The title of this post comes from La Fontaine. In English, it translates as "A lynx towards our fellows; moles towards ourselves." In short, then, the whole line dramatizes that we are eager to see the deficiencies of others, and are blind to our own.
The line, rarely absent from my overall awareness, nevertheless came quickly to mind upon hearing today, August 2nd. of Koffi Annan's resigning from his UN position as special envoy charged with negotiating for a cease-fire in Syria's civil war. His reasons recall poignantly the despair felt by Canadian Roméo Dallaire at the UN's failure to respond to his plea for assistance in preventing the massacres in Rwanda. Those reasons amount simply to the recognition that Nation-states are unprepared to co-operate effectively to call a halt to hostilities when they feel their own interests are threatened. The BBC's report on Annan's decision makes the point that different nations were arming and supporting different factions in the internal conflicts in Syria, such that, in a sense, they were using the conflict as a kind of proxy war to protect their own interests.
Today (now August 3rd.) the UN General Assembly is debating a motion to censure the Security Council for failing to achieve agreement on a decisive course of action. It seems we might well be in for a belated recognition that, once again, our world conscience has failed us.
These events once again also betoken the inability of humankind's institutions to transcend the distinctions made in La Fontaine's fable. The issue is thrown into dramatic relief by the book I have recently been reading, Norbert Elias's The Society of Individuals, and most relevantly in its final section, "Changes in the We-I Balance." Elias's book draws our attention to the manner in which social and individual identities reciprocally influence each other. He is concerned with the constantly renewed dilemmas characteristic of that interaction.
In slightly different language, I drew attention in MSOU to the way we define our identities in relation to the groups with which we are affiliated. In some cases we not infrequently act as if our I or We depend(s?) on how we differ from others (that is, by concentrating on what is "alien" about them rather than what is common to us all). As Norbert Elias points out, our awareness that the "we" comprises all of humankind is rarely evident. He asserts, and I agree, that our failure to recognize in one another the possibility of a common more egalitarian future constitutes the major crisis facing us. Sadly, it must be admitted that very little of our sociological and political science literature is concerned with issues that transcend the parochial assumptions of national, ethnic, economic or regional identity and concern.
Having left this post in draft form for several days (I am unsure why) it now seems important just to get it out. In the meantime, I'll try to rediscover what it was that was holding me back. I think it was probably something to do with tieing it in more strongly with those sections in MSOU exploring the motivations directing dissociative processes.
An exchange between two well known "sociobiologists" in two recent Discover Magazine articles is very relevant, since it touches on the fatalistic thinking I have remarked on in other posts. Both articles are available at 3quarksdaily, or at
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