Devaluing Others in Conflict


Posted previously at Price Associates

I’ve written previously in Pushing Back Entropy about my personal contention that devaluation of others always precedes conflict in the form of direct or indirect attack.  Listening to Ron Price explain axiology this morning, that process became a bit clearer for me.  So adding to what I’ve said previously, let me try to explain the process of moving toward conflict through the lens of axiology.

Axiology, the brain child of Robert Hartman, forms a significant piece of the TTI TrimetrixHD™ assessment that we use with clients.  Axiology is a way of objectifying value, the goodness or badness of things.  It distinguishes between three aspects or dimensions of things and people around us and goes on to suggest that we can value any of those at three levels.  We value things or people:

• systemically: when we assess them to be in the category they claim to be.
• extrinsically: when we assess them to be good in comparison to others that are similar.
• intrinsically: when we assess them as inherently and uniquely valuable.

Conflict always moves through devaluation.  Here’s how I think it moves.  It seems as if we first devalue others that stand in the way of our demand intrinsically.  This is essential sub-rational devaluation driven almost solely by emotion that is triggered within us.  Pure subjectivism governs this initial process.  Once we have begun to devalue them intrinsically, we then move toward comparison.  We compare them to others, ourselves or to a standard that is often unrealistic.  We find them lacking in any or all of these comparisons.  Once we find them deficient, we move toward systemic devaluation and at some level, determine that they fail to meet the barest minimal definition of humanness.  We dehumanize them.

Let me give an example:
Adolf Hitler began to hate the Jews either as a result of his mother’s Jewish doctor’s failure to cure her breast cancer from which she died or as a result of his intense nationalistic pride.  Hitler so loved and idolized his mother land that he could not bear the defeat they had suffered in WWI and went looking for a scapegoat.  The Jews provided the means for him to protect his and the nation’s bruised ego and to prove inept the doctor that had failed his mother.  Once he emotionally and intrinsically judged the Jewish people as the problem, it was fairly easy for him to move toward some of the greatest atrocities the human race has seen to date.  He compared the Jews to the Arian race at an extrinsic level and conducted numerous “scientific” studies to prove his theory of superiority.  By the time the death camps came to be, the Jewish people were so devalued as not to be human beings at all.  This final level of devaluing others, at the systemic level, removes the minimum valuation that should be the inalienable right of every human being.

How often in our conflict situations do we follow a similar path?  We may not utilize death camps and most often prefer indirect to direct attack strategies against our perceived opponents.  Nonetheless, this progression from intrinsic to extrinsic to systemic devaluation comes all too naturally to our species.  As I’ve argued before, the prevention to this path that leads to destruction of another human being is blocked with healthy levels of emotional intelligence and ethics, the two halves of character.  Character precludes the path of devaluation and stops conflict in its tracks.

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