>The Narcissism of Minor Differences


It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them.
..It would be tempting to pursue this idea and to derive from this ‘narcissism of minor differences’ the hostility which in every human relation we see fighting against feelings of fellowship and overpowering the commandment that all men should love one another. – Sigmund Freud; The Taboo of Virginity

Over the past several weeks I’ve been working through the implications of a socioeconomic and political stance that places brotherly love above all things. I call it Meekonomics. The more I’ve thought about and studied this issue I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the strongest causes of division in society is what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences.

It is the little things that we obsess over. Racism, sexism and ethnic conflict are all based on relatively minor differences, things that either only go skin or even clothing deep or are predicated on behavioural differences that are difficult to detect in individuals. It’s only when you begin lumping people together in groups that the more subtle behavioural differences can even be detected.

As an example take the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine; taken out of the context of ethnic war and dressed in street clothes can anyone really tell the difference between an Israeli military officer and a Palestinian fighter? Or even more subtly, look at my profile picture; I’m a white male, am I American, British, German, French, Swedish, Australian, Russian, Canadian, or even possibly South African? Someone with an intimate knowledge of racial histories might be able to narrow it down based on some physical features and when I speak my accent would further give it away but these are all minor differences. They say nothing about the kind of person I am.

I recently reached out to a fellow blogger in Libya in an attempt to exchange ideas. He refused to engage with me citing my government’s involvement in the current Libyan conflict as some kind of evidence that I wasn’t worth conversing with. Sadly he couldn’t see me at all, when he looked at me the only thing he saw was a NATO commander wearing the insignia of the country I live in ordering airstrikes on the country he lived in. A minor difference prevented him from looking long enough to see the similarities in our thinking that could have gone a long way at bridging the gap between our major differences.

Major differences are paradoxically harder to detect but once recognized are easier to discuss and influence than the minor ones. Major differences are ideological but it is much easier to get me to change the way I think than to change the way I look. Unfortunately it is the way I look that most influences what other people think of me so the challenge in any dialogue over ideology is to get people to see past the outer layers and really hear what the person on the other side is saying.

My Libyan associate refused to do that. He accused me of something I have no influence over and made me guilty by association. I can`t tell you the number of times I have received similar challenges. They start out with the person on the other end making a blanket statement about some socioeconomic group that I may or may not be a part of and ends with the conclusion that I must therefore think or act the same way. Most often it has something to do with my faith or nationality. I`ve been told that as a Christ-follower I must therefore reject science and as a Canadian somehow I must have a genetic predisposition to love Ice Hockey; neither statements are true about me as an individual.

When we refused to look at and listen to people as individuals we rob them of their humanity. In order to live in peace with one another we need to give people back their humanity and do the hard work of ignoring our minor differences so we can talk about what really matters.


  1. >Interesting blog Lauren, You have sparked my curiosity, What is the bloggers name and link to this bloggers site? (if you don’t mind my asking) I would like to see what type of things he/she writes about and how he/she thinks.I suspect his/her refusal to engage in an exchange of ideas is based in his religious convictions but I may be wrong. My line of thinking in this area by itself is contempt prior to investigation though. And even if it were true, the reasons could be much deeper than that…( for example) by engaging in an exchange of ideas with you (a westerner) he could be facing persecution or put his family and loved ones in harms way. Etc.I hope you can elaborate on this more so we readers can gain a better understanding this other blogger. This is an extremely complex thing (the differences between the east and us in the west)

  2. Lauren Sheil says:

    >wired journal…Unfortunately I did not keep any of this blogger's information. When I reach out I am doing so in order to open dialogue, when someone refuses to dialogue with me I delete their contact information from my computer and move on, see "In Defense of Spam" below. If you're out there and wish to join the conversation – you know who you are – now is the time…I agree that there may be some complex reasoning why someone in the east may not want to engage with someone in the west but by lumping people together as "westerners" and "easterners" you're actually proving my point. The bigger the group you lump people into, the more minor the lines of division become. At times I intentionally reach out to people who I know hold differing views. That's the point of debate, refusing to engage with me on this basis is no excuse and defeats the purpose of an editorial blog. I don't want to hear only from people who agree with me, that's called preaching to the choir, and we have enough of that already. Disagree with me, challenge me, make me think, I'll respect you for it. Just don't make broad accusations based on minor differences or false information and then run away.

  3. >Lauren, Your comment "I`ve been told that as a Christ-follower I must therefore reject science and as a Canadian somehow I must have a genetic predisposition to love Ice Hockey" almost had me rolling on the floor laughing. OK, I WAS laughing, but not rolling on the floor. But do you drink Molson Ale? An interesting blog, post and personal history. Personally, I am more inclined to quote Jung than Freud. I think The Wired Journal makes some poignant observations. We in the west take our privacy for granted. Bloggers living under oppressive regimes cannot.

  4. Eddy says:

    >You mentioned racism, sexism and ethnic conflicts but forgot the biggest one of all: religious conflict.Your friend in Libya is just ignorant. To assume anyone is one thing because their country is doing something they have absolutely no control over is ignorant. When an American says all Muslims are terrorists, that’s ignorant. Your friend in Libya is no different. I don’t know your friend and cannot judge his character, but I can judge his judgement – and refusing to engage with you (without validity) shows ignorance.He’s also a coward. If all men (and women) would step down and refuse to challenge those who did things they disagreed with, then Hitler would still be the man in charge:“Oh, sorry Hitler, but I simply refuse to engage you intellectually and physically because I do not agree with you or your country’s doings. I will crawl back into my little bubble and keep hating you and your country, but I will not challenge you. Because I’m a coward.”

  5. Lauren Sheil says:

    >In response to John Edward Harris… Molson Canadian tastes like pee!

  6. Lauren Sheil says:

    >In response to Eddy…Ethnic and Religious conflict are one in the same.Calling someone a coward is going a bit too far, ignorant maybe but not necessarily a coward. Bringing Hilter into this argument leads me to beleive that you would return violence in kind. That is not the same as refusing to engage in an intellectual debate and shooting someone who disagrees with you is no less cowardly than refusing to debate with him.

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