Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A World of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope

In 1993, Samuel Huntington introduced the theory that conflicts would emanate from frictions along race, ethnic, and religious lines. In particular, he outlined the potential clashes among the western, muslim, Confucian, and orthodox civilizations. I still remember the first time I read that article for my Intro to IR class at the University of British Columbia.

Indeed, many debates came about from Huntington’s theory. Some people voiced out views in favor of Huntington, while others thought that his argument was flawed at many levels. Regardless, the “Clash of Civilizations” theory has provided a basis for many studies and analysis of the post-Cold War era. A starting point for practitioners and academics to discuss today’s globalized world.

In these times of uncertainty, we are all hungry for ideas that could theorize our complex existence into plain patterns. How can we explain problems in a more simple way, so that we can find ways to solve them? How do we make sense of the world, in a time when we are often unable to differentiate our friends from foes?

In The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope Are Reshaping the World, Dominique Moisi tries to explain the state of conflict in international relations through an exploration of human emotions. Our fear, anger, and hate; the feelings that often pushes us to the brink of conflict and war.

Moisi wrote: “Who are we? …In an ever changing world without borders, the question is intensely relevant. Identity is strongly linked with confidence, and in turn confidence, or the lack thereof, is expressed in emotions – in particular, those of fear, hope, and humiliation”.

The world, the nations and countries of the world, can be divided into groups of people who embrace a culture of fear, humiliation or hope. And we are seeing conflicts emerge along these lines. The humiliated carrying out attacks on those with hope. And those who are fearful lashing out against the hopeful ones.

In discussing the culture of hope, Moisi talks about the peoples in China and India, and their striving for a better world, although some times at the cost of frictions with others. In general, Moisi called Asia “the continent of hope”, highlighting that economic progress and the burgeoning of hope has attributed to more peaceful conditions among the countries in the region.

The culture of humiliation is represented by feelings emanating from the Middle East. Moisi argues that while the Islamic civilization continues to grow worldwide, the Arab culture is actually in decline. Unable to cope with the advent of modernity, the Middle Eastern people are constantly feeling humiliated by the tragedies and losses that they have suffered, including the creation of the Israeli State and the continued meddling of the United States in regional politics. As a result, this shared sense of humiliation has provided the most potent ingredient for aggression towards others around the world, particularly those thought to be responsible for their current state of existence.

In responding to the cultures of fear and humiliation growing in various parts of the world, the West (Europe and the United States) have become regressed, developing a culture of fear. Fear of those with hope, and fear of those humiliated. And this fear has been the main source of the West’s frictions with the rest of the world.

Of course, Moisi’s theory is not perfect. He actually doesn’t pretend to develop an infallible way of looking the world. But what he has done is to make us, the reader, view the world through different perspectives, actually, different feelings.

Realists say that conflict, or the onset of conflict can be predicted by a calculation of power (be it economic or military) and the imbalances of power among nations. What Moisi tells us is that regardless of power (no matter how powerful or seemingly powerless people are) or the relations among powers in the world, friction and conflict comes from differences in emotions.

That, in spite of our culture differences, emotions can unite people to act in one way or another. That, at the end of the day, our world would be a better place if fear and humiliation could be supplanted with the feelings of hope. Simple enough, right? Then again, the simple things in life are often the hardest to achieve.

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