In the English language, the concept of humiliation traversed a fascinating journey throughout the past centuries. It is a captivating story of ‘historical linguistics’, or philology. Greek philologos means ‘fond of’(phil-) ‘words and speech’ (logos). Philology means being fond of studying literature and the historical growth and adaptation of languages.
The year 1757 is of particular significance for the journey of humiliation. This year represents an important historical linguistic marker, a marker that signals a momentous change in the Zeitgeist first in the European cultural realm, and later globally. This marker is connected with the emergence of a form of imagining a person that might have existed much earlier in history, but had since disappeared, a form that ultimately lead up to the ideal of equality in dignity for each individual.
The year 1757 stands for the beginning of a ‘U-turn’ that first led away from collectivist honour toward the honour of a single individual, and from there it culminated in the ideal of equal dignity for all individuals – with the term decorum forming the bridge from honour to dignity. Ultimately, this development led up to these sentences in the first paragraph of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on 10th December 1948: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’.
In former times such utterances were unconceivable (and still are in certain world regions also today). A very different version of was regarded as divinely ordained or nature-given: ‘All human beings are born unequal in dignity and rights. Some are endowed with more reason and conscience and should act towards inferiors in a spirit of superiority’. Or: ‘All human beings are born unequal in worthiness and rights – people are born into their rank and they are meant to stay there, only some might move up or down due to their own doing or undoing – and, as an unavoidable consequence, there will always be some who are more free than others, there will always be elites who preside over their subordinate collectives’.
This paper embeds the journey of humiliation and dignity into the larger context of globalisation and why the phenomenon of humiliation becomes more salient nowadays. The paper traces in what ways human rights ideals create an expectation gap that may lead to violent cycles of humiliation. The paper suggests dignism and egalisation as visions for the future.
You are invited to read more here.
Evelin, November 2015.