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Pathologies of Human Behavior


There are about five or six pathological social responses in human behavior .  Understanding these results in insights that are often important in resolving conflicts at many levels.  As a metaphor for social pathologies and to help in understanding them, I have used the groups and practices current at the time of Christ and how they interacted.  The same patterns occur over and over again, in every time and age.  However, in our culture the time period and groups used have a currency that makes them useful metaphors in understanding.  I am seriously looking for other metaphor sets that can be substituted for illustrating human social pathologies.

First, the Sadducee

The essence of this approach is to use one's own sophistication to weed out error and superstition from "what really matters." Often they are violent in dealing with those who disagree with them, forceably (either with physical or verbal violence) reacting to the "superstitious." It is pathological in that the person who is a modern "sadducee" derives their sense of identity from mocking the crowd and being "too smart" for whatever is the traditional approach.

Often there is a sense of entitlement that comes purely from the modern sadducee having embraced whatever the current social or scholarly fad happens to be and a demand that the person be rewarded and given precedence based on having embraced a current fad.

Second, the Scribe

This is a person who takes a legalistic approach with many rules (used to judge others). They pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and omit the weightier matters of the law: fairness, mercy and faith. (cf Matthew 23:23).  It is pathological in that it derives a sense of identity from condemning others for failing to meet irrational legalisms (straining at gnats and swallowing camels).

Often there is a sense of entitlement that comes purely from the modern scribe having embraced the fad or values of the past and a demand for respect and honor based purely on having embraced (with a great deal of legalism) a past fad.

Note:  Often discord becomes a conflict  when there are scribes on one side and sadduccees on the other.

Third, Zealots

The true Zealot is marked by feeling that every disagreement or conflict can and should be solved by force.  Generally, by force first and other, slower, methods second.  Zealots are often addicted to the adrenaline high that their actions promote and enjoy violence.

This pathology is found in every group from the extreme right to the extreme left and every place inbetween.  From street crime and purse snatching to military adventurism, it is the entitlement to results because of the possession of physical force that marks a zealot.  Many groups will have zealots forming a significant section of their members.

Fourth, Publicans

Publicans are those who instead of attempting to assimilate or cooperate with others, seek only to assimilate things.  In the most common form, the pattern is pathological in that money is seen has having rights over people and in imbuing one with rights (e.g. "it is only a little girl" he said, as he drove over a child in the road, "and this is such a big car").

Whenever you see, hear or grasp the logic "I'm entitled to do this to xyz group because I have or will make money" you have met a publican in action.

Note:  If you see zealots as pathological aggressive negotiators and publicans as pathological cooperatives, you've caught a good grasp of the publican problem.

Fifth, Harlots

These are people who live in the world, seeking its pleasures without sufficient limits, and are often victimized or exploited by others.  This behavior becomes pathological when it focuses on instant gratification without regard to externalities.  The mother selling her baby's food for cocaine is an excellent example.

"But I need to" is a good by-line for this group.  Often an individual with one of the other pathologies will insist that they have the right to harm, exploit or abuse a member of this group because of the membership in this group.


The Essenes can be used to typify those who run away as a conflict resolution strategy.  Survivalists and utopian collectives (for the right and the left) catch this minor group well.  Generally the problems erupt when the group is unable to truly run away (e.g. the Montana Freemen -- any where they went they still had to pay taxes, etc.).  Most groups will contain a number of Essenes.

The real point of having a "misc." group is to point out that while there are major pathologies that turn up over and over and over again, there are also many that do not fit inside the box or the groups.  Unlike the negotiation styles, social pathologies are much more likely to spread beyond the five major classifications.


Social pathologies include group distortions of the basic coping mechanisms that are expressed in negotiating types.

Scribes have their law and truth.  Sadduccees have their analysis.  Zealots have their aggressive attacking patterns. Publicans seek to cooperate/assimilate -- but things rather than other people (treating the people as things and the things as people).  Harlots dither and Essenes run away.

There is nothing wrong with the basic coping mechanisms -- for example, universities exist because of the dedication of some to truth and analysis.  But, each of the mechanisms can "go sour" or become a pathological response in a group when it becomes distorted.  Recognizing the distortion and how it affects a group can help to understand conflict and its sources which is a useful step on the road to dispute resolution and reconciliation.

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Copyright 1998 Stephen R. Marsh

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