DAVIDUM VERSUS GOLIATHUM: A PSYCHOLOGY OF THE UNDERDOG



In the summer of 1994 I heard about the following incident on the American Forces Network radio (AFN). In Saarbrucken, a little town near Ramstein, Germany that lay several minutes from my parents’ house in Weilerbach, twenty or so skinheads were seen walking down a city street when they were intercepted by a group of men (Slovaks, I believe) who outnumbered them with a ratio slightly more than 2:1. Ignoring the jeering mob, the skinheads continued on their way until the Slovaks openly attacked them. In what was described as a very brief but very thorough fight, the aggressors were so soundly beaten that several of their number needed medical attention. The skinheads ended up not being skinheads at all: they were United States Marines.

Several lessons can be learned here, the third one being that only idiots mess with United States Marines and the second one being that it requires more than just a bald head to make skinhead status. The first lesson is “Beware of the underdog.” Because Providence seems to favor the underdog: the unfirst-born, the “least of these”, the remnant, the “little” guy. It does not surprise me to see little girls, clowns, dolls, or “normal” people depicted as antagonists in many a horror film. There is something unnerving about the “volatility of the vulnerable.” Something that turns your tummy into water.

Any oppressed minority of a majority culture is set up to leverage copious amounts of internal fortitude, to showcase a unique catalog of rare skill sets, and to manufacture a remarkable portion of longsuffering. You need only to read about the mistreatment of prisoners of war or political prisoners to grasp that the “least of these” find themselves infused with transcendent powers when and where it counts. That goes for minorities of any sort, especially when they have a value system against which they perceive the odds to be stacked. I marveled at the brazenness of the skinheads in Germany who peddled anti-Semitic literature outside family-friendly places like McDonalds. Quite the passionate historians (always with the same bent on historical facts), they were mainly driven by a passion engined by the scarcity of their numbers and their ill-favored political representation. Haha, sometimes hardly distinguishable from righteous indignation.

There is a psychological advantage a minority has when it feels it is in the position of a David fighting Goliath, especially if it emphasizes the moral position that its cause is "right” or “righteous” or “righteousness.” Even if it breaks the “moral” rules common to the rest of us (and binding upon the rest of us). In his position, David needs all the passion and hubris he can muster, so it is fine for him to slander, to murder, to cheat, to “throw bombs.” This mindset is pervasive across the board.

I used to wrestle in college, and during practice I typically sparred with this short, squatty wrestler in the Army Reserves. When we would “tie up”, he would slam his forehead into my forehead (from a half-inch distance), take advantage of my surprise, and go for a single-leg or double-leg take-down. He also thought it OK to rack me once in a while or to put his elbow in my cheekbone. Inside wrestling, I suppose. In return, I would own him fair and square despite the injuries he illegally inflicted upon me. In all honestly, I would do it differently today. I would probably return a head-bang for a head-bang, a crotch grab for a crotch grab, and a finger up the nose for a finger up the nose.

Even then, reciprocating his behavior ironically would have fueled his “righteous” position even though he was wrong in the first place. What I did not know (until after our last wrestling session when he almost tore my ACL) was that he was intimidated of me in the first place. I had to my advantage, he cited, large arms, stupidly developed traps, and a mohawk. Whatever unfair advantage to me those items were, he felt that it warranted he do whatever he could to end the match as quickly as possible. This idea tersely describes an aspect of the psychology of the underdog.

While I am not saying that every underdog has the effectual ability to free himself from his circumstances, I am saying that those who do not, tend to find a way to bear up underneath the strain. Even victims of domestic violence are like camels who can go for exceptionally long periods without love, without a kind word, without a gentle touch, without the ardor to free themselves of their unjust circumstances.

So how do you deal with a David who is in the wrong? How do you reason with a David who is set on killing the Goliath who is the enemy of his ideology? One generically broad but certain way is to infiltrate David by emphasizing the variant "Davidic" ideologies within his own camp. Divide and conquer. That will eventually splinter his already meager consensus, each emphasizing an "original" gospel and each the most potent enemy of the other. Subtly, of course. A direct frontal attack does not always seem to effectively do it. 


Anyways, that’s how political parties, churches, companies, marriages, and friendships are destroyed, so I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to implement it anywhere else.

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