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http://www.e-ir.info /2013/09/23/ratio nality-emo tio n-and-pro tracted-civil-war-vio lence/

Rationality, Emotion, and Protracted Civil War Violence
By Manus Midlarsky

Why do some people initiate or prolong conf lict when the odds are decidedly against them? We know that the cost-benef it calculations typically underpinning most political decisions do not apply here, or if they do, only in signif icantly modif ied f orm. Rationality as the maximization of pref erred outcomes through meansends calculations governs many of our political choices. Voting behavior typically, but not always, is one such example. But civil war protraction and increased violence may be another matter. Although social network analysis (Parkinson 2013) and game theoretic calculations (e.g., Garf inkel and Skaperdas 2000; Bester and Konrad 2004) can help supply a rational choice approach to civil war protraction, long ago Clausewitz ([1832] 1984 p.138) warned that:

Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations.… Even where there is no national hatred and no animosity to start with, the fighting itself will stir up hostile feelings: violence committed on superior orders will stir up the desire for revenge and retaliation against the perpetrator rather than against the powers that ordered the action. That is only human (or animal, if you like) but it is a fact. Theorists are apt to look on fighting in the abstract as a trial of strength without emotion entering into it. This is one of a thousand errors which they quite consciously commit because they have no idea of the implications.

Although this statement was made in the context of interstate war, it can easily be applied to civil war, especially its protraction and increased violence. More generally, a theory has been of f ered that provides an emotional context f or behavior at the onset of or during civil war. T he theory is that of the ephemeral gain that proved to be robust in explaining the rise of extremism and consequent mass violence in a variety of settings (Midlarsky 2005; 2009; 2010; 2011a, b). An Emotion-Based T heory T he ephemeral gain theory posits that anger and violent manif estations are more likely when, af ter an earlier period of subordination, an identif iable social group, of ten a nation-state, experiences a major societal gain (e.g., territory, population, authority), which is then f ollowed by a critical loss, or the threat of its imminent occurrence. T his theory incorporates Marxian or Davies J-curve like emphases on the f uture and dovetails with f uture-oriented game theoretic concerns (Garf inkel and Skaperdas 2000). But past events are crucial to ephemeral gain theory. T he shadow of the past and the shadow of the f uture coincide in the bleak expectation that f uture political conditions easily could be just as oppressive as those of the past. T he threat and f ear of reversion to a subordinate condition can lead to the anger that f uels the mass murder of putative enemies, most of them innocents. T his theory has been applied to multiple f orms of political extremism, including the rise of Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian f ascism, Nazism, radical Islamism, and Soviet, Chinese, and Cambodian communism. Other applications include a rampaging military (Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia) and extreme nationalism in Serbia, Croatia, the Ottoman Empire, and Rwanda. Polish anti-Semitism af ter World War II and the rise of separatist violence in Sri Lanka are also examined (Midlarsky 2011b). Instances of political extremism and conf licts of extraordinary length are rare, suggesting that the dynamics do not f ollow the cost-benef it calculations so common in other conf licts. Extremist behavior like suicide terrorism is a weapon of the weak in asymmetric conf lict. Indeed, extremist groups such as the Nazis and Soviet communists arose in response to def eats that suggested insuf f icient f orce capability, which had to be countered by radical means, including mass murder.

with a sense of certainty or conf idence about the angering event and what caused it. developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos T versky. in contrast to gains. and Collins 1988. Lazarus 1991. Walter 2003. and with the belief that another person (as opposed to the situation or the self ) was responsible f or the event and with the notion that one can still inf luence the situation or cope with it” (e. Vasquez 2009. At the same time.g. as well as the overweighting of small probabilities. the lost entity is psychologically more valued than an entirely identical entity that is gained (Kahneman and T versky 1979. f requently because of the unrealistic expectations of insurgents. typically the insurgents. Territorially-based authority spaces are f requently encountered. 1986). Or. Authority space is understood as the portion of society over which governmental inf luence legitimately extends. T he gain of that ethnic group has ef f ectively been rendered null and void by the later loss. Hensel 2012). loss generates anger at the injustice of the loss. 2009. 2006. according to prospect theory. 290) conclude that “anger has been associated with a sense that the self (or someone the self cares about) has been of f ended or injured. And it is this acceptance of the risk of f ailure that leads directly to a continuation of apparently hopeless (and at times hapless) insurgent activity. territorial contestation has been understood to be an important source of the onset and prolongation of interstate conf lict (Tof t 2003. Both emotional pain and satisf action can be multiplied substantially by the experience of surprise (Elster 2004. T he emotions stemming f rom an automatic suppression of doubt and neglect of ambiguity. Anger Protraction in and of itself suggests f utility f or the weaker protagonists. Finally. Paul Litvak et al. Yet the conf lict persists despite the negligible probability of an outright insurgent victory. anger. Roseman 1984. losses can generate extreme responses. Ortnoy. 160). Clore. Justice as Fairness Ever since the writings of John Rawls (1971. has been importantly linked to risk acceptance. Scherer 1999. (2010. Surprise at a sudden loss has an important consequence in the f orm of vividness (Loewenstein 1996). 1980. Hence. each of the later cycles in itself implying hopelessness f or the insurgents. Or put another way. losses are more highly valued than gains. A consequence of the ephemeral gain. not to mention the daily hardships that continue in the f ace of overwhelming odds. justice as f airness has been increasingly used as a basis f or understanding the genesis of conf lict or cooperation. unexpected. 2001). T he Salience of Loss Important here is the salience of loss. Lack of f airness can be perceived as an injustice. Weiner. especially af ter more recent gains.Ephemeral gains occur within authority spaces. 2001. as in the distance f rom a central (capital) city that its authority extends. it is to our advantage to understand the conditions under which f airness evolves in dyadic relations. as George Loewenstein and Jennif er Lerner (2003. It is as if the gain had never occurred. 1999. we may note the obverse. T hus. 2000). T he sacrif ice of human lif e. Summarizing the remarkably consistent picture of anger that has emerged f rom a large number of studies. needs to be explained. Experimental evidence has consistently demonstrated the asymmetry between losses and gains. especially when that loss occurred af ter a period of gain—the ascendancy that was preceded by subordination. 624) suggest.” It is necessary to understand the surprising nature of the loss. In itself . A major purpose here is to explicate a plausible dynamic f or lengthy intrastate territorial conf licts. lead to overconf idence in the f ace of daunting odds. . even to the extent that. T hese lengthy conf licts persist through a succession of gains and losses. “people respond with greater emotional intensity to outcomes that are surprising – that is.

Emotion. But this ascendant period prior to 9/11 proved to be ephemeral. NJ. and Risk T here has been considerable research on the emotional sources of risky behavior. T hey typically f ocus on the dif f erential impacts of f ear and anger. T hese f indings mapped onto reactions to the events of 9/11. then the anger can be augmented many times over. [1832] 1984) p. including an American def eat in Vietnam and Soviet initial ascendancy in space exploration. Wang (2006). New Brunswick. suggesting that the analysis here has implications not only f or civil war protraction and increased violence. T he 2003 invasion of Iraq and polarizing politics in the US. Midlarsky is Moses and Annuta Back Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution and Director. .When distinguishing among the consequences of violating the ethics of three f undamental realms. Angry respondents expressed greater optimism about the f uture af ter 9/11. f ound that the emotional choice pref erence was more risk seeking than the rational choice pref erence in two experimental studies. 138. protracted virtually beyond endurance. f or example. Carl von. Not only is the autonomy of a group violated. the strength of that anger can account f or the repeated emergence of violent dissidence. their violation stimulates anger and rebellion. Af ter the dif f iculties of the Cold War. X. “Delays in Contests. Justice inheres in the possession of personal rights. Anger. Konrad. Rutgers University. 2010). Yassin 1997). T his is especially true if there are successive ephemeral gains occurring over time. and the thef t of a purse f rom a blind person (Rozin et al. violations of the ethics of autonomy were more clearly associated with anger than were violations of the ethics of the remaining two. Especially if repeated over time in successive ephemeral gains. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. 2003. community. On War. anger yields considerable risk acceptance (Lerner and Keltner 2000. as in the case of the Kurds. Anger yields perceptions of certainty and control. 1999. — Manus I. f earf ul respondents were more pessimistic (Lerner et al. Helmut and Kai A. but f or interstate war onset and national political stasis. eds. even against overwhelming odds. 2003. Lerner and Tiedens 2006. Whereas f ear leads people to be risk-averse. T. autonomy. Between 74% and 85% of American and Japanese respondents reacted with anger to scenarios invoking the encouragement of a child to hit another. a drunken wif e beater. there are several major analyses of this relationship. 2001). Focusing now on the specif ics of anger and risk. thereby suggesting a more optimistic f uture. and divinity. Lerner et al. anger has the opposite consequence. T his American ascendancy was reinf orced by the stellar triumph of US arms in the 1991 Gulf War versus Iraq.” European Economic Review 48: 1169-1178. 2003). and trans. 578). appear to have been consequences in part of that anger. but if that violation occurs af ter an earlier period of ascendance that f ollowed a still earlier subordination (in some cases f ollowing an even earlier triumphal period). Many Americans were angry. one of the most protracted insurgencies of the 20th and 21st centuries (McDowall 2004. the implosion of the Soviet Union was a clear US victory. Center for the Study of Mass Violence. Litvak et al. it appeared as if things would never be the same (Packer 2011). Fear has the opposite ef f ect (Lerner and Keltner 2001. References Bester. T he optimism that stems f rom perceptions of control among angry people can lead them to take greater risks than more f earf ul individuals. Anger stemming f rom an ephemeral gain can yield risk taking that appears to def y rational conceptions of cost-benef it analysis. Clausewitz.

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