6 years ago


Emotional intelligence and international relations

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Travis Bradberry may have one dandy of an answer to why rational choice may not always produce desired outcomes. For those too ensconced with market competition being the solution, here is something to ponder (see www.weforum.org/ agenda/2017/02/why-you-need-emotional-..., from February 13, 2017): emotional intelligence. It might serve as a clearer guide to contemporary international relations.

Correlating it with intelligence quotient (IQ), Bradberry finds emotional quotient (EQ) to be not only superior, but in fact, when compared to 33 other 'workplace skills', but also as the best predictor ratio, commanding a whopping 53 per cent. So much so that both IQ and personality measurements suddenly look vulnerable: both depend upon and depict only homeostasis conditions of a specie (homo sapien) too moody to remain stable in life. EQ measurements capture these missing ways.

Bradberry's analytical framework explains why: between what we see and what we do, two different forces (personal versus social preferences), draw upon, blend and balance, as well as apply our emotions through the decision-making process. In fact, they fundamentally spawn and shape whatever skills we garner in life: originating in the spinal cord, our senses must travel through the emotional zone (the limbic system), before the rational cells in the forehead convert those senses into an action. When we point to competition as an explanation of why our choices never fully materialise (in the process invite the maximising instinct called rational choice), we rarely, if ever, connect with emotions. That they can become independent springboards of every action we take might help us understand fluxes in contemporary international relations better.

One area might be the stability we expect from democracy. What we see out there today is democracy corroding, at least over the long haul, much like dictatorships have tended to over the short-term. In the first place, democracy allows more time and space for emotions to both generate and circulate than dictatorships do; yet, the longer democracy prevails, the more the complacency stultifies society: without new thresholds to be conquered within any given state (such as leaving no adult without voting rights), even worse, when diffusing democracy embraces more countries, with policy choices tending to converge more than diverge and the necessary policy-making dialectics also diminishing (for example, if we do not behave in a prescribed fashion, we become 'outliers'), emotion-breeding circumstances only shrink.

On the other hand, dictatorships rock those emotions in one way of another, pushing supporters and opponents to extremes, making the dialectics far more tumultuous and hostile. In fact, dictators rely upon such dialectics disproportionately more (through appeals to nationalism, religion, or racial-baiting), since rational thinking could easily become a threat. Through a roller coaster emotional ride is not uncommon as threats have to be invented to keep social/national unity, collisions only become more inevitable: they may not come quick enough (for example, Joseph Stalin's protracted tenure as leader), but they will come, and often in droves given how extremely the emotions have been stretched. The result is a structural change, not necessarily for the good, but an outcome less expected under democracy.

It is no wonder why previous authoritarian societies find it so difficult to transform completely: Germany and Japan could after World War II, but only because of external military impositions, although it is not uncommon to see populist streaks, every now and then in both countries given the historical hangovers. Yet, other countries military forced by outsiders to transform their authoritarian structures have not fared so well, in fact, far more disastrously: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen automatically come to mind, but we keep seeing dictatorial tendencies in so many other transitional democracies, from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, among others, in one part of the world, to Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela, among others, in another, owing to some externally driven troubling past experiences. Even those autocracies that have willingly transformed themselves, as in Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey, among others, that streak is far from being absent: it needs an external ghost to cultivate domestic stability.

If that is bad news for the future of democracy (the Kantian transition, from constitutional to international, thence cosmopolitan law), consider stable democracies facing atrophy today. Note how democratically elected Donald J. Trump is rolling back democratic precepts, in turn, awakening those slumberous emotions, in fact, so much so as to overwhelm rational decision-making. Populism has had dangerous liaisons under autocracies, but they pose more long-term problems, as evident in the future of so many European countries with a recent election or referendum: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands seem much more anxious today than, say, only five years ago. Polls in the media these days frequently harp on how more than two-thirds of the population in these countries believe they are more divided now than ever before, with immigration and terrorism being only two of the several factors: urban-rural, young-old, male-female, and conservative-liberal divisions astonishingly accounting for a larger proportion of the pessimistic views.

These hypotheses need far more testing before drawing any conclusions and implications, but they do offer one strand of thought explaining the current 21st Century global unease. It is a time when the fruits of the four industrial revolutions have to be relished, education and businesses expanded, diminishing purchasing-power spiked to keep pace with consumer demands, and capacities to absorb the rapidity of change harnessed. Given the more permissive political atmosphere today than, for instance, during the Cold War or any hard-core terrorist counter-crusade, as at the start of this century, a rockier future awaits in a climate less charged by democracy. In other words, Kant's 'cosmopolitan democracy' remains as chimerical now in the most democratic era than under his revolutionary circumstances.

Exemplifying with our technological inventions, we find the first and second industrial revolutions (wool, then steel, primarily) produced far more predictability than we thus far have found with the more recent third and fourth industrial revolutions (computers; artificial intelligence): assembly-lines in a factory, for example, must operate for at least a generation to be viable enough to built, but software today barely lasts long enough to be institutionalised. Untamed emotions only result in sub-rational decision-making.

Technologically and materialistically, human progress has been upwardly trending, but this only disguises the high price individuals must pay for their undulating emotions. Even then, we may be on the brighter side of this tumult than future generations will be.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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