Tiny differences cause enormous conflict
November 8, 2013 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What is the name of the concept that describes how, as parties become more and more similar, smaller and smaller differences cause conflict?

I've often thought about how the bloodiest wars are often fought between peoples that are fairly indistinguishable to outsiders (Catholic-Protestent, Sunni-Shia, Tutsi-Hutu, Serb-Croat, etc.) and recently heard or read something that gave this idea a name and then elaborated the concept a little. I can't remember where the hell I heard or saw it, but it wasn't exclusively about war in that context; it was about any kind of groups where, as they become more similar, the level of discernment of difference becomes sharper and more meaningful. Name of the concept would help, as would links directing me to reading about it.
posted by looli to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Narcissism of small differences?

Related: Emo Phillips' guy on a bridge joke.
posted by zamboni at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

Another example: The Sneetches.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:23 PM on November 8, 2013

I was thinking Sayre's Law, usual example: "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low"
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:27 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

the perfect is the enemy of the good, and they are getting it on now.
posted by bruce at 2:22 PM on November 8, 2013

Cabin Fever?
posted by oceanjesse at 2:23 PM on November 8, 2013

I remember reading some quip to the effect of "The less likely martians would be able to tell two groups of humans apart, the more likely that those groups will be in conflict."

Googling, can't find it now.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2013

Your question reminded me of the Amish concept of ordnung, or the unwritten but strictly enforced rules of behavior in a particular church district. Donald Kraybill has written about this; the regulations can concern even the smallest details, down to the appropriate pitch of a roof on a doghouse, the color of curtains, one suspender/two suspenders, and the choice of paint for trim upstairs vs. downstairs. I don't know the word for the process by which pressure is brought to bear on the violators, but it certainly seems like there should be a term for it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:53 PM on November 8, 2013

Best answer: "The vanity/narcissism of small differences" is a Freudian concept.
posted by yarly at 5:17 PM on November 8, 2013

Out of curiosity, was it Christopher Hitchens's essay, "The Narcissism of the Small Difference"?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:45 PM on November 8, 2013

I think you are specifically looking for Michael Ignatieff's take on it: the narcissism of minor difference, which he wrote about in his book The Warrior's Honor.
posted by emkelley at 6:57 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Freud! Thank you! It was neither Hitchens nor Ignatieff's take on it, but thanks for the suggestions--whatever I read it in was not about nations warring but made me go aha! that's the word for that thing! I'm hoping something else will jog my memory.
posted by looli at 11:28 AM on November 9, 2013

similar process: familiarity breeds contempt.
posted by mule98J at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2013

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