How to Be Strong While Naked: Collective Humiliation
Another face of humiliation
Posted Jun 29, 2014
We might think of humiliation as a Dragon, especially the humiliation of many or collective humiliation. In some cases a dangerous Dragon capable of taking a bite out of all of us when we least suspect it. In a previous Blog (How to Be Strong While Naked: Part I), I discussed individual humiliation and now discuss another “face" of humiliation; namely, the shared humiliation of many.
Let’s recall the word “humiliation” is derived from the Latin humiliare meaning “to humble,” as in “losing-face” or being “stripped naked.” Individual humiliation is the emotional response to a perceived loss of what we value most; the sense of the adequate, competent, familiar self. It’s all about self-evaluators like you and me. It raises the question of the value of a human being to herself, himself, and others.
As painful as individual humiliation is, that of collective humiliation is both painful and dangerous. This “face” of humiliation may involve pre-emptory ideation, fanaticism, destructive social movements, nationalism, the corruption of organized religion, the corruption of governance and war. In every case, Ego is involved; especially the “bad Ego” of conditional Self-Esteem, and not the “good Ego” of unconditional Self-Acceptance...the best foundation for Self-Reliance!
In previous Blogs I discussed the Self and The Value of a Human Being, I also discussed “killing ego” as a solution to evil and now as a solution to the emotional extremes of humiliation. I acknowledged this is unrealistic; for it would evoke disabling anxiety resulting in the annihilation of self beyond hope of even a Pyrrhic victory. No, we cannot kill Ego, but the idea points us in the right direction. Yes, something needs to be done about Ego, and it begins and ends with acknowledging the difference between the bad Ego of Self-Esteem and the good Ego of Self-Acceptance. Are you aware of the difference? Which do you have? Do they come and go in different situations?
Recently, I also published a chapter entitled The Value of a Human Being appearing in the book Albert Ellis Revisited (Routledge, 2014) in which I introduce Ellis’ approach to Ego written in the days when I was among the first to complete a post-doctoral internship under him at his Manhattan clinic. I shared my mentor’s interest in human beings as habitual self-evaluators. While he continued to pursue his clinical approach to Ego, I went on to collaborate with Nathaniel Branden, who pioneered the concept of Self-Esteem, and then followed the path of a scientist-clinician developing a science of values. This is the holy grail of psychology and replaces Sigmund Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego with philosopher Robert Hartman’s Feeler (Intrinsic), Doer (Extrinsic), and Thinker (Systemic) dimensions of value. It has evolved into the Pomeroy-Hartman Project in the field of psychology giving birth to the perspectives of “Integrative Psychology” and “Values-Based Cognitive Psychology” inspired by psychologist Albert Ellis and philosopher Robert Hartman.
Ok, “killing Ego” is no way to slay the Dragon of Collective Humiliation made dangerous by the Egos of Self-Esteem throughout the world. Where does this leave us? More realistic is the slow replacement of culturally conditioned Self-Esteem (“the bad Ego”) with learned Self-Acceptance (“the good Ego”). However, this approach will take time. In the meantime it leaves humankind vulnerable to the waving and thrashing of the Dragon’s tail. This demands an interum strategy for the near term; one involving education as well as the cultivation of Ego awareness.
Collective humiliation is the cause of wars and human suffering. In European history alone we have the Thirty Year War, One Hundred Year War, World War I, and World War II. This Dragon is alive today as seen in the sectarian and ethnic strife of the Middle East and Africa. We are left having to learn all we can about the phenomenon of Mass Humiliation shared by many, and for this a historical perspective is useful.
1. The American Civil War: During the days of British Colonialism, Virginia became a rich Southern Colony and then a rich Southern State with lots to lose. It had grown rich on the backs of slaves working an agricultural economy. When Virginians and the South perceived a threat to their way of life they went to war against the more industrialized Northern states and lost. Five days after the Civil War ended at Appomattox Court House with the surrender of General Lee to General Grant, the successful actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford Theater to avenge the humiliating defeat of his Virginia and the South.
2. Germany: Historical examples of the Dragon of collective humiliation are many and one of the most familiar involves Germany. Suffering the humiliating defeat of the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, Germany followed Hitler to war for the second time in the 20th century. We are now approaching the August 4th Centennial of World War I with many debating its cause and meaning. England plans to turn out the lights at 11:00 pm this August 4th in commemoration of that brutal war. Battlefields in Europe are prepared to receive thousands of people. The Germans are understandably restrained. In their struggle with war guilt and their militaristic past, they wish it was all over without notice. It becomes a painful source of renewed humiliation for many.
The thrust of Nazi ideology was to avenge Germany’s defeat. The combination of unemployment, the Great Depression of 1929, the weakness of the Weimar Republic, the lack of historic democratic institutions and traditions, plus middle European pseudoparanoia, conspired to load the “gun” of shared humiliation. It was left to Hitler to “pull the trigger,” the rest is history.
3. Russia: Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine under Putin wants to slay the Dragon of collective humiliation following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia hasn’t psychologically recovered from this defeat. I know. I took their "pulse" when I presented my research to a Russian audience no so long ago. The parallel with Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia is obvious. It is all the more shocking in the zeitgeist of the more progressive and conscious 21st century. Such behavior is the stuff of war. It’s an incredible and dangerous instance of history repeating itself. It's all about the atavistic emotion of humiliation, primitive nationalistic defenses, and the response of a more informed and conscious 21st century.
4. American Humiliation:
Governance: The humiliating defeat of the Republican Party’s candidate for president by the Afro American Democratic candidate, together with the social unrest of the Great Recession of 2008, polarized the Republican Party around ideologies of convenience rather than substance; paralyzing governance at a cost to us all. This unfolded in ways that divide this conservative party, rendering it unable to help itself. We now await the inevitable electoral resolutions of 2014 and 2016.
The U.S. Supreme Court: Another example of collective humiliation infecting the zeitgeist of conservative Republicans involves the close decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court...more often than not along party lines, and involving decisions often seen as more ideological than judicial, quite apart from humanistic coniderations. Some reflect the structural weakness of law itself. I have in mind the failure of law to take into sufficient consideration the humanistic and moral dimensions of law.
What do I mean? During the recent Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., I drove from my home in Northern Virginia to visit the Jefferson Memorial embraced by Cherry Trees in full bloom. On the interior wall for all the world to see I read the following by Jefferson: “I am not an advocate of frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed, more enlightened.“
This speaks to the moral and humanistic dimensions of law. It speaks to the conservative distortion of this message. It speaks to Justice Scalia’s formulaic, originalist doctrine asserting we should interpret the Constitution of the United States exactly as written and adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia September 17, 1787, and ratified by eleven States on March 4, 1789. Is this mere dogma? Does this fly in the face of Jefferson's wisdom and recommendation that “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed and enlightened.” Do you think Scalia’s “originalist doctrine" is more the manifestation of conservative humiliations over a national election and the failed gerrymandering (i.e., manipulation of boundaries) of some primary elections? Do you believe the remedy for what ails law must involve the development of a science of values and its sponsoship of moral education along with reading, writing, and arithmetic? Do you suppose law schools ought to teach the “moral dimensions of law” from the perspective of a science of values?
5. The Dangerous and Costly Middle East:
In the Middle East the tails of many Dragons of humiliation are swaying, waving, weaving, and thrashing as never before. There is the American dream of democracy in the Middle East. Is it even possible? There was Saddam Hussein’s humiliation of the Kurds and Shiites. There was the American defeat of the Sunni army. There was Paul Bremer’s abrupt and questionable disbanding of the Sunni army. There was General David H. Petraeus’ success in getting Sunnis to cooperate followed by Shiite exclusion of Sunnis. Now the sleeping Dragon of Sunni humiliation is awakening again. This time they have forged an alliance with terrorists bent on building the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called ISIS. We now witness the “Throne of ISIS” replacing the “Base of al-Qaeda," driven by the passions of smoldering Sunni humiliation. This is but the tip of the “iceberg of humiliations” plaguing the tribal Middle East.
Some Americans were wiser and more insightful than others. General Colin Powell and Secretary of State Chester Crocker had an awareness of the regions history and culture. At Powell’s request, Crocker drafted a memo entitled "The Perfect Storm" in which he outlined the sectarian and ethnic humiliations of a seriously “traumatized society.” Who took notice? The American diplomat Paul Bremer, a graduate of Yale, Harvard and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris was made head of the occupational authority and then the government of Iraq between May 11, 2003 to June 28, 2004. What happened? Maybe those making policy and giving orders need to brush up on anthropology and history beyond securing "political" appointments the old fashion way. In any case, I’m sure layers of poorly understood historic and contemporary humiliations are shaping today's outcomes.
Humiliation involves Ego...the bad Ego of conditional Self-Esteem...not the good Ego of unconditional Self-Acceptance. Collective humiliation is a powerful emotion originating in Ego and resolved by Egos; all of which concerns the “value of a human being” to himself, herself, and each other...for we are all self-evaluators...for better or worse. We need to know more about the Ego; for it is background to the birth of the Dragons of Individual and Collective Humiliation consuming the human capital and resources of the world.
The many Dragons of Collective Humiliation around the world remain a threat that begs understanding and must be managed with skill and sensitivity. Humiliation takes many forms including the more innocuous schadenfreude, anger, jealousy, and envy. More dangerous forms include sadism, murderous rage, ethnic cleansing, war, what is called evil, and so forth. The combination of national shame and guilt gives birth to especially troublesome Dragons of Collective Humiliation as seen in the examples provided.
We live in an imperfect and increasingly dangerous world of vulnerable Egos prone to the emotion of humiliation and prepared to defend in various anti-self, anti-social, pro-self, pro-social ways. This means we had better study humiliation and not ignore it. Do you think a science of values, promoting moral education, in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, might be helpful? Might it also contribute to the building of a science of peace making and conflict resolution? In the long term the goal of civilization must involve a shift from the self-evaluation of conditioned Self-Esteem to the self-evaluation of learned Self-Acceptance. Let us not surrender to the bad Ego, but embrace the good Ego. In discussing this “existential correction” with patients, I’ve helped them and ended up helping myself, but it remains unfinished business, and mostly unknown to the wider world.
© Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.