Social Pathology in Comparative Perspective: The Nature and Psychology of Civil Society

By Jerome Braun | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

When Erikson (who was perhaps the twentieth century's most profound student of human idiosyncracy--and potential for improvement) warned of the world's ability to underestimate the power of ethnic identity issues, the Croatian genocide of Serbs was only a few years past. The human tragedy today is that knowledge of the need of the individual and group for recognition, acceptance, and respect--those iron laws of human nature--is so rare and affects so little the international community's guidelines for the conduct of political relations. Otherwise, the Serb anxiety for survival so effectively exploited by demagogues would have energized a peacemaking diplomacy once the public rhetoric of Serbian victimhood began to surface in the mid-1980s.

Similarly, a preventive diplomacy spurred by a system of early warning indicators psychologically sensitive to the language of selfhood and identity under threat, would have sent peacemakers to Armenia, Azerbaijan and other troubled and ethnically diverse regions of the former Soviet Union, and to Africa. This is another subject that I have discussed elsewhere ( Montville, 1993a, 1993b, 1994). The principal point of this chapter is that the wounded group self, the people or nation that feels despised, is in a state of uncompleted mourning for a lost sense, not so much of dignity, but of its ability to thrive and survive. Erikson was absolutely correct to say that it was a matter of life and death. The body count in greater Russia, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and other places are the devastating evidence of this truth.

A wounded people is thus dangerous and potentially destructive to either itself or others, against whom its rage is directed. A scientifically informed peacemaking will seek to figuratively and literally revisit those moments in history when the wounds and losses to group self-concept occurred and will attempt to reactivate the mourning process to a point of reasonable completion. And at that moment, the people or nation will become able to trust again in its relationships with former enemies and to regain some faith in its future.

It is normal and scientifically predictable that different communities that live close to each other will have ambiguous feelings about each other. They might be positive, even playfully competitive. But under various forms of stress, the feelings can be negative and destructive. As we have seen throughout this chapter, confusion and uncertainty about the true worth of one's own group or collective self can be projected as contempt or hatred toward the other group. Influential leaders may work toward reconciliation of the communities or alternatively can fan the

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