The Intractable Conflict Challenge

 
There are three guiding principles underlying the Beyond Intractability project:

Destructive Conflict is the Most Serious Threat to Our Common Future

It ruins personal lives, prevents us from solving common problems, and underlies dystopian trends toward authoritarianism, chaos, and large-scale violence.

Conflict Problems Are Extraordinarily Multifaceted and Complex

Successfully addressing the many challenges posed by destructive conflict will require a large-scale effort that mobilizes the full range of human ingenuity

We All Have a Role to Play In Promoting More Constructive Conflict

While it won't be easy, we all have to find the time and do what we can to help this effort (which means learning to distinguish what helps from what doesn't)

 

Constructive Conflict
Statement

Join us in calling for a dramatic expansion of efforts to limit the destructiveness of intractable conflict.

On our homepage, we now feature the above three statements highlighting our views regarding the critical nature of the intractable conflict problem, the need to address its full scale and complexity, and the importance of cultivating a much more broadly-based effort to address this problem. These ideas have guided our work on Beyond Intractability since its inception, but they are becoming increasingly important and apparent as destructive intractable conflicts increasingly seem to be exploding in so many societies (including the United States). In addition to causing immediate pain and damage, they are making us almost completely unable to address any of our pressing national or international problems. We explain each of these ideas a bit below. We also provide links to additional BI and external materials that explore the ideas further. 

These ideas also form the foundation for the Joint Statement (and shorter Summary Statement) that we are beginning to circulate with the goal of building support for a dramatic expansion of efforts to limit the destructiveness associated with intractable conflict. This is an effort that we are inviting  everyone to join and support. 

The Climate Change Precedent


We believe that the effort to address the conflict problem is roughly where the effort to address climate change was in the early 1980s. Then relatively small numbers of people were focused on the danger and the critical need to promote a very large-scale effort to address it. What is needed now is a process that parallels (and learns from) the evolution of the climate change movement. 

We need to bring together what we now know about the nature of intractable conflicts and strategies for addressing them.  As has been the case for climate change, we then need to promote a very large and multifaceted approach to the problem – one that includes basic and applied research, education and training, sophisticated policy analysis, moral leadership, grassroots political action, and adequate funding.

Please Join Us in a Joint Statement calling for a dramaic expansion of efforts to limit the destructiveness of intractable conflict.

Destructive Conflict is the Most Serious Threat to Our Common Future

It ruins personal lives, prevents us from solving common problems, and underlies dystopian trends toward authoritarianism, chaos, and large-scale violence.

Many people believe that climate change is the most serious threat now facing humanity. We assert that destructive intractable conflict is not only just as serious--but it is the underlying problem that is preventing us from successfully addressing climate change.  Similarly, our inability to constructively handle difficult conflict is preventing us from learning to successfully live in diverse communities and nations and it is preventing us from meeting the fundamental human needs of our fellow citizens (including not only physical needs, but also psycho-social needs such as the need for security and a secure identity). In the United States, it is preventing us from providing our citizens with good health care, good educations, and good jobs.  It is threatening our very sense of who we are and what kind of country we want to live in. These conflicts are also being exploited by unscrupulous political actors as part of a "divide and conquer" strategy that is taking us closer to plutocracy and authoritarianism. There is also the very real danger that these conflicts could escalate into even more destructive confrontations with the very real risk of large-scale violence.

A separate page, Destructive Conflict is the Most Serious Threat to Our Common Future, explores this topic in more detail, as does our new Constructive Conflict Statement and shorter Summary Statement.


Conflict Problems Are Extraordinarily Multifaceted and Complex

Successfully addressing the many challenges posed by destructive conflict will require a large-scale effort that mobilizes the full range of human ingenuity.

People tend to vastly over-simplify intractable conflicts, particularly if they are caught up in the conflict themselves.  There is a strong tendency to view such conflicts in simple terms: "us versus them", "good guys versus bad guys," or just "good versus evil."  With that view, the obvious way to go about dealing with the conflict is by attempting to decisively defeat the "bad guys" (and disempowering them to the point where they will no longer be able to effectively assert their "evil" positions"). This seldom works, however. The other side is virtually certain to fight back with all of the powers at its disposal --- leading to a continuing series of escalating and ever-more destructive confrontations.

In addition, such simple framing is almost always a gross oversimplification of a very complex set of problems. Differing understandings of "facts," different values, different attitudes, different cultures, different economic concerns, different educational levels, different religions, different cultures all give people different understandings about what the problem "is," and what should be done to address it.  All of these issues come into play as people try to address these conflicts, and then the interactions between the people, between the issues, and between the conflict dynamics cause these conflicts to spiral out of control quickly. Unless one makes a concerted effort to understand and work in and with the complexity of the conflict system, any response is almost certain to fail to achieve the desired outcome. 

Another separate page, Conflict Problems Are Extraordinarily Multifaceted and Complex, looks further into complexity and its implications, as does the introductory essay A Complexity-Oriented Approach to Intractable Conflict.


We All Have a Role to Play In Promoting More Constructive Conflict

While it won't be easy, we all have to find the time and do what we can to help this effort (which means learning to distinguish what helps from what doesn't).

Given the complexity and scale of these societal-level intractable conflicts, there is no way that any small group of individuals--no matter how talented, how powerful, how rich, or how well respected can possibly solve these problems for us. This problem is going to take a massive effort by almost everyone.  Each of ust must learn how we are contributing to the problem, and what we can do to change that.  We then ALL need to make the effort to make those changes--and to demand that our leaders change their approach as well. 

It will not be enough for us to simply be more understanding, respectful, and tolerant of one another – though that would certainly help.  We also need to enhance the constructiveness with which we address a lot of tough issues including, for example, debates over the appropriate response to the unrightable wrongs of the past, questions about how diverse communities can coexist and tolerate one another in spite of deeply-held differences, disagreements about fundamental facts (and the nature of expertise), and irreducible win-lose questions over who gets what. We must adopt much more constructive approaches to all of these issues and become civically active so these constructive approaches are not drowned out by the destructive approaches of would-be authoritarians and plutocrats.

This topic, too, is examined in more detail on a seperate page, We All Have a Role to Play In Promoting More Constructive Conflict