Negative Campaigning

Many of the major media outlets are carrying the determination by al-Zawahiri that President-elect Obama is not the true candidate of change. Such an outcry will clearly hurt al-Qaeda’s attempt to become the brand of resistance. The group clearly has not realized that negative campaigning does not work with Obama.

In a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the people of the world, so as to control how they use the guns and bombs of the world, as a nation we begin with a disadvantage. This disadvantage is not unique to the U.S. What is unique (well, shared with France) is that the U.S. has attempted to ignore this problem.

Kissinger discussed it well in his treatment of the foreign policy ideology of Woodrow Wilson versus Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy famously declared that we should tred softly and carry a big stick. This advice he would have given to any nation. The U.S. was not divinely special or endowed with magical powers of enlightenment. It was a great power that needed to act like the other great powers of the time. It needed to balance against the rising power of Germany, and to guarantee that China remained open for trade despite the power of the UK, Japan and Russia. The U.S. held no monopoly on morality. Morality belonged to humanity.

Wilson, on the other hand, argues Kissinger, inaugurated the age of moral imperialism in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. was/is the shiny beacon on the hill. Showing all of humanity the path towards truth, justice, and prosperity. Since there existed a single Truth and good for all humanity and it was known by the U.S. there could not exist any real compromise. Any compromise with U.S. objectives would clearly be a perversion of the good. With knowledge of Truth the U.S. must spread the Gospel; it must bring forth the global transformation that would bring the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Wilson expounded a universal doctrine that was to be enforced by the foreign policy of the U.S., and could only be perverted if we followed the advice of Others.

Well, maybe the religious language was a little over the top and the two are merely ideal types for the purpose of discussion, but the message should be clear. At its most benign the U.S. foreign policy project of helping the world is universal. However, the the tool is clearly not. The U.S. nation-state is a country with a sense of itself as finite. The borders of the people do not extend beyond the borders of the state (if that). This is a problem.

I would argue that a people with a finite sense of itself cannot carry out a foreign policy that wishes to be truly universal. The reason being that the ingroup will not be able to perceive the full-fledged humanity of the Other. Psychologists Jacques-Phillippe Leyens and friends identified the unconscious denial of secondary emotions to outgroup members by the ingroup. They were, however, allowed primary emotions. Primary emotions are such things like joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. They are the emotional states that you would associate with an animal. Secondary emotions are more complex. They entail such emotional states as affection, admiration, pride, conceit, nostalgia, remorse, and rancor.

While I have not looked at further studies of the hypothesis, Leyens and co. do come up with the disturbing conclusion that ‘we’ associate ‘them’ with primary emotions and do not conceive of the possiblity that ‘they’ may have more complex emotions. This cognitive bias, however, means that ‘we’ can not truly empathisize with the Other. We merely see them as emotionally retarded. To truly lead the world against the threats of the future there needs to be movement away from the conception of the finite nation… Of course, that creates new problems.

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