The anthropomorphic fallacy in international relations discourse by Carlos Escudé

   Local "nationalisms" and the anthropomorphic fallacy in Hispanic America


Needless to say, "nations" are always artificial to some extent, and commonality has been built intentionally by their states in a measure that is always substantive but varies from case to case. This variation is of great interest and cannot be ignored. In the case of Hispanic America we have a huge contiguous land mass with countries that share elements such as language, a predominant religion, a common Colonial heritage, and to some extent a similar racial mixture, the sum of which would be more than sufficient to define a "nationality" in Europe. Yet continental Hispanic America is divided into fifteen independent states. One major problem faced historically by these states has been to justify their independent existence, when the similarities with their immediate neighbors have been so great. Thus, ever since independence, the states of Hispanic America have dedicated themselves, basically through their educational systems and the military draft, to the generation of the perception of differences with their immediate neighbors, generating myths about their essentially ambitious and evil character, which abound in educational texts. Thus, they have devoted themselves to the destruction of a pre-existing commonality. [23]

This commonality had to be replaced by a new one, that had ideally to be limited to the borders of the state. Thus, another problem that these states have had to cope with has been their internal heterogeneity, since the ethnic and cultural differences that do exist many times cut across boundary lines. A state like Ecuador, for instance, is made up of two sharply different regions, the coast and the sierra (or mountain). The second of these regions is inhabited by a state-less nation, the Quechua-speaking Andean Indians, who are basically the same as their cousins in the Peruvian and the Bolivian Andes. For more than a century and a half, the Ecuatorian state has devoted itself to the task of attempting to convince the Indian population of the Quito region that they have more in common with the mestizo population of the Guayaquil region than with their cousins from Cuzco. Concomitantly, the Peruvian state has devoted itself to attempting to teach the Cuzco Indians that they have more in common with the mestizo population of the coastal Lima region than with the Quito or Bolivian Indians. To some extent, something similar happened in Argentina, where an inhabitant of Buenos Aires has objectively more in common with an Uruguayan than with an inhabitant of the Argentine province of Corrientes; where an inhabitant of Corrientes has more in common with a Paraguayan than with an inhabitant of the Argentine province of Jujuy; where an inhabitant of Jujuy has more in common with a Bolivian than with an inhabitant of the Argentine province of Mendoza; and where an inhabitant of Mendoza has more in common with a person from central Chile than with an inhabitant of Buenos Aires.

Hence, differentiating themselves from their neighbors, and neutralizing perceptions about existing heterogeneities within the territory of each state, have been complementary tasks of artificial nation-building by the Hispanic American states. In this task, the anthropomorphic fallacy has been recurred to continuously. The educational texts of these states have constantly referred to the pseudo-nations that they attempt to consolidate in anthropomorphic terms, thus generating an identity between the individual citizen and the artificial collective entity. The task of local "nationalisms" has been to hide and destroy the realities of larger Hispanic American commonality (which could have been the ground for a less artificial nationhood), and of local heterogeneity (which could have jeopardized the local "nation"-building efforts).

This has been (and continues to be) functional to the interests of local elites, because of several reasons. The need for independence of one Hispanic American state from another does not emerge so much from the interests of their peoples, but from those of their local elites. Local "nationalisms" are constructed to serve the interests and vanity of these elites, very often at the expense of the people, who as a consequence have suffered the burden of expensive arms races that have deteriorated their already low living standards. Thus, frequent recurrence to anthropomorphic justifications for policy in terms of glory, honor, dignity and pride, supported by myths about the dangers posed by ambitious if not evil immediate neighbors, are not only fallacious in their logical structure but often conceal the very material selfish interests of military corporations that demand huge budgets, sacrificing economic development and the welfare of the masses. Although progress with the contemporary projects of Latin American integration might eventually neutralize these long standing historical phenomena, the anthropomorphic fallacy continues to be used for these purposes in Hispanic America, sometimes seriously distorting foreign and defense policies. [24]

Furthermore, there are other associated and complementary uses to the anthropomorphic fallacy that have been hinted to in the previous section. In Hispanic America, the "nation" is not the only object to be treated anthropomorphically. With considerable frequency, so is the territory, and this takes us to the realm of irredenta, another phenomenon that leads to foreign policy irrationalities, not only in Hispanic America but also in other latitudes, among them, most notably, in the Middle East and in post-Cold War Eastern Europe. This use of the anthropomorphic fallacy is very similar to the one whereby there is a call to material sacrifices for the sake of honor or glory, with the difference that in this case (at least in Latin America) it is the land mass instead of the "nation" what acquires the attributes of a living organism.

There are many examples of the use of this sort of linguistic mechanism for irredentist mobilization throughout the Argentine literature on foreign relations. For example, one author (who was motivated by geopolitical considerations vis-a-vis Chile, the arch-enemy of Argentine territorial nationalists) said that poor Patagonia "continued being an empty and abandoned land, the perennially cast-aside member of the Argentine family" [25] . This language has the function of rallying support for the geopolitically-inspired Patagonian cause (encouraging population and investment policies), using the emotional trick I have described. As a consequence, few people stop to think that to postpone the development of Patagonia is a grave error if it means underutilizing Argentine resources (that should be used to give the Argentine people the best possible standard of living), but that Patagonia is not an end-in-itself, and that it is the people, and not the territory, that are endowed with rights and interests: the territory is merely a resource of the people and for the people. There is in this discourse a curious (and indeed frequent) inversion of values: the priority is not placed on the individual, and not even on the people (as a collective entity), but on the territory. This is the logical consequence of thinking of the very "nation" in anthropomorphic terms: the territory is like the nation's body, and Patagonia or Falkland/Malvinas become the equivalent of an arm or a leg. Not investing in Patagonia becomes the equivalent of letting a foot gangrene; it thus becomes irrelevant that the investment might happen to be the worst possible allocation of resources from an economic perspective.

Another among many available examples is the corny and sentimental song popularized during the Falkland/Malvinas war, "Las Hermanitas Perdidas" ("The Lost Little Sisters"). For this discourse, the Falkland/Malvinas islands are "sisters" of the "great Argentine family". This helps to consolidate a culture in which very few people think seriously and honestly about the people who inhabit the islands, as least as a priority issue. And the human rights (or the right to self-determination) of the Falkland Islanders become a laughable consideration, when what is at stake is the amputation of one of the nation's hands or feet, that one seeks to avoid or recover. One does not abandon a little sister who has been abducted and raped by perfid Albion. The call is to a holy war.

These linguistically-activated emotions, that sometimes become embodied in foreign policy with disastrous and even criminal consequences, probably would not be avoided if international relations theorists were keenly aware of the anthropomorphic fallacy as a phenomenon that hinders our understanding of our subject matter and projects itself into policies. Interests are usually more powerful than theory, philosophy and/or ideology, and the sort of emotional reaction that is encouraged (among many other mechanisms) by the anthropomorphic fallacy would continue to operate in the world. Nonetheless, if theorists were more careful with their words, Saddam Hussein would at least not be encouraged by brilliant Ivy League professors who give to the world the "empirical, value-free" statement that tells us that "poor, weak states may be more willing to suffer". This could make a difference, a small one maybe, but a very real one in terms of the lives that it might save from time to time, simply because a petty tyrant did not have an available ideological justification for his latest folly.

If, furthermore, theorists dedicated themselves to unveiling this mechanism for the mobilization of emotions and loyalties, as used by governments everywhere, the rationality of political life, both domestic and interstate, might in the long-run be enhanced, and humanity's chances for survival might increase.

 
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