Us Against Them: Part 1, Defining Ethnocentrism

I've just finished reading the very interesting book Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion by Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam. Kinder and Kam define ethnocentrism as generalized prejudice, the propensity to separate the world into in-groups and out-groups. From Us Against Them:

...ethnocentrism is an attitude that divides the world into two opposing camps. From an ethnocentric point of view, groups are either "friend" or they are "foe." Ethnocentrism is a general outlook on social difference; it is prejudice broadly conceived.

We define ethnocentrism to be a way of thinking that partitions the world into in-groups and out-groups--into us and them.
One of the points made by Kinder and Kam is that ethnocentrism is often latent but that it can be "triggered" by external events. For example, Kinder and Kam show that ethnocentrism became a powerful factor in American public opinion in the wake of 9/11. I think it is also fair to say that the election of the first African American president has also been a trigger for ethnocentric behavior and sentiment:

In some posts to come I want to walk through some of Kinder and Kam's empirical findings. Overall, it's a must read book.

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18 thoughts on “Us Against Them: Part 1, Defining Ethnocentrism”

  1. A LONG time ago, I read a classic work on prejuidice entitled "Prejuidice", by a Harvard professor. It was written in the 50's, I think and was a massive book.

    In the book, it gave evidence to the effect that there are certain prejuidicial personalities, and I am sure that would mean certain bents toward that end, as well. Is this a 'weakness'? That depends on one's assumptions about what is "true", "good" and "beautiful".

    If one finds their own group as encompassing all of the above, then what is the "problem"? These are happy and if they bother no one else, are they allowed their prejuidice(s)?

    Prejuidice is just preference, isn't it? No harm done, unless an "outsider" is considered outside the scope of civil behavior. We should always act in a mannerly and respectful way. But, that doesn't have to mean that I condone, agree with, or affirm anything about the "other". Everyone has their reasons for defining themselves and the 'other' the way they do...

  2. I love the astounding irony of of decrying an "us" vs. "them" attitude while simultaneously ignoring racism, hate and bigotry of the left in favor of focusing on "tea partiers" and the right.

    One honestly could not script a better way to undermine the point you were trying to make.

  3. Interesting how this story just broke this week:

    It looks like left-wingers have a little bit of an "us against them," problem when it comes to the Tea Party movement, eh? What better way to discredit a political opponent than simply decrying them as racist homophobes?

    Politics can be crazy and everybody who believes in everything will show up to large movements like this. I mean, have you seen a protest recently??? The hypocritical youtube video posted here probably represents about 3% of the crowd. Nonetheless, most of these signs are what the media love to focus on because they are doing the heavy lifting for the Obama Administration.

    It's fair to say people are mad as hell not because Obama is black (although left-wingers need this to be true to fit their worldview), but because Obama is spending us into oblivion, shrugging off America's traditional allies, creating entitlement programs that are nearly impossible to get rid of, and promoting judicial nominees that have little regard for the U.S. Constitution.

  4. It's fair to say people are mad as hell not because Obama is black (although left-wingers need this to be true to fit their worldview), but because Obama is spending us into oblivion, shrugging off America's traditional allies, creating entitlement programs that are nearly impossible to get rid of, and promoting judicial nominees that have little regard for the U.S. Constitution.

    Where were the Tea Partiers when Bush was doing these things?

    When I was decrying the Bush administration, I was mistaken for a liberal. As to our "traditional allies," I fear you mean the racist bigoted lynch-mobbing book burning non-state actor zionist entity. In which case, a lot of Americans are as sick of that relationship as we are sick of supporting other repressive Middle Eastern regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    Here's a kiss before you go

  5. Perhaps ethnocentricism is closely tied to egocentricism. It's just the egocentric finding more like himself and deciding everyone else is stupid or evil without really considering the other persons view seriously. I say this because I know I am so prone to do this myself. Greg

  6. Granted, I haven't read the book, but why ethnocentrism as an _American_ political factor? Isn't ingroup bias a human universal? Until recently, I was living in an area (not located in the States) where the unofficial slogan was "If ya ain't Dutch, ya ain't much."

  7. I haven't really been studying the phenomenon long enough to say whether it is growing, but I find the influence of legitimized extreme political movements in countries across the world disturbing. I am reminded of the recent elections in Hungary, where the anti-roma Jobbik party was barely defeated in elections, and of the persistent presence of the National Front in the south of France, along with any number of other such organisations. (I don't wish to attack the legitimacy of the tea party, obviously many political organizations have fringe members that participate in extremely damaging rhetoric)

    However, My feeling is that such sentiments are gaining force, but I haven't done any research on this. It does, appear to make sense systemically.

    Any discussion of modern ethnocentrism must be tied to a study of the friction created between different ethnicities and its possible determinants (such as globalization and economic volatility) and to what extent these somewhat marginalized ethnocentric ultra-nationalist movements are penetrating the mainstream discourse. The question for the US should be whether this fringe of the tea party is gaining prominence in recasting the economic debate about the efficacy of state healthcare (among other things) into a moralizing mold. Has "will this measure be effective?" become a question of religion, race and ideology? Certainly not entirely but to a certain, unhealthy extent, I think so

    Of course, the end game is trying to convince people on all sides of all these lines to engage each other's views without comparisons to hitler, the KKK, or any other hyper-sensitized figures. (and no, I'm not saying tea party members are racist fascists, I'm saying all the shouting is getting us nowhere fast)

  8. How shameful to paint the Tea Party this way. I went to one in San Antonio and nearly half the crowd was Hispanic. A stooge showed up with an anti-black sign and the crowd basically chewed him up and spit him out, and he had to stand off by himself the rest of the time. America is the least ethnocentric place on earth, where people can freely align themselves on values and not skin color. I think it's clear many Democrats use race as a tool to keep people divided and to gain support for their political agendas. But this is America and we love freedom, the race baiters will not win in the end.

  9. I love the statement "Where were you during the Bush administration?" That is not an argument.

  10. I love the statement "I love the statement 'Where were you during the Bush administration?' That is not an argument." That is not an argument.

    my question remains clear: when Bush was doing the same things that right-wingers are protesting Obama for doing, why were they not out in force protesting Bush? Is it because the Mothership Axis of FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh and the stooge Republicans weren't, then, telling them to do so? Is it possible to suggest that many of these Tea Partiers are not people of principle and character but instead, tribalism and political expediency?

    I agree with most of their platform but I wonder why I was shouting alone when I was shouting against Bush's nation building and deficit spending and entitlement advances?

  11. Many absolutely were shouting about it, Dammerung. That's partially why W's favorables were so low towards the end. Regardless, to say that Obama is "doing the same thing" (as Bush) is ridiculous. Obama took Bush's deficits and doubled or tripled them.

  12. You have a good point about the approval ratings, iowa. But where were the large-scale protests? For that matter - where is the anti-war left, now? Why have Sean Penn and the Dixie Chicks stopped mouthing off? Maybe because there's a half-white Democrat in office? Seems to me like both sides are bankrupt of principles.

    I'm confident in my assessment of Obama as the worst president since George W Bush.

  13. Both sides are absolutely bankrupt (despite the fact that by reading this site you wouldn't get that impression), but that doesn't mean one ideology isn't superior. Moreover, Bush was a bad president. But, as demonstrated, Obama is far, far, far worse under almost every conceivable measurement.

  14. I don't know if it's productive to try to point a finger at which of these two Presidents is "worse." I think we need to start seriously questioning the political system that burdens us with these turds in the first place. And a Congress that has a single-digit approval rating and greater than ninety five percent reelection rate. Something stinks like the Soviet Union around here.

    Our political system is hopelessly broken and needs to be flushed twice.

  15. Hey Dammerung,
    Come on down off of the cross man. I was agreeing with you. I was complaining about Bush. When he was in office, all of my politically liberal friends loved to have a beer with me. Now, when I say that I think Bush and Obama are the same personality with just different personalities my liberal friends get all fired up.
    I didn't like Bush's politics. I protested his garbage. I don't like Obama's politics, I protest them.
    I was talking about people who use the "why didn't you protest bush" argument as an argument. It assumes facts not in evidence, which is why my liberal friends don't ever bring that up b/c they know the facts.

  16. Has anyone seen the AP article about how people are trying to "infiltrate" the tea party and make them look like racists and bigots and then put it on YouTube? Amazing.

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