Roundtable on Human Rights
Sikkink’s closing sentences show the path into a decent future: “The contemporary drift toward a fortress world of wealth disparities, intolerance, and regressive nationalism signals a difficult struggle ahead to create a just and sustainable planet. The universal, supranational, emancipatory, and expansive character of human rights is poised to serve as a connective tissue binding disparate movements and awakening a global citizenry in a super-movement capable of accelerating a Great Transition.”
I call for the globalization of care, trust, and responsibility, rather than the globalization of competition for domination and exploitation that we see today. Only in such a context can human rights ideals flourish. Unfortunately, as I observe it, obstacles are on the rise. The fear of change has rebounded, and backlashes have become stronger and more sophisticated during the past decades. Globalization of exploitation has been so aversive to many human rights defenders that they forget that dignified localization needs dignified globalization as a larger frame. All around the world, I encounter well-intentioned local initiatives, yet, as soon as they hit the larger frame, they produce disappointed, if not cynical, idealists—the larger frame works to first tire out and then eliminate those idealists. This larger frame, unfortunately, is increasingly being defined by a neoliberalism that reduces all sources of value to their market prices, and it must be expected that, if this trend continues, the human rights message will continue to fall victim to a destructive mission creep. This mission creep is mainly driven by the Global North. In the Global South, people risk their lives for it, while the Global North aims to make a profit by pushing everything, including even the human rights message, into “competitive” monetization.
Whenever the promise of equal dignity is being betrayed, the feelings of humiliation that result—I call them dignity humiliation—are stronger than those of honor humiliation. The blindness of the Global North toward their own double standards, for example, has heated up those feelings of dignity humiliation in the Global South. And all this happens while the human rights movement, to succeed, needs the opposite of hot anger, namely, firmness and resolve carried out with measured moderation and restraint. The transition from a world of unequal honor to equal dignity—the transition from a dominator world to a partnership world—is like shifting from left-hand driving to right-hand driving. This transition should be done firmly enough and fast enough, otherwise accidents accumulate; at the same time, it should be done slowly and cautiously enough so that unity in diversity can flourish.
Perhaps we no longer need any “isms” if we want to achieve a decent future. Yet, if we do, what if we think of dignity-ism, or dignism? Dignism, for me, describes a world where every newborn finds space and is nurtured to unfold their highest and best, embedded in a social context of loving appreciation and connection. A world where the carrying capacity of the planet guides the ways in which everybody’s basic needs are met. A world where we are united in building trust and respecting human dignity and celebrating diversity, where we prevent unity from being perverted into oppressive uniformity, and where we keep diversity from sliding into hostile division.
Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) is a global transdisciplinary community of concerned scholars, researchers, educators, practitioners, creative artists, and others, who all collaborate in a spirit of mutual support to understand the complex dynamics of dignity and humiliation. We wish to stimulate systemic change, globally and locally, to open space for dignity, mutual respect and esteem to take root and grow. Our goal is ending humiliating practices, preventing new ones from arising, and fostering healing from cycles of humiliation throughout the world. We do our best to cultivate a relational climate characterized by dignity, walking our talk, and mutual growth. For more than a decade, our relational approach has been sustainable, it has offered a new model of collaborative action, a replenishing relational-organizational climate that is constantly evolving and growing with, rather than at the expense of, the people involved. Our work is a labor of love and maintained entirely by volunteers who give their time and energy as a gift. The nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, 2016, and 2017 gave all our members great courage; it has been lifesaving for many who risk their lives and livelihoods to advance dignity in the world.
We know we aren’t alone with our work. Joining a chorus of visionary activists and practitioners, our community calls for the globalization of care, trust, and responsibility—in other words, the globalization of dignity.
For a longer version of this response, see www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/evelin/ReflectionsonSikkinkMarch2018.pdf.