Reaching out, be it for love or to mend a broken relationship is noble. So also with the forming of the National Dialogue Commission! Isolation, alienation, even worse, hostility are neither beneficial nor noble. But beware, not all exposure or contact leads to harmony! The purpose and method (why & how) have to be crystal clear. Defining the question is an important part of the solution- አለበለዝያ ፍየል ወዲህ ቅዝምዝም ወድያ ይሆናል።
We often point our fingers at the Nazis when we think of hatred or evil- although similar atrocities occurred much earlier during the slave trade – but it seems we have now gathered enough of our own indigenous reference on crimes against humanity through the Derg and the Woyane Juntas, and Oneg fanatics. The source of evil is multifactorial, of course, and the mechanism is complex, even if we tried to explain it systematically, layer by layer. Thinking (cognition) vs feeling (emotion), reason vs belief, the frontal cortex and the limbic system, genes and epigenomes, leading to Them and Us…
In tribalized Ethiopia, Them and Us has become malignant. The emotional “bondage” in tribalism is not qualitatively different from that in nationalism. The smaller social group has a more tangible automatic cohesion through kinship- and above all, through a stronger attachment called sacred values which possesses transcendental significance that precludes other values and supercedes other identities. It goes into your bones, which explains the inconsistent tribalism seen in otherwise rational professionals.
Nationalism, on the other hand, demands understanding the abstract construct of being Human and volitional citizenship, a higher level of imagination overriding sacred values. Belongingness has evolved from family to clan, tribe, kingdom, nation-state, and at last citizen of the world, globalism. In this process of cooperative capacity building, obstacles arise in the form of power distribution as well as resource allocation. It is not primarily a question of geography and boundaries, since migration and intermarriage decide the whereabouts of your domicile. Boundaries move all the time in history, through wars, economic constellations, etc. – look at Europe’s and Asia’s small nations!
It is complex but complexity doesn’t stop us from asking why your neighbor would take a knife and cut off your tongue, or how a group of men can rape an old woman, or shoot at grazing cows, or desecrate and loot a church, a mosque… We can incarcerate these thugs, put them out of circulation, but how do we put the poison out of circulation? How do we detoxify blind followers? Coercion doesn’t work in the long run. How do we convince? For all this, we need to know the mechanism behind it all. Or, we will have to keep on to redefining a human being every time this happens, reinventing a new breed?
Many books are written on behavior. A worrisome revelation is that we cannot absolve ourselves from the crimes of “others”, because being sometimes inhuman is apparently a human escapade! Nobody is trying to exonerate the culprits from their crimes taking circumstances as an excuse to causality, but believe it or not, most of human actions are conditional and automated. Reason takes often a back seat. Our eyes do not see what stands in front of us, the brain interprets it for us with its own preferences, which is often influenced by trivia. (Ex. Study shows judges are less likely to grant parole on an empty stomach, thus a breakfast decides over somebody’s freedom!) And mind you, most of our stimuli come through the eyes. Yes, these organs do a good job most of the time, but just the idea that what you see, your perception is susceptible to so many unconscious factors that you do not possess control over is frightening. And you actually live in the bliss of ignorance until some researcher proves it to you, (sometimes on you), with practical consequences! People in the field and those who have read Kahneman or Eagleman or any neuroscientist know what that means exactly.
Here is a neuroscientist who has researched immensely, Robert Sapolsky. He walks you through all kinds of terrain, systematically- from the second before the behavior (the crime) took place, via evolution to time immemorial to enlighten you on the causality of a behavior! His conclusions may be controversial but the facts are irrefutable.
Now, what would a certain Sapolsky with a wild and bushy beard, impersonating Mr. Santa have to do with our predicament? Sapolsky, Oneg and Woyane and ethnic federalism in Ethiopia?? Nothing! It is only that this Santa Claus holds the key to one codebook that decodes the mechanism behind the behavior that lead to the atrocity and assures you that all these questions have multiple, interconnected answers – but no single panacea. There is immense knowledge that guarantees you can fix what you broke, if you approach the question by understanding the complex mechanism.
On this note, just an example. Some psychologists in the 50s designed research to effectively reduce prejudice. It was called Contact theory. Although they succeeded in their endeavor, they also had to confess that this genuine and sacred project backfired unless certain conditions were met; common goals, equal status, cooperative atmosphere, and institutional support.
To make it short, the mechanisms behind the successful results were because contact reduced the feeling of anxiety, in other words, fear. And our friend fear, our primordial protective instinct, leads to a defense mechanism of categorization. Categorization is generalization, stereotyping, creating boundaries, and erecting barricades. Boundaries create lines and boxes which can easily become bunkers. It is easier to hate or kill a faceless enemy than one whose eyes you can see – drone managers are less affected than the infantry, although recent studies are emerging with drone pilots with PTSD!
It is to be emphasized that contact or dialogue specifically decreases anxiety; an icebreaker, sort of. That is the first step. Emotions are the single most important factors that are the immediate reasons for conflict, and if correctly handled to detoxify the malice of demagogues, for ex. They are also factors that can pave the way to rational thinking. Otherwise, rushing to solve what seems to be the most obvious rational disagreement is banging your head against a wall. Initially, emotions, cemented beliefs, perceptions, rigid positions are actually more important to deal with than the factual disagreements themselves. If we are not aware of the order of things or the priorities, dialogue will backfire and you will end up with more clans and tribes than unions.
Common goals, equal status, cooperative atmosphere between participants, and institutional support – how does one secure these? Who is the outsider who drafts these common goals between opposing parties? How is equal status secured when equal status is one of the goals of the project? How is cooperation a precondition when it’s already polarized, shouldn’t it be one of the goals? How does it work with ethnic polarization? Are fanatics part of this dialogue? If excluded, aren’t we ignoring the elephant in the room? If included, won’t sitting with criminals erode the very purpose of the project and render consensus impossible? Yes, it is complicated but there should be a working version of these terms if anything is to be accomplished.
However, despite all the knowledge in the world, elaborate psychological models and good intentions, conflicts are still abundant in our world! It is like everything else; there is an abundance of wealth, an abundance of food, an abundance of natural resources, but somehow, we manage to keep the equation of demand and supply or the distribution of resources in such a twisted way, perfectly unbalanced, so that the needs are never met and abundance abounds on the other extreme- a biblical aphorism.
Indeed, the world has become a better place (more for the West, less for others) since the days of Plato or the philosophers of Punt – if there were any – but we are still very far from what is possible or from what should be expected of humanity-especially when those who enjoy peace themselves try to create hell for others. The culprits are actually in the first place us, here, today – not God or destiny, not Plato, not ZeraYaqob, not Menelik or Imam al-Ghazi the leftist, irrespective of causality.
Can we fix it? Can the NDC fix it? Again, yes, in time, with our fingers crossed, and with a clearly defined purpose, to reach a reasonable consensus in appraising or even creating a common vision based on the Declaration of Human Rights. It should not end in a hotchpotch compromise with an ethnic Scramble for Ethiopia trying to create a compromised Ethiopian triangle with 260 degrees! To reach consensus, you need sincerity as a compassionate human being, humility before our God-fearing people past and present, and a solid knowledge pool, way, way far from categorical thinking. Can we do that? Yes, if we tap into the immense knowledge out there and combine this enlightenment with indigenous wisdom, including spiritual and age-old values like benevolence, magnanimity, tolerance …አንተ ትብስ፤ አንቺ ትብሽ፤ ነግ በኔ፣ ወዘተ…
One cannot demand of the honorable members of the National Dialogue Commission to read a book of about a thousand pages, Behave-The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, (if they haven’t already) but maybe the link below can provide an appetite for more of Sapolsky. It is on Hate and the Brain.
Below is the table of content of the immensely interesting book, Behave, especially for people in medicine or psychology, and a huge help for the commission, an in-depth analysis of human behavior, certainly touching all probable questions in the project.
Table of Contents:
- The behavior
- One second before
- Seconds to minutes before
- Hours to days before
- Days to months before
- Adolescence; or, Dude, where’s my frontal cortex?
- Back to the crib, back to the womb
- Back to when you were just a fertilized egg
- Centuries to millennia before
- The evolution of behavior
- Us versus them
- Hierarchy, obedience, and resistance
- Morality and doing the right thing, once you’ve figured out what that is
- Feeling someone’s pain, understanding someone’s pain, alleviating someone’s pain
- Metaphors we kill by
- Biology, the criminal justice system, and (oh, why not?) free will
- War and peace
Editor’s note : This article appeared first on P2P forum on February 21, 2022