In my previous writing, peace statement I started off with the thesis; Peace without Justice is Oppression. That study and research has led me down and continually widening and branching rabbit hole of Politics, Economics and Philosophy. Recently my research has once again galvanized around a recurrent theme, that of personal recognition, as the basis of Justice.
Human society began a rapid transformation from authoritarian, totalitarian, top down regimes toward liberal democracy during what is commonly known as the enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th century. Over the past 400 years liberal democracy has emerged as the most stable and fair form of government the world over but this transformation has not been smooth. In most cases the old guard has not given up power easily.
The search for justice starts as a battle for recognition, an often bloody battle at that, where one person or group stands up to another saying; “I am Human too, show me some respect, recognize my humanity, I deserve the same rights as you!” How the powerful or favoured respond to that statement is all too obvious from even a cursory walk through history. It has led to, prolonged oppression, war and injustice.
The thesis which I intend to expand upon over the next little while is that; Justice lives when people recognize one another’s humanity.
Cain and Abel – The first Battle for Recognition
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." [d] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4: 2b-8.
Bloody battles for recognition have been a part of human history from the very beginning. As we see in this early story from the Bible Cain is searching for recognition both from God and his brother when he doesn’t get it he kills the one person who he perceives is standing in his way. The problem is that Cain still does not the recognition he so craves. Instead God threw him off the land and condemned him to life of hard labour. With God still not recognizing Cain and Abel gone there was no one left.
This is the dual paradox of the victorious; God is not interested in our petty jockeying for position and if I am victorious in a battle my fellow man is either dead or somehow less human in my site and therefore his recognition is meaningless.
In times of war, you often hear leaders – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – saying, ‘God is on our side’. But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of the refugees, widows and orphans. Greg Mortenson “Three Cups of Tea”.
Anthropologists and Sociologist agree that and Man is the only creature on earth that will risk his life for the recognition of other men. At some point during this battle he either loses his life or his need for self-preservation takes over and he becomes the subordinate of the other. Some will argue that some animals such as mountain goats and wolves also display this tendency. But the existence of the alpha male in the animal kingdom has nothing to do with prestige and everything to do with the strongest gaining access to the best food and mates. No mountain goat will continue to challenge the alpha to the point of death.
In human culture; this has been the origin of the master and slave relationship, monarchy, imperialism, and authoritarian/totalitarian regimes. Victory is hollow when receiving recognition from a vanquished foe. The human desire is to continue to find a more worthy adversary. Thus giving rise to ever expanding territorial wars that are the norm of history from ancient Rome to the Hapsburgs of Austria the Ottoman Empire, British and French Colonial Imperialism and the USSR in more modern times, to name a few.
It was not until oppressed people that were the foundations of these powers gained enough strength, through the enlightenment that these regimes began to crumble from the inside. Beginning in France and the USA, in the 18th century peasants started to demand equality and representation from their oppressors.
What was the enlightenment, how did it effect the development of liberal democracy and how is it continuing today in the developing world? Those are the questions that I will address in upcoming posts.