The Battle for Recognition part 2
In my previous writing on the Battle for Recognition, posted August 11, I argued that all conflict stems from a single root, that we all want to be recognized as at least equal to but usually greater than those around us. I also stated that this creates some difficulty when the victor realizes he has either killed or otherwise diminished his foe to the point that no one is left to give him the recognition he fought so hard for. I called this The Paradox of The Victorious and it is that which I would like to explore further here.
I’ve spent the last couple of posts talking about Thymos, the Greek word for spiritedness, and concluded that while Isothymia or equality is a fine ideal our human nature drives us to Megalothymia or a feeling of superiority. I owe much of this thinking to sociologist Francis Fukuyama who in his book The End of History and the Last Man stated that “Man was from the start a social being; his own sense of self worth and identity is intimately connected with the value that other people place on him.”
But when one group has defeated and oppressed another any kind of value received from the vanquish foe is lessened because the vanquished are less human in the sight of the victor. In economic terms if one person has more wealth than another, their recognition of superiority gives no satisfaction because there is no equality to begin with.
So what is the victor to do?
History has shown us two ways in which winners continue to prop up their self worth long after they have already won. They either continue to look for more worthy opponents until they are ultimately defeated like Napoleon or they reach a point where they know they cannot continue to win and instead build walls around themselves and treat the outside world with contempt like Saddam Hussein. On a more local level the Napoleons of our world could be the Wall Street financers who continue climbing the ladder, leveraging themselves and their clients beyond all reason until they collapse into bankruptcy while the Saddam Husseins of our world could be the abusive men who terrorize their families behind closed doors.
On the international stage of humanitarian aid westerners must be aware of these tendencies. In the battle for recognition we’ve already won. We live in the most advanced society on earth, our economic wealth is unsurpassed. But when we move into the developing world to offer our help, be it specific expertise or simply an economic hand, we must be careful not to become like Napoleons or Saddam Husseins. We cannot ride in on a white horse proclaiming to save the world and we cannot build walls.
We must never forget that the very people we are trying to help are also fighting the battle for recognition and we cannot do anything that will make them feel diminished in any way. Otherwise their own megalotymic instincts will drive them to view us as invaders and ultimately prolong the suffering. One of the greatest criticisms of Humanitarian Aid is that the workers do not take enough time to study and understand the local environment.
For a resent example of how societies continue to build walls around themselves check out the following link from Human Rights Watch.