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The Coronavirus is not just an epidemiological problem, it’s a serious conflict problem.
We are astonished and shaken by how much the world has changed since our last (January 14) newsletter. We begin this Newsletter with the text of a letter we are circulating in response COVID-19. It reads...
As we have been stuck at home, hiding out from the virus, we have been trying to understand how the crisis is transforming our already precarious web of personal and socioeconomic relationships. We have also been thinking about what Beyond Intractability, the Constructive Conflict Initiative, and more broadly, our field, might be able to do to help address the situation.
At this point, it seems clear that US society will have to endure months of continuing tragedy and fear while, at the same time, suffering through a bitterly divisive election. In the midst of all of this, we are going to have to rebuild our shattered economy in ways that, despite the continuing Coronavirus threat, are able to maintain the flow of essential goods and services, while also maintaining the livelihoods of the millions of people whose lives have been upended by the crisis.
It is quite possible that this searing experience will produce a "never again" moment (such as the one we saw at the end of World War II) during which there will be widespread support for the implementation of major reforms based on the "lessons learned." Obviously, shaping those lessons is going to be of critical importance.
From our perspective, society would be much better off if it could learn three broad lessons. The first would be a recognition of the need to strengthen institutions which govern the global commons in ways that make use of the best-available information to wisely, equitably, and effectively limit threats such as those posed by pandemics and climate change. Second would be a recognition of the need to reform economic systems in ways that effectively address the unmet needs of the many people who have been left behind by globalization. This needs to include both short-term, Coronavirus-related assistance and longer-term efforts to truly address the many legitimate criticisms raised by the world's populist movements. Third, we need to delegitimize and, as much as possible, prevent, hate-mongering politics and, especially, high-tech propaganda designed to drive us apart in ways that advance the goals of the world's kleptocrats.
We fear, however, that too many people will reach the opposite conclusion – that global governance and "expertise" is nothing more than a tool used by the dominant classes to exploit everyone else. We see a number of factors that could contribute to such a catastrophic conclusion. The most immediate concern is the possibility that Coronavirus response efforts might fail to avert widespread social and economic collapse with gigantic and obvious inequities. Also worrying is the likelihood that any shortcomings in the response effort will be exploited by unscrupulous actors who have figured out how to profit by driving people apart and denigrating the very idea that we should work together to advance the common good.
While policy and business experts will hopefully generate many good ideas for reforming the globalized economy in ways that better govern the commons, limit inequality, and enhance resiliency, the tougher challenge is overcoming the many intractable conflict-related obstacles that make it so hard to actually build the broad consensus required to implement these ideas. The goal of BI and the Initiative is to draw upon the insights of the conflict and peacebuilding-related fields and develop a systematic catalog of these obstacles and, especially, strategies for overcoming them. In doing this, we are focusing our attention on a series of major challenges including the need to:
- Break down enemy images and rehumanize adversaries;
- Reframe politics away from us-vs-them and toward we-are-all-in-this-together;
- Obtain and sensibly use trustworthy analyses of complex problems and potential solutions;
- Foster mutual respect, tolerance, and coexistence as the key to living with moral differences; and
- Expose and delegitimize targeted social-media-based political propaganda.
We are also looking for ideas on how to implement the needed changes at the full scale and complexity of modern society (while also adapting to our new, social distance-based environment with its limits on direct, face-to-face conversations).
We know many of our colleagues are already working to address these issues, and we hope to hear about and publicize as much as we can about those efforts. More information about these and the many other issues that must be addressed is found on Beyond Intractability and the Constructive Conflict Initiative websites. This continually-growing collection of materials is focused on helping societies more constructively handle conflicts, with the goal of helping create a globalized democratic world that is truly worthy of the public's support. In looking back at the challenges laid out in the original Initiative documents, it's clear that our ability to take advantage of the above "never again" opportunity will depend upon our ability to successfully address the Initiative challenges. The principal difference is that the Coronavirus crisis has dramatically pushed up the timeline.
In order to do what we can to accelerate the Initiative effort we are: 1) Seeking essays or less formal thoughts from our readers about how our field might help society take full advantage of this "never again" moment; 2) renewing our search for people who either are or would like to undertake Initiative-related projects; 3) upgrading the BI system to do a better job of highlighting work people are doing to address Initiative challenges; 4) strengthening Beyond Intractability's collection of online learning materials designed to explain Coronavirus-related Initiative ideas to general audiences, and 5) publicizing the effort more widely.
Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated including, especially, information about people who are doing Initiative-related work that we should be sure to highlight, and people who might be willing to help us develop the Initiative itself (which includes submitting essays as suggested above, which we will eagerly publish and publicize on the site). As always, we also appreciate contributions to help us keep this effort running. Please consider contributing on our GoFundMe Page.
Thanks, stay safe, and good luck! The key to getting through this (in a time of social distancing) is figuring out how to strengthen the community that binds us together.
Guy and Heidi Burgess
Other News Items
We are in the process of putting the Conflict Frontiers videos on both Vimeo and YouTube. (Vimeo videos are also downloadable for offline viewing or listening.) Currently, we have 30 videos on the Beyond Intractability channel on both sites, and more are coming. (On both YouTube and Vimeo, the videos appear in the order in which they were uploaded, with the the most recently uploaded video first. That means if you want to watch them in their original order, unfortunately, you need to scroll down to the end of the video listing and work backwards. This is done by scrolling down to the bottom of the page on Vimeo and by clicking "videos" on the menu bar on YouTube—the YouTube page you see initially only has the most recent 6 videos visible.)
Also, Ken Cloke wrote an extremely important book in 2018 entitled Politics, Dialogue, and the Evolution of Democracy which spells out why and how conflict resolution and consensus building strategies are so greatly needed if we are to save our floundering democracy—both in the United States and elsewhere. Ken has allowed us to publish several excerpts from the book on BI, and I chose ones that directly address a number of the challenges we have described in the Constructive Conflict Initiative, plus one that focuses on Pandemics, which, though written in 2018, is obviously very timely now. The Introductory Post has links to all the others. Check them out!
Selected Recent Posts
Here are a selected set of posts, drawn from our various seminars and blogs that were posted within the last several months, but not included in any of the last few newsletters. To see all recent posts, go to All CC-MOOS Posts.
From the Conflict Frontiers Seminar
- The Divide and Conquer Authoritarian / Plutocratic Threat -- Today's most serious conflicts are, in large part, being engineered by those who seek power over the rest of the society. -- 2/6/2020
- Massively Parallel Peacebuilding Paper -- MPP offers a strategy for combining our collective knowledge and skills into a large-scale effort to promote more constructive approaches to conflict. -- 2/11/2020
- The Evolutionary Choice: "Power With" or "Power Over" -- When I prepared this 2017 talk on the evolutionary choice between democracy and authoritarianism I was afraid I was overreacting. Not anymore. -- 3/4/2020
- Intractable Conflict: A "Climate Change [and Pandemic]-Class" Problem -- For a time when we are rightly worried about the threat posed by climate change, an argument that destructive conflict poses a similar challenge. -- 3/10/2020
From the Conflict Fundamentals Seminar
- Enemy Images -- Enemy images deepen our socio-economics and political problems, while they make effective problem solving impossible. -- 1/21/2020
- Into-the-Sea Framing -- We need to quit dreaming of defeating and disempowering fellow citizens with whom we disagree. Instead, we need to figure out how to live together. -- 2/3/2020
- Cultural Lag -- Today's culture wars are largely attributable to the fact that the different generations adapted their beliefs to very different social conditions. -- 2/14/2020
- Tolerance -- We need to learn how to tolerate those with whom we have deep moral disagreements (even when they are not part of our political coalition). -- 1/29/2020
From the BI Teaching Materials/Exercises Collection:
- Finding Common Ground / Constructive Addressing Differences: a Discussion Guide -- For students (and everyone else) a strategy for unpacking our conflicts that illuminates common ground and constructively addresses differences. -- 1/23/2020
- Intervenors Coming to the US? A Role-Switch Thought Exercise -- Turn about is fair play: what if outside "experts" came to the U.S. to help us solve OUR conflicts? -- 1/30/2020
- Reconciliation Index -- Something to think about on a day when the US seems more irreconcilable than ever -- what would reconciliation look like? -- 1/31/2020
From the Things to Do to Help Blog
- Allow Your Opponents to "Save Face." -- Key to solving a great many problems is giving people a face-saving way to change their behavior and admit that they've learned things. -- 1/20/2020
- Be Willing to Consider the Possibility That You May Be Wrong -- Most of us are so enmeshed in our own worldviews that we don't consider that we might be wrong. It helps to listen to outsiders and consider that possibility. -- 1/28/2020
- Focus on Fixing the Problem, Not Attacking People -- Excellent, time-tested advice that's worth remembering as we struggle with the bunch of very difficult problems. -- 2/7/2020
- Confront Constructively -- An essay exploring what a more constructive (and more effective) strategy for confronting injustice might look like. -- 3/9/2020
From the Colleague Activities Blog
- Citizen University -- An interesting effort to start building the civic skills that are now so sorely lacking. -- 2/5/2020
- Peace Trail on the National Mall | United States Institute of Peace -- A great idea from USIP, a Peace Trail designed to refocus the way in which we think about Washington DC's war and other memorials. - 2/27/2020
- Are We Done Fighting? Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division -- As we try to craft a society-wide response to the coronavirus, we need books like this one to help us escape the malevolence of today's politics. -- 3/11/2020
- Guidelines for Conversations that Matter -- From the World Café cute graphic highlighting guidelines for convening conversations that matter in person and online. -- 3/11/2020
- The Center for Dispute Resolution Mediation Training Manual by Kenneth Cloke -- Want to learn how to mediate? This training manual was written by one of the best mediators in the field!
From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog
- Coronavirus ‘Hits All the Hot Buttons’ for How We Misjudge Risk -- A look at the real world psychology of how we think about risk that can help us better protect ourselves while also limiting our anxieties. -- 2/14/2020
- The Real Pandemic Danger Is Social Collapse -- Fighting the Coronavirus is not enough. We also need to start actively working to protect society's complex web of socioeconomic relationships. -- 3/23/2020
- Here’s How to Fight Coronavirus Misinformation -- Practical suggestions for defending ourselves and those we care about from inaccurate and deceptive information about the Coronavirus. -- 3/30/2020
- Let’s make sure this crisis doesn’t go to waste -- From the guy who coined the phrase, "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste," reflections on how we can come out of this stronger and better. -- 3/30/2020
- COVID-19: UN chief calls for global ceasefire to focus on ‘the true fight of our lives’ -- A timely and urgent plea for a global cease-fire. (I'd like to see this extended this to also include nonviolent, but still very destructive, political conflicts.) -- 3/31/2020
- The Divide in Yakima Is the Divide in America -- For those who don't have time to really talk with those on the other side, articles like this can help us understand one another. -- 1/21/2020
- The Right to Listen -- As citizens of a democracy, we need to hear one another. Why can’t we? -- For a country that cherishes freedom of speech, a story about a corresponding obligation – the obligation (and the privilege) of listening. -- 2/3/2020
About the MBI Newsletters
Every two weeks or so, we will compile the new posts from our various seminars and blogs into a Newsletter that will be posted here and sent out by email to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy on our Newsletter Sign Up Page and find the latest newsletter here on our Newsletter page. Past newsletters can be found in the Newsletter Archive.
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