Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess
Co-Directors, Beyond Intractability Project, Conflict Information Consortium
Our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren depend upon finding wiser and more equitable ways of meeting a wide array of daunting conflict challenges. We need a mutli-faceted approach that simultaneously addresses at least ten tough challenges at the full scale and complexity of 21st century society. These include:
- Develop a Broadly-shared 21st Century Democratic Vision – We need, and do not now have, a broadly-shared image of the kind of society that we would all like to work toward – one that transcends partisan differences, builds on past ideals, addresses past injustices, and, above all, provides a framework for advancing our collective interests.
- Resist "Divide and Conquer" Politics – We need much better ways of preventing people from using sophisticated propaganda strategies to advance their selfish interests by deepening social divisions in ways that make it impossible for us to work together to pursue the common good.
- Limit Deception and Misunderstandings – We need more effective ways of correcting the highly polarized and often inaccurate and hostile images that the various social groups develop of one another based on today's complex system of "narrowcast" media and social networks.
- Work with Psychological Complexity – Rational arguments for more constructive approaches to conflict need to be adapted to better work with the complex neuropsychology of human thought with its less rational and more subjective decision-making.
- Scale-Up Small Group Processes – We need effective mechanisms for scaling up small group facilitation strategies to the point where they can produce transformative experiences in a mass media environment that is capable of reaching millions of citizens (who are also likely to be being bombarded with a great many destructive and escalatory conflict messages from malicious sources.
- Make Fact-Finding Work – More effective mechanisms are needed to help the public accurately understand social problems and evaluate the efficacy of possible solutions. This requires improved procedures for assuring that experts resist conflict-of-interest pressures and act in trustworthy ways that are, in turn, understood and trusted by the larger society.
- De-polarize and De-escalate Society – We desperately need strategies for defusing today's "us-versus-them" politics with its increasingly dehumanized, hateful, and potentially violent rhetoric. The goal can't be to hurt the "other" — we have to learn how to work together.
- Take Advantage of Mutually-Beneficial Opportunities – Collaborative skills and institutions need to be strengthened to the point where we can routinely take advantage of opportunities to advance both our individual and collective interests.
- Govern the Commons – We need institutions that effectively defend the social, economic, and environmental commons on which we and future generations depend. We also need institutions that protect individual rights and encourage us to fulfill the responsibilities that accompany those rights.
- Develop a Positive-Sum, Win-Win Economy – We need an economy that generates meaningful and dignified work for all and then equitably distributes the product of that work. The key to getting ahead can't simply be to find a clever way to take something from somebody else.
More information about these challenges is contained in our Full Statement on the Constructive Conflict Initiative