Constructive Conflict Initiative Video

CCI Home | Status Report | Invitation to Participate/Comment | Full Initiative Statement | Coronavirus Feedback Summary  | CC-MOOSDonateMore Info

Guy M. Burgess
Heidi Burgess

August, 2019


You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.

Referenced Resources and Photo Credits found at the end of the transcript.


This video is an online version of a 40-minute lecture that was prepared as a motivational talk for Peace and Conflict Studies students.  It explains, from a personal perspective, the critical importance of greatly expanding efforts to promote more constructive approaches to conflict and why we think that the problem merits a response comparable in scope and duration to the climate change movement. We argue that we won't be able to solve any of society's big problems until we can find more constructive ways of handling the inevitable conflicts over how best to respond to those problems. The presentation takes the form of a lower budget (but we still think pretty good) Inconvenient Truth-type presentation that is suitable for all audiences – undergraduate and graduate students –  as well as the general public.

Full Transcript

Lightly edited for clarity and readability.


This post is part of the
Constructive Conflict
MOOS Seminar's

exploration of the tough challenges posed by the
Constructive Conflict Initiative.


Slide 1. My name is Guy Burgess. I'm with the Beyond Intractability Project at the University of Colorado.

Slide 2. I'd like to tell you about a new effort that we are trying to organize, the Constructive Conflict Initiative. The initiative is simply an effort to promote awareness of what we regard as the most serious threat facing humanity: the destructive way in which we handle so many of our conflicts, and to promote, instead, more constructive ways of handling those same conflicts.

Slide 3. To get a sense of what we are trying to do, it helps to reflect on the emergence of the climate-change movement from its earliest beginnings in the early 1980s.

Slide 4. At that time, climate scientists were increasingly aware of the ways in which human activity was changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere. They understood enough about the basic physics of the atmosphere and especially the "greenhouse effect" to see the relationship between these chemical changes and changes in the energy balance of the atmosphere.

Slide 5. They also understood that this would start to change weather patterns.

Slide 6. This, in turn, led to the relatively obvious conclusion that some places that weren't used to dry periods would suffer serious droughts. Other places that weren't used to lots of water would suffer serious floods. And, still other places that weren't used to big storms would suffer increasingly damaging storms.

Slide 7. They also looked into the future at population growth projections and forecasts of increasing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

Slide 8. At this point, they started to realize that they were not just climate scientists who attended academic conferences. They were people who understood a serious threat to humanity that wasn't being effectively addressed (or even being recognized). They further understood that there were opportunities available for limiting that threat that, while expensive and difficult, were also realistic. They concluded that they had a moral obligation to move outside of the world of academics and enter the political arena with the goal of aggressively promoting efforts to address what was then called the problem of "global warming."  This was something that they felt they owed to their children, grandchildren, and everybody's grandchildren.

Slide 9. 25 years later what came to be called the climate change movement had progressed to the point where it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Slide 10. And, in the 10 years since then, the movement has accomplished a great deal. They have sounded the alarm to the point where a large fraction of the global population now understand the nature of the threat. They have clarified our understanding of the problem which turned out to be a lot more complex than was originally thought. They've identified and evaluated a wide range of really impressive ways of changing the world's energy economy in response to the threats. They have been able to attract major financial support--there is now lots of money going into a gigantic array of creative, climate-related projects. They have mobilized a major political movement that in many parts of the world is one of the biggest political forces. And, finally, they have persuaded lots of people to start doing things to reduce their "carbon footprint"

Slide 11. It is also, unfortunately, pretty clear that the climate change movement faces serious problems. In the conflict arena it has been unable to successfully navigate pushback from the "carbon industrial complex," and they've had trouble figuring out how to wisely and equitably distribute the costs and benefits of responding to the climate change challenge. This has resulted in things like the "yellow vest" movement in Paris where there was a rebellion against the new carbon tax.

Slide 12. The climate situation is still serious. As this UN report points out, time is running out. It is really getting to the point where, if we don't do an enormous amount in the next decade, it's going to be too late to avoid a lot of really terrible outcomes.

Slide 13. Over the last 25 years we been working with another group of specialists, not climate scientists, but people who specialize in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. We've been focusing on the problem of intractable conflict — those conflicts that defy the best-available conflict resolution and peacebuilding strategies. The more we look at this, the more obvious it becomes that the threat posed by destructive conflict it is even more serious than the threat posed by climate change. The reason, in part, is that the conflict threat encompasses climate change. Our inability to solve the climate change problem stems largely from our inability to deal with the conflicts surrounding discussions about how to address the climate change threat. Given this, we believe that the intractable conflict problem demands a response of similar scope to the climate change movement.

Let me explain a bit more about this.

Slide 14. It's worth going back and thinking for a moment about democracy. A few years ago, we had thought that the arc of history was bending toward peace and democracy.

Slide 15. At the end of the Cold War, our image of democracy (which I think this was shared by a lot of folks) was that it had yet to realize the democratic ideal of a government that was truly "of the people, by the people, and for the people," to use Abraham Lincoln's famous phrase. Still, despite its many shortcomings, democracy promised a reasonably wise and equitable system for handling conflicts in ways that both protect individual rights and advance the common good.

Slide 16. It is now clear that democracy in the United States and in a great many other countries is being threatened by extreme polarization. These are charts from a series of reports from the Pew Research Center which documented how polarization has been progressively increasing in the United States. The level of "us versus them" animosity has now gotten to the point where political affiliation iand political predjudice is much more prevalent than any other kind of predjudice. 

Slide 17. This is being reinforced by "mobilize the base" politics. I will not go into the details of how this all works, but suffice it to say that it's now the case that the easiest way to win elections in the United States (and lots of other countries) is to fire up your base, so they actually go to the polls and vote. The key to doing that is to make your voters as fearful as possible about the possibility that the other side might actually win. This is a dynamic that, obviously, tends to drive us further apart.

Slide 18. We can see this in the collapse of trust in what this pollster called "government in Washington." In the early 1960s, roughly 80% of the population thought that they trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing "always or most of the time." Now it's down to 20%. That's a huge drop!

Slide 19. What are the implications of this kind of all-out, us-versus-them approach to politics? There are a variety of ways in which such conflicts can play out. If you have two political coalitions of roughly equal power you are likely to have a stalemate in which competing factions are always fighting. Since it's easier to block changes than to actually get things done, such a standoff can effectively prevent any kind of problem solving. There is also a very real possibility that one of the coalitions could emerge as decisively more powerful than the other. And that's when you start to get oppression of one group by another in ways that history has shown can be pretty terrible. There is also the very real risk that such conflicts could escalate into large-scale violence.

Slide 20. Now let's go back to this earlier diagram. The situation has deteriorated to the point where I think that we really need look at the possibility that the arc of history is bending away from democracy and toward some combination of three dystopian futures. One possibility is anocracy, a system of government dominated by anarchy and chaos and government can't do anything. There is also the possibility of autocracy, where you have a single strongman that controls, dominates, oppresses, and exploits everyone. There is also autocracy's kinder and gentler cousin, plutocracy – social domination by the very wealthy. Finally, again, there is the very real risk that these tensions could escalate into violence.

Slide 21. Take the dysfunctional nature of democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom as an example. Look at what the US Congress has been able to accomplish in recent years, or the inability of the British Parliament to find a workable solution to the challenges posed by Brexit. We have a kind of political paralysis, in which government can't really do much of anything other than muddle along in a business-as-usual way.

Slide 22. This obviously gets you to the point where where you can't effectively deal with the threat posed by climate change. It also explains why the government can't deal with other big issues like the economy which is not performing in a way that provides a livable future and dignified work for everyone. There also an inability to deal with other risks like the emergence of a scary new infectious disease which would be very difficult to handle in today's climate of polarization and distrust. There is also a very real possibility that we are entering a period of extreme instability with respect to strategic weapons that threatens our ability to keep a lid on the nuclear arms race and other weapons of mass destruction.

Slide 23. This is a picture from Venezuela that gives you a sense of what happens when a country lapses into full-scale anocracy and nothing works. You can't even buy toilet paper, because the shelves in the stores are empty. That's one flavor of the kind of dystopia that we may be falling into.

Slide 24. Another is the threat of plutocracy. Sarah Chayes wrote this book, Thieves of the State, that describes how corruption is a major threat to security around the world. This chart comes from an article that you can get by following the link on the website. (This is true for all of the other charts and statistics that I present in the slideshow.) This is a great study that documents how much more of each country's wealth has gone to the richest 1% over the last couple of decades. The results are stunning with the United States and Russia at the top of the list.

Slide 25. In the United States between 1979 in 2007, the richest 1% went from getting 7.4% of the economy to 16%. That's an increase of over $1 trillion a year. That's enough to fund all of Social Security and The Department of Defense. Again, references are on the website. If you look at the chart, you see that almost all of this money has gone to the top 1% of the 1%.

Slide 26. Against this backdrop of chaotic government edging ever closer to plutocracy with the transfer of more and more wealth to the very, very rich, it's no wonder that there is less and less support for democracy. This is another citation to an interesting article documenting declining support for democracy around the world with correspondingly more support for authoritarians. Increasingly, people seem to think that the best way to deal with the situation is by getting a strongman on their side in the belief that only someone like that can adequately defend their interests. The truth, however, is that Lord Acton's law applies. Lord Acton is the guy who said that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." While people may be hoping for a benevolent authoritarian, that is a pretty risky bet to make!

Slide 27. This is especially true given the risks of a new kind of high-tech authoritarianism. If you look at the kinds of things China is doing to the Uighurs and the many ways in which they are using technology to exert ever-stronger control on society, it's the kind of future that George Orwell couldn't even dream about in his most frightening nightmares. Think about applying the emerging surveillance technology to the philosophy of 1984 and you get a vision of the kind of threat that we are facing.

Slide 28. This, I think, is my favorite image for showing just how bad autocracy or authoritarianism can get. This is a nighttime satellite image of North Korea. You'll note that it's a black area. South Korea is the bright lights in the lower right and China is the bright lights in the upper left. It is as if the North Korean regime has literally sucked the power out of the entire society!

Slide 29. Another threat that we face that I think is comparable to climate change is the prospect of large-scale civil unrest. Anybody in the United States who is old enough to remember the civil unrest of the 1960s can tell you that this is something that really happens. If you want a sense of what happened, you might look at this article from the Washington Post that describes what happened in Washington D.C. in the four days that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. This story was repeated again and again--and not only in the days following the King assassination. There were lots of other riots in the 1960s and early 1970s. Such a thing could easily happen again!

Slide 30. If you want a sense of how bad things could get, look at Syria. This is a society that totally, and somewhat unexpectedly, collapsed into violence. That is what we are trying to figure out how to avoid.

Slide 31. It's also worth talking about the allure of revolutions. It's tempting to think that when things bad, the only real solution is a revolution. The problem with revolutions is that, to be successful, you need some kind of consensus on the kind of society that everyone would like to live in after the revolution. Generally, this is some flavor of an ideal democracy – one that really does protect the interests of the population. In the absence of such an agreed-upon vision, you are likely to get just a struggle for power with the most ruthless faction winning.  This simply results in an exchange of elites. So, figuring out how to make revolutions work is a conflict problem.

Slide 32. So, the bottom line. Going back to our comparison of the conflict problem and the climate change problem, I think it's pretty clear that from the points I just made that destructive conflict is the more serious threat. Just look at these terrible dystopian scenarios and remember that our ongoing failure to address climate change stems from our inability to build a sufficiently broad agreement on how to handle it. 

Slide 33. This raises the next big question. Are there realistic steps that could be taken, but aren't being taken, to limit the intractable conflict problem? What are they? And how can we take advantage of them?  First, let me highlight a couple of general principles highlighting how we need to respond. Then we can go into some details.

Slide 34. The first, obvious thing to do is break the "cynicism cap." Right now too many people think that destructive conflict is just the way life is. There's nothing to do about it except get in the fight and hope that your side wins. While utopian peace may be out of reach (I'm not a big believer in utopias), it's pretty undeniable that there lots of things that could be done to make things better in ways that would sharply reduce our risk of some kind of dystopian future.

Slide 35. In order to do this, first, those in the peace and conflict resolution communities and in other conflict-related fields need to address the legitimate concerns of the skeptics. We need to be clear: we are not talking about implementing some sort of the "peacenik" approach to society. The tie-dye "peaceniks" of my generation were and are, in many ways, naïve. We have to be honest about what the conflict and peacebuilding fields really know and what they don't. The field's skeptics raise lots of important points that need to be addressed. So I'm not advocating a simple solution or a simple vision of utopian peace. The problem is a lot tougher than that!

Slide 36. We need to build on what's been learned already. Too many people struggling with conflict problem spend way too much time reinventing the wheel, and they never really get to taking the next step. In this slide, the next step is a magnetic, levitating, superfast train, which is certainly a big step beyond the wheel. We've got to find better ways to push people up the learning curve. Right now people struggle with conflict their whole lives and the barely get to the point where they know how to do a significantly better job of handling it than they knew as children. We need to go beyond that.

Slide 37. What this suggests is that one part of the problem and one part of the solution is to raise civics and peace and conflict studies (taken broadly and in the best sense of the term) to equal, if not greater, prominence in educational curricula as science, technology, engineering and math. Right now were devoting far too much attention to STEM, and not enough attention to figuring out how to build a society in which we can live together.

Slide 38. So again, going back to the earlier slide, what are the steps that could be taken to address this shortcoming?

Slide 39. Probably the best place to start is is by thinking about the insights that have already come out of the conflict and peacebuilding fields. They've gotten pretty good, over the years, at handling table-oriented, small group processes. You get people together; they sit around a table and they talk things through. This approach has been really very successful at dealing with an awful lot of very tough issues in a more constructive way. While these processes don't necessarily lead to agreement, they do tend to promote what we call constructive confrontation.

Slide 40. One of the things that you try to do is help people reframe the problem. Again this is something that the field knows how to do pretty well. One key is to get people to quit thinking about the situation as an us-versus-them kind of confrontation.

Slide 41. Instead, reframe it in a way where both sides realize that they have a common enemy—the destructive conflict dynamics that are tearing them apart (and making it impossible for either side to protect, much less advance, its interests). So this reframing focuses on conflict as the problem (rather than each other as the problem). It is a first step and something that we can build on. 

Slide 42. Another thing that the conflict field knows a lot about (it has been a major focus of its activities over the years) is how to limit and reverse the escalation spiral. I've argued for years that escalation is the most destructive force on the planet. People to do unspeakable things and then provocation leads to counter-provocation to counter-counter provocation in an endless cycle. We know a lot about how to reverse that. What we need to do is to apply that knowledge.

Slide 43. Another thing that we know a lot about that needs to be more widely applied is how to communicate accurately and get away from the evil stereotypes that we often have of one another. An awful lot of the images that we have that become the driving force of our opposition to another group are just plain wrong. We know a lot about how to fix that.

Slide 44. We also know a lot about how to obtain and effectively use real facts. We face some very difficult problems in a technical sense. If we don't work through them very carefully, what happens is that we wind up championing solutions that just don't work. So, using facts, not just as a political weapon, but as a problem-solving tool is critical. Again, this is something we know a lot about how to do.

Slide 45. We know a lot about how to work together collaboratively and in ways that take advantage of opportunities for mutual gain. Phrases like "win-win," "positive-sum," and "zone of possible agreement (ZOPA)" have made it into the lexicon. Interest-based bargaining works. Other kinds of bargaining also work. We know how to figure this stuff out-- if we build on these ideas.

Slide 46. We also know ways to work together to imagine a positive future in which we'd all like to live. Once we have that, we can start to reconcile the wrongs of the past (which are in many ways unrightable). The key is to work together to build a vision for the future that we'd all like for our children.

Slide 47. The good news is that there lots of organizations already working to do this. One example, is the Bridge Alliance which works as an umbrella for a bunch of these organizations. And, it's not the only initiative out there.

Slide 48. So that's one part of the solution. Another question worth asking (which I think is also important) is, are there other steps that could be taken by adjacent fields to address the intractable conflict problem? These are fields that deal with conflict on a routine basis, even though the conflict and peacebuilding field tends to think of them as separate. Let me give just a couple of examples.

Slide 49. There are an awful lot of really good ideas available on how to reform democratic institutions in ways that remove a lot of the perverse incentives that are making it impossible for us to solve so many of our problems.

Slide 50. There are also lots of good ideas (but not as many as we need) for restructuring the economy in ways that make it a positive-sum, win-win economy. Right now, it's way too much of a zero-sum economy in which people figure that the only way to get ahead is by taking something from somebody else. We need an economy in which people figure that the way to get ahead is to work with somebody else to produce something more that you can both benefit from. We need to figure out how to do more of this. Right now the economy is not performing that way.

Slide 51. We also, obviously, need to understand how to prevent and, where necessary, stop, violence and war. We know a lot about peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. We also need to get a handle on rapidly-advancing weapons technology. We need to figure out how to prevent another nuclear arms race arising out of the fact that a lot of the arms-control treaties that got us through the Cold War are now expiring.

Slide 52. These are all areas in which there is lots of expertise available that could more fully to be brought to bear on the problem. While all of this sounds really good, we need to ask, "What are the limits on the implementation of these ideas that have to be overcome?"

Slide 53. This is an area where we've been focused with our Beyond Intractability project. As I mentioned before, intractable society-wide conflicts are those that stubbornly resist resolution, even when the best available conflict resolution strategies are used. There are a number of key ideas here.

Slide 54. I like to tell the story behind the "lost key syndrome." This is the story about a guy was walking across the parking lot one night when he sees somebody looking for something under a streetlight. He offers to help. "What did you lose?" "I lost my keys." "Where did you lose them?" "In that dark alley down there." "Why are you looking here, under the streetlight?" "Because the light is better here!" Ridiculous, yes, but we actually tend to do that! There are places to look for solutions to our conflict problems that are easier than ones that are more likely to work, so we concentrate our efforts on the easy stuff. We tend not to focus on the critically important, but hard, things (where the risk of failure is higher).

Slide 55. One example of this is that we need to move beyond the "preaching to the choir" syndrome where you bring together people from both sides of the conflict that tend to be inclined towards compromise anyway and you work things through. Now, while there is real and important value in doing that, we also have to figure out how to reach the people who don't want to come to any sort of a meeting.

Another way to think about this is in terms of "market share." There are zillions of conflict interactions in any society. You could roughly divide those into two groups: constructive interactions which tend to follow a lot of the principles that have just been talking about and destructive interactions which are the kinds of things that drive the escalation spiral, pull us apart, and, potentially, lead to violence. Right now, sadly, the preponderance of political interactions are, I think, becoming increasingly destructive. What we need to do is to work hard to build the market share of more constructive interactions.

Slide 56. As we do this, we need to recognize that there aren't win-win solutions for everything. There are conflict problems for which there is no "zone of possible agreement" that leaves both sides better off, and for that we need to develop a system that wisely and equitably makes hard choices. People look at the system and say, "that's not what I wanted but I guess it's fair and it makes sense." That will help us get through a lot of problems.

Slide 57. Still, I think the biggest source of intractability at the moment is the sheer scale of modern society. I've shown this chart to my students for a number of years. It was based on a panel I was on with a physicist. He explained about how one of the great privileges of being a physicist is the ability to truly understand orders of magnitude (factors of 10). He went on to explain how there were four orders of magnitude difference between the conventional "blockbuster" bombs of World War II and the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

That got me thinking. We tend to think in table-oriented conflict resolution terms. Here is a simple mediation triad, with the two parties and a mediator We might think of a big, multi-party, negotiation with around 30 people. But, think about a medium-size conflict—a conflict involving a medium-size or even a small country. Take Israel and Palestine, for example. It roughly involves 30 million people. So, that's six or seven orders of magnitude bigger than the number of people who fit around the table! Once you start thinking about quantitative differences on this scale, you need to start thinking in terms of qualitative differences. This is going to require pushing the envelope on what we know about conflict and peacebuilding a great deal. That's why we see this as a decades-long effort that is, in many, ways similar to the climate change effort (but we hope to not fall into the same traps that effort has fallen into!)

Slide 58. Another thing that makes all of this so difficult is the fact that there are multitudes of independent actors. I use this illustration of a pool table to explain this. In pool, the idea is to get all the balls lined up so that you can make the perfect pool shot. That's what policy, strategy, and planning is all about. The idea is to get all the balls go into the pockets and pool players develop a strategy to bring that about. Large societies, however, are more like a giant pool table with a gazillion balls and millions of people trying to make the perfect shot at the same time on the same table! So I've gotten this silly drawing with lot of cues and balls. The bottom line is that this is a very different kind problem -- and we need to find a way to come to grips it.

Slide 59. Another way to think about this is at the level of large-scale, society-wide communication. The traditional communication unit is a table where people sit down face-to-face and talk to each other. Instead, we need to start focusing on communication in a mass media environment. The organization Ad Fontes Media made this chart which ranks different media sources in terms of political perspective and reliability.  It's a good chart--I highly recommend you look at it carefully. The obvious suggestion is you try to focus on information sources at the top of the curve. It also illustrates how many different information sources there are -- and it doesn't even include the social media sources like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Clearly, the communication environment in which conflict is now playing out is enormously complex! We have to figure out how to scale up what we know how to do at the table level to this kind of environment. Obviously, this is going to be an enormous challenge. But efforts are starting.  For instance, Facebook now has a program to train group moderators on how to deal more constructively with controversial issues.

Slide 60. Another thing that we've got a be able to do, and this is also a big obstacle, is deal with the real complexity of human thought. People are not spreadsheets that do simple cost-benefit calculations and then do whatever the rational analysis says they should do. People have lots of cognitive biases that are nonrational (though some are actually pretty good and pretty smart). But we need to build ways of dealing with conflict problems that better account for the way people really think. And, this is also going to be a big, but not impossible task.

Slide 61. Still, another huge part of why we're in such trouble is that we are not all people who are acting in good faith, trying to work things out and failing because the problems are so difficult. There are folks out there who practice what I call "divide-and-conquer politics." They have figured out that they can gain political power by driving us apart. I've already talked about "mobilize the base politics." That's the sort of thing that both sides do and is even, arguably, good politics--even though it obviously raises some pretty tough issues. Here I am talking about tyrant wannabes that are playing a malicious game that goes all the way back to Philip of Macedonia. Divide-and-conquer actors try to act as puppeteers who manipulate people to get them fighting one another.

Slide 62. For a window into the way that this game is played, I have a bunch of citations on the website with information about the great Russian disinformation campaign and the 2016 election. As you look at this, I ask you to step back a bit from its obvious, partisan implications. While it is not clear exactly how much of an effect it had on the last election, it's pretty clear that the techniques that were used were part of a deliberate, very large-scale effort to drive a society apart. It was a hostile act and we need to find some way to defend ourselves against this sort of thing. The citations include a compilation of all the ads the Russians posted on Facebook and a description of their propaganda model and hybrid warfare strategy.

Slide 63. Here are a few more citations that delve further into the problem. There is an explanation of Cambridge Analytica and how they were basically manufacturing fake, "trusted friends" to give people political advice. Keep in mind, this isn't just about the Russians! We are doing a lot of these things to ourselves. If we are going to defend democracy and make it work, we've got to defend it from folks who are willing to spend a lot of money on a concerted attack against it!

Slide 64. So, that's another set of challenges and another reason why we think that the intractable conflict problem requires an effort comparable in scope to that of the climate change movement. This basically involves lots of money, lots of people working in pretty much every part of the world to try to push back against dystopian trends. So how can we build a movement capable of addressing such a daunting array of problems? And here are couple principles that I think we pretty clearly need to follow.

Slide 65. One is that the approach we take needs to be specialization based. We call it a massively-parallel strategy. The way modern computers have been able to do so many astonishing things is not that there is one super, duper, ultra smart processor that does everything. Instead, what we have is a staggering number of small computers (often processors out of cell phones because they use less power). They are arranged in ways which allow them to simultaneously work on different aspects of a problem in a parallel, but truly massive, way. This is the big idea behind the division of labor and system of specialization that Emile Durkheim first explained. It is how modern society works.

Slide 66. The intractable conflict problem demands that we each specialize on different aspects of the problem. We put together this list, which is just a preliminary list, of all of the things that need to be done in order to address the problem. Ultimately, what we need are substantial numbers of people in all geographic locations working on each of these things. Again, that's why it's a daunting problem. What the initiative is trying to do is to get people to start thinking about how to do this.

Slide 67. Another key, I think, is to think long term, not just short-term. I often tell a story that compares the fight against polio with the war on cancer. When I was a child, everybody was terrified about polio. Then one bright day they invented the polio vaccine. I still vividly remember getting the sugar cube that was the end of polio. It's tempting to look for the same sort of quick solution to our conflict problem. Some people think it's just winning the next election. Unfortunately, conflict is more like the War on Cancer than the fight against polio. In 1970, Richard Nixon started the "War on Cancer." Now, five decades into the war, we have made major progress in basic and applied research and treatments are getting more effective. Still, cancer is a terrible disease that we are a long way from eradicating. This is likely to be the case with conflict. It's going to take us decades. But if we work hard, things will slowly get better. Unfortunately, conflict will continue to be a terrible threat and, sometimes like cancer, we are going to have to suffer the consequences of not being able to deal with it. Still, we have to persist. We need to think of this in terms of a big, long-term struggle.

Slide 68. Another key and, I think, a reason for optimism is the possibility of harnessing what I call the "make-a-difference" drive. When I talk to my students, the big thing that they want to do with their lives is, somehow, make a positive difference. Helping society address the intractable conflict problem is a way to do that. I'm including this poster from World War II, which was the last big time that our society got together in a massively parallel effort. The phrase my mom, who was a major during the war, always liked to quote from the war was "the difficult we do right away the impossible takes a little longer." So what we need to do is to cultivate a sense that "we can do it" and get to work.

Slide 69. We need to publicize practical things that everybody can do. My favorite bumper sticker encourages people to "think globally" based on an understanding of the big problem, but to "act locally" to help address the problem in one of the specialized conflict areas and in your neighborhood. We can't be free riders and wait for others to take care of the problem. Everybody has to be part of the solution or they are part of the problem.

Slide 70. We need to recognize that there is real urgency to the situation. Things are rapidly spinning out of control and, just like climate change, the worse things get, the harder it's going to be to fix. So the faster we can work on this the better off we are going to be.

Slide 71. This takes us back to the Constructive Conflict Initiative. What we are trying to do is simply as make a lot more people aware of the seriousness of the threat posed by intractable conflict and convene a discussion of how we might be able to all work together over the short and the long term to start addressing these problems.

Slide 72. At the moment were trying to do this on a very limited budget and we could really use some additional support. So if you can see your way clear to make a donation, we would really appreciate it. 

Slide 73. Finally, I'll leave you on an optimistic note. We are really encouraged by the large numbers of people who are becoming active in efforts to demand an effective response to the climate change problem. We would like to suggest, however, that some of those efforts be directed at the conflict problem. As Uncle Sam said in World War II, "we want you." This time, at least, we can take some comfort in the fact that were not being asked to volunteer for a war. All we are asking you to do is to figure out how we can live together (and, obviously, avoid war)!

Referenced Resources

Photo Credits