Toward a Psychology of Interdependency
A Framework for Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation
Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Stuart G. Shanker, D.Phil.
Published at the website of The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders
Over the last decade, shared dangers, as well as shared communications and economies -- for the first time any one group can, through nuclear, biological, or ecological events, destroy life for all other groups -- have brought individuals from all parts of the world together into a closer interdependency than at any time before in human history. This growing interdependency can result in greater social fragmentation, more extreme types of polarized beliefs, and greater hostility; or it can serve as a catalyst for humans to develop new adaptive levels of personal and social organization. The psychology of interdependency will characterize the elements of these personal and social organizations to help us understand and prepare for a rapidly advancing interdependent future.
The Interdependency of Shared Dangers
There has been a great deal of interest in the changing communication, economic patterns, and cultural integration bringing all elements of the world closer together. While some of the social and cultural implications of these changes have been discussed (Fox & King, n.d.), their deeper psychological consequences have not yet been fully analyzed. Relatively more neglected, however, is the other basis for bringing the world closer together. Shared dangers are creating an unprecedented interdependency with significant psychological consequences and opportunities.
How serious are the dangers that currently confront the international community? The events in the United States on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 were no surprise to international experts. In a lead editorial in The Washington Post on July 26, 1999, the then Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, warned that: "The United States faces a super-power paradox. Our supremacy ... is prompting adversaries to seek unconventional means." Secretary Cohen grimly reported that: "25 countries now have or are developing weapons of mass destruction." He sought to reassure the public that the Government was "preparing for the possibility of a chemical or biological attack on American soil because we must. There is not a moment to lose." But as we have learnt from the Star Wars initiative, there is no such thing as an impermeable wall of defense in the modern technological world.
A front-page story by John Pomfret in The Washington Post on August 8th, 1999 made clear just how serious this issue has become. Two Chinese colonels were quoted and a new book cited with a message that was unnervingly consistent with Secretary Cohen's warnings. In relationship to recent tensions over Taiwan, the colonels announced that if a war were to take place with the United States, China would consider terrorism, drug trafficking, environmental degradation, computer virus propagation, as well as attacks on American telecommunications and core industries. We have recently seen, from the disclosure of the KGB misinformation campaign that was conducted following the assassination of President Kennedy, just how vulnerable the media is to foreign subversion. Moreover, as recent events have made clear, our computers themselves are far from secure from terrorist actions. The Chinese colonels explained that they would certainly not fight a conventional war according to the rules laid down by the West; rather, they saw such unrestricted tactics as the only logical course of action for a country faced with a militarily more powerful adversary.
Technology has now advanced to the point where large and small nations of limited military power, and terrorist groups, do or will have the technological means to inflict unacceptable biological, nuclear or environmental harm on more powerful adversaries.
Underlining and broadening these concerns, in December, 2000 the National Intelligence Council, supported by the U.S. National Foreign Intelligence Board and the CIA, published Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future with Non-government Experts. This mesmerizing report identifies seven "major drivers and trends that will shape the world of 2015": demographics, natural resources and the environment, science and technology, the global economy and globalization, national and international governance, future conflict, and the role of the United States in the international community. In each of these areas the global group faces a number of unprecedented challenges. For example, the world population will continue to escalate dramatically. Coupled with increasing longevity in both industrialized and developing nations, this will put mounting pressures on health care and pension systems. In addition to the global environmental crises (such as the Greenhouse Effect and the polluting of the oceans), there will be a growing shortage of energy and water supplies. Advances in technology, coupled with greater access, will significantly challenge the maintenance of international peace and security.
Despite the seriousness of these issues, however, they have received relatively little attention in the national media. The warnings presented in Global Trends 2015 were briefly discussed and then quickly forgotten. Even less attention was paid to Secretary Cohen's warning and to John Pomfret's worrying story. Why is it that our society remains so diffident in the face of these formidable challenges? Why are we so reluctant to confront the dangerous realities of the new international order?
The capacity for global destruction has the effect that it puts us all in the same lifeboat. Up until recently, different groups and nations could believe, appropriately enough, that they were each in their own boat and need only be concerned about their own survival. But what happens when everyone is in the same lifeboat and the seas are getting rough? Any serious conflicts will likely topple the boat and all will perish. In this new context what are the best ways to deal with the threats posed by greater interdependency? Can traditional coercive measures 'maintain international peace and security'? What is needed now is a new psychology that is commensurate with the realities of political interdependency. For when diverse populations share the same lifeboat, it is essential that they relate to and communicate with one another; but for joint problem-solving to occur, the various parties involved must have a shared enough sense of reality and humanity. A shared sense of humanity and reality, the prerequisites to any sort of problem-solving, however, cannot be taken for granted simply because all the parties are human beings, communicate with each other directly or through translators, and appear to use reason. A shared sense of humanity and reality is a complex personal and social process that, at present, has only been achieved to a limited degree.
Certainly these challenges provoke anxiety and both individuals and groups are known to use denial to cope with anxiety and helplessness. But is there another challenge at work? Do we lack the conceptual and psychological framework to examine our new interdependency and the factors that could lead to a shared sense of humanity and reality? After all, our models of human behavior and functioning are still evolving and arguably way behind our technological advances.
To answer this question, we need to delve into the history of modern views about national and international relations, for our thinking remains mired in a late nineteenth-century Darwinian paradigm that inspired such political credos as to 'walk softly and carry a big stick'. But the survival-of-the-fittest mentality, where 'might makes right', is only effective when the other party's power is not only less than yours but also, below a certain technological threshold. In such circumstances, superior power can indeed successfully intimidate and, if necessary, win the day. But in the radically altered circumstances that we see today, an entirely new philosophy and set of strategies is required to deal with and reduce the possibility of a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. However, we have not yet developed a psychological paradigm to deal with the realities of global interdependency.
The Enlightenment View of Society
Enlightenment philosophers were deeply troubled by the question: How do societies manage to exist? How does a disparate group of individuals, each locked in his or her own private world of feelings, intentions, and desires, ever manage to come together into a functioning and stable collective? How do individuals even manage to communicate with one another, to share their thoughts and concerns? What are the forces that hold societies together?
Such questions marked a dramatic departure from the medieval view of man and his place in society. For medieval thinkers, the natural order was governed by the Great Chain of Being. According to this doctrine, every existing species can be organized along an ascending line, in which each species grades imperceptibly into the species above and below it. This 'Chain of Being' was generated by God at the beginning of history. Given its divine origins, the Great Chain of Being could not be explained, nor even understood. And the same point applied to the fact that humans live in societies: this too was simply part of the Divine Plan, and hence, a basic and inexplicable fact of human existence.
All this was overturned by Rene Descartes in his Discourse on Method (1637). For Descartes repudiated the Great Chain of Being. He insisted that there is an unbridgeable gap between animals and man. The human body, according to Descartes, is a machine; but man, by his abilities to reason, to speak a language, to direct his actions, and to be conscious of his cognitions, is categorically not an animal. Thus Descartes' universe, unlike that of the Middle Ages, is bifurcated; and at its center stands the mind of the individual, responding to and literally constructing the world around it.
According to Cartesianism, the mind is bombarded by myriad sensations, and to make sense out of this chaotic flux it has to create concepts that serve to identify and classify recurrent stimuli. But then, how could such an isolated mind ever come to form the same concepts as all the other isolated minds around it? That is, what constrains an individual to think like the other members of his or her society? One could hardly answer 'experience', for no two people undergo exactly the same experiences in life. You might infer from her actions that someone else has the same concepts as yourself, but you could never be certain that this was the case. You couldn't even be certain that another speaker was assigning the same meanings to the same words. With all the barriers to shared experience that this epistemological picture creates, how on earth was it possible to establish and sustain a shared sense of reality and existence?
Rationalist and Empiricist philosophers alike argued that the only way that social existence could be possible is if the means of shared experience were somehow built into the human mind. Rationalist philosophers embraced the Platonic doctrine of innate ideas: the theory that the human mind must come into the world already knowing what language is; or knowing the difference between persons and objects; or what a mind is; or, as Kant would later argue, what space and time and causality are. Even Empiricist philosophers, who shunned the doctrine of innate ideas, nonetheless insisted that the mind must be governed by innate mental processes. For example, the famous English empiricist John Locke argued that all minds are governed by the operations of reflection, abstraction, and generalization, and that these universal mental processes predispose an individual to acquire the same ideas as the other members of her society. Locke's problem was that, although he recognized that communal existence was only possible because human beings share the same basic mental capacities, he could not account for the origins of these capacities empirically. Hence, like the Rationalists, he could only fall back on the Platonic argument that these mental operations must be part of the preformed architecture of the human mind.
Thus, despite their differences in regards to the importance of experience in the development of the mind, Rationalists and Empiricists agreed that a disparate group of individuals could only arrive at a shared sense of reality if this phenomenon was somehow predetermined. But then, even if the same concepts or mental processes were built into the human mind from the start, this would still not be enough to explain why a group of individuals would voluntarily agree to adhere to a set of social rules that, by their very nature, must constrain the individual's freedom of action. On the contrary, the Enlightenment picture of the mind made it hard to understand why a group of independent agents would ever refrain from pursuing their own self-interests to the detriment of the social order.
Enlightenment thinkers concluded that somehow self-interest alone must suffice to explain why individuals would choose to band together in a communal existence. On this line of thinking, individuals would only give up some of their self-autonomy because of the greater security and benefits afforded by living in a collective. And pity the community should the power vested in these leaders ever collapse. For, in the words of Hobbes, such individuals would relapse into a state in which there was "No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." This passage from Leviathan was to become one of the most widely cited of all quotations in Western political writings; for it served as a warning of just how fragile were the ties holding together a society. On this view, a society could only withstand so much strain before it saw its fabric torn apart and its members thrust back into the primitive state of what Hobbes described as "the war of all against all."
Herein lies the essence of the Enlightenment view of social existence. Man, in his natural state, is nothing more than a brute: a solitary creature governed by drives, instincts and emotions, with no free will, no language, and no capacity to analyze or control the contents of his mind (Savage-Rumbaugh, Shanker, & Taylor, 1998). According to this view, at some point in our pre-history, humans chose to live together, simply because of their belief that it was in their long-term self-interest to do so. But then, if the original humans were literally nothing more than animals, how on earth were they able to exercise that first momentous act of free will that enabled them to form society? This was a problem that, despite countless efforts, Enlightenment philosophers were never able to resolve (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1998). All that they could agree on was that the internal dynamics of social existence created the conditions in which language, and thence, man's 'higher' faculties could develop, and knowledge could be shared, preserved, and accumulated. But society as such remains an unnatural condition that must be sustained by strong external forces. It is enlightened self-interest, therefore, which continues to impel individuals to support the laws and institutions that maintain the social structure.
The two leading theories of group behavior today, sociobiology (Wilson 1975) and evolutionary psychology (Dennett, 1995), represent an attempt to resolve this classical dilemma by removing altogether any mysterious act of 'free will' that Enlightenment thinkers assumed must account for the origins of society, and developing instead a fully determinist explanation of the origins of group behavior. Thus, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology seek to account for the cohesion of group behavior solely in terms of the individual's drive to preserve his genes. At the same time, they seek to bypass the Enlightenment argument that society enables individuals to develop the capacity to engage in acts of altruism; for according to sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists, 'altruism' itself is a key element in the predetermined machinery that makes society possible. Thus, W.D. Hamilton (1960) used mathematical modelling to demonstrate that an individual could best enhance his reproductive success by aiding his close relatives. Hamilton's argument was confined to kin-selection; but J. Maynard Smith (1966) and R.L Trivers (1985) subsequently argued that non-related individuals would also engage in acts of 'reciprocal altruism' for exactly the same reason: viz., to enhance their reproductive success. Hence the sociobiological model could be applied to the small hominid groups from whence, according to modern paleoanthropology, Homo sapiens is descended.
But what of the Enlightenment problem of explaining how the members of a society should come to share a common sense of reality and humanity? Here too sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have attempted to develop a fully determinist account of the forces that constrain an individual to think like the other members of his or her society, in the form of Dawkins's theory of the 'meme'. According to Dawkins, just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool via spermatozoa or eggs, so too highly contagious 'information patterns' propagate themselves in the 'meme pool', by leaping, like viruses, from brain to brain (see Dawkins 1989). In other words, the structure of our brains is such that, when exposed to certain ideas -- e.g., the basic ideas that sustain social harmony -- we become 'infected': i.e., we have no choice but to think in exactly the same terms as those around us.
Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology employ all of the trappings of modern neo-Darwinian theory, therefore, to defend what is essentially the Enlightenment view that self-interest alone must account for the existence of society, and that a shared sense of reality is biologically determined. On this line of thinking, our most distinctive traits and behaviors were mapped out in our genotype some time between 75,000 and 30,000 years ago (Cosmides & Tooby 1992). Human capacities have not changed fundamentally from what they were in the Pleistocene. Our species-typical cognitive, communicative, and social behaviors are phenotypic traits that maturate: i.e., that are 'pre-wired' and that unfold in fixed sequences as the nervous system develops.
In this view emotions, including reciprocal altruism and other important social capacities come about through genetic variation and natural selection much like physical traits. Evolution selects for emotional and social capacities that enhance reproductive success (Johnston, 1999).
The paradigm for this argument is Chomsky's frequently repeated claim that "in certain fundamental respects we do not really learn language; rather, grammar grows in the mind" (Chomsky, 1980). Drawing on this principle, sociobiologists claim that all of the key aspects of our development -- our emotions, cognitive abilities, language, and the capacity to 'mindread' -- are "'inside us' all along, albeit in smaller form, and get passed on to subsequent generations in that form, and just, as it were, 'grow' in individuals" (Richardson, 1998). On this genetic determinist outlook, not only do genes drive us to live in groups: they also regulate the step-by-step maturation of the capacities that make social existence possible. Even those traits that require cultural transmission are thought to be passed down, from one generation to the next, in much the same manner that genes are passed from one generation to the next, rather than with an understanding of the interactive learning processes involved.
Interestingly, even though the sociobiological view has come under trenchant, and, one would have thought, damning criticism (see Lewontin, Rose & Kamin, 1984), it has nonetheless continued to attract widespread interest amongst the general public as well as the scientific community (Pinker, 1997). This is no doubt in large part due to the power that the determinist paradigm continues to exert on contemporary thinking. But to some extent the appeal of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology is also due to the fact that no one has yet presented a compelling picture of the developmental mechanisms that underpin collective existence.
To understand these complex developmental processes and put the genetic deterministic paradigm in perspective, one would naturally turn to anthropology. Anthropology was founded on the principle of culture relativity precisely in order to combat determinist thinking (see Boas, 1982). But many contemporary anthropologists are eschewing the traditional concern with cultural diversity and, instead, joining sociobiology and evolutionary psychology in the search for genetically determined universal human traits. In part, the concern of these 'universalists' is that cultural relativism is too close to behaviorism (Brown, 1991); and in part, that the cultural relativists went too far in their claims of infinite variability, and failed to provide any organizing principles of human experience (i.e., the developmental mechanisms that lead to complex social capacities).
The approach adopted by the new breed of cultural relativists and dynamic systems theorists is far more sophisticated than the early relativist view of the mind as a tabula rasa. For example, Brown and Levinson have recently shown how different cultures employ different frames of reference to organize their spatial experience (Brown & Levinson, 2000). The upshot of their research is that, contrary to the Piagetian assumption that the course of spatial development can be predicted on the basis of a priori reasoning about the logical order of spatial concepts, we find support for the argument that an infant's development of spatial concepts is shaped by the spatial terms employed in her culture.  Still, in order to address the goals shared by the universalist contingent amongst contemporary anthropologists, this important research on the relativity of cognitive development needs to be grounded in a more general model of the mechanisms that underlie collective existence. That is, we need a new model that extends relativistic and dynamic systems thinking. This model needs to explain the processes whereby the members of a group develop a shared sense of reality and humanity, while at the same time accounting for the infinite variation of human experience and behavior documented by cultural relativists. But such a model cannot be formulated within the restrictive parameters of determinist thinking because it requires an understanding of the multiple factors and developmental processes that lead to both the commonality and infinite variation of human experience.
The determinist picture of group psychology introduced by Enlightenment philosophers clearly represented an important advance over the more magical types of thinking that prevailed in the Middle Ages. Insofar as their psychology was concerned, one might say that the medieval way of thinking was marked by a lack of boundaries between reality and fantasy, or more generally, between objectivity and subjectivity. It is no wonder, given the great scientific and technological changes taking place in the Renaissance, that this pre-deterministic paradigm was supplanted by a deterministic paradigm. But just as the birth of modern science exposed the limitations of this earlier, pre-deterministic way of thinking, so too recent advances in cultural anthropology, biology, primatology, and dynamic systems theory are now exposing the limitations of the determinist paradigm (Gottlieb, 1997). What is needed is a model that builds on the post-deterministic forms of thinking that are emerging in both the life and the human sciences.
There is clearly a growing awareness of the need for such a new paradigm, as can be seen, for example, in the 'Summary' of the State of the World Forum (2000 session). The leaders of the Forum explained how "The growing integration of the world through information technology and economic globalization illustrates profoundly the need for rigorous multi-stakeholder dialogue and inquiry into the practical design and the compassionate, sustainable management of human systems". No one could object to the Forum's goal of honoring "human diversity within the context of human commonality, celebrating individual creativity while drawing connections between the discrete parts of the whole."
We are a long way, however, from realizing these goals, as is clearly seen in the furor surrounding the G8 meetings, or the ongoing madness in the Middle East, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, or Rwanda. One reason why we are still so far from attaining these goals is because we lack a psychological model that can meet the challenges posed by global interdependency. Historically, as well as presently, attempts to create large integrated groups have met with deep suspicion and polarization. It is for this reason that we need to understand the mechanisms that have led to successful group formation (to the extent that this has been successful) up to the present. We also need to know what will enable us to reach a new adaptive level of group functioning, in which we can deal with a much larger a level of interdependency as well as the challenges to getting there.
This is precisely the thrust of the psychology of interdependency. The basic principle of the psychology of interdependency is that a shared sense of reality and humanity emerges, not from our genes, or from hard-wired processes of reflection, abstraction, and generalization, but rather, from a series of formative developmental experiences that create the framework for a shared sense of humanity and reality, as well as reflective problem solving. It is through these formative experiences that individuals both share a common sense of reality and humanity, and share the infinite variation in human experience and behavior (much like the genetic code in DNA at once unites us and gives us our unique differences). In other words, our most important human capacities are not built into the mind or brain as the Enlightenment philosophers and current evolutionary psychologists believe. They are embedded in formative learning experiences that characterize vital components of culture that allow for both the commonality and variation in human behavior.
Aspects of these critical components of culture date back to prehistoric times and precede homo sapiens. We see them, for example, in nonhuman primates. They include the capacities to form relationships and groups and use gestures to signal, comprehend intentions and negotiate such basics as safety, danger, dependency, and aggression. Because they are culturally transmitted (i.e., require learning by each new generation), these processes are quite fragile to changing environmental conditions. Since they depend on new learning in each generation, however, they are also open to improvement (Greenspan & Shanker, in preparation).
These culturally-mediated, formative, learning experiences are often implicit (Greenspan, 1997). This notion of implicit processes or of an implicit psychology is reminiscent of what Emil Durkheim referred to at the end of the 19th century as 'social facts': representations in the same collective or conscience collective ('collective mind'). That is, values, customs, beliefs, etc., that may exist outside the conscious awareness of the individual members of the society but nonetheless have concrete effects on their behavior. For example, we may not be conscious of the rules proscribing how to dress, or the distance one should maintain in varying social contexts, but we nonetheless scrupulously follow these rules. So too, by an 'implicit psychology' we are talking about fundamental principles that we tacitly use to form values and beliefs and to make sense of and interpret the behavior of others and ourselves. Implicit processes and the implicit psychology that emerges from them, therefore, in part determine our most basic assumptions and ways of interpreting the world.
At present our implicit psychology remains rooted in the Enlightenment psychology of determinism. It is based on the notion that there are predictable and logical relationships between independent forces or variables: i.e., that if I do A it will have such-and-such an impact on B. The two actions involved here -- the initiating action 'A' and the consequence 'B' -- are seen as distinct events that are linked together causally. We see this thinking very clearly in the implicit assumptions that we make about child rearing, or for that matter, about the management of international relations. In both cases there is a heavy emphasis on linear sequences of events: on antecedents and consequences. Henry Kissinger's assertion that the transgressor should be given a consequence that he is not prepared to pay is illustrative (Kissinger 1995). Hence the preoccupation throughout the 20th century with mechanist theories of the mind: first Behaviorism, then Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence, and currently, the Genome Project and sociobiology. On all of these paradigms, mental development, both at the individual and at the collective level, is viewed in mechanist and maturational terms.
One of the hallmarks of this determinist psychology is the belief in the need for external controls or consequences. The feelings of helplessness that individuals experience when events begin to cascade out of their control are not unfamiliar. The group feeling of helplessness can be quite destabilizing. For, as the Enlightenment thinkers rightly stressed, the group provides the individual with a feeling of safety and security; without these feelings of communal strength, the cohesion that holds groups together can quickly start falling apart.
The problem is, the Enlightenment paradigm dictates that we deal with any such fragmentation in an atomistic fashion: viz., by strengthening the external constraints that will enforce social conformity on individuals or nation-states. Thus the Enlightenment paradigm has always laid great stress on the role of the charismatic leader (e.g., Thomas Carlyle's theory of the 'poet-philosopher') or the enlightened group (e.g., Lenin's view of the 'revolutionary vanguard') for the guidance and maintenance of social order. The same tendencies persist in contemporary political writings: not just in the familiar paeans to revolutionary figures (on both the left and the right), but more interestingly in the glowing tributes to Alan Greenspan's ability to dictate world economic events. In addition to such important international bodies as the U.N. Peacekeeping Force, or the World Bank, we see a resurgence throughout the western democracies of splinter groups, some of them paramilitary, who regard themselves as the guardians of libertarian values, or the champions of the disenfranchised. But perhaps most striking of all is how the law has emerged in modern political writings as the great protector of liberal-democratic values (Rawls 1999).
Individuals, in order to be part of a family group, community group, nation group, and global (human) group, however, require more than external guidance. They require enough of a sense of shared reality and humanity to coalesce around these different levels of social organization. Social organizations that embrace diversity and are broad and stable are not based on shared myths or shared histories. Certainly not in the narrow and traditionally described cultural sense. Rather, the coming together is around shared processes that construct a complex reality and a complex view of humanity that shares implicit rules for the group's survival. An example of the application of such implicit rules is the formation of derivative institutional processes that are larger than any one specific belief (for example, those that support justice).
What are the "common" experiences that can support these implicit processes and their derivative institutions? These experiences are the ones that determine how we engage in and define human relationships, express and comprehend intentions, and implicitly negotiate the basic themes of survival, such as safety and danger, respect and humiliation. They are also the ones that determine the degree to which we can symbolize, reflect on, and create institutions to deal with our own and others' intentions, beliefs, and values to sustain a shared sense of humanity and reality. How can we characterize these experiences at the collective level?
Toward a Psychology of Interdependency
The psychology of interdependency begins with the perspective that we are continually evolving our frame of reference for understanding individual and collective behavior. This frame of reference is a product of formative developmental processes that deal with basic human affective interactions dating back to prehistoric times. Through cultural transmission over the course of evolution, these developmental processes influence our current behavior and ability to deal with new challenges. These include the developmental capacities for forming relationships, communicating with gestures and symbols, and thinking, which we use to form our social groups. While certainly influenced by genetic variation, these formative developmental processes, and the group behavior they lead to, are largely experiential and, therefore, open to change (both in terms of advancement or regression).
The psychology of interdependency is a characterization of human functioning within which the interrelationship among peoples and their sense of shared humanity and reality encompasses a wider range of different peoples, and therefore a larger, more diverse group, than ever before. This characterization operates at a number of levels, including:
- The degree to which large groups or societies meet their critical developmental needs (i.e., of their own group) and can, therefore, support interdependency among its members and with other groups.
- The degree to which the social group or society can support the development of the individuals of future generations in a way that will enable them to be capable of a level of shared humanity, reality, and reflectiveness consistent with adaptive interdependency.
- The degree to which societies formulate policies and institutions that foster adaptive interdependency presently and in the future.
The Formative Developmental Processes of the Group, the Basis for a Shared Sense of Humanity and Reality at the Collective Level
Social groups have traditionally been characterized along a number of social and cultural dimensions that explain aspects of the group's behavior. Malinowski, for example, described some of the basic functions that characterize and individualize societies (e.g., kinship systems). Other well-studied characteristics of groups include SES [Socioeconomic Status], education level, ethnic background, and group identity (Brown 2000; Forsyth 1999; Hogg & Tindale 2001). We have suggested another dimension to characterize the functioning of the group. This dimension has to do with the way in which a group of individuals carry out a series of developmental functions that enable the group to exist, maintain itself, and grow (Greenspan, 1997). From a developmental perspective, in order to exist, sustain themselves and grow, groups must provide:
- Physical safety and security in order to sustain its existence (i.e., food, housing, protection from danger) and not be overwhelmed by disorganizing fears or events.
- Cohesion and a shared sense of humanity or interrelatedness to create and sustain the emotional investment between group members that define the group.
- A presymbolic gestural communication system that enables the rapid negotiation of basic needs and the formation of shared assumptions and implicit rules or processes to deal with such basics as aggression, danger, greed, competition, dependency, sharing, assertiveness, autonomy, fear, etc.
- Symbolic capacities at different levels and with associated structures and institutions to express, interpret, negotiate, and problem-solve with regard to the group's needs and goals.
Each of these developmental functions that characterize a social group can occur at varying levels of adaptation. For example, group cohesion and a shared sense of humanity can occur around a narrow definition of commonality, such as eye color, or a broader one such as being part of the human race. The former leads to polarized beliefs (us versus them) with other groups, whereas the latter is more inclusive but can be harder to organize and sustain. The level of adaptation employed by the group to carry out each of their developmental functions will contribute significantly to its capacity to cope with the world's growing interdependency. In fact, these group developmental functions provide a framework for understanding the processes that contribute to a psychology of interdependency.
How can we characterize the social and adaptive features of the large group? Over a century ago, social scientists observed that numbers of people massed together often act much more crudely and unthinkingly than the individuals composing the crowd might do on their own. There is now a substantial literature documenting the seeming irrationality and loss of personal boundaries of people in large groups (Turquet, 1975). In such settings, individuals frequently attribute their own feelings to others, as well as adopt the feelings of others. Soccer matches turn into riots; peaceful demonstrations suddenly become violent; whole societies dissolve into chaos and brutality.
Such seemingly irrational behavior can be understood in terms of the dimensions of the group processes around which a group, community, or a society is organized. The disciplines that traditionally study societies consider the behavior of large groups in light of culture, class structure, education level, economic systems, and so on. As indicated, the psychology of interdependency illuminates yet another aspect of social organization, allowing us to characterize a given society in terms of the way it meets its developmental needs, i.e., its developmental capacities. For example, some societies struggle with the basics of regulating behavior and forming a cohesive group; others work on collective self-reflection that generates values and institutions to deal with basic needs, integrate different beliefs, and flexibly grow with emerging challenges.
Important characteristics of a society is thus a function of the collective sense of humanity and reality as well as level of reflective thinking of that society. These group capacities (as will be described in more detail shortly) are in part hierarchical, in that some mastery of earlier capacities is necessary for more advanced ones, although there is often partial mastery of various levels. In addition, each capacity is applied to many societal and personal themes differentially. For example, the ways in which individuals or groups deal with dependency may exist at a more complex organizational-structural level than how they deal with aggression. In this model, the more reflective and the greater the breadth of mastery of the group, the greater the adaptability and stability of the group.
No specific member of the group -- who may operate at a relatively mature or immature level -- defines these societal structures or organizations, even though the maturity of individuals making up a group has an important influence. Rather, as individuals come together to create practices, processes, structures, and institutions, they form organizations which have their own character. The functional developmental perspective provides a new lens with which to view this character (Greenspan, 1997). For example, some groups or societies cohere at levels of development that depend on concrete, polarized images and rigid, inflexible rules. In these groups, concrete ideas govern relatively unreflective actions. Other groups cohere at developmental levels where the practices and institutions can integrate different perspectives that involve subtlety, nuance, and the ability for change and growth through collective self-reflection. Here, more intricate processes guide decision-making as well as manage conflict and change.
The unit of analysis -- which can be a group, community, society, or a number of societies working together -- can be characterized according to the following developmental dimensions.
Providing physical protection from attack is perhaps the most basic of all social functions. Without this provision other forms of social and cultural development become difficult if not impossible. Along this dimension, societies range from the chaos of civil war to highly stable states. Somewhere between we find various scantily governed nations and assorted police states where citizens vanish without a trace for indeterminate reasons; nations like the United States, with rates of murder and violent crime exceptionally high for the industrial West; Canada, which is like the United States in many ways but substantially safer; and Japan, with a miniscule incidence of homicide despite what might seem to be an overwhelmingly dense population. Some societies, in other words, do a far better job than others of providing the sense of security and internal regulation that permits members to attend to the tasks and opportunities of the world.
Cohesion and Shared Allegiance
The task at the second developmental level is to connect and engage with others, forming bonds of common humanity. In some nations, citizens feel a strong sense of mutual obligation. Aware of themselves as a people, they recognize a shared destiny and the duty of each individual to contribute to and, if necessary, sacrifice for the common welfare. In other countries, people feel no such sense of national unity and commitment. They may owe their allegiance to some small group, region or subculture, which is at odds with others or with the nation at large, or they may function as atomized individuals looking out for themselves and perhaps a small number of close relatives or friends. For bonds of connectedness to endure among the increasingly varied kinds of 'hyphenated' citizens, a people must experience and maintain a sense of commonality broader than ever before in the human experience.
Intentions, Expectations, and Shared Assumptions: The Formation of a Collective Character
Covert affective communications define the shared assumptions a society uses to meet its basic needs, such as security and dependency, control of aggression, power, sexuality, and the like. These tacit or implicit processes underlie more overt symbols and are a significant component of a group's character. They begin their impact in the early years of life in the way that a society or group, through its family practices, communicates with its young and deals with basic themes such as safety versus danger, security versus fear, acceptance versus rejection, approval versus disapproval, humiliation versus pride and respect, power and assertiveness versus helplessness, sexuality and respect for the body versus shame and embarrassment.
These covert processes, which are imbedded in group procedures dealing with basic needs, as well as in the content of emerging symbols (beliefs), can lead to varying degrees of adaptive or maladaptive organization at various levels of integration. For example, some groups employ the mechanism of splitting emotional polarities when confronted with intense affects. Rather than seeing another group as sometimes good and sometimes bad, and having an integrated perspective which unites the parts into a whole, there is a tendency to split experience into one or another dimension (believing at that moment that only one dimension exists). Such splitting can justify enormous hostility when another group is characterized as all evil. Groups that tend to maintain nurturing and dependency in the face of intense affects (such as anger, fear and humiliation) facilitate more integrative organizations. Other aspects of the collective character that are formed and maintained by covert processes include the degree of individual or group rigidity, the tendency to project intentions onto others, the tendency for rapid unpredictable shifts in attitudes rather than stable perspectives, and the tendency towards impulsive action rather than delay and caution.
A society's developmental capacities are also reflected in the relationship of its symbols to its deeper values. Are symbolic objects perceived to carry power in and of themselves or as representations of important abstract values? Is the nation's flag, for example, sacred in itself, or as a symbol of 'the republic for which it stands'? The difference is clearly seen in the contrast between the Nazi regime's burning books to suppress ideas it found objectionable and the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that burning the American flag constitutes an act of protected symbolic speech. Although desecration of so dear an emblem deeply offends many Americans, the Court nonetheless supported separating the physical object itself from the ideas it represents.
Only slightly more conducive to abstract thinking are symbols that are fragmented, inconsistent, idiosyncratic, and discordant with the reality they purportedly represent. Such symbols do not fit any coherent system of significance but rather, exist as islands of meaning separate from people's understanding of the world. Communist regimes, like others, literally rewrote history -- including the references made in official speeches and documents and the textbooks used in schools -- to match current ideology rather than the common memory of those who had lived through the events in question, clearly violating citizens' shared sense of reality.
The maturity of a society's symbolic system, like that of an individual, can also be assessed according to its degree of polarization and rigidity on the one hand or flexibility and integration on the other. Southern slave society, for example, viewed people with any degree of African ancestry as inherently inferior to those of purely European ancestry. Such polarized thinking disassociates one's own group from certain undesirable qualities and projects these traits on the other, rendering its members frightening, loathsome, or both. All forms of prejudice against groups of people perceived as undifferentiated masses defined by a single characteristic exemplify this kind of thinking. A more evolved society perceives human beings as individuals, each to be judged and appreciated as a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. The formal inclusion of such groups as women and African Americans in the circle of citizens protected by the Bill of Rights represents a significant step away from polarized attitudes. To the extent that actual practice falls short of official rhetoric, however, polarization continues to hold sway.
Slightly more advanced than polarized symbol systems are those that allow a few strictly defined categories of thought and behavior. The American electorate's sharp swings in presidential preference reflect such constricted thinking.
At the symbolic level, therefore, we can observe the degree to which groups or societies:
- use action rather than symbols to convey intentions (e.g., acting out aggression rather than negotiating the aggressive, but symbolized, intent);
- use concrete symbols to represent intentions even when they are intense, but easily lapse into fragmented symbols;
- become solidified into polarized, all-or-nothing symbolic organizations;
- remain rigid in their beliefs in the face of change; and
- symbolize the full range and intensity of collective intentions in a flexible and stable manner.
Institutions that Encourage Reflection
Just as for individuals, symbolic expression permits groups to reflect on problems and decisions. Some societies discourage self-critical evaluations, branding them, depending on the context, as unpatriotic, traitorous, heretical, or counter-`revolutionary. Others have elaborate procedures for weighing issues of importance to the society at large -- consider, for example, the Koerner Commission report that examined the causes of American racial unrest in the 1970s, or the rigorous self-examination by which the German state has worked to rid itself of the remnants of Nazism.
Indeed, the legislative apparatus in democratic states exists for exactly the purpose of making decisions by deliberation rather than by fiat. The process prescribed by certain European parliaments or the U.S. Constitution is explicitly designed to force reflection, to make it essentially impossible for a nation to make any important decision without discussion and compromise among the various power centers of society.
Functioning consistently at this level is not easy in large groups because it demands considerable social maturity. But stable reflective structures lead to a far more balanced and judicious approach to issues, as is obvious from the fact that democracies that require a majority vote before they can take action almost never go to war with one another.
Even economic trends may be influenced by these patterns. Reflective innovators create economic opportunities and carefully weigh investment decisions. Followers who are concrete and less reflective, however, may make less intelligent investment decisions, swayed by impulse and poorly thought-out expectations. Perhaps business cycles reflect the gradual entry of this second group, each member marginally less efficient than the one before. An atmosphere of economic success may further encourage this second group into the market, leading eventually to a downturn in the cycle. If a society becomes overly characterized by a lack of reflection, economic instability may well increase.
Stability Through Change
Sustainable societies have mechanisms that permit them to change while retaining core values. Many modern nations have gone several times from peace to war while preserving democratic institutions and practices -- for example, holding elections in wartime and, in the most extreme case, in the midst of civil war. In a country that lacks such a stable, high-level reflective organization, however, leadership changes only with the overthrow of the ruling clique. New policies arise not from electoral landslides but from upheavals that can result in a new constitution, flag, and sometimes even name.
In addition to differences in the maturity of institutions, societies also vary in how they handle emotional themes. How rich and varied are its ideas for dealing with love, anger, competitiveness, obligation? How do its literature, art, music, movies, theater, television shows, and news coverage deal with these themes? If a group has a large number of words or symbolic images for representing and discussing an area of experience, clearly it can deal more precisely, and possibly more reflectively, with that array of feelings than a society able to avail itself of only a few roughly differentiated symbols.
A group's capacity to deal with and symbolize emotional themes is especially evidenced in its child-rearing and educational practices, what attitudes it has toward dependency or aggression, and how it embraces differences imbedded in both covert interactive and overt symbolic processes.
The Social Group as the Primary Unit in Evolution and the Carrier of the Genes
We would postulate that, going back to the distant origins of our species in Paleolithic times, it was the group that was the true unit of survival, because the group is necessary for physical protection and for providing the basics of food and housing, not to mention economies of scale that allow for creative endeavors.
In looking at the implicit developmental processes that lead to a shared sense of humanity and reality, it is not hard to see why a stable, cohesive, reflective group structure should play such an important role in human development; for once the group reaches a certain threshold, it not only increases the security of its members but also, provides caregivers with a greater capability to nurture their infants by sharing various responsibilities (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, military protection, economic specialization). In this sense one might say that it is the group and not the individual that it is the guardian of human genes.
Therefore, looking at the developmental needs and capacities of the large group leads to a new definition of the importance of the group. It is the primary unit of survival and its level of functioning, as described above, will determine its likelihood of survival. In other words, we need to move beyond the neo-Darwinian view that natural selection is bent on selecting individuals who act in their own self-interest (Wilson, 1978). This determinist view is based on the assumptions that:
a) the group is composed of autonomous individuals;
b) only individuals reproduce and perish; and
c) those individuals that are reproductively the most prolific will determine the nature of future generations.
Dawkins (1976) has taken the individual selection model a step further by arguing that bodies are merely packages for genes, whose purpose is to produce bodies in order to replicate themselves.
In place of this neo-Darwinian notion that the individual is just a carrying-case for genes that contain the information necessary to protect the survival of the individual, and that the individual is driven to have his genes survive over everyone else's, the psychology of interdependency emphasizes the importance of the group for the survival of higher-order organisms. On this outlook, the individual only survives or fails to survive as part of a group. One might think here of what is involved in an effective company, military, community structure, etc. If each individual just works on his own then the organization has no chance of reaching its goal. As with successful athletic teams, surviving and winning requires group cohesion and effort. Similarly, whole societies can only survive to the extent to which they work together.
At high levels of complex behavior, the social structure undergoes a level of differentiation. Functioning requires group participation. It is not possible for individuals to develop their creative abilities or to satisfy their scientific curiosity unless social structures exist that allow them to benefit from the efforts of others (e.g., agriculture, utilities, construction). Humans operate in groups, therefore, and the survival of the genes is a function of the survival of the group. But the social evolution of the group is constrained by the demands of creating the conditions for infants to develop the capacities necessary to become members in turn of a strong, cohesive group: to be able to relate to others, problem-solve, and share a common sense of humanity and reality.
The Global Group: The New Unit of Survival
The size of the group and the amount of diversity it needs to accommodate is in part based on the challenges surrounding it and what is necessary for survival and adaptation. In an interdependent world, our concept of the group must enlarge beyond any prior concepts of a functional group. The unit of survival in an interdependent world is the entire globe. Such a global group would embrace similar implicit rules that the family group, community, or tribal group embraces, in order to guarantee the group's and the individual's survival (e.g., rules against the killing of family members, incest, etc.).
The larger and more diverse the group, however, the harder it is to organize. To organize and maintain such a functional group, one that integrates many diverse elements, requires especially stable, secure and reflective individuals.
It would be easy to think that a large group identity or a global identity means some new form of socialism, where individual rights and liberties are compromised. Quite to the contrary. To be successful, the larger group identity needs to be an expression of the individual self-interests. An example of this is the family group. Most individuals perceive their families as part of their own survival. Similarly, the large group and the global group can be seen as an expression of the individual survival based on the realities of survival. In other words, one's perception of the group dimensions necessary for survival will determine to what degree the group becomes an expression of individual self-interest. One can imagine different perceptions in different contexts. In a safe world with bountiful food and other basics, individuals and/or small groups may not find the need to congregate in larger groups. On the other hand, with hostile others nearby and/or food and shelter hard to come by, certain size groups may be essential for survival. In today's world, because of the degree of interdependency, we have argued that the unit of survival is the global group. Therefore, the individual will hopefully, over a period of time, identify with other human beings across the globe the way they identify with their more immediate family, community, and national groups.
One can picture this as a hierarchical relationship where individual self-interest relates to the family, the community, the nation, and the global group. Each boundary, which on the one hand is real and has its own integrity, has a relationship with the next boundary, which provides another level of survival protection. For the large group to work, this hierarchical relationship must be strong at every level. Yet, it is expected that very different feelings will exist for one's family in comparison to one's nation and, in turn, for one's nation in comparison to the global group. While different, if there is true recognition of a new unit of survival, i.e., the globe, we would expect a new ethic to emerge regarding other groups. In other words, the individual self-interest is not to be given up. It's to be transformed into a hierarchical set of relationships where the individual and collective needs are part of one integrated pattern. This will require highly reflective individuals who can attend to their unique individual and family patterns and the larger group patterns at the same time.
The paradox is -- the larger the group and the more the group organizes diverse, unique individuals, the greater the reflective and integrative capacities demanded of the individuals in the group. Therefore, while such large integrated groups are difficult to form, if they can be formed, they are more stable and adaptive than less integrated groups. It is far easier, however, for groups to coalesce, as we have described earlier, around concrete traits such as skin color or polarized beliefs, yet the more demanding integrative processes and institutions that organize a global group provide a far greater measure of adaptation, especially in today's complex world.
Adaptive Levels of the Social Group
Clearly, some groups do a better job than others in establishing the conditions necessary for developing fully-functioning members of the group; and some group structures are better suited to achieve this goal in certain situations than others. Hence we can talk about the evolution of groups. That is, at a basic level we see groups that cohere around some superficial trait, like skin color or language; at a more advanced level the group might cohere around some polarized belief system; and a still more advanced structure develops institutions that encourage highly reflective and abstract thought processes. To be sure, the basic group structure will be much less flexible and adaptive than groups that are highly reflective, but in certain situations the basic group structure will be more stable than a 'higher' level of group structure. Hence one does not want to talk about the 'evolution of groups' in a teleological sense, but rather, in terms of the suitability of various levels of group structure to the kinds of complexities with which that group must deal.
There is a paradox here which affects all groups, as indicated earlier: the larger the group the better certain functions can be exercised, simply because of economies of scale. Yet the larger the group the harder it is to coalesce, simply because more differences have to be accommodated. In the current environment of global interdependency, the challenges that we face are such that we will only be able to meet them as a cohesive global community. But then, the sheer size of such a community means that we will have to accommodate individual and group differences on a scale that has never been encountered before.
The type of 'glue' that holds a group together is, therefore, very important. As indicated above, a society built on its people's ability to share a sense of humanity and implicit assumptions and also manipulate complex symbols attains cohesion at a much more complex developmental pattern than one built on basic urges like fear and hatred, or crude polarized concepts of 'us' against 'them'. In the first type of society, people invest energies in the structures and processes by which they are governed, rather than in personal or absolutist beliefs.
Interestingly, it is our inner affects that invest our outer reality with meaning. Our emotional attachment to the customs and institutions of our social world gives them their very being. Emotions form the bridge between the subjectivity of the individual and the objectivity of the larger world. As we described above, what we are emotionally invested in is what has meaning for us. Becoming emotionally invested in abstract concepts, such as equality, justice, and democracy, can be more challenging than being emotionally invested in polarized beliefs (we are better than them) or surface physical traits. Only individuals who have evolved through the capacities described above can channel emotions to animate the abstract ideals of their society and the structures that embody them. Social cohesion results from what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the "consent of the governed." It is a product of the affects widely held within a group rather than of compulsion and regimentation.
Developmental Perspectives on Conflicts Between Nations
In recent decades numerous studies, including a report on ethnicity and nationalism by the Group of the Advancement of Psychiatry (1987), have described how nations tend to distort each other's intentions and mistakenly ascribe their own motives and beliefs to others. Even more fundamental processes may, however, be at work. The levels of the group outlined above may shed additional light on international relations. Nations often use primitive strategies -- such as disengagement, lack of ongoing affective interactions, and polarized thinking -- rather than advanced ones to deal with conflict. The historical tendency of the United States to disengage from adversaries like Libya, Iraq, and Cuba is an example of just such a phenomenon. This strategy has not succeeded in forcing these nations to accept America's will; rather, it has kept Americans ill-informed about their motivations and intentions, leading to such calamities as the Lockerbie bombing, the Korean War, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Retaining contact would at the very least have enabled Americans to gain more accurate information, and at best, allowed them some influence over their actions.
For well into five decades both sides in the cold war were drawn into devastating military spending and two actual wars. The relations of the superpowers with countries around the world were distorted by polarized thinking, categorizing groups into allies or adversaries. This prevented efforts to understand each side's motivations and act on that understanding. Thus America might have understood the Soviet objection to U.S. missiles in Turkey had they taken into account Russia's bitter memories of foreign invasion. Had America acknowledged and in some way tried to assuage this well-founded terror, it is possible that the Cuban missile crisis might have been settled without escalating to the brink of nuclear war. Like many nations, the United States has repeatedly projected overly-simplified notions onto others and has repeatedly discovered -- in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia -- that foreign plans and aspirations are more complicated than was thought.
It is especially difficult to maintain unthreatening engagement and increase interactions with other groups as tensions and anger rise. It is also difficult to use sanctions and interventions to set limits during difficult times and to combine limits with ongoing relationships (e.g., economic sanctions rather than withdrawal). Rather than maintain engagement, we often attempt to humiliate or isolate an adversary from the world community. Also, it is especially challenging to tolerate the distortions and suspicions of others and use these distortions as a source of insight into their concerns, and then negotiate differences using accurate information.
The oversimplification of issues has the deleterious effect of weakening internal institutions. If leaders give the public pat answers and polarized choices that do not represent the full complexities of challenges, they undermine both people's confidence and their ability to think reflectively about world affairs. When political leaders use the mass media to feed the public misleading information -- a danger exemplified during the McCarthy period in the 1950s -- the collective loses the capacity to make careful distinctions in its national discourse. Current polling techniques exacerbate this situation. After public figures have framed issues in a polarized way, pollsters conduct surveys to determine which positions are popular. Leaders then justify their policies and actions by referring to public opinion polls that were initially shaped by their own misinformation. A cycle of escalating misinformation and polarization replaces informed debate.
The Developmental Levels of the Group in Modern Democracies
To reach a complex level of collective functioning does not mean that a society has completely surpassed the basic levels of functioning. On the contrary, a society never completely overcomes these elements. The question is rather how much a society can entrench its transition to a more complex degree of functioning. Obviously some societies will be more stable at more complex degrees than others, both in terms of the range of stresses (internal and external) they can deal with, and in terms of how quickly they can recover from regressive episodes.
We see precisely this phenomenon in the case of modern democracies. Democracies as opposed to totalitarian regimes are at least based on firm institutional processes grounded in principles of group functioning that are informed by abstract concepts such as equality, justice, etc. While many democracies can be faulted for not providing accurate information for free decision-making to its members, nonetheless, there is often far more flow of information and freedom to make choices than in other forms of government. It is difficult to envision totalitarian regimes being able to progress toward a psychology of interdependency because they lack these stable institutional processes and can hardly be expected to enter into long-term agreements or understandings with other nations. Such agreement and understanding would be based on the personality or beliefs of the individual(s) in power rather than stable institutional processes and values that can withstand the challenges of time.
Even modern democracies are not operating at the most complex model of collective thinking outlined above. And not all democracies are operating with the same degree of stability. To be sure, the collective thinking of democratic nations defines the 'group' in terms of national institutions and abstract liberal-democratic principles. But it is not the case that all social groups in these mosaic cultures enjoy the same privileges and opportunities. Moreover, modern democracies continue to draw boundaries between themselves and other democratic nations, regardless of how similar these other states might be socially or politically, or how closely tied their economies and cultures. Most striking, however, is how quickly all of the modern democracies regress in times of mounting anxiety, and how their collective thinking becomes highly polarized and insular. In such periods, they all display the same tendency to look for stronger measures to enforce conformity to social norms. But not all modern democracies display the same capacity to recover speedily -- or for that matter, fully -- from such regressive episodes.
The capacity for individuals to organize into groups that cohere at flexible, reflective (rather than polarized) concrete levels is part of a long evolutionary process. While Darwinian images of the survival-of-the-fittest are often associated with this evolutionary process, the mental abilities that enable relationships, empathy, cooperation, and understanding emerge only from nurturing relationships in caring families. It is the nurturing side of relationships that enables human beings to form, maintain, and work together in families, communities, and societies. Working together in these groups makes it possible to rear reflective children and create complex economies, militaries, and governments. In the modern world only such cohesive groups founded on formative developmental processes that are characterized by nurturing relationships will have the potential to cope with the world's growing interdependency.
The Evolution and Fragility of Adaptive Group Processes
As indicated, it is likely that the interactive and communication patterns, especially the presymbolic ones, (e.g., back-and-forth gesturing and signaling of intentions) that underlie and sustain social groups have a long evolutionary history and that homo sapiens built their communication and social system on earlier prehuman ones.
Bonobo chimps and other nonhuman primates, as well as many other mammals, communicate with gestures and are able to organize and sustain complex social organization. Furthermore, these presymbolic systems of affective gesturing and co-regulation of behavior appear to be essential for symbol formation and other higher-level language, thinking, and social skills (Greenspan et al., in preparation).
Also, as discussed earlier, these formative, presymbolic interactions and communication patterns that lead to the ability to be part of a group are culturally transmitted and, together with genetic variation, are necessary for the evolution of higher-level adaptive individual and group capacities. For example, while genetic variation is necessary to create the potential for complex preverbal communication with gestures (e.g., the development of the prefrontal cortex), it is not sufficient. Formative cultural patterns embodying specific types of interactive experiences, such as nurturing care and affective gesturing, are also essential. These cultural patterns are passed on from group to group, family to family, relationship to relationship in the caregiving interactions between caregivers and their infants and young children. These formative cultural patterns have likely been passed on across species (from nonhuman primates to homo sapiens) during long spans of time. They are not incorporated into our genetic structure any more than learning to play tennis is (i.e., there is no evidence for a Lamarckian mechanism at work here, whereby experience is hypothesized to change genetic structure). These formative cultural patterns, therefore, depend on each caregiver-child unit embodying them and passing them on to the next generation through interactive experience.
This delicate pattern of relationships and learning in each generation is a chain that can easily be disrupted by factors that interfere with caregiver-child relationships, families, or communities. Many such factors ranging from war, famine, poverty, and illness to changing childcare patterns are operating today. Moreover, to strengthen these formative cultural patterns that make social groups possible in order to accommodate growing interdependency will take considerable investments in a new type of "human capital."
The Development of Individuals Who Will Be:
(1) Capable of a Shared Sense of Humanity and Reality or
(2) Characterized by Polarized Thinking, Impulsive Actions, and Fragmented Social Behavior
What are the types of nurturing interactions, family patterns and communities that will enable current and future generations to develop the psychological capacities to participate adaptively in complex social organizations and the constructive components of interdependency?
We like to assume that individuals as well as groups are rational and reflective; that they can understand their own intentions, the intentions and feelings of others, and, where there are conflicts or differences, use high levels of reflection to find rational solutions.
But what percent of individuals or groups (i.e., nations) can actually operate at this rational and reflective level? And, what are the typical departures from rational, reflective thinking we commonly observe in individuals and groups?
When we look at international relationships, we see so many instances where polarized views predominate (e.g., they are evil and we are good). For example, in the Cold War, Russia and the United States engaged in such polarized thinking, often distorting the true intentions of the other. Such polarized thinking often involves not just an oversimplification of the character of the other person, but also outright distortions and misperceptions of their intentions.
In attempting to understand the basis for irrational, rather than rational, reflective thinking in groups and individuals, we categorized different types of departures from rational, reflective decision-making. In order to look at these departures, it is important to first define the elements of rational, reflective decision-making. It involves being able to size up a situation in its full complexity and consider and weigh all the relevant factors and options. This is no small task. It involves a variety of emotional and cognitive skills. First it involves weighing what's important to oneself as well as the other parties. This is a difficult challenge because it demands a high level of empathy (putting oneself in someone else's shoes) as well as considerable knowledge of the other party's background, current situation, and future options. Decision-making then involves weighing the different factors, possible options and related future probabilities. This requires judgement based on considerable emotional experience with and knowledge of the issues at hand. In addition, a high level of rational reflective thinking involves the processes just described in the face of intense emotions, such as rage, fear, and suspiciousness. It is not unusual to see individuals or entire groups relinquish reflectiveness under the pressure of strong feelings. The departures from reflective thinking can occur at a number of levels.
Mild to moderate interferences in reflective thinking are characterized by:
- An inability to project oneself into the shoes of another and maintain one's own identity.
- A narrowing of the range of possibilities considered, due to limitations of knowledge or emotional flexibility or tolerance.
- An inability to project sufficiently into the future (i.e., considering only a five-year future consequence rather than a 50- or 100-year future consequence).
- An inability to characterize the current situation in terms of relevant historical or other current factors (i.e., create a relevant context and internal standards).
- An inability to look at subtlety or "gray area" differences in the issues at hand.
- An inability to look at indirect or multiple influences on the phenomenon at the same time (e.g., Russia is behaving hostilely because they fear some third party and that's making them behave more suspiciously with us).
Severe interference with logical, reflective thinking may be characterized by:
- Polarized thinking (us versus them mentality, where the two sides are characterized in all-or-nothing -- all good or all bad -- overly simplistic terms).
- Fragmented thinking, where cohesive, integrated thought patterns and strategies are replaced by piecemeal, momentary, and often temporary patterns.
- Impulsive, action-oriented attempts at solutions, rather than reflective, strategic ones (e.g., getting even rather than correcting the problem).
- Illogical thinking, where irrational or magical thought patterns determine actions.
- Self-absorbed patterns where there is retreat from the situation or withdrawal rather than attempts at problem-solving (which can include non-involvement as a strategic initiative).
Obviously, each of these departures from reflective thinking at the group or individual level can occur in varying degrees. Even though this developmental framework on the levels of thinking in groups and/or individuals is relatively new (Greenspan, 1997), most of these less-than-reflective approaches are somewhat familiar to any student of politics or international relations. What's often not clear to students of group behavior, however, is the degree to which the level of reflective thinking or the departure from reflective thinking is an indication, not just of the intellectual processes used by the individual or group, but their emotional processes. Reflective thinking requires, as indicated, well developed forms of empathy (being able to project oneself into another's shoes and understand a wide range of feelings and views without distorting them), coupled with the ability for being realistic and having a firm assessment of reality. The ability to hold on to reality in the face of complex circumstances and to be able to balance realistic appraisals with empathetic understanding is a complex emotional and intellectual task. It is especially difficult for groups and individuals to carry out this task under extreme stress and/or strong emotions. Well done, however, such thinking processes harness our emotional and intellectual capacities in a seamless, integrated manner.
To return to our earlier question: are most groups around the world and most individuals able to operate at a high level of reflective thinking and problem-solving, even when feelings are intense, or are large numbers of groups and individuals caught up in one or another of these departures from rational reflective decision-making? While there are no studies to answer this question definitively, there is reason to be concerned that reflective thinking is not in sufficient supply.
The fact that the world is becoming much more interdependent makes matters worse. When rapid technological change, which demands social change, confronts a population of human beings, we often tend to see two patterns. One pattern is associated with greater suspiciousness, polarized thinking, and tendencies toward impulsive actions. The other pattern is one associated with a broader sense of shared reality and shared humanity, and an ability to come together and solve problems in a new way. Our history has been characterized by both these patterns, e.g., destructive wars fueled by polarized thinking and social and political innovations in governing, education, and the like. Yet, we haven't understood what leads to one type of reaction versus the other. In this work, we hypothesize that there is no mystery to these different types of reaction to social and technological change. If the world is populated sufficiently by individuals who have a broad sense of humanity coupled with reflective thinking, we tend to see the adaptive solutions. On the other hand, if there are too many individuals who have been reared in the circumstances leading to polarized thinking, suspiciousness, and poor coping capacities, we tend to see fragmentation, polarization, and concrete thinking. Sometimes, even more maladaptive patterns occur, where reality itself is given up and forms of magical thinking begin to dominate, along with concrete and polarized thinking.
Typically, groups or individuals that already have limitations (and are, perhaps, evidencing polarized thinking) become more overwhelmed by new challenges. The complexity leads to even more extreme and rigid polarized patterns or greater impulsivity, self-absorption, or frank irrationality. On the other hand, individuals and groups capable of the highest levels of reflection in their individual mental capacities and group institutional processes are often challenged by new complexity into even broader understanding of the world.
It is useful to look at how these two lines of development occur. As indicated, one line leads to a concrete, polarized, and, at times, impulsive personality. The other line leads to a more flexible personality capable of reflection and problem-solving in the context of experiencing a broad range of feelings and engaging with sizing up, and when appropriate, trusting a broad range of different others. The first type of personality tends to project their own negative feelings onto others and become embroiled in "us versus them" politics, colored by prejudice. The second type of personality tends to use higher-level coping strategies and deal with ambiguity without distorting of reality. It enables an individual to consider a range of options and use reflective, rather than concrete or polarized solutions.
To produce the first type of concrete, polarized personality, we simply need to create a nervous system that's somewhat compromised in its ability to process information (e.g., due to environmental toxins, abuse, neglect, or certain types of illnesses) and/or provide the growing infant less than optimal levels of nurturing and emotional interactions (as might be the case in a large, busy, not-high-quality day care center -- which characterizes 90% of daycare, (Greenspan & Salmon, 2001) -- or stressed family). Furthermore, we would educate that child more with facts than with concepts; favor memory over thinking; and use concrete and all-or-nothing types of discipline rather than empathy, understanding, and firm, but respectful, limit-setting and guidance. At each step in development, we would favor the more polarized approaches, rather than the more difficult, subtle, nurturing, and broadening approaches.
In contrast, to produce a reflective individual capable of participating in the world of interdependency, we need to begin with a nervous system capable of processing a broad range of complex information. We would provide optimal nurturing care, create opportunities for emotional and social interactions that broaden the range of emotions that can be communicated and adaptively organized, and engage in imaginative and problem-solving activities to encourage creativity, reflective thinking, and adaptive coping (Greenspan, 1997; 1999). In addition, educational programs would favor problem-solving, abstract thinking, and multiple perspectives over concrete, memory-based polarized thinking approaches. These types of experiences would provide individuals with the tools to participate in a complex and rapidly changing social and technological world. They would enable individuals to have an opportunity to enter the world of interdependency.
In providing essential humanizing experiences, these formative developmental processes that create the basis for a shared sense of humanity and reality do not limit individual variations. In fact, these same processes also express nearly infinite variation. For example, secure nurturing with caregiver(s) provides a child with a sense of being part of a relationship and through that relationship a part of the human race (i.e., a shared sense of humanity). That nurturing relationship, however, also involves near infinite varieties of nurturing interactions that reflect individual, family, and cultural differences (e.g., a bit more or less or different patterns of holding, smiling, vocalization, structure, and routine, etc.). Similarly, responding to a child's emotional signals and gestures provides the first sense of causality, logic, or reality enabling a child to begin to distinguish his own inner subjective world from what will become an outer reality. Yet, here too there are near infinite ways to engage a child in reciprocal interaction (e.g., responding more to this gesture or feeling than that one; using this facial expression, vocal tone, rhythm, or that one, etc.)
The formative developmental processes that provide both the "common" experiences for a shared sense of humanity and reality and the substrate for near-infinite variation and diversity include: the processes dealing with basic security, regulation and interest in the world; forming relationships; and establishing two-way intentional communication, and problem-solving and "self" defining interactions (that form our individual and collective character). They also include the processes that form symbols that identify and express intentions; and building bridges between symbols as a basis for reflective thinking, problem-solving, a stable, broad identity, and investing in institutions that interpret reality and provide guidance even when passions are high (Greenspan, 1979; 1989; 1999).
As we consider these formative processes, it is important to emphasize that our sense of reality is not based on our mastery of facts about the world, however extensive. It is based on the way we interpret experiences. Our interpretation of experience is a product of the level of our ability to be aware of our own and others' intentions, feelings, and reasons and reflect on them. Similarly, a shared sense of humanity depends on having sufficient security, trust, and emotional range and flexibility to be able to understand and embrace a wide range of others. Therefore, a shared sense of reality and humanity is a complex emotional process that grows out of specific types of formative nurturing experiences. How do we facilitate these cultural formative experiences?
In order to promote reflective thinking and the capacity for a shared sense of reality and humanity, programs need to enable each child, family, and community to have access to the basic irreducible needs (Brazelton & Greenspan, 2000). These include:
- Physical protection and care
- Long-term nurturing relationships
- Attention to individual differences amongst children
- Attention to children's changing developmental needs and the necessity this creates for stage-specific experiences
- Guidance and limit setting
- Stable communities with cultural continuity and access to educational programs that emphasize the perspectives of others (i.e., different cultures) in the teaching of history, politics, economics, etc., and that create opportunities to participate in exchange programs.
Individuals and groups provided with these basics will have a greater capacity than those who aren't to transcend superficial physical differences and identify with one another across different historical and cultural backgrounds. Such individuals will be more likely to develop an inner core of a highly differentiated sense of self that is part of a larger psychological integration within an ever-increasing social group. In short, intrapsychic mechanisms would more likely be organized at a higher level of synthesis and integration.
As part of this process, such individuals would be more able to relinquish concrete polarizing defenses involving denial -- especially denial of vulnerability -- and the tendency to project one's own feelings onto other people and then get into adversarial relations with them on the basis of these projected feelings. Such individuals would also be more likely to get beyond the rigid, compulsive or ritualistic categorizations of experience and broaden the range of feelings tolerated and integrated.
Societal Policies and Institutions: Specific Measures Required for Adaptive Interdependency
Creating the conditions for healthy human development and adaptive social organization requires enlightened policies. What are the societal policies and practices needed to promote the development of individuals and groups capable of coping with growing global interdependency? In formulating these policies, it's important to realize that currently we are shepherding a delicate evolutionary process of group formation. Therefore, practical decisions must always take into account the long-term goal of the group. For example, a policy to deal with an immediate conflict between two nations needs to take into account not simply short-term military and economic considerations, but long-term social considerations: what is the likely impact of the policy for increasing the conditions necessary for long-term adaptive interdependency?
Investing in a New Type of Human Capital
We require substantially greater investment in a new type of "human capital." It's easy to focus on broad economic or political processes, but these alone are insufficient. It's also easy to give lip service to the importance of human capital for economic growth. No one doubts the importance of creating a skilled labor force. But insufficient attention is being paid to the human capital required for the governance of complex interdependent social groups. Interestingly, many of the skills required for a successful labor force are the same ones required for supporting the infrastructures of our complex adaptive social organization.
These are the skills discussed in the last two sections. They center on the further development, in the context of a broader social organization, of our capacities for sustained relationships, comprehending our own and other's emotions, engaging in reflective thinking , even in the face of intense feelings, and supporting institutions that can interpret reality and mediate and resolve conflicts. This means a focus on families, communities, child development, and education. Yet, it may take many generations of significantly enhanced childcare, education, and social policies to reach these goals. Therefore, as indicated, our policies need to employ a long-term perspective.
We are seeing calls for these human capacities for reflection and problem-solving almost daily. Most recently, former Senator George Mitchell, who is working to help resolve conflicts between Israel and Palestine groups, asked for restraint and negotiations based on understanding each other's basic needs. In many parts of the world, however, we are seeing how difficult it is for individuals and groups to employ these important human capacities, especially when feelings are intense. Therefore, while there is no shortage of calls for greater understanding, restraint, and empathy, there is clearly a shortage of human beings and groups capable of employing these capacities. Policies need to be implemented now to begin the long-term processes that will support a greater sense of shared humanity and reality in the future.
Policies to Support Safety, Protection, and a Shared Sense of Humanity in Children and Families
Individuals or nations who are hungry, ill, in constant danger, or at immediate risk can hardly be expected to invest emotionally in others or the collective processes that sustain large groups. Therefore, one of the most basic elements of a psychology of interdependency is making sure that every child and every family on the globe has the basics of physical protection and care. We have to be as concerned for a child in Africa with AIDS or poverty, or who is suffering from neglect, abuse, or anxiety, as we would be for a child in our own extended family or neighborhood. For we cannot be at the highest level of personal, intrapsychic development if we turn a blind eye to impoverished child-rearing conditions in other parts of the world. While this is a tall order, it's clear that in spite of the many worthwhile international efforts, the international community and individual nations are not doing their utmost to meet this basic goal.
The ability to invest other human beings with feelings that convey a shared sense of humanity begins with nurturing relationships in families and continues with patterns of mutual engagement and community and national groups. Growing numbers of individuals, however, are currently deprived of these basic experiences that create a shared sense of humanity. Abuse, deprivation, poverty, and family and community stress are just a few of the headlines. Beneath the headlines are family patterns where nurturing care is playing second fiddle to other less basic concerns. To create the fundamental capacity for a sense of shared humanity among new generations of children will require initiatives at a few levels. At one level, it will require programs for families and communities where overwhelming stress interferes with the provision of nurturing care. At a second level, it will require a public education campaign and a new ethic for families to invest in nurturing care as their primary goal.
Educational policy, like culture and the media, has long been regarded as the private preserve of autonomous nation states. It is hardly our wish to infringe on national sensibilities or priorities. But at the same time, it is imperative that we strengthen international organizations and exchange programs that cultivate thinking skills and that look at issues from a broad geopolitical perspective. The curricula for grade school up through high school and college needs to reflect a broader set of diverse geopolitical and cultural perspectives.
Understandably, each nation tends to present history and all that relates to it from their unique perspective. It's not a question of the accuracy or falsification of historical facts, but rather, often the emphasis and context for understanding the flow of events. In order to foster a more global identification where the primary unit is the global group, rather than the individual, family, community, or national group (although these will continue to exist as foundations), it will be important to help children see events from multiple contexts and frames of reference. There are already some international schools that are pursuing such a goal. An important example is the Washington International School, which has implemented a comprehensive worldwide history and geography curriculum. It's been impressive to see children from this program appreciate and strongly identify with their families, communities, and nations, but also have a much stronger appreciation and identification with the global community. Most importantly, they appear to have a much deeper understanding of different nations than the average high school student.
Policies and Practices to Support a Common Reality
Like our sense of humanity, our sense of reality depends on sharing sufficient formative experiences so that we can use similar principles of logic and reflection to reason about our world. We're talking here, not about similar beliefs or agreement on religion, economics, or politics. Rather, we're talking about a similar enough way of reasoning so that we share a framework for being logical and, therefore, for constructing a sense of reality about our world. Surprisingly, our sense of reality, which most of us take for granted, depends on the relative mastery of the developmental capacities of social groups and individuals described earlier. These developmental capacities, in turn, depend on the availability of certain types of formative experiences.
To take two brief examples, infants who don't participate in long chains of affective interaction where their signals are understood and responded to, may have compromises in their construction of reality because the infant's first experience of causality and reality comes from his emotional signals (e.g., smile or frown), eliciting a reciprocating caregiver affective response. Long chains of such affective interactions enable children to explore and construct patterns and ultimately a sense of reality about their world (Greenspan, 1997). Similarly, infants who are not protected from environmental toxins, such as lead, PCBs, or dioxins, are also likely to have difficulties constructing a sense of reality. In the first example, the compromise is in faulty experience leading to a lack of critical emotional and cognitive structures. In the second example, there is an insult to the nervous system, compromising the nervous system's ability to organize the critical cognitive and emotional structures. When both problems exist together, the compromises in forming a shared sense of reality can be especially worrisome. With more and more pregnant mothers and young babies being exposed to toxic substances, and less and less babies being reared in truly nurturing circumstances (even well-to-do, well-educated families are having others care for their babies), the formative foundations for a shared sense of reality are being eroded.
In addition, our educational programs, rather than teaching the reasoning and thinking skills they can contribute to a solid grasp of reality, are moving more and more towards test-driven memory skills which can further compromise future generations' abilities for creating a shared sense of reality. Therefore, we should consider a number of initiatives involving nations working together in the areas of environmental protection, support for infants, children, and families, public education, childcare, and changes in our educational system.
Institutions to Support a Common Reality
A shared sense of reality also depends on institutions which can be invested in to help interpret reality. In the United States, we recently called on the Supreme Court to interpret very different realities relating to the presidential election. Without a judicial process, it would have been easy to imagine polarized thinking and impulsive behavior running rampant. Institutions that can serve as arbiters of different realities are critical for large groups to share a sense of reality. In other words, while individual views of reality differ, if there is sufficient investment in an institutional process, such as the American Supreme Court, that emotional investment can support a sense of reality even when it's one that disagrees with one's own reality. In other words, the investment in the institutional process must be sufficiently strong that it can serve as a force of reason, even when passions are intense. Such institutions, however, have to be perceived as representing a high standard of justice and fairness because if the majority of individuals cease to invest it with their trust, it will soon lose its value as a stabilizing force and interpretive presence in arbitrating differences in perceptions of reality. Interestingly, here is where our earlier comments about the type of paradigm that provides a framework for rational thinking is important. Major institutions that arbitrate reality need to embrace the new reality of interdependency rather than the old realities of narrow deterministic thinking. In any event, international processes and institutions need to be gradually strengthened and individuals and nations need to have experiences with these institutions that inspire their trust and regard
Policies to Support Confidence in a Future
There are a number of threats to the future, including degradation of the environment, nuclear proliferation, biological warfare, world epidemics, poverty, and the exhaustion of natural resources. The gravity of these issues is such that individual nations need to strengthen their own programs in these areas and at the same time strengthen and significantly enhance international programs and institutions.
A key component in these efforts needs to be the business community: particularly large multinational corporations. These organizations provide another opportunity for international collaboration. However, because the business community operates according to economic principles, governments and international structures need to create tax incentives and other types of encouragements for the business community to take a long-term perspective, particularly with regard to the environment and the protection of basic human rights (e.g., appropriate labor practices, etc.).
In addition, as we have been discussing elsewhere in this article, confidence in the future also rests on the propagation of healthy family relationships and safe, caring communities. Here too, confidence in the future will depend heavily on support for families and communities. Governmental and corporate initiatives must therefore be looked at in terms of their long-term impact on family and community life. Laws, regulations and economic incentives must, more than ever before, take into account the physical safety of the planet and the social and emotional security of the individual, family and community.
Policies to Resolve Conflicts: Short and Long-Term Strategies
The long-term strategy, as we have been describing, is to create a new set of implicit assumptions that will lead to changes in both conscious and unconscious perceptions and institutional processes that stem from our beliefs and perceptions. As indicated, it will, obviously, take a considerable period of time for this process to reach a point where most individuals share the implicit assumptions that make them truly a part of an adaptive interdependent social organization. It's best to start this process as soon as possible because in 50 years the need for it will far greater than at present.
Yet we are confronted with short-term challenges involving conflicts between nations and groups of individuals having very different beliefs about how the world should be run. How can we deal with short-term conflicts while promoting our longer-term goals? There are two extremes that we often vacillate between in attempting to come up with short-term strategies. One is to be naively trusting and hope that support and good will work wonders. The other is to be exceedingly hard-nosed, matching any transgressions or hints of them with immediate sanctions -- in the words of Henry Kissinger, as indicated earlier, forcing the opponent to pay a price that he is unwilling to pay. Neither the placating nor the tough-guy strategy has worked all that well in the past and will not promote the processes needed for eventual strategies to cope with our growing interdependency.
In the short term, the global community must provide safety for individuals and groups, including nations, while these longer-term processes have a chance to take hold. This means determining short-term strategies, not by the old, extreme philosophies but rather, by what will provide safety and security and the collaborations necessary to foster these long-term goals. Such short-term strategies must, therefore, involve two elements. One is an element of realism, which includes setting firm limits on aggressive and destabilizing international patterns. Any compromise in the firmness or persistence of limit-setting strategies will simply make the world feel more vulnerable and, in fact, be more vulnerable, and lessen the likelihood of the future being described. But at the same time that realistic strategies are implemented, there needs to be a much greater attempt than in the past to maintain the collaboration and even good will of the individuals one is attempting to limit that may be part of the group one is attempting to limit (for example, providing food and medical supplies to nonmilitary members of an adversarial group). It will be important to remember that it is the good will of these individuals that will support the processes that are part of the long-term goal.
In other words, there will need to be a much greater emphasis on long-term cooperation, even when taking limit-setting actions, and these actions will need to be quite circumscribed and targeted at the transgressors without alienating others. To be sure, these goals are already often promoted in interactive negotiation, but not with the degree of emphasis necessary for the long-term processes we have been describing.
In addition, an ethic where every individual, group, and family is viewed as an important member of the global community must be communicated in the short-term, so that there will be greater acceptance and even support for necessarily circumscribed, limit-setting actions. A current example would be worldwide attempts to deal with AIDS and hunger. Here there is a worldwide collaboration, but not nearly at the level where a resident of Africa would feel they are treated with the same degree of importance by the United States as a resident of the United States. In other words, our international efforts would need to be significantly enhanced to create a short-term context that would keep positive collaborative processes in focus while circumscribed limits are being dealt with.
In some instances, the best that may be achievable in the short-term is a state of equilibrium where parties to a conflict are only relatively safe because of their deep-seated differences. Nonetheless, if the worldwide community can create such a state of equilibrium and have it lean in the direction of relative safety and security (with expectable destabilizing events), time will be created for the longer-term processes to take place. Collaborative processes, including exchanges of citizens, where their common humanity and reality can be experienced can then further these goals. The events in the Middle East are a good example of this type of dilemma. The best that the present may offer is some relative sense of stability to allow for these longer-term processes to take effect. If, however, there is not sufficient emphasis on new generations growing up in the context of processes that support the psychology of interdependency, the chances for long-term solutions and long-term survival will be diminished.
To mobilize this approach in the short term also requires international efforts to support economic growth to a far greater extent than is now the case in all areas of the world. To the degree that peoples have adequate food and housing and the tools for self-sufficiency, there is a greater likelihood of embracing this new ethic. It is much more difficult to move beyond polarized thinking when the world appears to be one of 'haves' and 'have-nots'. It is easier to embrace an ethic of interdependency when there's some relative degree of 'haves' in all parts of the world.
An Integrated Policy Now: The Need for a New Marshall Plan
The changes we have described need to occur quickly. We don't have the luxury of social evolution given the rapidly escalating rates of technology that draw us on a daily basis into greater degrees of both constructive and destructive interdependency. Therefore we may need to consider an international effort, similar in scope to the implementation of the Marshall Plan after World War II. Such a plan must address the primary features of interdependency in an integrated and comprehensive manner. It would need to deal with two components:
- The dangers that draw the world into interdependency
- The constructive developments that create interdependency
Interdependency is occurring whether we wish it or not, and it has two components that are in equilibrium with one another. As we tilt toward the destructive elements (i.e., we're interdependent largely because of our shared dangers) and attempt to deal only with these elements through tactics specific to these elements (e.g., intimidation and military means), we increase the possibility of large-scale destruction. On the other hand, to the degree that we tilt the equilibrium toward the constructive elements of interdependency, and increase the stake each group has in the survival of themselves and other groups, we increase the likelihood of the world's survival. In order to increase the constructive elements, we must deal with not only economic and political forces, but also psychological ones.
(1) The Dangers that Draw the World into Interdependency
As we discussed earlier, interdependency is created as much by shared dangers (nuclear, biological, ecological, communication and computer sabotage, etc.) as by shared economic and cultural ties. To the degree that dangerous aspects of interdependency dominate the constructive elements, we're moving to a more and more worrisome situation. The mutual deterrence of cold-war strategic thinking will not operate in a world where large numbers of small groups and nations will have the capacity to deliver unacceptable destruction through one or another means. To diminish the interdependency of danger we obviously need to consider existing mechanisms such as treaties, alliances, and other modes of cooperation. In addition, however, we have to institute more effective processes, through the UN and/or other international organizations, for the sharing of information in order to minimize misperception and miscalculation, reduce outcast status and the fear and suspicion associated with it, resolve grievances in nonpolarized ways through gradual understanding, and to increase mutual understanding through a massive program of cultural exchange and cross-cultural inquiry.
(2) The Constructive Developments that Create Interdependency
Amongst the constructive elements of interdependency are intertwined economies, global communication systems, geopolitical institutions, and governments with the same basic democratic, economic principles, shared cultures, and a shared infrastructure of knowledge and communications. The goal on the constructive side of interdependency is to develop all these constructive trends in such a way that there's true benefit to all those participating. Care must be taken, for example, that economic relationships are mutually beneficial rather than exploitive and that communications and information infrastructures serve individual freedom and protect individual rights as well as afford greater access.
The steps we have outlined in this discussion are consistent with initiatives the world community is already taking. Interdependency is growing at an astonishingly rapid rate and our technologies of interdependency, both constructive and destructive, are also growing at an astonishing rate. Our psychological, social, economic, and political infrastructure to deal with the reality of interdependency and the dangers of it cannot wait because the world as we know it may not survive. The international initiatives already in place are not nearly of the scope that is needed (e.g., consider the effort to combat AIDS and hunger).
After World War II, the Marshall Plan was initiated as much out of self-interest as out of altruism. With chaos there was danger of political instability and risk of losing potential democratic allies, trading partners and the like, as well as increasing enemy regimes. At present, we face an even more serious danger -- that of many groups around the globe, each one able to destroy the world as we know it. This danger is, in many respects, far greater than what was faced at the end of World War II. This new program needs to bring together all of those groups already participating in the constructive aspects of interdependency to create and finance a plan that will as quickly as possible create an opportunity for the other groups who are not yet involved to have access to these constructive patterns.
Such a plan would obviously need to respect the cultural practices and values and goals of each existing group, but attempt to minimize the forces that would escalate the interdependency of danger. In other words, severe poverty or illness that would lead a nation into global suicide would not be in the world's interest. Providing assistance to help such a group create a safer and more secure society would be in everyone's interest. The constructive elements of interdependency should not mean that every nation should become an industrial democracy. It does mean, however, that each group should be helped as needed so that they can attain the basics of human survival and growth (freedom from illness, starvation, and wars), the benefits of stable families and communities, opportunities for new types of communication, and economic growth and education.
It is easy to rationalize that cultural differences preclude such an effort. How much effort, however, are we currently putting into understanding such cultural differences and finding common ground? The level of effort required in comparison to the level of effort currently mobilized suggests that at present we are still struggling with collective "denial" rather than in creating the needed psychology of interdependency. As the new unit of survival is the global group, it is imperative to explore this coming reality in a way that respects individual and cultural differences.
Summary and Conclusion
The world is becoming more interdependent because of shared communications and economies as well as the proliferation of potentially destructive nuclear, biological, and ecological technologies. In such a world our implicit psychology governing human relationships based on narrowly defined, deterministic thinking (e.g., every transgression must have a specific consequence) dating back to Enlightenment philosophers such as Descartes, is no longer applicable. A new psychology of interdependency is needed.
The psychology of interdependency begins with a new definition of the "unit of survival." The unit of survival is no longer the individual or even the small group, but the global group. Therefore, self-interest and the large group interests are the same. But the dynamics of groups and individuals are such that groups and individuals operate at a number of levels ranging from fragmented patterns and polarized thinking (us versus them) to cohesive reflective thinking where problem-solving and a truly shared sense of humanity and reality is possible. To move toward these more adaptive organizations will require an enormous investment in individuals, families and communities around the globe (i.e., human capital). It will also require changes in the assumptions that guide economic, political, and military goals.
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 This highly distorted yet influential view of animals is itself a theme that we shall return to in some detail in chapter 00.
 Rousseau, of course, rejected this whole tradition when he argued that "man is born free but is everywhere in chains." But it was the Hobbesian view of man's natural brutish state, or, what Isaiah Berlin was to describe as the liberal view of 'negative' liberty, and not the socialist view of 'positive' liberty inspired by Rousseau's utopian vision of man as a noble savage corrupted by society, which was to provide the foundations for Enlightenment thinking.
 This notion is more consistent with the social and cultural framework of cognitive development pioneered by the Russian psychologist Vygotsky than the framework developed by Piaget, which suggested more fixed sequences.
 These early formative experiences are instrumental in leading to the more developed emotional forms that sustain group behavior. There is thus a continuum of emotional capacities that provide direction and organization for our behavior, ranging from very basic, impulsive actions to the most advanced forms of empathy. The more advanced emotional form isn't one in which, as Descartes assumed, an individual has to consciously control her negative emotions; rather, the more advanced emotional form is one in which an individual's pleasure actually comes from being empathetic, caring, and reflective. And this is the glue that holds groups together. Advanced emotional development is the highest form of rational behavior. And it is this level of emotional development that we must attain if we are too meet the challenges posed by global interdependency.
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