Since early April, Guy and Heidi Burgess (Co-directors of Beyond Intractability and the Constructive Conflict Initiative) have been circulating a Letter exploring the relationship between the Constructive Conflict Initiative and the COVID-19 crisis. In the many responses we received to these letters, we were struck by the similarity of people's thinking and we began to assemble our thoughts, together with our colleagues' ideas, into a blog that we initially called the "Constructive Conflict Initiative (CCI)-COVID-19 Blog."
Then in late May, George Floyd was killed, which initiated worldwide protests about systemic racism. For a little while, these protests completely removed COVID-19 from the news. Now people realize that we need to juggle both these challenges simultaneously.
We actually need to juggle much more than that—climate change hasn't gone away, economies worldwide are melting down, health care systems are being overwhelmed, democratic institutions and norms are collapsing, and conflicts about all these things—and others—are raging.
So we have decided to rename the blog as simply the Constructive Conflict Initiative Blog, where we hope to address—with content from us and many of you—how we can address all these conflict challenges more constructively.
The idea that kept coming up in the letters we received in April was the notion that we are at a "crossroads," where we could either choose a collaborative path, or a competitive, hostile, us-versus-them response. And we all seemed to agree that there is much that can and should be done to encourage people to take the former approach, not the latter. We also agreed that our choices now are likely to have profound impacts on the nature of our society and the the lives we leave to our children and grandchildren.
In our first COVID mailing, we said that "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' from the crisis. Obviously, shaping those lessons is going to be of critical importance."
We then suggested that three lessons were key: 1) the need to strengthen institutions which govern the global commons, 2) the need to address the unmet needs of those "left behind," and 3) the need to delegitimize and prevent "scapegoat politics."
We then warned that some people were drawing the opposite conclusion—that global governance and expertise is simply a tool of oppression used by the dominant class and should be resisted. Globalism and collaboration is widely seen as the problem, not the solution. Protecting ourselves and out-competing "the other" is still seen by many as the best way forward.
We (Guy and Heidi Burgess) think that this us-versus-them approach is very dangerous—both for the people who pursue it, and for the world overall. We suggested in our initial letter that people in the conflict and peace fields can (and should) do much to try to get people to learn the first set of lessons from this event, rather than the second.
The importance of following these three lessons seem even more important now that the focus has shifted to racism along with COVID. All three of those lessons--strengthening institutions that govern the commons, addressing the needs of those "left behind," and the need to delegitimize "scapegoat politics" all apply.
- The justice system is one system that governs our "commons." It clearly needs to be improved (strengthened maybe isn't the best word here if it is taken to mean "make the police stronger.") But crime still exists and we need to find effective ways of dealing with it, while actually protecting those who need help and protection.
- We are now becoming much more aware of how "left behind" most Blacks are (that was no surprise to them, but it does seem to be a problem that a great many other people are waking up to). A controversial topic that we will want to address in upcoming posts is the challenge of building a sustainable political coalition capable of effectively addressing this problem. This will almost certainly require efforts to also address serious inequities faced by other groups.
- And lastly, we cannot solve the problem of racism with "scapegoat politics." Right now, in many things we have been reading, the police are presented as the scapegoats while the role that the larger population has had in producing the problem is neglected. The assumption is made that all police are racist and corrupt and that they should be disbanded entirely. This seems very unlikely to make things better. Indeed, polls show that most Blacks want more police protection in their communities, not less. So we need to carefully analyze our social structures to determine why so many unwarranted police attacks happen, and what can be done to change the structures that are allowing, or even encouraging, such behavior.
So we offer this blog as a place to discuss these and related ideas. So far we have posts on the crossroads we face, new paradigms that might be brought about by COVID, uncertainty (as it relates to COVID and more broadly), future imaging (related to COVID), racism and civil unrest.
We (Guy and Heidi) have a large number of posts "in the queue," exploring how we got to the place we are in (with COVID, racism, and more), and what we can do to get out of it. We invite all our readers to share your ideas too—a few sentences to several pages about any of the conflicts that are raging around us right now, and how we might address them more constructively. We are also interested in hearing about things that people are doing to help address the problem and links to books and articles that offer helpful insights.