Newsletter #30

Newsletter # 30 — April 3, 2020

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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.

Best Wishes,

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

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: 

From the Things to Do to Help Blog

From the Colleague Activities Blog 

From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog

All CC-MOOS Posts

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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