N O 7
POCK ET LABORATORY FOR THE FUTURE
Survival strategies in the 21st century
With stories about the power of gecko toes,
anti-snoring bears and every scientist’s dream
12 P SYCHOLOGY
Armoured in cheerfulness | By Brigitte Boothe
Body army | Interview with Johannes Ring
Blow up the barriers! | By Michèle Wannaz & Stephan Sigrist
Dependence generates safety | Interview with Philipp Sarasin
Import insurance | By the think tank foraus
The art of defence starts with attack | Interview with Christoph Metzelder
Touch wood | By Gesa Schneider
Why protectionism is harmful | By Burkhard Varnholt
Why we need boundaries | By Gerd Folkers
Self-defence for gentlemen | By Edward W. Barton-Wright
S OCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY
I DEAS, FACTS & FICTIONS
Stories about the power of gecko toes,
algorithms to tackle gang crime and the taxonomy of ideas
A R M OURED
I N CHEERFULNESS
Positive self-esteem helps us to bear everyday frustrations
more easily. However, the less we accept what is happening
all around us and the more we use psychological escapism to
shut ourselves off from reality, the more absurd our evasions
become. The different facets of self-deception.
By Brigitte Boothe
Day after day we have to master countless challenges, at
school, at work, pursuing hobbies, in personal relationships.
And the demands on us are rising. Global competition, technological
progress and the achievement-oriented society ensure
that we never get to rest on our laurels. It spells destruction
for some people, but not for others. Why?
The crucial factor for our everyday wellbeing is
not necessarily the actual success or failure that accompanies
us in the performance of our tasks. The important
thing is benevolent self-assessment. For example, if we get
bad marks for something we may think of it as bad luck,
good marks are regarded as a sign of our intelligence. These
are unconscious defensive strategies on the part of our psyche,
which contribute significantly to positive self-esteem
by simple manipulations of rationality.
A huge repertoire of tricks is used in the defensive strategies
that come into play every day, everywhere. These are
some of the core ones:
A person’s own inappropriate behaviour or unacceptable
emotion - envy or shame, for instance - and the potential
threat it represents are eliminated by shifting the scene of
the action from the centre to another locus which will then
absorb all the attention.
Advantage: the inappropriate behaviour is forgotten
T R IVIALI SATI ON
An action, event, emotion that disadvantages or threatens
the person affected is not denied, but is played down and
presented as harmless or insignificant.
Advantage: less stress due to apparent security
D RAMATI SATI ON
An error of commission or omission, an unacceptable emotion
is eliminated as a contingency for which a person might
have to accept responsibility by banishing all connection
with reality and ensuring that the entire situation blurs into
a tearful stage performance.
Advantage: the person’s own inappropriate behaviour
is diluted by the sympathy of others
R ATI ONALI SATI ON
The true motives of an action with a potential negative impact
remain concealed and are placed in a rosy light by the
semblance of rationally justifiable necessity.
Advantage: the person exonerates himself or herself
by means of rational justification
IDENTI F I CATI ON
In an internal or external conflict of interests, the person
concerned completely and wholeheartedly throws him- or
herself onto one side – the side with the greatest power and
Advantage: self-reinforcement through the assurance
of the position of strength
IDEALI SATI ON
The individual’s own egocentric advantage is kept concealed
from him- or herself and others, but nevertheless
continues to be strategically pursued by seeking integration
with the power holder. The person succeeds in doing this
by flattery, devotion, glorification, servitude, flexibility and
Advantages: a comfortable lack of self-positioning,
saving of effort, rewards
S UBMISSI ON
This is similar to idealisation in that the submissive person
conceals from himself and others the stimulus and motive
for egocentric advantage by an appearance of servitude towards
the other person. However, the tools used here are
not kindness, charm and helpfulness, but diligence, orderliness,
fulfilment of duty, zeal, expertise, competence and
Advantage: silent co-enjoyment of power without
the risks of autonomy
Our daily defences do their work in silence and never penetrate
our consciousness - and that is their great advantage.
It is precisely why they make everyday life easy when they
function properly. Defences are helpful in creating favourable
self-esteem, avoiding unpleasant confrontations with
oneself. Some people are totally exposed to the risk of negative
self-esteem because they register too keenly when others
lack goodwill or are indifferent towards them, or because
they are overly suspicious of their own moral failings.
These individuals lose the ability to act as well as the possibility
of regulating their own wellbeing.
However, defences can be either friend or foe: both
a lack and an excess of defensive mechanisms cause harm.
People who avoid self-confrontations too much risk losing
touch with reality and sacrificing the ability to make intelligent
judgements. For example, people who tend towards a
narcissistic overestimation of themselves will fend off confrontation
with criticism by despising the critic and indulging
in fantasies of their own greatness.
TA KIN G REFUG E IN ACTI ON FOR ACTI ON’ S
SAK E AND PASSIVITY
Particularly as a reaction to the constantly mounting challenges
of the global achievement-oriented society, helpful
defences are increasingly doing damage instead, both to individuals
and society. The greater the pressure, the more we
protect our ego from frustration. This is shown firstly by
the general tendency to employ exaggerated action for action’s
sake to divert attention from our own inability to
perform or lack of knowledge. As a consequence, simple
solutions to complex problems are becoming more popular.
For example, scientists are becoming more and more
prone to believe prematurely in breakthroughs. The reason
is simple: action reduces fear, because it gives people a sense
of their own effectiveness, power of control and command.
However, action that becomes an end in itself contains no
careful planning, proper assessment of the situation or intelligent
examination of options. Secondly, the superfluity
of defensive mechanisms expresses itself in collective passivity.
Fear of the challenges of globalised competition in a
person’s own environment and in the major world regions
creates a depressive-dysphoric temptation to capitulate,
withdraw from the field in gloomy surrender, and take refuge
in the role of illness, including burnout.
C OURAG E , CRI T I CAL CAPACI TY
So how do we as individuals and societies arm ourselves for
the challenges of the future? And how do we know whether
we are putting up over-strong or over-weak defences?
Generalisations are impossible. However, one prerequisite
for a healthy level of defence - across all societies and eras -
is to master three fundamental principles:
First: take responsibility for something or someone.
If you are ready to bear responsibility, you will accept
being reminded of your own duties before accusing others
of failure when problems occur. For that, we need courage
and the ability to take a stand.
Second: stand up to testing. If you allow yourself
to be tested and are open to criticism of your own skills and
competences, you have the advantage of being able to learn
and will not withdraw when your feelings are hurt, despise
others or practise self-aggrandisement. To do this, we have
to accept ourselves and other people.
Third: practise the art of creating a space of your own, finding
it productive to be alone, designing a living area of your
own that you want to share with others to a greater or lesser
extent. People who can reflect on themselves in silence,
when alone, in transitory self-sufficiency, enjoy the advantage
described by Freud as: “daring to make an expedition
into your own dark continent and developing a critical benevolence
towards your own strengths and weaknesses”.
For that, we need calmness.
Professor Brigitte Boothe has held the Chair of Clinical Psychology,
Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis at the Psychological
Institute of the University of Zurich since 1990. She
is a member and currently chief executive of the Psychotherapeutic
Centre at that institute. Her publications include:
“Der Patient als Erzähler in der Psychotherapie.”
(2004), “Psychisches Leben im Spiegel der Erzählung. Eine
narrative Psychotherapiestudie.” (1998), “Zur psychoanalytischen
Konfliktdiagnostik.” (1989), as well as many articles
in scientific journals.
E DITORIAL STAFF
Editor in chief, Researcher W.I.R.E.
Dr Stephan Sigrist
Head of W.I.R.E.
Dr Burkhard Varnholt
CIO, Bank Sarasin & Co. Ltd
Prof. Dr Gerd Folkers
Director, Collegium Helveticum
E DITORIAL CONTRIBUTORS
Daniel Bütler, Florian Huber, Claudia Imfeld, Kristiani Lesmono,
Jessica Levy, Yasemin Tutav
Head of Graphic Design W.I.R.E.
Graphic Designer W.I .R.E.
Capucine Matti, www.capucinematti.ch
Illustrations Visual Essay “Defence”
Helen E. Robertson
S UBEDITING AND PRINTING
Neidhart + Schön AG
Neue Zürcher Zeitung Publishing
Die Gestalten Verlag GmbH & Co. KG
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