Newsletter #47 -- January 26, 2022
by Guy Burgess
January 26, 2022
During November and December we took a break from sending out our periodic Beyond Intractability Newsletters and focused on family activities and trying to push ahead with a number of major projects (which we will be writing about incoming Newsletters). With the new year, however, we are restarting our newsletter and our broader efforts to share information that we think can better help us all better navigate today’s difficult conflict problems.
Over the last year, I have been participating in a series of conversations organized by The Bridge Alliance to stimulate creative thinking and collaboration focused on strategies for helping bridge the United States’ bitter partisan divide. Recently, Debilyn Molineaux, President of the Bridge Alliance, sent out a challenge to the participants in these discussions that started by observing that "our nation is experiencing alarmingly high social divisiveness and alienation [that is] threatening our ability to function as a democratic republic." She went on to ask what three things each of us would prioritize to reverse these trends and increase social cohesion in the United States.
I thought that this was an excellent question that deserves wider consideration. So, I thought I would share my answer here, in hopes of starting a broader discussion. We would be quite interested in hearing your thoughts on this critical question (and your reactions to my thoughts). Just go to the BI Contact Page and tell us what you think. We will publish your submissions on the BI Blog and in the next newsletter as well!
My answer to Debilyn:
My first priority for those wishing to defend and strengthen democracy would be an effort to promote much broader public awareness of the importance of protecting the rights and interests of those on the losing side of democratic elections. Democracy cannot function as a winner-take-all system in which the winners are able to force their opponents to publicly embrace the winners' beliefs. It can also not be a political spoils system in which winners unfairly redistribute wealth and status toward their political supporters. If citizens (as is too often now the case) believe that elections are battles that they absolutely, positively can't afford to lose, then democracy is doomed. All citizens in a democracy must be assured that, regardless of an election's outcome or a judicial decision, they will continue to have a secure and valued place in society.
This raises a second priority, the cultivation of a much more diverse diversity---one that spans, rather than stops, at the political divide. The defense of diversity must go beyond the coalition building imperative behind "big tent" politics and embrace the principles of mutual respect, tolerance, and individual freedom that allow people from different political coalitions with very different, deeply-held belief systems to peacefully live together in mutually supportive ways.
Finally, I would encourage us all to do much more to resist what I call bad-faith actors---those who, for a variety of reasons, deliberately use sophisticated and deceptive tactics to inflame our hyper-polarized politics and, thereby, advance their narrow, selfish interests. Such actors include, for example, inflammatory media, foreign provocateurs, and hate-mongering political figures. We can't let them lure us into self-righteous information bubbles that prevent us from seeing the humanity of our fellow citizens or the things we are doing that contribute to our society's deep divisions.
Again, we would love the hear your thoughts on this critical question. Let us know!
Along related lines, we are about to post on the blog an essay that was written by Peter Adler, reflecting on the possibility of civil war in the United States. He (like we) has been reading a number of articles suggesting that we are heading in that direction, so he sent some of his associates in the conflict resolution field and elsewhere an inquiry about asking how likely they thought such an outcome was. He outlines their responses with some of the detailed comments in the blog post--it is not encouraging, to say the least!
Two recent articles from the “Beyond Intractability in Context” section of BI highlight other important perspectives on this critical issue. Foreign Policy has an article entitled “Why the U.S. Military Isn’t Ready for Civil War” that describes the contingency planning efforts that are starting to get underway in the US Defense Department. Especially alarming is the view that police and Homeland Security forces may be unable to contain domestic insurgents and that regular military forces will be required (including the application of counterterrorism tactics within the US)!
The second, perhaps more important, article argues that we must be careful not to overplay the possibility of large-scale civil unrest and violence in the United States. In “Let’s Not Invent a Civil War” l Ross Douthat argues that, if we are not careful, all of this talk of war could further drive the hyper-polarization spiral and, even more ominously, risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, thinking about Debilyn's questions--and then doing something about our answers--seems vitally important!
Selected Recent Posts:
Note: We have far too many posts over the last three months (since the last newsletter) to post here. I have chosen some of our more recent posts to highlight, but all of our posts -- going back to the beginning of the Constructive Conflict Massive Open Online Seminar (CC-MOOS) can be found here: All CC-MOOS Posts
From the Constructive Conflict Initiative Blog:
- Review of Peter Coleman's The Way Out -- Addressing hyper-polarization as a complex problem is essential--but figuring out how to do so successfully is very tricky. -- Jan 23
- Reversing Polarization and Escalation - Part 2 -- We now have a list of 28 things that can be done to reverse or prevent escalation, but one sums up them all: respect. -- Dec 01
- Reversing Polarization and Escalation - Part 1 -- While there are many things driving destructive escalation and polarization, there are also many things that can be done to reverse them. -- Nov 30
- Intractable Conflicts Are Always More than "Us-Versus-Them" -- We tend to assume that it is their choices and their behavior, that is causing our own problems. It isn't. It is almost always US TOO! -- Nov 03
From the Colleague Activities Blog:
- Taking a Virtual Breath -- A three-part series on how to foster connection with ourselves and each other in virtual space. -- Jan 24
- National Day of Dialogue Videos -- Held Jan 5, 2022, videos from the main sessions are available here. -- Jan 20
- Videos from PeaceCon2020 -- All the videos from the Alliance for Peacebuilding's 2021 conference are available here. -- Jan 19
- Dialogue Training Guides From Karuna Center -- Links to a large number of guides for dialogue in both a domestic US and international settings. -- Jan 18
- The two-step recipe for positive change: humility and active listening. -- This series of conversations with practitioners explores the changing trends in the con-res field over the last 30 years. -- Jan 17
- Is reconciliation in a divided America possible? Look to Northern Ireland to see what could happen. -- For peace to be sustained, it requires a shared vision of the future that’s anchored in a shared understanding of the past. -- Jan 13
- The Reunited States of America: New Documentary Seeks to Bridge Political Divide -- A documentary showing how everyday Americans are finding their own solutions to bridging the partisan divide, inviting others to pledge to do so too. e -- Jan 12
From the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog:
- Environment, Fragility, and Conflict -- From Foreign Policy, an extensive exploration of the relationship between climate change, environmental fragility, and conflict.-- Jan 25
- Defend America’s democracy from foreign threats -- A must read article, with lots of links describing foreign efforts to undermine US democracy and the United States' weak response.-- Jan 25
- The false "trap" of bipartisanship -- A pretty persuasive defense of the Electoral Count Act and larger prospects for meaningful compromise in today's hyper-polarized climate. -- Jan 23
- How Not to Build a Coalition -- The Left’s Theory of the Case Falls Apart -- A pretty persuasive look at the flaws inherent in the progressive "theory of change" and associated efforts to build a winning political coalition. -- Jan 23
- A Simple Plan to Solve All of America’s Problems -- A compelling, obvious, and (sadly) neglected strategy for solving our many problems --- expanding the "pie." -- Jan 20
- The Importance of Academic Impartiality -- An in-depth look at the philosophy behind academic impartiality with important lessons for those thinking about neutrality in the conflict resolution field -- Jan 19
- America Is Falling Apart at the Seams -- An alarming look at the many ways in which the social fabric is failing. Is our epidemic of cynicism and alienation responsible? #mbi_context -- Jan 18
- 10 Ideas to Fix Democracy -- A collection of ten especially thoughtful articles detailing things that need to be done to build a democracy in which we would all like to live. -- Jan 17
- Civics Secures Democracy Act: The Greatest Education Battle of Our Lifetimes -- Civics education is critical to the revitalization of democracy. To be successful, however, it can't cross the line into political advocacy. -- Jan 13
- Building Trust Across the Political Divide -- A really enlightening look at strategies for building trust across the political divide and an explanation of the lmits of typical, progressive approaches. -- Jan 12
- In an acrimonious time, some welcome fresh attention to Socrates and the art of civilized arguing -- An eye-opening look at the genuine advantages associated with the Socratic approach to debate and collaborative truth seeking. -- Jan 12
- The Best Defense Against Another Jan. 6 -- An especially thoughtful look at the nature and origins of political extremism in the United States. -- Jan 11
- America’s Asymmetric Civil War -- A more sophisticated look at the fault lines dividing contemporary society. It's not red states versus blue states, it's different groups of people within the same city. -- Jan 10
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