Polarization's Toll on US Credibility, Progressives' Reverse CBT, and Other Colleague and Context Links

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Newsletter 106 — April 16, 2023



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Reader Suggested Links

Highlighting links suggested by our readers. Please send us links to things that you find useful.

Two of our colleagues recently sent links to and comments on articles they found relevant to our discussion. Thank you Matt Legge and Suzanne Ghais!


Is the Liberal Approach to Justice Reverse CBT?

by Matt Legge

April 16, 2023

I read this article "How to Understand the Well-Being Gap between Liberals and Conservatives"  and thought of Guy and Heidi Burgess, as it addresses some of the same issues that they write about and share articles on. Personally, I was particularly fascinated by this point:

many strains of liberal ideology fashionable among highly educated and relatively affluent Americans function, in practice, as a form of reverse cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Cognitive behavioral therapy encourages people to avoid global labeling and black-and-white or zero-sum thinking. It pushes people to abstain from hyperbole and catastrophizing or filtering out the good while highlighting the bad. CBT encourages people to resist emotional reasoning, jumping to conclusions, mind-reading, and uncharitable motive attribution. It tells adherents not to make strong assumptions about what others should do or feel, or how the world should be. Instead, patients are encouraged to meet the world as it is, and to engage the actual over the ideal. CBT instructs people to look for solutions to problems rather than focusing inordinately on who to blame (and punish). It tells patients to focus on controlling what they can in the present rather than ruminating on misfortunes of the past or worrying about futures that may or may not come to pass. It encourages people to see themselves as resilient and capable rather than weak, vulnerable, helpless or “damaged.” It is easy to see how popular strains of liberal thinking basically invert this guidance, likely to the detriment of adherents.

Through my work, I have noticed and been trying to gently say something similar for years. I was struck by how succinctly and, to me, clearly, the point is made here.

As far as I can tell, some popular approaches to justice advocated by folks like Robin DiAngelo seem to be advising exactly the opposite of successful practices I found coming up again and again when doing research for my book Are We Done Fighting?. I was aware of evidence I collected from a wide range of academic studies into human behaviours and motivations—not just from peace and conflict experts but from all sorts of other fields (behavioural economics, neuroscience, social psychology, etc.)—but I wasn't aware before reading this article that similar ideas and approaches are taught in cognitive-behavioural therapy.

I'm troubled that I see certain currently fashionable approaches to social justice work too often mostly disempowering adherents and leaving them feeling worse, while not resulting in more meaningful and effective actions for justice in the world either.

Polarization is Damaging US Credibility

by Suzanne Ghais

April 16, 2023

This Politico article describing the US's competition with China and Russia for influence in the Middle East "What leaked docs show about U.S.-Russia fight for Middle East" discusses how U.S. domestic polarization affects US credibility, standing, and appeal as an ally/partner internationally.  One example given in the article is

A Middle Eastern diplomat said one frustrating thing about America is its unpredictable domestic politics and the role short-term thinking plays in shaping policy. The wild swings in policy over the past decade — from President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump to now Biden — have added to the sense of uncertainty.

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Colleague Activities

Highlighting things that our conflict and peacebuilding colleagues are doing that contribute to efforts to address the hyper-polarization problem.


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Beyond Intractability in Context

From around the web, more insight into the nature of our conflict problems, limits of business-as-usual thinking, and things people are doing to try to make things better.

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About the MBI Newsletters

Once a week or so, we, the BI Directors, share some thoughts, along with new posts from the Hyper-polarization Blog and and useful links from other sources.  We used to put this all together in one newsletter which went out once or twice a week. We are now experimenting with breaking the Newsletter up into several shorter newsletters. Each Newsletter will be posted on BI, and sent out by email through Substack to subscribers. You can sign up to receive your copy here and find the latest newsletter here or on our BI Newsletter page, which also provides access to all the past newsletters, going back to 2017. NOTE! If you signed up for this Newsletter and don't see it in your inbox, it might be going to one of your other emails folder (such as promotions, social, or spam).  Check there or search for beyondintractability@substack.com and if you still can't find it, first go to our Substack help page, and if that doesn't help, please contact us

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