Theory of Humiliation by Lindner
Executive Summary

see also as very short summary, short narrative, short table, and as longer paper

Adapted from:
Lindner, Evelin G. (2004). Humiliation in a Globalizing World: Does Humiliation Become the Most Disruptive Force? New York, NY: Paper prepared for the "Workshop on Humiliation and Violent Conflict," November 18-19, 2004, at Columbia University.

Creative Commona Evelin G. Lindner, 2004
Please ask the author for permission when you wish to quote her.

Keywords: circumscription, new technologies of communication and mobility, new visions of the world, ingathering of humankind (globalization, global village), shift to a more relational global life world, weakening of Security Dilemma, shift from fear to humiliation, Human Rights ideals, in-group ethics, continuous liberation of underlings (egalization), ranked worthiness of human beings, equal dignity for all, phenomenon and dynamics of humiliation (expressed in acts, feelings and institutions), honor-humiliation, dignity-humiliation, unequal human worthiness, humility of equal dignity, depression and apathy, genocide, terrorism, constructive social change (Mandela), new public policy, new decent institutions, attention to maintaining relationships of equal dignity, new social skills for maintaining relations of equal dignity and healing and preventing dynamics of humiliation, new leaders, paradigm of policing, social control, male and female role descriptions, liberation efforts, third parties, resolution and transformation of necessary conflict, celebrate humanity, unparalleled window of opportunity, dignism


Humiliation in a Globalizing World:
Does Humiliation Become the Most Disruptive Force?
Executive Summary

Evelin G. Lindner, MD, PhD, PhD (Dr psychol, Dr med)

(9 pages, without references, see a comprehensive overview over references in Lindner, 2003)

In order to understand a globalizing world, we need "global" research, as well as the participation of researchers who have a global outlook and global experience. In my case, a specific biography made me acquire a profoundly global perspective and identity. This experiential background has led me to conceptualize psychology in a specific way, first, as being embedded within broader historic and philosophical contexts, second, as being profoundly intertwined with global changes, and third, as currently gaining significance. I avoid single interest scholarship, work transdisciplinary, and probe how even local micro-changes may be embedded within larger global changes.
In my case, the lack of a clear sense of belonging during childhood (being born into a family of displaced people) made me particularly sensitive to identity quests and urged me to learn about and become part of the rich and diverse world culture that belongs to all of us, as opposed to being part of any particular national sub -culture. Nagata, 1998, wrote an article, Being Global: Life at the Interface, whereby living at the interface means living as an immigrant in another culture. In my case, I have accustomed myself to living in many cultures and in many interfaces, more so, have made the very interface my home.
Over the years my intuition grew that basically all human beings yearn for recognition and respect, and that the withdrawal or denial of recognition and respect, experienced as humiliation, may be the strongest force that creates rifts between people and breaks down relationships. Thus, I believe that the desire for recognition unites us human beings, that it is universal and can serve as a platform for contact and cooperation. I suggest that many of the rifts that we can observe stem from a related universal phenomenon, namely the humiliation that is felt when recognition and respect is lacking. I do not believe that ethnic, religious, or cultural differences create rifts by themselves; on the contrary, diversity can be a source of mutual enrichment - however, diversity is enriching only as long as it is embedded within relationships that are characterized by respect. It is when respect and recognition are failing, that those who feel victimized are prone to highlight differences in order to "justify" rifts that were caused, not by these differences, but by something else, namely by humiliation.

Are feelings and acts of humiliation increasingly the most significant phenomena to be reckoned with in a globalizing world?

Therefore I ask: Could it be the case that in a globalizing world, feelings and acts of humiliation increasingly represent the most significant phenomena to be reckoned with? In this paper, a framing of current and past events is put forward that defends this conceptualization.

Humiliation as a historical-cultural-social-emotional construct

In my work, I conceptualize humiliation as a historical-cultural-social-emotional construct that is changing over time rather than as an a-historic emotional process (for mechanisms of emotional production, classic names come to mind, such as Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, George Herbert Mead, or Erving Goffman; see, furthermore, Collins and Makowsky, 1993, as well as Collins, 1999). I describe currently living generations as finding themselves in a crucial historical transition from an old honor world to a vision of a future world of equal dignity (with a related transition from honor-humiliation to dignity-humiliation).
In traditional hierarchical societies, aristocrats defended their honor against humiliation with the sword (in duels, or in duel-like wars, with increasingly more lethal weapons) while underlings (women and lowly men) had to humbly, subserviently and obediently accept being subjugated without invoking feelings of humiliation. Men, when they belonged to ruling elites, were socialized into translating feelings of humiliation into an urge to fight back, while lowly men and particularly women learned that they had to swallow any such feelings aimed at superiors and keep quiet.
This state-of-affairs began to hold sway about ten thousand years ago, when hierarchical societal systems developed together with upcoming complex agriculturalism (Ury, 1999). Until recently, such hierarchical systems were regarded as thoroughly legitimate, even as divinely ordained. Still today, in many places, people subscribe to such concepts.
To summarize Ury (1999), most of humankind's history went by relatively peacefully, with small bands of hunter-gatherers cooperating within noticeably egalitarian societal structures. The available abundance of wild food provided hunter-gatherers with an expandable pie of resources and a win-win frame. Roughly 10,000 years ago, agriculturalism began to emerge, giving rise to hierarchical societies, framing life within a win-lose logic, and fuelling war. In the wake of the most recent transition, technological innovations enable humans to relate to their home, planet Earth, in profoundly new ways. People around the globe communicate and meet as never before. At present Homo sapiens is about to create a global knowledge society, says Ury, thus returning to the win-win frame of hunter-gatherers, and thereby regaining the potential for relatively peaceful egalitarian societal structures for the global "tribe" of humankind.
Indeed, currently, rising awareness of Human Rights ideals is about to change the old hierarchical order of things. With the advent of human rights ideals, the notion of humiliation changes its attachment point. It moves from the top to the bottom, from the privileged to the disadvantaged. In the new framework, the downtrodden underling is given the right to feel humiliated. Underlings around the world are increasingly socialized in new ways and are "allowed" to feel humiliated by their lowliness, a lowliness that is now defined as illegitimate. The master elites, on the other side, face the opposite call: they are called upon to regain humbleness and are not anymore given permission to resist this call by labeling it as humiliating. Elites who arrogate superiority lose their age-old right to cry "humiliation!" when they are asked to descend and humble themselves.




The human rights revolution could be described as an attempt to collapse the master-slave gradient to the line of equal dignity and humility. The practice of masters arrogating superiority and subjugating underlings is now regarded as illicit and obscene, and human rights advocates invite both, masters and underlings, to join in shared humility at the line of equal dignity.
It is important to note that the horizontal line is meant to represent the line of equal dignity and humility. This line does not signify that all human beings are equal, or should be equal, or ever were or will be equal, or identical, or all the same. This horizontal line is to represent a worldview that does not permit the hierarchical ranking of existing differences of human worth and value. Masters are invited to step down from arrogating higher worthiness, and underlings are encouraged to rise up from lowliness. Masters are humbled and underlings empowered.
Brigid Donelan kindly comments this model as follows (personal message, December 20, 2004), "This is a model with twin features: one a historical trend and the other a contemporary potential/choice. We may think of humanity evolving through stages of pride, honor and dignity. We can also see that each stage is 'alive and well' within each contemporary individual, as a choice/potential. The value of the model lies in clarifying the choice, and suggesting a trend towards emergence of a 'global knowledge society,' for which there is certainly evidence, and benefits for all."
It is often forgotten and important to emphasize that Human Rights advocates expect underlings not to translate their newly legitimized feelings of humiliation crudely into violent retaliation; Human Rights promoters do not encourage underlings to merely replace elites and take their place as new dominators and humiliators. Human Rights campaigners encourage underlings to do more than bring down abusive masters; they encourage them to also dismantle the very hierarchal systems that are now regarded as unjust. Human Rights stipulate, furthermore, that this ought to be done without the sword and without humiliating anybody, in the spirit of Gandhi, or Mandela (at least at the end of his career, see Mandela, 1996).
Thus, Human Rights advocates expect men and women around the world to evolve from translating feelings of humiliation into either aggression or apathy; men and women are encouraged to learn how to use feelings of humiliation in more constructive forms so as to bring about constructive peaceful social change.
This is where, to my understanding, Thomas J. Scheff's work is positioned (see his work on shame, for example, in Scheff, 1988, Scheff, 2003, Scheff, 1990c). An important focus in his work is that males should learn to feel and acknowledge feelings of shame and humiliation without covering up these feelings by translating them immediately into aggression. This new awareness of feelings of humiliation and shame should then, hopefully, enable these new males to devise action that is more constructive and more in line with Human Rights ideals. Thus, Thomas Scheff's "vision" and "project," as far as I gather, is to teach males that acknowledging feelings of humiliation and shame and allowing oneself to indeed feel these emotions, is a way to a more constructive "use" of these emotions than merely becoming aggressive.
Scholars such as Howard Zehr (see Zehr, 2002, Zehr, 1990) and Avishai Margalit, 1996, focus on social and societal institutions and how they have to be reformed so as to no longer humiliate citizens. Scholars and practitioners such as Joseph Stiglitz or George Monbiot discuss ways as to how the global system could be changed in order to grow congruent with Human Rights ideals (Stiglitz, 1998, Stiglitz and Squire, 1998, Monbiot, 2003).

Human Rights, equal dignity for all, fear and humiliation

As mentioned earlier, I see the currently rising awareness of Human Rights in the context of what anthropologists call the ingathering of humankind (Ury, 1999; see also World Systems Analysis, for example, by Chase-Dunn and Hall, 1997), namely the coming together of all humankind into One single family. The term global village is deeply indicative, I suggest. I believe, it entails profoundly transformative seeds for change. The rise of the vision and reality of One single global village is concurrent with something extremely significant, namely the almost subversive loss of ground for the notion of outgroups (together with all outgroup biases, prejudices and hostile "outgroup ethics"). Thus, to my view, human rights ideals represent "ingroup ethics" whose scope is expanded to the entire global village. Usually the so-called "scope of justice" (Coleman, 2003) for ingroups emphasizes social cohesion and its maintenance, so do Human Rights.
However, this is not all. As mentioned above, Human Rights ideals do not condone the mere replacement of old tyrants with new ones; they envisage the dismantling of entire hierarchical systems. Human Rights ideals represent an encouragement for underlings to continuously challenge domination and oppression (Deutsch, 2002, Sidanius and Pratto, 1999). Thus, I conceptualize Human Rights ideals to represent "inside ethics" as we know them from age-long history, however, now applied to the entire globe, and intertwined with an egalitarian message.
In former times, guardians of "inside ethics" often defended hierarchical rankings of human worthiness with the "need" to have safe, stable and coherent societies. Confucianism, still today, is not far away from such conceptualizations; obedience to authorities is regarded as a high value. And indeed, as long as the world had not yet began to evolve into One single global village, but still contained " many villages," these people had a point. " Villages " (groups, nations, states, etc.) faced a dangerous Hobbsian "might-is-right" world and had to stay internally cohesive and perpetually prepared for war. Males typically were sent out to die in war and obedient readiness for aggression, honed in the language of honor, was perhaps a suitable adaptation. At any time, outsiders were prone to attack, and fear of surprise attacks was rampant. International Relations theory uses terms such as the Security Dilemma to describe how arms races and war were almost inevitable in this atmosphere of fear.
The new global "inside ethics," or Human Rights ideals, however, aim at a new combination, not anymore maintenance of social cohesion embedded within hierarchical rankings of human value, but maintenance of social cohesion linked to attitudes, behaviors and institutions that promote equal dignity for all. I believe that this transition enshrined as the central Human Rights call for equal dignity for all (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) currently gains mainstream acceptance mainly because of the rise of the vision and reality of One single ingroup of humanity.
I claim that as soon as there is only One single ingroup left on the globe, fear of surprise attacks from distant outsiders is bound to subside. What gains visibility, however, is interaction with insiders. And this interaction is fraught with quests for recognition, appreciation and respect, quests that may lead to feelings of humiliation, and their violent handling, if unsatisfied. While formerly distant outsiders held the many villages of the world in fear of sudden and incomprehensible attack, today we share One single global village not with far-away outsiders, but with close-by fellow insiders, who ask us whether we respect them as equals. We enter a relational era. Isolated "differences," or separate "interests" lose significance, while the quality of relationships gains weight.
It is therefore, to my view, that no longer fear of a distant enemy is the leading emotion that subordinates all other emotions and deliberations, but feelings of humiliation in the face of lacking recognition for equal dignity from fellow human beings, or more precisely, feelings of dignity-humiliation. Fear was an inescapable emotional state that was bound to hold center stage as long as a strong Security Dilemma defined the condition of the peoples of the globe. If humiliation played a role, then it was the terminology of honor and honor-humiliation that negotiated this fear like a collective armor. Yet, at present, the Security Dilemma weakens in the wake of increasing global interdependence and gives rise to the new notion of equal dignity for all, and, in its tail, to feelings of dignity-humiliation in case of lack of respect for equal dignity (real or imagined). Elsewhere, Lindner (2003) analyses why dignity-humiliation is bound to be more salient than honor-humiliation: while honor-humiliation keeps most humiliated people still within the ingroup, dignity-humiliation excludes people from humankind.

Cycles of humiliation are not being healed or prevented by inflicting humiliation

To the detriment of all of us, the feelings of humiliation that currently are holding hearts and mind around the world in their grip are not always honed into Gandhi/Mandela-like wisdom for constructive change. "Pre-emptive prevention" of expected future humiliation, for example, was perpetrated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, as in Hitler's Holocaust in World War II. Global terrorism seems to follow a similar logic, led by humiliation-entrepreneurs who instrumentalize feelings of humiliation among the broad masses for violence.
Still, most of those on the globe, who currently regard each other as "enemies," respond to attempts to be humiliated with nothing more than "defiance." U.S. President George W. Bush comments the beheading of South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il, in Iraq on June 23, 2004 by saying that even though "they" try to humiliate "us," even though "they" try to "shake our wills," "we" do not bow. "We" are proud of our resistance; there is no need to be ashamed as long as we do not give in. Bush said, "See, what they are trying to do, they are trying to shake our will and our confidence! They are trying to get us to withdraw from the world! So that they can impose their dark vision on people!" (U.S. President Bush June 23, 2004, seen on BBC World). From "them," we hear in the news (June 20, 2004), "Foreign affairs adviser Adel al-Jubeir said a Saudi campaign which included the shooting of Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin had destroyed al-Qaeda's capabilities. The group later confirmed in a statement on an Islamist website that Muqrin and three others were killed. It said earlier it had carried out the beheading of US hostage Paul Johnson. It also pledged to continue what it called its holy war" (retrieved June 20, 2004, from
In other words, attempts to humiliate "enemies" in order to humble them, typically end in proud and noncompliant defiance, on all sides, defiance that is then translated into cycles of humiliation and humiliation-for-humiliation instead of Mandela-like social transformation. Clearly, insubordinate defiance occurs in all contexts, in contexts of ranked worthiness as much as in contexts of equal worthiness, however, in human rights contexts it is intensified by the fact that Human Rights, unlike honor codes, no longer legitimate any rankings of human worthiness.
I have coined the word egalization to match the word globalization. I conceptualize the currently growing level of malign global injustice and rampant inequality that provide humiliation entrepreneurs with willing perpetrators as "lack of egalization" (egalization versus systematic humiliation), while I reserve the term globalization (versus fragmentation) for the rather benign coming-together of humankind.


What are the main kinds of interventions (best practices)?

A Moratorium on Humiliation

Respect, recognition and safeguarding equal dignity for all were terms that did not figure large in old Realpolitik. However, this does not mean that they should not be introduced into the new Realpolitik that is necessary for a new globalizing world. Public policy planning has to embrace the entire global village and include considerations for safeguarding social cohesion therein. Merely "hitting" at some "evil guys," in a "War on Terror," despite laudable intentions and noble motives, and despite the fact that sound policing should not to be neglected - if applied as overarching strategy - might rather prove to be out-dated, ineffective and insufficient, even counterproductive. A Moratorium on Humiliation, operationalized, mainstreamed and incorporated in public policy planning might be a more suitable approach.

Triple strategy for new public policies

In practice, a triple strategy seems appropriate for the planning of new public policies. Institutions need to be built, both globally and locally, that ensure that people are not being oppressed, discriminated against, or humiliated (as called for in Decent Society by Avishai Margalit, 1996). For example, at the global level, at present a mechanism is sorely missing that helps the world avoid genocide as currently occurring in Sudan. United Nations institutions are merely not yet developed sufficiently.
However, better institutions are not the whole solution. They must be filled with different contents as compared to former times. Marriage might serve as an example. In former times it was a rather contractual relationship. It was sufficient to enter the institution and follow its rules thereafter. Nowadays, a marriage is a fluid relationship that requires continuous attention and nurturing. None of the partners can merely lean back and trust that the institution is guaranteeing the success of the marriage. Permanent relationship work is needed. Likewise, relationships between groups at local and global levels require continuous nurturing. First, attention needs to be given to this new necessity, and second, the social skills for doing so must be learned.
Bennet, 2004, writes about Israel 's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and his allegiance to a "we won't-be-fooled-again attitude." Sharon received advice from his mother in the early 80's, when he was negotiating with the Egyptians: "Do not trust them! You cannot trust a piece of paper!" Sharon 's answer is the appliance of sheer force on his "marriage partner," the Palestinians.
While the insight belongs into present times, namely that a piece of paper indeed is not sufficient and that anybody blindly relying on a contract may be fooled, the remedy found by Ariel Sharon is belonging to the past. While sheer force as a strategy was common and efficient in former times, in marriages and elsewhere, nowadays, relationships are expected to be maintained in different ways. Human Rights ideals turn the appliance of sheer force into illegitimate humiliation. No wife, no fellow human being, in a world that is steeped in the Human Rights message, can accept sheer force and respond with humility; violence might be a more probable result. Old methods do not anymore work in a new framework of novel moral norms and expectations.
First, new decent institutions have to be built, both locally and globally, that heal and prevent dynamics of humiliation (Decent Society, Margalit, 1996). Second, new attention has to be given to maintaining relationships of equal dignity. Third, new social skills have to be learned in order to maintaining relations of equal dignity. We need not least, a new type of leaders, Mandelas, who are no longer autocratic dominators and humiliation-entrepreneurs, but knowledgeable, wise facilitators and motivators, who lead toward respectful and dignified inclusion of all humankind as opposed to hateful polarization. All three tasks, albeit informed by ideas and practices developed in the past, are historically new and unparalleled in their scope.

Triple strategy for the resolution of violent conflict

With respect to violent conflict, both at the global and local level, the paradigm of good quality policing ofneighborhoods needs to replace the paradigm of war on enemies. The global village, as any village, needs to maintain its inner security by good quality policing. War is typically waged with neighboring "villages." In the case of the global village, there is no "neighboring village" left. Thus the paradigm of war loses its anchoring in reality, and the paradigm of policing is what is still relevant. And good quality policing connects coercion with respect.
During my time in Egypt (1984-1991), I was amazed at the low rate of crime and unrest in Cairo, a huge metropolis of at that time ten to fifteen million people. I soon understood that a high amount of social control is part of Egyptian culture. I frequently witnessed incidents that gave testimony to this social control. When I analyzed conflict resolution and containment scenes in the streets of Cairo, I observed a twenty-to-two ratio, or at least a ten-to-two ratio. Ten or up to twenty physically powerful men were required to cool and pacify two clashing opponents. The young men in the Cairo scenes did not need to exert brute force because they outnumbered the quarrelers. Their overpowering count enabled them to combine coercion and respect. Respect alone would not suffice, and coercion through outnumbering alone neither.
If this scenario is to be taken as a blueprint for attending to violent conflict, it is a combination of coercion and respect that has to be striven for by the international community, the United Nations, and bystanders in general. Resources for the prevention, containment, and resolution of conflicts around the world are to be increased. Overpowering numbers of blue helmets/global policepersons with credible overpowering mandates and well-devised overpowering strategies are required, embedded in an overall approach of respect.

New application of traditional "male" and "female" role descriptions

This approach, incidentally, combines elements of coercion and respect that also can be mapped onto traditional male and female role descriptions. What is combined is "female" talking, understanding, empathy, perspective-taking and healing on one side, and a "male" potential for overpowering, coercion, and force on the other. "Male" strength and well-dosed counter-aggression are required to hold the fighters. "Female" awareness of the cohesion of the social fabric is needed to take the fighters seriously. To combine the "male" aspect of force with "female" empathy could be described as the modern recipe of conflict resolution. The old "male" strategy of hitting, of destructive force, is no longer appropriate in an interdependent modern global village, while the "male" ability to use restraining force continues to be an important tool, though in a more steady and long-standing application and combined with empathy and respect.
UNESCO's Culture of Peace Programme urges precisely the strengthening of the "female" aspect in conflict resolution efforts. The list is a long one: using multi-track, "track II" and citizen-based diplomacy; installing early warning institutions; rethinking the notion of state sovereignty; setting up projects to better study and understand the history of potential conflict areas, collect this information and make it available to decision makers; using psychology not only on a micro-level, but also on a macro-level, taking identity as a bridge; keeping communication going with warring parties; talking behind the scenes; including more than just the warlords in peace negotiations; developing conflict-resolution teams with less hierarchy and more creativity; setting up mediation teams; installing "truth commissions;" allowing warring parties to feel the world community's care, respect and concern; taking opponents in a conflict out of their usual environment; taking the adversaries' personal feelings and emotions seriously; recognizing the importance of human dignity; introducing sustainable long-term approaches on the social and ecological level; progressing from spending aid-money after a disaster to allocating resources to prevent it; and so on.
To summarize, the global village embodies One single inside sphere. The traditional "male" role description of going out, fighting the enemy and conquering the unknown - being unidimensional, unilateral and more short-sighted - loses significance since it was only appropriate outside the village or around its borders. The world as a single global village no longer provides an outside. Men themselves, as travelers and explorers, were responsible for this development which now makes their traditional strategies in many ways inappropriate and dysfunctional.
Maintaining social cohesion in an inside sphere means complex, relational, multilateral, foresighted, integrative and holistic strategies such as mediation, alternative dispute resolution and police deployment (for example peacekeeping forces) instead of traditional military combat. Subsidiarity, quality (and not quantity) of life, culture of peace - all these are keywords and concepts which stem from traditional "female" role descriptions, showing how much the new strategies are, conceptually, "female" approaches.
Thus, globalization opens space for women and "female" strategies, inviting both women and men into embracing and combining them with the traditional "male" strategy of coercive containment. And Human Rights ideals call for egalization, meaning equal dignity for all humankind, to be the broader guiding framework for globalization.

Triple strategy for underlings who wish to carry out uprisings

For the downtrodden around the world, be it women or discriminated minorities of any kind, who wish to carry out a successful and constructive uprising and change their lowly lot, a Mandela would have another threefold advice. He himself implemented this strategy most wisely: First, underlings who wish to change their lowly situation constructively, have to psychologically step outside of the master-slave dyad and learn to think autonomously. Second, they have to stop merely re-acting to the master's actions and definitions, and begin to act. Third, underlings must teach their master elites that change is necessary and unavoidable, both normatively and practically, and that a peaceful transition is preferable to violence and war.

Triple strategy for third parties wishing to ensure peace

For third parties who are trying to secure peace around the world, yet another threefold approach seems significant. First, it is important to identify the fault lines between moderates and extremists in opposing camps. Not the Singhalese or Tamils, for example, are the parties to reckon with, but the Mandelas (moderates) as opposed to the humiliation-entrepreneurs (extremists) on both sides. Second, third parties need to facilitate alliances between moderates of both camps to transform violent reactions to feelings of humiliation among extremists. Third, humiliating living conditions of the broad masses must be minimized, because otherwise frustrated masses will be open to recruitment by humiliation-entrepreneurs.

Celebrate humanity

Sultan Somjee, Kenyan ethnographer honored by the UN for his efforts to preserve indigenous people's peace traditions, says in response to the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse of 2004, "Humiliation does not have nationality, religion, color or gender. Humiliation of one human being humiliates humanity and our dignity of being." I would add, only if we avoid institutions, attitudes, and behavior with humiliating effects will we create a future for our world in the spirit of Kofi Annan's promotion for the Olympic Games of 2004, namely "celebrate humanity."