There are about five or six pathological social responses in human behavior.  I began paying attention to them when I was dealing with dispute resolution and then when I became friends with the late Dr. Elgin.  They show up in a number of contexts, and you can identify factions by which pathology they embrace.

Understanding these results in insights that are often important in resolving conflicts at many levels as well as understanding why there is a conflict that doesn’t otherwise make sense or isn’t a spin-off of a struggle for power or a clash between different social castes and social strata.

As my 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 from our perspective at Wheat & Tares. I would note that I am also seriously looking for other metaphor sets that can be substituted for the ones I am using here for illustrating human social pathologies.

First, the Sadducee

DSCF0022The 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 with derision and 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.

The good part is that the perspective allows exploration and growth.  It becomes pathological when it degrades into mocking and narcissistic attitudes.

Second, the Scribe (legalists)

ironThis 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 Sadducees on the other.

In its good form it provides the laws and structure that gives form and order to society.  Accounting is the scribe doing well.

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, by force second, and by other, slower, methods third or never. Zealots are often addicted to the adrenaline high that their actions promote and enjoy violence. Someone whose first response is to exclude others or to try to make them “do the right thing” is a zealot.

This pathology is found in every group from the extreme right to the extreme left and every place in-between. 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.  Others will have those who believe nothing good happens without zealots pushing for it. To them, everything is a nail in need of a hard hammering.

Fourth, Publicans

Stack of One Hundred Dollar Bills U.S.

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 have a background in negotiation and see zealots as pathological aggressive negotiators and publicans as pathological cooperatives, you’ve caught a good grasp of the publican problem.  On the other hand, without those willing to make friends and cooperate, the world becomes a harsh place.

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. “After all, they deserve it.”

With limits this group gives us joy in life.  Without limits, without emotional intelligence and the ability to defer gratification, this group gives us victims and pathological short sighted approaches to life.  Mixed with Zealots, this group can do a great deal of harm (think of riots aimed purely as excuses to loot).


qumran_essenes02The 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 — anywhere they went they still had to pay taxes, etc.). Most groups will contain a number of Essenes — regardless of what they look like, they really want to solve their problems by running away.

The real point of having a “misc.” group in this essay is to point out that while there are major pathologies that turn up over and over and over again, there are also many human patterns that go wrong 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 or feature hybrid behaviors, and are often found in things such as verbal violence patterns.


Social pathological behavior includes group distortions of the basic coping mechanisms that are expressed in negotiating types or in interactions that lead to verbal violence and every other area where things go wrong.  You can see it when there is a clash.

The Scribes will have their laws and truths. The Sadduccees have their analysis and their superiority. The Zealots have their aggressive attacking patterns and their righteous anger that justifies the way they act. The Publicans seek to cooperate and/or assimilate — but will focus on 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.