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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Nature and Origin of Violence in Groups: A Consideration of Group Dynamics based on Levinas Work

Let us explore the question: Why should we - as organizational consultants, interested philosophers, as psychoanalysts, as students of human nature, as fellow members of the human race - concern ourselves with the work of Emmanuel Levinas?In this paper, I shall review some key elements of Levinas' thought, and show how his thinking provokes a re-evaluation of thinking about others and our selves, and how this thinking may be relevant and useful within the world of human relations research and in the practice of organizational consulting. I suggest that a mode of thinking which Levinas critiques - totalization - may indeed be that which constitutes the origins of violence, both between self and other, one-to-one, and within groups. It should be remembered that violence is opposed to the good - which is also a consideration of this paper. We shall first consider the motivations for Levinas' works, then review some key concepts - particularly of totality and infinity - and then consider how Levinasian thought may be applied within an organizational consulting milieu. Then I shall show how these concepts can be applied usefully within a consultation with a group of psychoanalysts who espouse a radical openness, but find themselves clashing over issues relating to what a commitment to openness really means.It is the dehumanization of the other that is not just a concomitant of oppression but a necessary prior condition - an originary act of violence - that is first performed and required long before the visible effects of oppression are manifest - such as arresting people because they are in the wrong part of town; not allowing non-white people to take certain jobs; torturing people for opposing the brutal policies of the government; house arrests; banning; silencing the opposition; killing of those opposed to the system [1]. And the list could go on and on.