that I have given, I take the audience through three steps, leading up to
the uncovering of personal emotions of shame. First, we laugh at stories
of incidents whose undisclosed connection is embarrassment or shame. Second,
we talk about embarrassment in our own lives. Finally, having successfully
passed through the two earlier gates, we discuss shameful moments in our
own lives. Those who pass this class, that is, catch a glimpse of how they
ignore and disguise their own shame, could then retake the first class.
Having come in contact with their own shame, the shame of their students
would become visible to them.
A second recommendation involves the development of a series of class
focused on improving students' family relationships, both with their parents
and siblings, and looking forward to their own adult roles as spouse and
parent. For maximum effectiveness, such classes should probably be voluntary,
If they are effective, they would quickly become popular by word of mouth.
Such classes should include sex education at the high school and college
levels, but emphasize communication skills in interpersonal relationships.
At present, communication skills in family life are taught no where in educational
systems. The kinds of communication that go on in many families is profoundly
alienating, especially communication occurring in quarrels and impasses.
Later in life, skills such as fighting fair may be taught in counseling
and psychotherapy, for those who avail themselves. But by that time, the
communication habits learned in the family of origin, and reaffirmed in
later relationships, may be deeply imbedded. If classes on family life
were offered early in grammar school, and continued throughout all levels
of education, students might find some relief from their interpersonal alienation.
My experience in teaching interpersonal relations at the college level
suggests an impediment toward improvement in male relationships through
education, but one that is not unconquerable. Males are less likely to select
such classes, and when they select them, less like to benefit then female
students. In my own classes, the application rate from women has been three
or four times that of men. Moreover, men have a much higher rate of dropping
out than women; those that remain in class participate less than the women,
and seem to benefit less.
Allowing that female students would dominate such classes, and benefit
them much more than the males, these classes could still decrease the amount
of alienation in families. Even if only girls and women benefited from the
classes, which wouldn't be the case, improvements in communicating skills
learned by females would inevitably be passed on to males. Learning to fight
fair, to be direct but respectful, and to deal openly with vulnerable feelings
would change the character of family communication even if introduced only
by women. Of course male/female relationships are systemic; whatever changes
occur in women will foment change in their male parents, spouses and children,
and vice versa. (For a study showing the effect on men of their contact
with feminism, see Connell 1995).
A third recommendation concerns the content and manner in which social
welfare is carried out in industrial societies. Welfare could be an enormous
help in decreasing alienation for the least affluent segments of society,
in that it offers a measure of economic and health security for those who
are disabled or unable to find work. But the way welfare is dispensed usually
carries such a load of stigma with it that it can increase, rather than
decrease the amount of alienation that is experienced.
Reviewing the literature on attitudes of recipients toward welfare,
Sennett has made my point about stigma and shame:
Studies of poor urban American blacks, for instance, testify to their
belief that to be on welfare... is an intensely humiliating experience.
For all these blacks know [intellectually] that the deck may be stacked
against them, the internalizing of dependence as shame occurs. There is
evidence, again, that similar feelings are experienced by French and English
workers on unemployment relief. (Sennett 1980, p. 47.)
This idea seems to find support in a large scale survey of attitudes
towards welfare. Rank (1994) found virtually all of his respondents disdainful
of those on welfare, even the respondents who themselves were on welfare.
He reports that those on welfare, in expressing contempt for anyone on welfare,
were careful to make an exception in their own case. The case could be made
that making an exception of one's self from the disdain one feels for a
group might occur only at the cognitive level. Emotionally, one would still
be ashamed, no matter how vociferous the self-justification.
For a vivid evocation of the shame of "being on the dole"
in Ireland, see McCourt (1996). He particularly catches the crushing effect
of the welfare personnel's arrogance and the neighborhood's disdain on a
young child. Like teachers and doctors and most other professionals, welfare
officials are also bimodally alienated: isolated from their clients and
engulfed among themselves. Even a small improvement in this structure would
not be easy. Perhaps all welfare officials should be required to spend two
weeks a year on the dole themselves, to see how it feels. If welfare could
be managed in a way that would not shame its recipients, it would be a potent
factor in decreasing alienation, and therefore pressure toward conflict.
Needless to say, none of these recommendation would result in overnight
changes in levels of alienation, even if they were completely effective.
But in the long run, making schools more accepting of all their students,
humanizing welfare, and improving communication in families would decrease
alienation in societies, and by so doing, decrease the levels of young males
vulnerable to participation in inter-ethnic conflict. Steps such as these
could interrupt the vicious cycles of bimodal alienation that result in
perpetual and destructive conflict.
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