Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feelings...Nothing More than Feelings


The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World
by Dominique Moisi

First of all, my title for this post is hyperbolic. Of course geopolitics is about more than how people "feel" about each other, but Moisi makes a strong case for the truth that we ignore the emotions of a people at our peril. To think that people and nations form and break relationships with each other only on the basis of policy, culture, and economics does not tell the whole story. Human beings are creatures of emotion, and (whether we realize it or not), our attitudes toward other nations or large groups of people who are different from us are affected by our most visceral feelings and emotional reactions. Individuals at the highest levels of diplomacy, as well as ordinary people living in a diverse society, would do well to remember the importance of emotion in our interactions with each other.

Moisi focuses on three emotions that are prevalent in our world today: hope, fear, and humiliation. He writes that "the reason I have chosen these three emotions is that they are closely linked to the notion of confidence, which is the defining factor in how nations and people address the challenges they face as well as how they relate to one another." He looks at different nations with a preponderance of one of these emotions and describes how that particular emotion is affecting their political, economic, and diplomatic behaviors. Two countries that are experiencing a great deal of hope at this point are India and China, largely because they are becoming much more significant players on the worldwide economic scene. Many countries in the Islamic world, including Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan, have experienced such humiliation in recent decades that their relations with "first world" countries are clouded by these experiences. Surprisingly for some, the United States, Japan, and France are countries that are fearful at this time, as they face having to share the prime spots on the world stage with more ascendant nations.

Moisi ends his book with some hopeful ideas for what can be done to repair tense and fractured relationships in the world. Because he is French, he can offer advice to the United States (at least to some of us) without having his own patriotism questioned. It helps, I think, if we can at least be aware that emotions are a factor in all relationships, from the simplest (dealing with the fewest number of people) to the most complex (those between cultures and/or nations). I also would love to see a study done on the tie-ins between spirituality and emotion, because these two are so interconnected that one surely must influence the other in ways that we are only beginning to grasp.

I close with a quote from the book that makes a great deal of sense to me: "The interdependent, integrated world in which we live is simply too difficult to grasp and understand fully. It is a question of both quantity and quality: We humans have never been simultaneously so numerous, so diverse, and so varied in our lifestyles, values, and circumstances. It is tempting to try to escape such complexity by simply choosing to ignore it. Hence the appeal of fundamentalist religions and extreme ideologies, both of which reduce the world's complexity to the simplicity of slogans, catchphrases, and inflexible commands." God help us all, and may we teach our children to move from fear of "the other" to tolerance and even love and respect.

Reverent Reader

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