Feud quotation
June 20, 2007 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Quotation help! Whose, and what, is the famous quotation that says essentially: "The bitterest feuds are always over the smallest differences" "You fight most viciously with those whose position is closest to yours"? Any ideas?
posted by gelcap to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
hmm, here's a close one by Bertrand Russel: "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way."
posted by pb at 11:31 AM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Possibly: "Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."

Apparently, originally said by Wallace Sayre, but rephrased in several forms by others, including Henry Kissinger.
posted by googly at 11:37 AM on June 20, 2007

Freud on feuds referred to the "narcissism of petty differences." But the googly quote was the first to come to mind.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:43 AM on June 20, 2007

The narcissism of minor differences:
In his article on "The Taboo of Virginity" (1918a) and on the subject of man's "narcissistic rejection" of woman because of his castration complex, Freud isolated for the first time a particular reaction that he later saw as the driving force behind racism. He wrote "the practice of taboos we have described testifies to the existence of a force which opposes love by rejecting women as strange and hostile. Crawley, in language which differs only slightly from the current terminology of psychoanalysis, declares that each individual is separated from the others by a 'taboo of personal isolation,' and that 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 successfully against feelings of fellowship and overpowering the commandment that all men should love one another" (p. 199).
More discussion at the linked site (in Civilization and its Discontents Freud wrote "I gave this phenomenon the name of 'the narcissism of minor differences,' a name which does not do much to explain it").

The googly quote is amusing but clearly not what gelcap is asking about.
posted by languagehat at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2007

Response by poster: thank you so much. it was the kissinger version i was thinking of. though languagehat, you rock. this is one hat that fits, yo!
posted by gelcap at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2007

Huh. OK, I guess that was what gelcap was asking about. I just assumed that if it was, the question would have mentioned academia.
posted by languagehat at 2:08 PM on June 20, 2007

FWIW, the more common translation (at least according to my high school history teacher and Google) is "the narcissism of small differences."
posted by alms at 2:19 PM on June 20, 2007

Although this is answered, I'll just help to flesh out the list of expressions of this idea by noting that I've seen in the hacker community something like "the amount of noise generated by a change is inversely proportional to the complexity of the change." I think it's from the FreeBSD community. In open source software, people argue over little changes because they understand them, but the addition of whole new systems can get a weaker response because not as many people understand the details to quibble about them.
posted by abcde at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2007

Some form of the highlighted quote (Kissinger) above is often attributed to Woodrow Wilson.
posted by Mr. Justice at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2007

"Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights."

This famous quote by the german philosopher GWF Hegel expresses a similar point.
posted by Flood at 6:45 PM on June 20, 2007

people argue over little changes because they understand them: See Wiki:BikeShed. (N.B.: Wiki != Wikipedia. Fight name dilution!)
posted by eritain at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2007

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