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Collective Violence: The Role of Humiliation
It seems to me that most discussions of terrorism (such as Smelser 2007) omit what may be a crucial causal factor. Several recent empirical studies suggest that those who actually commit terrorist acts, as contrasted with the much larger groups of those who merely volunteer to do so, have social-emotional histories of intense humiliation (Strozier, et al 2010, pp. 143-147. See also Stern 2003; Hemick, 2004; Jones 2008).
In an approach to collective conflict that complements and extends these findings, Dennis Smith (2006) has outlined how most military, political, and/or economic power leads to humiliation of the subdued groups, and how humiliation can lead to endless rounds of revenge. The present policies of the richer and more powerful nations are manufacturing terrorism and violence.
Individuals and groups are usually able to avoid conflict through negotiation, unless there is an intense history of humiliation and the subsequent desire for counter-humiliation and revenge. Humiliation and revenge were particularly transparent in the origin of World War I, where there was no attempt to hold meetings for negotiation before the war began, and in the subsequent rise of Hitler to power (Scheff 1994).
The essential message is that if we don’t stop humiliating people and groups of people, our civilization is going down the tube. Humiliation may be by far the most dangerous element in our world, infinitely more lethal than plutonium. Yet humiliation, because it is part of the social-emotional world, is still more or less invisible in modern societies, both to researchers and the public. This world is no more important than the political and economic world, but it is too important to be left out entirely.
Helmick, R. G. (2004). Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed. London: Pluto Press.
Jones, James W. 2008. Blood that Cries Out from the Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
_____________2010. Shame, humiliation and religious violence. The Shame Factor Conference, Lincoln Nebraska, October 24-26.
Scheff, Thomas. 1994. Bloody Revenge: Emotion, Nationalism and War. Westview Press (Reissued by iUniverse 2000)
Smelser, Neil. The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2007).
Smith, Dennis. 2006. Globalization: the Hidden Agenda. Cambridge: Polity.
Stern, Jessica. 2003. Terror in the Name of God. New York: Ecco Press.
Strozier, Charles, David Terman, and James Jones. 2010. The Fundamentalist Mindset. Oxford: Oxford University Press.