This page links to materials from Beyond Intractability that further explore the five major topic areas that are the focus of this discussion:
Hyper-Polarization Threat | Scale and Complexity | Bad-Faith Actors | Good-Faith Actors | Scale-Up Examples
This page is still under construction. We plan to add a great deal of additional content as the discussion proceeds.
For more information about the BI/CRQ Discussion see:
- Invitation from: Desivilya Syna, Burgess and Burgess
- Feature Article Framing the Discussion by: Burgess, Burgess, and Kaufman
- Secondary Framing Article by: Burgess, Burgess
- Initial Discussion Commentaries by: Menkel-Meadow, Ozawa, Jordaan
- Past Discussion Posts: BI/CRQ Hyper-Polarization Blog
Part 1: Understanding the Threats Posed by Hyper-Polarized Conflict and Us-vs-Them Thinking
- Conflict Frontiers Seminar 1 -- Understanding the Intractable Conflict Problem — A collection of video lectures and articles explaining why our inability to deal constructively with intractable conflict (and the accompanying hyper-polarization) is the most serious challenge facing humanity.
- The Ukrainian War: What Happens When You Have a War That Both Sides Absolutely, Positively Can't Afford to Lose? — The same dynamic that is driving the hyper-polarization crisis in so many countries now threatens to turn the Ukrainian war into an even larger and more catastrophic confrontation.
- Destructive Escalation — Destructive escalation is the most dangerous force on the planet. The "enemy" is not the other side; it is destructive escalation.
- Polarization — Polarization is insidious and dangerous. Steps should be taken to avoid it when possible, and reverse it when it has already developed.
- Dehumanization — Today's hyper-polarization is commonly accompanied with dehumanizing rhetoric. Research on dehumanization is very clear: such speech increases the likelihood of violence, even genocide.
Part 2: Dealing with the Full Scale and Complexity of Society-Wide Conflict
- Can Complex Thinking Bring Peace To A World Of Conflict? with Guy Burgess — A podcast conversation exploring the nature of large-scale, complex social systems and how the structure of these systems demands a fundamentally different approach to resolving conflicts and building peace.
- Conflict Frontiers Seminar 4 -- Moving Toward a Complexity-Oriented Paradigm — The biggest factor making hyper-polarized conflict so intractable is complexity. The series of introductory lectures explaining, from a conflict perspective, the nature of complexity and strategies for dealing with it.
- Conflict Frontiers Seminar 3 -- Introduction to Complexity and "Systems Thinking:" Theoretical Antecedents — A series of video lectures and other material exploring the ways in which some of the leaders the conflict resolution field have been approaching the problem of complexity.
- Conflict Frontiers Seminar 2 -- Pushing the Frontier: the Limits of Business-as-Usual Approaches — Video lectures explaining why business-as-usual approaches to conflict are not going to be enough. Meeting the challenge posed by hyper-polarization and intractability is requiring us to do more.
- Complex Adaptive Systems — The hyper-polarized conflict that is tearing our world apart occurs in the complex adaptive system that is modern society. We really need to understand what this means before we can find a way out.
- See the Complexity It's not Just "Us versus Them" — Parties, issues, dynamics, power, and relationships are among the conflict elements one must clearly understand.
- Map the Basic Conflict Elements — Conflict mapping lets you see what's going on in a conflict, so you can figure out how to engage to have the most positive impact.
- Identify the Overlay Issues in Dispute — Factual and procedural disputes, framing, miscommunication, and escalation are “overlay problems” that make intractable conflicts even harder to resolve.
- Reflections on Neuroscience, Conflict, and Peacebuilding — The new generation of neuroscience insights are revolutionizing the way in which we think about a wide range of conflict problems. These insights are critical to meeting the hyper-polarization challenge.
- Cultural Lag — The cultural beliefs are continually being adapted to the changing conditions. The speed with which different groups (and different generations) are willing to abandon past traditions is a major source of conflict.
- Conflict Frontiers Seminar 8 -- MPP-based Strategies for Addressing the Authoritarian Populism Problem — A large collection of articles and video lectures focused on the dynamics driving the populist side of hyper-polarization and the danger that populist grievances could be co-opted by aspiring authoritarians.
- Engineering and Medical Troubleshooting Models — Complexity-oriented approaches to conflict are more like medicine and less like engineering.
- Massively Parallel Peacebuilding Paper — MPP offers a strategy for combining our collective knowledge and skills into a large-scale effort to promote more constructive approaches to conflict.
- Massively Parallel Peacebuilding: Video Presentation to the Institute for Global Negotation — A September 2021 presentation and question-and-answer session on massively parallel peacebuilding with more information about how, exactly this idea could work.
- The Crane Brinton Effect — Revolutions that overthrow hated regime are usually followed by an intense struggle for power that ultimately brings another hated regime into the power. Avoiding this requires cultivating a broadly attractive, "power-with" vision for the future.
- Humiliation — Evelin Lindner calls humiliation the "atom bomb of emotions" because it does such profound damage to relationships.
- The Blood-Boiling Trap — Our complex psychology leaves us vulnerable to bad-faith actors who inflame tensions and prevent us from working together to advance the common good.
- Entrapment — Once a fight demands that people make huge sacrifices (often involving loss of life) for a cause, it becomes very hard to make compromises or admit one's own role in making the conflict so destructive.
- The Mass Media's Role in Conflict — Everything we know about COVID-19 or racism comes from the media. Depending on what we read and watch, the "facts" are totally different!
- Identity Issues — Identity drives many intractable conflicts as people simplify complex situations into an "us-versus them" story.
- Into-the-Sea Framing — Total refusal to live with the "other side" results in into-the-sea framing and deep intractability.
Part 3: Challenging "Bad-Faith" Actors Who Seek to Amplify and Exploit Our Conflicts
- "Bad Faith" Actors I -- Types of Actors — This article explains the principal types of bad-faith actors and their motivations. Healing our hyper-polarized society requires effective strategies for reducing their influence.
- "Bad-Faith" Actors II -- Sources of Vulnerability — Bad-faith actors exploit a number of social and psychological vulnerabilities inherent in our complex society. We need to understand and limit these vulnerabilities.
- Part 3: Challenging "Bad-Faith" Actors Who Seek to Amplify and Exploit Our Conflicts — A big part of why democracy is in so much trouble is that "bad faith" actors are actively working to subvert it. We need to understand and learn how to stop them.
- “Bad-Faith” Actors -- Our Sources of Vulnerability — There are, unfortunately, many things that make us vulnerable to bad-faith actors, we need better ways to protect ourselves from destructive efforts to undermine our ability to work together.
- Types of “Bad-Faith” Actors — There are, unfortunately, several different types of bad-faith actors. We need to understand what motivates each type and how we might best be able to counter their efforts.
- “Bad-Faith” Actor Tactics — We need to better understand how to see and avoid the many traps (and sinister cons) that are dragging us into ever more destructive conflict.
- Fighting Today's Oppression, Not Yesterday's Oppression — By getting us to focus too much attention on history's most terrible acts of oppression, bad-faith actors are preventing us from working together to combat the contemporary injustices that so benefit these actors.
Part 4: Helping "Good-Faith" Actors More Wisely and Equitably Address Our Common Problems
- Constructive Confrontation — The key to empowering the disempowered and more fairly distributing power through society is not the abandonment of conflict resolution insights. Instead we need to apply them from an advocacy perspective.
- Bystanders — It's time for those caught in the middle to take a more active role in limiting the many ways in which they are harmed by the extremists driving the hyper-polarization spiral.
- Reversing Polarization and Escalation - Part 1 — Amid the seeming hopelessness hyper-polarization, we sometimes forget how much we know about how to combat destructive escalation and polarization. Part one of a two-part review of what we know.
- Reversing Polarization and Escalation - Part 2 — Part II of our series on de-escalation further reviews at least 28 things that we now know. Now, we need to scale up these efforts and find ways of resisting those who would disrupt them.
- (When) Should We Escalate? — Reflections on one of the most consequential questions swirling around the quest for justice and efforts to limit hyper-polarization -- what kinds of escalation are helpful, and when.
- Positive Thinking — Giving "the other" the benefit of the doubt most of the time will lead to better outcomes for everyone.
- Priorities for Reducing Political Polarization in the United States — An explanation of why, in a healthy democracy, it is so important that voters believe that their core interests will be protected--even when they lose an election!
- Face — Humiliation is an extremely powerful negative emotion that drives many conflicts. That is why permitting people to "save face" is so important in helping diffuse conflict.
- Constructive Escalation — By choosing one's conflict strategies carefully, it is possible to win the support of people on the other side without causing backlash.
- Limiting Escalation/De-escalation — Escalation often happens very quickly and easily, while de-escalation is typically very slow and difficult. But it is essential, and possible.
- The "Two Taproot (or Fuses) Theory" of Social Unrest — Civil rights mediators have long done what now seems impossible – mediating highly escalated racial conflicts. This article explains that one key is understanding the underlying causes of tension.
- Empathic Listening — It isn't enough to simply listen to what your adversary has to say. You need to empathize enough to understand why they believe and act as they do.
- Finding Common Ground / Constructive Addressing Differences: a Discussion Guide — For students (and everyone else) a strategy for unpacking our conflicts that illuminates common ground and constructively addresses differences.
- The Meaning of Civility — Before civility can provide an alternative to today's hyper-partisan dysfunction, we need a clear image of what civility is and isn't.
- Living with Uncertainty in the COVID-19 Era — Reflections on strategies for dealing with irreducible risk and uncertainty – one of the big challenges that good-faith actors need to surmount.
- Does Nonviolence Work? — Research shows nonviolence is far more effective than violence--it should be all protestors' go-to choice!
- Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action — Nonviolent direct action uses tactics such as strikes, boycotts, marches, and demonstrations to try to convince opponents to change their behavior without using violent force.
- Reconciliation Part 1 - What is Reconciliation? — Defusing hyper-polarization will require some measure of reconciliation. This is the first of two articles exploring the nature of reconciliation and what it takes to bring it about.
- Reconciliation Part 2 - — Part two of our exploration of reconciliation and the process of pursuing truth, accountability, apology, and structural and policy changes.
- Complexity-Oriented, Massively Parallel Reconciliation — Simple solutions won't work in complex conflicts; one needs a complex solution to match the complexity of the conflict.
- U.S. Reconciliation in 2020 and Beyond — Reconciliation is not the imposition of one side's view on the other, but rather a meeting of minds and a way forward.
- The Many Types of Reconciliation — Different types of reconciliation are better at different times and places, and can be done simultaneously or sequentially. Choosing the proper order can determine success or failure.
- Tolerance — We need to learn how to tolerate those with whom we have deep moral disagreements (even when they are not part of our political coalition).
- Coexistence — Coexistence offers a promising alternative to today's all-out struggle for dominance among competing socio-cultural groups.
- Envisioning — You can't get to where you want to go, if you don't know where that is. So, how can you get to a desired future, if you don't know what that future looks like?
- Principles of Justice — For those struggling to figure out how to build a more just society, and exploration of the many different meanings of the term.
- Reconciliation as a Noun and a Verb (Outcome and Process) — Reconciliation can be visualized as a balance beam, where everyone needs to maintain their balance to keep reconciliation from failing.
- Ingredients of Reconciliation — Using the metaphor of baking, reconciliation can be made with a variety of ingredients, in different amounts, and added in different orders.
- Shamil Idriss: America’s Hard Path Forward — We must address extremist groups' grievances, while standing firm against their extreme actions. By focusing on commonalities, as well as differences, we can find a path forward.
- Track I - Track II Cooperation — The prevention and resolution of complex conflicts depends on a the efforts of both officials (track one) and non-officials (track two). This essay discusses the importance of cooperation between these two tracks.
- Multi-Track Diplomacy — Peacebuilding is seen by many participants to have many "tracks" beyond just track I and track II. This essay explains the concept of multi-track diplomacy, developed by Louise Diamond and John MacDonald.
- Mediating Evil, War, and Terrorism: The Politics of Conflict — This essay discusses alternative ways that political systems, individual peacebuilders, and "regular" people can address violence and evil, suggesting that some approaches perpetuate or even escalate the evil, while other approaches disarm it and render it an ineffective mode of action.
Part 5: Scaling Up More Constructive Approaches To the Level of Institutional Change
- Ebrahim Rasool on What America Might Learn From South Africa's 300+ Years of Struggle — If it has been done, it must be possible. Exceptionally wise advice from South Africa on how to overcome polarization with vision, humanism, inclusion, and a balancing of truth, peace, mercy, and justice.
- Talk with Shamil Idress, CEO of Search for Common Ground — Heidi Burgess interviews Shamill Idress about his career, Search for Common Ground's work, current challenges facing Search, the peacebuilding field, and the world as a whole--and how we can meet them.
- Jayne Docherty: When the Militia Are Your Neighbors and Your Community is a Microcosm of the Country — Stereotypes and distrust are hampering cooperation, but with effort, joint projects can bring people together to the benefit of all.
- Constructive Demonstration Strategies — Conflict resolution principles have much to teach advocates about how to demonstrate in ways that build rather than detract from support.