Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: So what happens when someone who is experiencing cognitive blindness encounters some evidence that contradicts the way that they see the world?
A: That's the creation of cognitive dissonance, they break down between a preferred set of perceptions and an actual reality that someone is forcing them to see which goes against the grain of their preferred view, their paradigm. Dissonance is experienced as anxiety. It is very uncomfortable feeling. It is like my world is coming apart at the seams; that's where the third party has to really be effective, if he or she or they are going to induce a sense of dissonance by bringing contrary evidence to bear upon the parties perceptions of each other. Then we the third party have got to be prepared for the transition from one paradigm to another. The transition, as it is always with the new transitioning states, is always a complicated time when you can have violence. Democratizing states are probably more violent when they were merely autocratic or communist. The journey, the transition, from one set of paradigms to another set can be very fraught with violent conflict and the third party has to be there to help facilitate that passage to reduce the intensity and frequency of opportunities for violence to be expressed from one side to the other. I think when you as a third party encourage conflicting parties to see each other in new ways you will be trespassing upon ethical concerns. You may make life very difficult for individuals amongst the parties and initially make the relationship between the parties' worse then it was. As has happened in the Middle East as soon as the Road Map was announced the conflict got worse in terms of intensity and frequency of violence between Palestinians who don't mind blowing themselves up and Israelis who don't mind come in with the helicopter gun ships, the targeted assassination that kill people that are merely walking by. Third parties have to be more effectively trained than they are I think. Not just a short term course which also means getting to know who we are as people, the third parties. So I think we can
Q: In other words better trained to deal with the anxiety that might come from ...
A: That might come from dissonance. That might come from our efforts to fill this cognitive blindness gaps if I don't see the people are occupied and I am a Jew in Israel and you the third party says have you ever thought about that these people are living like Jews were in the Warsaw ghetto in 1944-1945, that might make me feel very uncomfortable. I might get angry at you because you are the messenger. They might ask you to leave so you are no longer in as a third party, so how do you communicate that dissonance generating information? How do you bring it in?
Q: So there is resistance to that kind of dissonance?
A: Oh I think so because it insults who I am. I remember years ago, many years ago, Kevin Avruch, like 1987 we were talking about the Middle East and Kevin said if he were a radical Zionist Jew the last thing that I want is peace with the Palestinians. A lot of us said wow. That's weird, why. If you took away my conflict and my enemy I wouldn't know who I was. Part of who I am is based upon who I am not, and worse who was against to me. I know who I am because of the struggle I am involved in with others. This gets into ???, ???, the functions of social conflict that only through conflict between in groups and out groups do the members of each of the groups know who they are with the sense of a common enemy threatening all of us and our identities making us come close together which is what Americans are going through now because of 9/11. We are flying flags we are sending the troops off, it doesn't matter where they are going as long they are killing Arabs, and I am serious about that. This is one reason why we wouldn't go to N Korea other than the fact that they have nuclear weapons that they might use against us.
Saddam Hussein is bad, it has been proven, forget weapons of mass destruction, he has killed tens of thousands of his own people, Kurds, Shiias, and we are doing something nice, so why do these people hate us? The fact that all of them are Arabs, and the fact that many of them are Muslims is what makes Iraq an acceptable target of American aggression that is at a very superficial level. And that is how I am protecting who I am. If you were to say wait a second Sadaam had nothing to do with 9/11, he doesn't even have a connection with al-Queda. In fact al-Queda and Osama bin Laden have defined Sadaam as a heretic and a socialist. This is a guy who compares himself with Joseph Stalin, yea he is Muslim and sometimes he manipulates that but he is not fundamentalistic he is a bad guy for other reasons. The 60% who support Bush don't see that to call that in to question, and the democrats are not doing that because they don't want to lose more than they will, to call that into question is to lost bank. So there is the very non-linear gap between order and disorder that you read about in complexity theory it is not either or you can have both. It is very fragile co-existence between the forces making order and the forces making disorder. To avoid shaking up that balance we don't generate the dissonance in the Americans that are supportive of George Bush to the people that did 9/11 to us, Arabs. We are doing something good for them, the other ones. We are striking back at the bad ones we are liberating the good ones.
Thirdly, why don't they love us, they should love us now, those Iraqis. Now they are telling us they want an Islamic fundamentalist state because those Iraqis who we have liberated are the Shiia who were slaughtered by Sadaam, 60% of the population. We don't see all that we see Arabs have killed us, we are killing Arabs but other Arabs were liberated from bad Arabs so we have done good so lets go back to watching the worlds best model, Joe bachelor millionaire. Look at all of the new programs on TV, the fear factor. Talk about escapism. Escapism is motivated by a desire to avoid dissonance that might otherwise be experienced if you looked at yourself in the mirror critically, and looked at your own group, looked at your own government. We would rather not. It is summer time, I want to go to the grill, I want to build a bigger fence to protect myself ??? politic, George Bush is my man. The economy is in tatters, everyone is unemployed but hey we are at war, the nation is at risk. The color-coded alarm system just went from yellow to orange, we got the sniper, we got to go with the man, and I don't want to know anything else. That's what prevents blindness from being eroded. When you bring in information to fill that gap you might eliminate it but you might be a target yourself. Once you generate the dissonance that overwhelms the old paradigm making room for new paradigms then you do have a revolutionary experience.
The part is what the Palestinians and Israelis need by the way a revolution in how they see each other and how they see their relationship one requires a revolution there. It is not going to happen with anything that has happened thus far that's why I say we need to have someone separate them and then allow everything else to take place. Once you stop the violence that each could otherwise direct toward each other and that way you have dissonance and dissonance is overwhelming the old paradigm. That's very messy, very painful but you have got people armed in the middle and very few of us want to play that role in our community. We are going to have people come with machine guns, yea I am afraid so. To prevent suicide bombing and Israeli counter attacks, then you fill the blindness with the opposite site.