The anthropomorphic fallacy in international relations theory and practice
A headline of the Venezuelean daily El Nacionalista, published June 16, 2008, read: “Venezuela se negó a seguir de rodillas ante las pretensiones del gobierno norteamericano”. A few weeks before, on May 8, president Hugo Chávez himself had said that Venezuela “would not watch crossed-armed” (“Venezuela no se quedará de brazos cruzados”) while Bolivia was driven into territorial desintegration by imperialist forces. The image of Venezuela with her arms crossed is one of slovenliness and negligence, whilst the image of it on its knees is humiliating. They both generate outrage and the need to set things “right”. This is only an example of the often unnoticed practical and theoretical consequences of the anthropomorphic language we all use when referring to states in terms of (for example) "weak" and "strong" actors who "suffer", are "honored", are "humiliated", have "pride" and aspire to "glory". This language obscures the fact that, oftentimes, when a weak state challenges a strong one at a great cost to itself, we are not witnessing an epic of courage (as might be the case when a weak individual challenges a strong one), but rather the sacrifice of the interests, welfare and sometimes even the lives of multitudes of poor people, to the vanity of their elite. The very fact that this is being obscured biases the value structure of international relations theory, which is not only not value-free, but often has totalitarian values unintendedly built into it.
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