Successfully addressing the many challenges posed by destructive conflict will require a large-scale effort that mobilizes the full range of human ingenuity.
The intractable conflict-related dynamics that threaten us with an ever more dystopian future are extraordinarily complex and multifaceted. There are no simple ways of reversing ongoing destructive trends while simultaneously cultivating conflict's positive role as society's principal engine of social learning – the mechanism through which inequitable and unwise practices are challenged (and the mechanisms through which inequitable and unwise challenges are rejected).
The transition to more constructive approaches will, unfortunately, require an effort capable of simultaneously addressing the many different aspects of the problem and doing so at the full scale of modern society. To do this, we need an array of projects designed to increase the utilization of the many proven insights of the conflict and peacebuilding-related fields.
We also need to be honest and recognize that even the best, currently available approaches have a great deal of trouble successfully handling highly intractable issues such as those involving irreducible, win-lose conflicts over high-stakes distributional issues (such as who controls Jerusalem). Even more problematic are moral conflicts, like abortion, where one group sees the actions of another as so evil that they must be vigorously challenged (and cannot be accepted in the spirit of coexistence and mutual tolerance).
Beyond this, there are the enormous difficulties that arise as intractable conflicts play out at the scale of entire societies with literally millions of conflict actors. Principles that work in small group, table-oriented settings have to somehow be adapted and scaled up to the point where they can constructively involve millions of highly-independent individuals each following their own psychologically complex and often nonrational decision rules.
Critically important additional steps will require contributions from fields adjacent to the core areas of expertise associated with conflict resolution and peacebuilding. We need, for example, people who can help us figure out how to do things like counter deceptive, divide-and-conquer propaganda; restructure electoral and legislative processes to make it harder for them to be captured by corrupt special interests; limit the many economic dynamics that are concentrating wealth in the hands of extremely small elites; and remove the perverse incentives that encourage inflammatory media within our social networking-based communication systems.
The bottom line is that escaping a dystopian future will only be possible if we recognize and take the steps needed to address the full complexity of these problems. This will, in turn, require us to organize, fund, hire and train the people needed to staff the wide range of specialized projects focused on specific situations and specific aspects of the problem.
The continually expanding collection of Moving Beyond Intractability learning materials and the underlying Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base, together with additional materials referenced in the BI in Context and Colleague Activities blogs are all designed to provide a window into the full complexity of the problem and what we see as the most promising strategy for addressing it – something we call Massively Parallel Peacebuilding. Links to an initial set of these materials are provided below with much more information available in the various Beyond Intractability sections and seminars.
- A Complexity-Oriented Approach to Intractable Conflict gives a short explanation of the difference between complicated and complex systems and why that distinction is critically important for successfully addressing intractable conflicts.
- Frontier Seminars Three and Four both deal with the problem of complexity. A selection of the videos from those seminars are linked below.
- Embracing Complexity: The Key to Dealing with Intractability -- Understanding the difference between complicated and complex systems is key to understanding that no one is in charge in intractable conflicts.
- Complex vs. Complicated Systems -- Intractable conflicts are complex adaptive systems, so they need complex, adaptive responses.
- System Levels -- Simple models won't work! We must develop conflict intervention models for higher-level complex systems.
- The Really Big Picture Ecodynamics and Planetary Evolution -- An exploration of how understanding ecodynamics and evolution can help us deal with complex conflict.
- Meeting the Adaptation Challenge -- Speeding society's ability to rapidly adapt to changing conditions should be a key goal of the conflict field.
- The Complex Causes of Social Problems -- We need to think about social problems as complex adaptive systems requiring massively parallel problem-solving.
- The Scale Up Problem -- We need to stop thinking in terms of mediation triads, and scale up conflict work to societal levels.