Aggression and Humiliation

In IR theory class we’ve been reading about the realistic perspective of anarchy and constant war between states, along with a little bit about cognitive and psychological biases and misconceptions in decision-making. Our globalization books are covering the tired story of European hegemony and colonialism, in excruciating detail… But I find it very interesting that relations are geared so heavily towards aggression (in balancing of state power and general posturing) and humiliation.

As David Abernethy says in “The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires 1415-1980”:

“Subconscious internalization of the inferiority complex was the most pernicious outcome of all [in colonialism].”

Abernethy also quotes Césaire:

“They talk to me about progress, about “achievements,” diseases cured, improved standards of living. I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out. They throw facts at my head, statistics, mileages of roads, canals, and railroad tracks… I am talking about millions of men torn from their gods, their land, their habits, their life — from life, from the dance, from wisdom… I am talking about millions of men in whom fear has been cunningly instilled, who have been taught to have an inferiority complex, to tremble, kneel, despair, and behave like flunkeys.”

Jawaharlal Nehru, in “Toward Freedom”:

“[Railways, telegraphs, wireless, and the like] were welcome and necessary, and because the British happened to be the agents who brought them first, we should be grateful to them. But even these heralds of industrialism came to us primarily for the strengthening of British rule. They were the veins and arteries through which the nation’s blood should have coursed, increasing its trade, carrying its produce, and bringing new life and wealth to its millions. It is true that in the long run some such result was likely, but they were designed to work for another purpose — to strengthen the imperial hold and to capture markets for British goods — which they succeeded in doing. I am all in favor of industrialization and the latest methods of transport, but sometimes, as I rushed across the Indian plains, the railway, that life-giver, has almost seemed to me like iron bands confining and imprisoning India.”

I found two things striking. First, since I’m interested in bringing better technology policy worldwide and cheaper, more efficient technology to developing nations, I will need to be careful not to be an agent of empire as described by Césaire and Nehru.

Second, the humiliation, the degradation, the promises of better days only to renege on them…it sings out to me in a clear voice: American imperial pursuit in Iraq. I brought this up in class but the usual argumentative culprits were too concerned with the author’s moral exploration of colonialism in the final chapter…

That said, I bought two books. One is Jeffrey Sachs’s “The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time” (with a foreword by Bono…oh dear) which is sort of the inspiring book of the international development movement. The other is Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict. I’m not sure when I’ll have time to read them though…

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