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Sociocentric Use of Language in Groups

Sociocentric thinking is fostered by the way groups use language. Groups justify unjust acts and ways of thinking through their use of concepts or ideas. For example, as Sumner points out, sociocentrism can be exemplified by the very names groups choose for themselves and the way they differentiate themselves from what they consider lesser groups:

When Caribs were asked whence they came, they answered, "We alone are people." The meaning of the name Kiowa is "real or principal people." The Lapps call themselves "men." Or "human beings." The Greenland Eskimo think that Europeans have been sent to Greenland to learn virtue and good manners from the Greenlanders.… The Seri of Lower California… observe an attitude of suspicion and hostility to all outsiders, and strictly forbid marriage with outsiders. (p. 14)

In the everyday life of sociocentric thinkers, we can find many self-serving uses of language that obscure unethical behavior. During the time when Europeans first inhabited the Americas, they forced Indians into slavery and tortured and murdered them in the name of progress and civilization. By thinking of the Indians as savages, they could justify their inhumane treatment. At the same time, by thinking of themselves as civilized, they could see themselves as bringing something precious to the savages, namely civilization.

The words progress, savagery, civilization, and true religion, were used as vehicles to exploit the American Indians to gain material wealth and property. The thinking of the Europeans, focused on these ideas, obscures the basic humanity of the peoples exploited as well as their rightful ownership of the land that they had occupied for thousands of years.

Sumner says that the language social groups use is often designed to ensure that they maintain a special, superior place:

The Jews divided all mankind into themselves and the Gentiles. They were "chosen people." The Greeks called outsiders "barbarians."… The Arabs regarded themselves as the noblest nation and all others as more or less barbarous.… In 1896, the Chinese minister of education and his counselors edited a manual in which this statement occurs: "How grand and glorious is the Empire of China, the middle Kingdom!"… The grandest men in the world have come from the middle empire.… In all the literature of all the states equivalent statements occur.… In Russian books and newspapers the civilizing mission of Russia is talked about, just as, in the books and journals of France, Germany, and the United States, the civilizing mission of those countries is assumed and referred to as well understood. Each state now regards itself as the leader of civilization, the best, the freest and the wisest, and all others as their inferior. (p. 14)

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