It ruins personal lives, prevents us from solving common problems, and underlies dystopian trends toward authoritarianism, chaos, and large-scale violence.
We believe that the destructive-conflict-as-usual way in which the U.S. and many other societies now commonly address complex, large-scale, intractable conflict represents the single greatest threat to humanity and the planet. Conflict problems are threatening all societies worldwide with some combination of three dystopian futures:
- Anocracy – Failed systems of governance that prevent societies from wisely and equitably addressing key social, economic, and environmental problems;
- Autocracy – The cynical exploitation of underlying social tensions by plutocratic and authoritarian actors using divide-and-conquer strategies to increasingly dominate and exploit citizens politically and economically; and
- War – The escalation of tensions between deeply-divided social groups and between competing authoritarians and plutocrats to the point of large-scale and, potentially, catastrophic violence and destruction.
These conflict problems also undermine the ability of democracies to pursue the not-yet-realized ideal of governance that truly is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." After all, in successful democracies, conflict is the principal mechanism through which unwise and unjust policies are challenged (and unwise and unjust challenges are rejected).
We call attention to these dismal, dystopian trends with a fair amount of trepidation. In today's booming times, life is really very good, at least when viewed from the perspective of successful high-tech communities like the one in which we live. Still, having spent most of our careers studying war, civil unrest, and destructive intractable conflicts, we have learned that things can go badly very fast in often very surprising ways. Clearly, there are dangerous storm clouds on the near horizon. If we wait for the big crisis to hit before acting, it will almost certainly be too late. So, let's take advantage of the time we do have and try to figure out how how we can handle our conflicts more constructively.
More information about our reasoning is contained in a series of short video lectures from our Conflict Frontiers Seminar listed below. We also provide links to a number of articles from our BI in Context section that support our contention that the threat is very real.
Conflict Frontiers Videos:
- Why Can't We Fix Anything Anymore? -- Why can't we fix our serious social, economic, political, and environmental problems? Because we don't know how to deal with the underlying conflicts!
- What Are Intractable Conflicts? -- Intractable conflicts aren't impossible to resolve--they are just very difficult. Recognizing their true nature is the first step towards transformation.
- What Makes Conflicts Intractable? -- Why are intractable conflicts like the earth and an onion? They all have multiple layers that hide the core.
- Intractable Conflict: A "Climate Change-Class" Problem -- What are the parallels between intractable conflicts and climate change? There are many--and much to be learned from studying them.
- Limits to Growth, Tragedies of the Commons, and the Conflict Problem -- Conflict problems associated with wisely and equitably managing the social, political, economic, and environmental "commons" are society's real "limit to growth."
- The Evolutionary Choice: "Power With" or "Power Over" -- An explanation of why this may be our best/last chance to make democracy work (and avoid autocracy and anocracy).
- Our Most Important Conflict: Coexisters vs. Fighters vs. Divide-and-Conquerors -- We need to resist "divide and conqueror's" efforts to control society by exacerbating left/right tensions.
- The Divide and Conquer Authoritarian / Plutocratic Threat -- One example of overlay issues is understanding how the cultural and distributional core conflict issues are being exacerbated (and sometimes initiated) by authoritarian "wannabes" for selfish purposes unrelated to the core issues of the parties.