Sunday, July 22, 2012

Parsing the problem

Conflicts can be analyzed, they can be understood. Johan Galtung (2004, p. 7)
Why would we pull a computer apart and try to fix it without trying to understand what parts might be designed to perform which function? Yes, like taking a look under the hood and seeing a burst hose releasing steam, we can occasionally diagnose some problems with just our five senses and some innate logic, and the same is true for our goal of managing conflict constructively. Sometimes conflict forensics shows nothing more complex than the  momentary equivalent of a burst hose or frayed rope and we can patch it up.
But real conflict forensics are a deep science that no one has entirely explicated and that science will save humankind from itself if given the chance. If we can learn to analyze conflicts that tend to become destructive, we can learn to create alternative paths to constructive conflict management. Learning to properly determine causation, learning what is mere coincidental correlative, and learning what possible options for successful nonviolent and nondestructive management are challenges to humankind just as important as learning about cancer and heart disease.

Conflict accounting is a neglected science as well, and one that can prompt productive inquiry. What are the costs of particular methods of managing conflict and what are the benefits? We can examine that generically and we can examine specific conflicts both quantitatively and qualitatively as well. Displaying an accurate cost/benefit analysis for a conflict can help us prioritize the search for alternative methods of resolution.

Some shoots another human being, perhaps dozens of them in a crowded theater. The first leap is toward one's hobby horse explanation and cure. For me, that is getting rid of guns. For others it is beefing up theater security. For some it is eliminating video games and for others it is outlawing violent movies. Some will call for mandated mental health care. These are all worthy notions generically and yet, for the specific incident, some are irrelevant, some are extremely costly and only marginally applicable, while other factors would be crucial in mitigating or eliminating the damage.

This incident, the real tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, should be met with a team of expert conflict analysts, not just a traditional metal detector model of law enforcement analysis. The team should not be ideologically identifiable and should produce a series of recommendations with costs and benefits associated with each policy recommendation. That is how an intelligent society improves its handling and preventive conflict measures. Instead, of course, we see election year politics rush to foreground and single component focus. This is how a willy-nilly society handles it all. I hope we begin to think a bit systemically soon.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. 

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