Ken Cloke: Mediation in a Time of Crisis

When we wrote Ken, asking him to participate in our discussion, he sent us a copy of his latest book,Mediation in a Time of Crisis: Pandemic, Prejudice, Police, and Political Polarization  and said we could republish as much as we wanted to.  I wanted to republish the whole thing, but that would have been taking too much of an advantage of his generosity.  Instead, we will post Ken's introduction here, along with the Table of Contents, so people can see what is in the entire book, and after seeing how interesting it looks, I hope you will buy it. It is amazingly affordable at $10.00 on Amazon's Kindle, and $25.00 in paperback from Amazon or the publisher.  In several later posts, will will take Ken up on his offer, and reprint a few chapters that are particularly relevant to this discussion. Ken, thank you for sharing this!


Introduction: Conflicts, Crises, and Political Evolution by Ken Cloke

by Ken Cloke

Published here on Sept. 22, 2022

The political class … is strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament.… Those who govern the nation and shape public discourse cannot be trusted with the preservation of life on Earth. There is no benign authority preserving us from harm. No one is coming to save us. None of us can justifiably avoid the call to come together to save ourselves.— GEORGE MONBIOT

The whole of public policy is an attempt to reconstitute a culture, a social system, an economic order, that have in fact reached their end, reached their limits of viability. And then I sit here and look at this double inevitability; that this imperial, exporting, divided order is ending, and that all its residual forces, all its political formations, will fight to the end to reconstruct it, to re-establish it, moving deeper all the time through crisis after crisis in an impossible attempt to regain a familiar world. So then a double inevitability: that they will fail, and that they will try nothing else. — RAYMOND WILLIAMS

Adventure is a crisis that one accepts, crisis is an adventure that one refuses. And it is possible at every moment in our life, to decide whether the rupture that comes upon us is here to destroy us or to make us evolve, to force us to find in ourselves resources that we didn't know could exist. — BERTRAND PICCARD

We have entered an era of escalating conflicts and crises, in which our survival as a civilization and as a species, increasingly depend — not on military prowess, economic might, or political dominance — but on our ability to listen empathetically, communicate nonviolently, solve problems jointly, negotiate collaboratively, decide consensually, act collectively, and resolve conflicts meditatively.

They therefore depend also on our capacity to appreciate diversity and dissent, engage in dialogue with those who think differently, and build trust between former foes; on our ability to bridge and dismantle the social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental barriers we have erected over centuries to dominate and prevail over others.

Chief among these barriers is the form of our politics, our governments and nation states, which have historically served and defended unequal social, economic, and political systems that are grounded in domination, privilege, and prejudice; that rank social improvement, public health, environmental sustainability, human life, and even survival as less important than private wealth, profitability, destructive growth, and competitive advantage.

As a result, we are facing intensifying conflicts and crises around the world that pit popular demand for solutions to a growing number of escalating problems against the wealthy elites, corporate giants, bureaucracies, and political institutions that created, exacerbated, ignored, tolerated, covered up, and profited from them, in part by paying political leaders to deny and discount them.

What is worse, the nation state itself, perhaps the most powerful problem solving mechanism ever created, has become an obstacle, partly because the problems and crises we increasingly confront exceed its bounds, and are now global in scope. Sovereignty and nationalism more and more stand in the way of transnational communication, cooperation, and consensus. As a result, local politicians find it nearly impossible to address the general, global, species-interests of all — except selfishly, competitively, adversarially, and in ways that defeat or diminish global cooperation.

At the same time, global cooperation by means of the nation state is essential in attempting to solve these problems. Without some form of international problem solving that is vastly stronger than individual states or the presently constituted United Nations is able to muster; and without widespread adoption of a broad range of transnational collaborative, consensus-building, and conflict resolution methodologies, global problems will increasingly go unsolved, conflicts will fester, divisions will deepen, and these will likely, at some point, connect, creating larger, general, universal, fundamental crises that may threaten our survival.

Breakdown Precedes Breakthrough

There are, I believe, two varieties of general, universal, or fundamental crises: one is terminal, leading to ever-deeper dysfunctions, and ending simply in extinction. The other leads to evolution, transformation, and the emergence of higher, emergent forms of order. The second can be seen in nature in phase transitions, as when water turns into ice, or fissionable material produces a chain reaction, or a magnetic material is heated and loses its magnetism, or cellular automata generate complex, unforeseen patterns.

As these phase transitions begin, the material or substance enters a state of “criticality,” in which beginning and end states coexist, new systems self-organize in isolated pockets or random interstices, and complexity increases exponentially, giving rise both to chaos, and to newly emergent, higher order phenomena. Then, fractal self similarity or scale invariance, higher degrees of freedom or dimensionality, and power laws begin to emerge at the critical points between phases, resolving the crisis locally, and easing the transition of the whole material into a new state.

The nature of this new, higher state of organization is initially tiny, disconnected, and unremarkable, but as it begins to expand, it creates islands of stability and order while the older, lower order state slips deeper into chaos and disorder. Chaos is then exported through complex, self-organizing systems and dissipative structures, as described chemist and Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine in Order Out of Chaos.

In a similar way, in human conflicts, the emergence of order out of chaos is often eased or facilitated by mediation, which plays the role of catalyst in the transformation of lower order attitudes, skills, communications, processes, relationships, systems, structures, cultures, etc., into higher order ones that are capable of learning from conflicts and crises how to transform the information they contain into the self-organization of social cooperation, collaborative problem solving, and evolution to higher order conflicts and crises.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.” Similarly, we are able to find, in times of crisis and intractable conflict, the very higher order skills that are needed in order to overcome them. These skills steadily grow inside, between, and around us as our conflicts deepen and crises become chaotic.

What are these higher order skills? They include, at their core, the ability to listen and empathize with those who are different; to work together to solve common problems; to engage in dialogue over disagreements; to build consensus; to negotiate collaboratively; to mediate conflicts, and to seek restorative justice in unifying and empowering solutions.

In these ways, it becomes possible to face the conflicts and crises created by the global pandemic, prejudice, policing, polarization, along with insurrection, climate change, environmental devastation, and similar problems together, minimize their destructive effects, evolve to higher forms of social, economic, and political relationship, and hopefully, at some point, stop slaughtering, hating, and dominating one another.

About this Book

Starting in 2019 and continuing into 2020 and 21, a rapid convergence of issues, events, conflicts, and crises began, pointing toward dramatically different futures. From the primaries and Presidential elections to the insurrection on January 6; from the deaths and devastation caused by the pandemic to impassioned resistance to masks and vaccines; from the murders of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor to the rise of white supremacy and Black Lives Matter; from sexual harassment and #metoo to Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Andrew Cuomo; from unprecedented fires, floods, and heat waves to business-as-usual and climate change denial; from war and civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Israel and the Palestinian Territories to continued hostilities with Russia, China, Iran, and others, we have faced unprecedented conflicts and crises that require unprecedented solutions.

In response to these seemingly intractable conflicts and crises, I wrote the chapters in this book, more or less in chronological order, in an effort to explore how mediation techniques, conflict resolution insights, and collaborative methodologies might be adapted, scaled up, and set to work. The chapters that follow are therefore both a chronicle of unfolding events, which I have left exactly as I described them at the time, without editing or hindsight; and a set of practical proposals on how to apply these ideas and principles.

Some of the ideas and proposals that follow were first discussed and developed in earlier books I have written, especially in The Dance of Opposites: Explorations in Mediation, Dialogue, and Systems Design (2014); Conflict Revolution: Designing Preventative Systems for Chronic Social, Economic and Political Conflicts, (2015); and Politics, Dialogue and the Evolution of Democracy: How to Discuss Race, Abortion, Immigration Gun Control, Climate Change, Same Sex Marriage and Other Hot Topics, (2018).

Many of the chapters that follow are brief, practical, and directed at specific conflicts, while others are longer, more abstract, and attempts to gain clarity regarding complex, multifaceted ideas and principles. Some were circulated on, or appeared in other books, which are cited. All are attempts to shift the way we think and act in times of conflict and crisis, and to encourage the adaptation and application of conflict resolution skills and techniques to the social, economic, political, and environmental disputes and crises that impact us.

We can no longer afford to waste time, energy, lives, money, and precious resources on needlessly fighting with each other, especially when a few simple, inexpensive, easily implemented conflict resolution processes will allow us to be far more successful and far less cruel to one another. The stakes are high and getting higher, and mediation has proven successful in countless conflicts over similar issues in all cultures and communities. The old ways are failing and new ones are needed. Our conflicts and crises are not over, and will not wait. Whatever each of us can offer, even if wrong, will help us discover better ways of living together and solving common problems.

Kenneth Cloke

Santa Monica, California


Introduction xi
1. What We Can Learn from the Pandemic 1
2. Some Lessons from the Pandemic 5
3. Visitation During the Pandemic – What is Changing 9
4. The Mediator as Leader and the Leader as Mediator: 11
5. A Transformational Approach to Conflicts Between Police, Demonstrators, and Communities of Color 17
6. Planting Seeds of Peace 21
7. Neutrality, Omni-Partiality, and the Evolution of Political Conflict 25
8. Mediation, Neutrality, Political Conflicts and the 2020 Elections 31
9. The 2020 Elections, Mediation, and the Political Divide— What Next? 43
10. 50 Questions to Ask in Political Arguments 51
11. From Democracy to Fascism in Five Easy Steps, and What We Can Do to Stop It 55
12. 10 Actions We Can Take to Turn Adversarial, Autocratic, Power-Based Political Conflicts into Collaborative, Democratic, Interest-Based Social Problem Solving 73
13. Insurrection, Demagoguery, and the Mediation of Political Conflicts 79
14. 20 Proposals to Resolve Electoral Conflicts and Strengthen Democracy 93
15. Improving Communications On-Line 97
16. 20 Ways to Improve United Nations Meetings and Climate Change Negotiations 101
17. Race and Caste, Gender and Patriarchy, Wealth and Class:105
18. Transforming Conflict Cultures Through Mediation 135
19. Mediation and the Evolution of Democracy: 153
20. Mediation and the Language and Culture of Politics 177
21. The Limits of Mediation 197
22. Challenges in Creating a Conflict Revolution 205
About the Author 229

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