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Polarization and D&D (NCDD listserv discussion archive)

This is an archive of a 2004 discussion on the NCDD Discussion list. This discussion on Polarization & D&D starts with Lars Hasselblad Torres’ response on July 26, 2004 to an introduction by new NCDD member David Hilditch, who wrote “I share with many of you a growing concern about the long term corrosive effects of polarization.”

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

David hi :: Great to have you on this list. This “two Americas” debate that is being raised in the news these days (drawing a lot on Stanley Greenberg’s work I think) is likely to be just as live an issue after the election.

It would be very interesting to brainstorm what else the growing “civic infrastructure” represented by NCDD can do to address this. I think the “Calling the Question” project is one you might enjoy being a part of?

There is another list member, Tom Atlee (sorry to call you out like that, Tom – sort of Wink who has been writing about polarization, but am less clear on the strategy, outcome. Perhaps you could introduce your thoughts on D&D and polarization here, Tom?

Best, Lars

On 7/26/04 9:15 AM, “NCDD Discussion – David Hilditch” wrote:

I have a strong interest in further extending my work in more public, deliberative-democratic directions. I share with many of you a growing concern about the long term corrosive effects of polarization (did anyone read the Sunday NY Times front page piece on that theme?)

Tom Atlee:

Hi, David, Thanks for the intro, Lars.

Given my interest in collective intelligence, I’m primarily interested in polarization as an impediment to us being smart and wise together. Not only does polarization break relationships, but it boxes our thinking in uncreative ways so we can’t hear each other or connect with the full range of info and options available. Polarization is a weird partner to conformity (groupthink) in blinding us to the full dimensions and complexity of the problems we face in our communities, societies, world.

All this was in the background of my work until I had an experience that made my own shortcomings in this regard fully real to me. So I’ve been making a study of it for several months, most of which has been written up on as Lars noted. I find the dynamics of polarization fascinating. The solution obviously needs to have dialogue and deliberation at its core, although there is much we could attend to, as well.

My final article in the current series will be about the relationship between intelligence/wisdom and force/violence: The more we understand someone/something the more we can work WITH them/it in ways that follow existing energies and serve all needs. Breaking down polarization by increasing understanding allows people to find allies and thinking partners and stimulation from all perspectives, thus increasing the collective intelligence available.

Of course, the more we can change the STRUCTURES of our political culture away from polarization and towards dialogue and deliberation, the more people will be able to deal with their own polarizing tendencies. As noted in the above articles, the majoritarian system is intrinsically adversarial and tends towards polarization as people narrow their thinking to rally around this or that flag in search of a majority. I suspect there are serious limits to how far we can counter polarization with grassroots dialogues if we don’t actually change the systemic structures we are living in — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push the grassroots dialogues as far as we can. It just means we should be doing BOTH.

That’s a quick view of where I’ve come to so far on this.

Coheartedly,
Tom

Steven Mantz:

Hi everyone. Thanks for raising this topic. I am glad to be discussing this, as I feel it goes right to the heart of some of the things which we are trying to do by joining this effort towards deliberation.

To me, my own (personally speaking) central goal is not to answer what role deliberation can take generally speaking, but rather, to what degree can deliberation serve as a specific response to the current specific political and historical situation in which we now find ourselves?

There are several answers to this. I feel there are several root causes to the nature of the political era in which we now find ourselves.

For example, the polarization which you mentioned. This is a very real phenomenon. It has much significance in our nation, and it has a few very specific causes.

To me, the central question to ask is, to what degree can deliberation offer a true alternative to the polarization which we currently see at the national level?

To what degree can it serve as an actual alternate process, not just a general ideal? To serve as a process which can truly address national issues, and offer specific, real solutions? To what degree can we make this idealism a truly effective and practical force for handling national problems?

(By the way, idealism here refers not to just some abstract virtue, but to a specific distinct philosophy, with its own way of approaching problems and issues and finding solutions.)

The current polarization has several forms and several causes. But it is not just a general atmosphere. It is a distinct deliberate ploy, I feel, by both parties to make sure they have an electoral base which will vote for them.

It is in the interest of both parties to identify issues which most divide them, rather than to seek consensus.

For example, take abortion, a very important and vital issue. It is in the interest of Republicans and Democrats to identify the narrowest points of disagreement, and hone in on them. This is called “energizing the base” but it really means highlighting differences.

This is no great secret; most voters are well aware of this. It still doesn’t bother them, because if you don’t believe there are any great problems to be solved, you don’t get bothered when both parties highlight divisiveness.

However one premise of the deliberative process is that there are actual substantial issues waiting to be dealt with, not just a series of partisan debates and competitions in which you’re either with the red team or the blue team.

So part of our problem is to make clear that those broad basic issues actually exist, and what they are. To make clear that there actually are definable solutions. That a process of defining these and brining resources to bear can actually yield results, not just highlight various abstract virtues.

The next step is to make clear we actually offer a process which can bring different players together and putting actual solutions on the table.

For example, in the case of Iraq, our goal would be to show that this is not just a debate about whether Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa. This should actually be a debate about the broad range of problems facing the Third World, and how we can bring our resources to bear to spread democracy and build economic prosperity.

I mean this in a very practical sense, not just as some exercise to be more conciliatory or more well-intentioned. There are actual, concrete ways that the United States can bring its resources to bear to spread democracy and economic success. By bringing different players together, such as from business or science, we could find out what resources there are and how to bring them to bear.

This is just an example. But it is not just some optimistic scenario. And is actually not such a new topic or issue.

This was actually a very familiar issue during the days of the Peace Corps, and during the Cold War. It was very common then to have a discussion then about the Third World, because it was obvious at that time why we needed to discuss it. The Cold War made it necessary for us to be involved in the whole world, and to find ways to build respect for our values, and to counteract Communism and various dictators.

The Peace Corps, thus, was simply a positive way of going towards a goal which the whole nation had already accepted anyway. However, once the Cold War ended, there was no longer an obvious reason for us to be involved around the world. So the discussion of such things ended, for as simple a reason as that.

Do you see now why I think deliberation can actually be an alternate process for addressing issues, not just some well-intentioned attempt for adding certain values to existing ones? There are some issues which were once entirely accepted by the mainstream. Yet they have now disappeared from the national discourse, simply because the crisis which highlighted them is over. They were thus discarded, simply because it was in the interest of the two main parties to do so.

Yet they remain just as valid now as they were then. And as the current conflict in the Mideast makes clear, issues like that are capable of becoming just as relevant once again.

There is no better gift we could give for those who want to keep politics as usual, then to allow ourselves to fixate on a discussion of whether Pres. Bush did or didn’t do the right thing in Iraq.

Our main goal and tendency should always be to look beyond the current issues, and partisan debates, to look at the actual broader issues which are actually facing us. And also to look at full range of positive options, ideas, and methods which exist for facing them.

By doing so, we have the potential to look at issues which are just as relevant, but will have to wait a few more months or years to appear so. But we have the ability to be a bit ahead of the curve, simply by looking at what the problems actually are, instead of looking at whichever issues are currently serving as the latest litmus test, or as the latest rallying-point for some partisan idea.

By doing so, we can add something really constructive to the national debate, and create a national process which could have an importance and relevance all its own. Thanks for giving us the chance to discuss this topic.

Steve

Amanda Rowe:

Hello all. I have been reading about this polarization and its effect on Discussion and Deliberation, but I find myself thinking that polarization is a symptom of a larger human trait that is inherent in any individual, regardless if they even have a political platform of any kind, and that trait is Ego.

One thing I notice about our local politics is that Political Platform is very rarely brought up. However, the way people feel about certain issues can tell you a lot about the political slanting of an individual…Except there is a huge division occurring within our City Council right now and the root of the problem is that neither side is really willing to listen to the other person’s perspective. It has absolutely nothing to do with Democrat / Republican / Etc..and everything to do with “I’m right, you’re wrong”; “My interpretation is correct you are stupid.”

Of course none of them come right out and say any of this, and if you asked them they would sincerely disagree with you. But if you tuned in each week to the council meetings and discuss issues with individual council like I do, you see this is very apparent. What is terrible is they all actually believe they are working as a team!

I am not sure how true this is on a more National Level of Governance, but it is definitely the case in the Local Scene. The first step I try to work on is humility and humbleness.

We currently have 3 of our 7 city council and Mayor actively participating in our online community forums, and a 4th one is beginning to see the benefits of reaching out to their constituency. One outright can’t stand us, one sort of acknowledges us and one thinks we are totally insignificant. We also have a Candidate for the State Representative Seat actively participating on the site too.

We are starting to show them, with physical evidence around the community that humbling yourself and at least attempting a “meeting of the minds” is in their best interest as well as the interests of the community. It is a good first step that I believe has the potential to spill into larger governmental arenas.

Rex Barger:

Amanda hit it! Polarization “has absolutely nothing to do with Democrat / Republican / Etc…and everything to do with “I’m right, you’re wrong”; “My interpretation is correct & you are stupid.”

I (Rex Barger) call it ‘arrogance’ & I see it as the cause of most of our current troubled spots. The prerequisite for healthy D&D is humility (as Amanda says)! And what helps me embrace humility eagerly is my awareness that we all make unintentional mistakes. [There is no such thing as an ‘intentional mistake’ although there is certainly plenty of intentional harm!] What too many people don’t seem to recognize is that, because of our unavoidable interconnectedness, any harm we cause will(eventually) harm us too. So the other prerequisite for healthy D&D is universal care.

I like what Kenoli says: »I want to live already in the world I dream about.” Me, too! So I try to follow Gandhi’s advice: Do it, because that is what makes change happen!

Rex Barger
Hamilton, Ontario

P.S. Amanda, I have a daughter that lives in Chicago & Kenoli, I visited Kenya when I was 8, on my way from the Congo where I was born to the USA.

William Potapchuk:

Greetings. I am intrigued by this discussion on polarization. With my training in conflict analysis and resolution . . . I would suggest that dominant process we are talking about is social conflict . . . a normal and ordinary human phenomena . . . it is part of how societies, communities and relationships evolve . . . . it is the handling of conflict . . .and whether we use destructive or constructive processes for handing conflict . . . that we are seeking to influence polarization is a process within conflict that often causes conflict to escalate . . . it makes it easier to make a point about the other side . . . it stereotypes . . . it reduces ambiguity . . . it shrinks the middle ground . . .

we can say we dislike the polarization that we seen now in the US . . . but we should also recognize that polarization was one of the successful strategies in the battles for civil rights . . . for a cleaner environment . . . for ending apartheid . . . and for prevailing in many, many elections . . .

One role of D&D (and only one of many) is to de-polarize and de-escalate conflict . . . so we can _________________ (there are many ways to fill in that blank about goals or aims), but I think we need to recognize that participating in a depolarization and de-escalation process is a political choice . . . a strategic choice for the participants . . a choice which they may see is not to their strategic advantage or and in fact may be symbolically be seen as yielding their moral higher ground . . .

further . . the choice to participate is often in the context of a “prisoner’s dilemma” . . . where if I choose to participate first . . . I show weakness and pay the price . . .

so to go back to Steven’s questions:

To me, the central question to ask is, to what degree can deliberation offer a true alternative to the polarization which we currently see at the national level?

To what degree can it serve as an actual alternate process, not just a general ideal? To serve as a process which can truly address national issues, and offer specific, real solutions? To what degree can we make this idealism a truly effective and practical force for handling national problems?

and to reflect on the email discussion . . . it is much easier to envision the use of D&D as a primary process when there is a problem to be solved . . . the future of a neighborhood . . . the future of social security . . . . . . etc . . .

it is much more difficult envision the use D&D as the primary process for addressing human rights issues in lieu of polarization and conflict escalation . . . it is indeed the presence of polarization and escalation that puts the issue on the table and creates the need for our work . . .

best to all . . . Bill

1. polarize, polarise — (cause to vibrate in a definite pattern; “polarize light waves”)

2. polarize, polarise — (cause to concentrate about two conflicting or contrasting positions)

3. polarize, polarise — (become polarized in a conflict or contrasting situation)

Bill Potapchuk
Community Building Institute

Kenoli Oleari:

Here is a reply to my last comment from my friend and colleague, Marc Tognotti. He and I are working to set up a network of neighborhood assemblies like he describes in San Francisco. Anyone want to join us around the world?

Status: U From: “Marc Tognotti” To: “kenoli Oleari” Subject: RE: Polarization and D&D Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2004 23:52:30 -0700

Kenoli writes about a fellow who says “polarization” is a useful tool, essential to a “cycle” of “checks and balances.”

But a key thing to notice about such a view of polarization is that it’s coming from a very non-polarized perspective. In other words, as soon as you start talking about two poles and a “cycle” that involves both of them, you are talking holistically. You are talking about the poles in terms of their relationship to one another, which means you are talking from a non-polarized perspective that sees the distinct poles as part of a single system. Someone writing from within a polarized perspective, someone who insists on his “side” being the only “right” side, would be talking about the threat posed by the enemy — not about the usefulness of the enemy.

The idea of a system of “checks and balances” that benefits from internal oppositions is nothing new. It’s part of the well-known logic used by the Founding Fathers in writing the U.S. Constitution. The Founders sought to set up a self-stabilizing system by dividing up power in all sorts of ways: they divided the federal government functionally into three mutually-checking branches, legislative, executive and judicial; they divided the legislature into two houses, the Senate and the House; they preserved the independent sovereignty of the separate States, while at the same time confederating them into a Union, and so forth. The tensions between the diverse branches, between the houses of Congress, between the States and the Federal government were intended to help keep the whole system from swaying off course, and to develop a more powerful collective voice along the path of reciprocal agreement.

Talking about this logic of checks and balances in terms of polarization tends to suggest the antagonism of two sides only. That’s reductive. Systems of checks and balances are typically grounded in a greater degree of plurality than mere pro and con. For instance, two sides oppose one another and a third acts as umpire. Or a large group of individuals agrees not to carry out any collective action unless there is consensus, or majority agreement. The more legs you have under your seat, the more stable it’s going to be. Let’s not limit ourselves to “preserving polarization.” Instead, we should seek to institute a steadily growing plurality. I would venture to say that the more plurality a culture can cohesively embrace, the more powerful, exciting and happy that culture will be. Like a flower that grows more petals. Or a mosaic that mosaics.

But let’s go back to the prior line of reasoning for a moment. We might ask ourselves, what’s the alternative to what Kenoli’s speaker calls “polarization”? The implied alternative seems to be a non-polarized or mono-polar “unity” in which no discord or opposition arises. The only way you can achieve that is through some form of monarchy or dictatorship. The one thing a monarch can’t abide is disagreement with her opinion. If you set up a monopolar or absolutist form of government, you set up a situation in which you have to maintain unity by squashing opposition. What Kenoli’s speaker seems to be saying is that polarization, or two poles, is better than one.

Via Gramsci, Kenoli takes it another step, asking How can we institutionalize polarization within a polity in order to avoid senseless cycles of repression and revolution, where the group in power at any specific time always generates the (polar) opposition that eventually overturns and replaces it, and so on ad infinitum?

The ancients had identified the same problem. Polybius, among others, argued that successive regimes based on monopolar rulership followed a particular pattern. Monarchs, he said, typically grew into oppressive tyrants until they were overturned by a group of aristocrats. When aristocratic rule became oppressive, it would typically be overturned by the people, who would set up a democracy in which the majority dominated. Democracy was then eventually corrupted by demagogues such that democracies devolved back into monarchies or tyrannies once again. Thus the cycle would start all over. As long as unity is conceived as depending on a single power-wielding person or group, you set up the conditions for a continual succession of rulers, one overturning the next.

The classical solution to this problem–e.g. Republican Rome–was to devise institutional structures that contain and even thrive on internal opposition and difference of opinion, that are polyarchical rather than monarchical, that seek to forge unity on the foundation of assured perpetual disunity. As I was saying, this idea underlies the U.S. Constitution and the often repeated American motto, “E pluribus unum,” meaning “one from many” in such a way that the many is never eliminated, but always preserved along with the unity. Unity in plurality, plurality in unity.

Here, the Americans borrowed from the ancients. Polybius and others had devised the notion of a “mixed republic” that would incorporate all three forms of “monopolar” government together into one “tripolar” polity. An executive (or monarch), a legislature (or aristocracy) and the people (or democracy) would share and balance power out among themselves to help create a more stable and powerful collective. Some people have defined a republic as that form of government in which power is carefully distributed, structured and balanced so that no one “rules” anyone else, where power is instead created through collaboration of separate and equal powers.

According to this perspective, the reciprocal checks and balances between the separate powers don’t merely serve to moderate extremes. The intention isn’t gridlock, but to let more power into the system. Why waste heat by having power and anti-power keep trading places? Let’s set up a structure where everyone can stoke the common fire so it burns hotter. So there is more power. The well-designed republic is an engine of collective power.

Paradoxically, this logic and its historical precedents suggest that the way to greater public unity and collective power, rather than to force more unity through ever more consolidation and centralization, may be to create more divisions of a certain kind.

Power in today’s world exists on many levels, from the local to the global. In the past century, the powers on the global side of the scale have seen extraordinary growth, while local bonds — face to face communities of neighbors — have suffered as a result. (To take just one example, look how television has caused the local capillaries of our political party systems to whither. Or look at how small, independent business owners are disappearing in the face of competition from global chains.) Because the global side of the power structure has become overgrown and gigantistic, we feel there is an urgent need to restore power to the local side of the scale. Multinational corporations have grown so giant and powerful that they are leaguing together, in organizations such as the WTO, on a scale much larger than the boundaries of the American Republic or any other government. With this, as many commentators have remarked, the United States as a polity and other nations are losing a measure of their sovereignty. With all this growth of power at the remote level of global economics, we need to organize more power at the local level. Hence, we need to extend the principle of the republic farther down the scale. With the migration of economic power upward, we need to push political power downward.

That’s why we are proposing neighborhood assemblies. We think that the megacities formed in America since the industrial era could become more internally cohesive and powerful, and reconnect people to politics, if they were to add neighborhood assemblies to their existing power structures. Neighborhood assemblies could be to cities something like the States are to the federal government, they could help to undergird a representative system grown too distant from the people. A beauty of this proposal is that it doesn’t propose to destroy anything, it only proposes to add a new power to the world. The principle of America is the principle of the republic. We are simply asking that we put more America into America.

Some think American Democracy is failing, others think it’s merely flailing. With a recovery of the republican principle, the American beacon will shine brighter in the world. The meaning of America to foreign peoples should not consist in a forced or imposed way of life or economic system, but in a standing for the right of local self-determination for all. Local self-determination, across the globe. We call it “glocalization.”

—–Original Message—–

From: kenoli Oleari Sent: Thursday, July 29, 2004 8:59 AM To: NCDD Discussion Subject: Re: Polarization and D&D

I heard someone on the radio the other day suggesting that polarization may be a useful tool and that it has played constructive role in American history. He described a cycle of checks and balances where some direction of power reached an extreme and then was pulled back by polarized opposition which then was able to bring the country back onto a more reasonable path. He used the current situation with Bush as an example, i.e. Bush has gone past a boundary and a natural force has polarized to pull him back. I think he was not sure how one could accomplish “regime change” without the power of polarization.

Another example is Kenya where an oppressive regime finally resulted in rallying enough opposition that a coalition formed that was able to overthrow it, in this case peacefully. Because they were able to rally such a large movement, the oppressive regime capitulated to an election defeat rather than trying to force their hand. However, the compromises necessary to build the coalition resulted in the election of a candidate for president that seems to be going down the path of his predecessor and betraying the peaceful “revolution.”

I think there is something here to be learned from Gramsci, an Italian communist who posited two necessary stages in revolution. The first is the one that we generally identify with revolution, namely the sudden reversal of power. This can happen through armed struggle, through changes like that in Kenya or the current dynamic in the US. However, this is not enough, says Gramsci. There also needs to be a change in the institutions. As in Kenya, there may be a change in power, but if the structure doesn’t change, what will keep whoever is in power from continuing the oppressive mechanisms firmly established in the institutions.

The second, institutional change, according to Gramsci must take place over time and needs to take place within the entire system, the “establishment” elements and the “revolutionary” elements. I suspect that what we are doing in Dialog and deliberation, the neighborhood assemblies work I am involved in, Tom Atlee’s co-intelligence work and other places is to work on the institutional change aspect. And, there is also the need for shifts in power. I think of the Jerry Brown governorship in California and, to some extent the Jimmy Carter regime in Washington. During these periods, there were more resources available for community based and community initiated projects. There were a lot of institutional changes that were made, because mainstream resources became available for these changes. So, there is some relationship between shifts in power and the ability to make institutional change.

Many of us dream about a new day, with new responsive, collaborative institutions that can respond to realities, make changes, all through some different process that doesn’t require polarization. A key question for us is “How do we get there?” A struggle for me is that I don’t have a taste for building influence in existing institutions. It is hard for me to either work from within to make these changes (I get frustrated and it seems to require too much compromise) or from without (this involves so much confrontation and frustrated displays of power-and polarization). I want to live already in the world I dream about.

So how do we deal with all of this? There may be some necessary stages of polarization in our path toward utopia. In Kenya many people died and many spent years in jail, some returning to act effectively for a massive change that now seems betrayed. I recently heard a noir novelist say that life was for all of us what it has always been for Blacks, native Americans and other disenfranchised classes, a discovering of how to get up each day and act courageously and creatively in the face of what is repeatedly a hopeless situation. I’m not sure if he is being cynical or hopeful. The situation we face sometimes seems like this.

I think we know more about our vision than our tactic for getting there. How do we reconcile the need for dealing with a quite “unpleasant” world (to quote Krishnamurti) and an urge to move toward the light? Ghandi seemed to blend these two and then was killed for his effort to neutralize the polarization between Hindu and Islam. He did achieve regime change. Did he achieve institutional change? What is our tactic?

–Kenoli Oleari
Horizons of Change

Steven Mantz:

Hi Kenoli. I would like to thank you for offering this suggestion. In response, I would like to say, when people get an offer like this, they almost always want to ask a lot of questions, such as, what will this mean, what is the aim of this group, does it match other groups, etc. In response to this, I would like to simply say, I am totally in favor of this group.

There are many groups which try to achieve this sort of idea. However, in many ways, none achieve exactly the type of approach which we have here in this group. So by all means, if you feel this list reflects certain features and goals which seem unique, please feel free to make it the vehicle for some of your local community efforts. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that.

For the rest of you, Kenoli’s email raises a good point. This is an ongoing concern of mine. Yes, I realize that there are many groups already addressing deliberation and governance. But the question for me, which I alluded to before, to what degree do they reflect a true “structural” commitment to deliberation. In other words, to what degree are they treating deliberation not just as an exercise or an ideal, but as a true process for addressing issues in a systematic way, within an overall structure capable of getting a comprehensive, definitive view of community views, and of processing. Forwarding them into real community proposals?

I feel this should be an ongoing concern of ours, and an ongoing topic.

For example, I have looked at several organizations listed at thatway.org. Many of them seem extremely devoted to deliberation, but mainly as an exercise in communication. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m just saying we need both. While as another example, I just took at Lars’ organization, America Speaks. It seems like a great organization, devoted to deliberation on a fundamental and comprehensive basis. I didn’t even realize I could visit this until I found the link in one of Lars’ recent emails. Thanks…great group, Lars!

So I was glad to find the group. I’m well aware that many of the exact concerns which I voiced above may already have been fully and thoroughly dealt with by one or more organizations, and my unfamiliarity with them may just be due to my own lack of contact. All I’m, saying is that we should strive to share information from this point of view, and let each other know when a comprehensive effort such as this is taking shape, by providing view from the inside or from experience. I think that could be a great use of this group. Hope you agree. Thanks.

Steve

Marilyn Saunders:

Hi All, What a challenge to write a 100 word biosketch! I include that and then some expansion for those who want to read further. I look forward to meeting many of you in October in Denver.

Marilyn Saunders, PhD, psychotherapist and business/life coach in private practice since 1978, specializes in imagery, dialogue, and communication/relationship skills. A former Peace Corps Volunteer, she has been active in the World Future Society, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and the Spiral Dynamics community. Dr. Saunders has had a long time interest in the importance of context and story and sees our current time as one of enormous evolutionary potential and expanding global consciousness. Her current interests include globalization, integral theory, conflict transformation, various uses of dialogue methods, and working with others to create a future that works for all.

I’m currently mostly on sabbatical from my private practice exploring the world to see what I want to do with this next phase of my life. I have just completed a year long mostly distance-learning course on Conflict Transformation Across Cultures with the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT which included a week field seminar in Bosnia. I rediscovered my love of travel and being in learning groups. This summer I attended a four day international, intergenerational peace camp in New Mexico and am about to leave for a seminar on globalization at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island in Washington State. My work with couples has heightened my understanding of the importance of listening as well as speaking responsibly and I am longing for more involvement and work with dialogue and with this community dedicated to dialogue and deliberation. For more about me please visit my website at ‪www.skillsforthe21stcentury.com‬ (although this describes more where I have been than where I’m going). Again, I look forward to meeting many of you in Denver and would welcome contact with any of you in the Washington, DC area.

Marilyn Saunders, PhD ‪
www.skillsforthe21stcentury.com‬

Let’s keep moving this amazing, emerging, world of ours toward more justice, compassion, ecological sustainability, and fun

Rex Barger:

I like your “glocalization”. It’s even more succinct than my creation: ‘globalocal’. I use it to point up the importance of acting locally but thinking globally.

Everyone, what I really want to talk about is whether or not polarization (arrogance) is ever a reasonable tactic. I agree that in the civil rights struggle, the situations got pretty polarized but it wasn’t the people I participated with who caused polarization; it wasn’t a ‘tactic’. I can’t imagine deliberate polarization ever being useful. We, for the most part, did our best to de-polarize by being non-violent. We didn’t want to ‘beat’ those who differed. We just wanted to be heard in our efforts to be in tune with our total reality.

I’ve just been reading Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil & his efforts to depolarize in Rawanda. He despaired of ever having enough Military Observers looking for trouble spots to prevent serious harm before it occurred. That’s when it occurred to me that in my ideal world, we all need to be on the lookout for possible trouble & we need to have a plan for how to deal with it (or at least to whom we should report). It would be helpful too if we had access to appropriate tools to deal with those who seemed determined to cause harm anyway without incapacitating them for participating in D&D.

But let me back up a bit to see if my view of our common reality can shed a little more light on why D&D is so important. By accepting the gift of life, I also accepted the responsibility of learning how to cope with our common reality in ways that I hope will keep me healthy & (since all life is so interconnected) in ways that might also contribute to the health of our WHOLE globalocal community. An interesting thing about reality that I am learning is that reality always seems to have the last word! It’s our most reliable & toughest ‘teacher’. It helps us to learn by letting us make mistakes. But we still have to figure out for ourselves what the lessons are it is trying to teach. Every notion we get needs to be confirmed by actual experience. But we still need to DELIBERATE & DIALOGUE with as many others as possible. My little light by itself is pretty weak so (as one of my favorite songs says) “Come, let us join our many golden flickerings & create one light! Together! Forever!”

So, healthy D&D cannot happen in the presence of arrogance. We all need to stay humble (no matter how ‘sure’ we are that we are ‘right’!)! We all need to stay alert for possible trouble (like good watch dogs). We all need to protect as best we can our own lives & the WHOLE of the biosphere that supports life. We all need to fix whatever we can in order to keep the whole system healthy. And we all need to use our creativity to make sure every passenger on our whirling world gets a happy ride!

And we should not wait until everybody agrees with us before we start.

Steven Mantz:

Hi Bill. Just wanted to say thanks so much for your input. It’s good to have help in working on these questions. You make a good point about the ways polarization is sometimes a necessary part. I guess my main problem is when polarization is used not to address injustice, or not to highlight inequity, but rather to draw divisions, where there aren’t any, within a cohesive community, or to eliminate genuine alternatives (real ones, not just window-dressing) just to create a political litmus test.

Christopher McMullen:

Hi Bill, Steven, and everyone! What a rich discussion…by the number of responses I think we’ve hit a rich vein — so rich it’s hard to know where to begin. Having said that I will begin with a metaphor.

I own one of those auto focus cameras, as do many people. The focusing mechanism works well under most situations if you remember that the sensor has to be on an item that contains contrast in order to focus. While this is similar to human sight (snow blindness occurs from such a lack) it is far weaker than human sight. Essentially, the camera cannot perceive without there being inherent contrast in the subject.

This leads me to point that I feel sometimes gets lost, and here I will distinguish conflict from polarity. I define conflict as any type of contrast between perspectives, needs, etc. Polarities are high-contrast by nature. I would argue that conflict is an important and necessary component of life, but in the terms of human society polarities result in from conflicts that haven’t been resolved. It is a ‘self-correcting’ dynamic (and I use that term loosely) to increase the contrast between the positions so that the conflict can be addressed. Points of conflict are learning opportunities but that knowledge can’t be learned until the conflict is engaged and resolved. Think of the creation of an alloy from two elements: the elements are apart — “polarized” or “in conflict” until we work with them both. The result is a new substance made up of yet distinct from the elements of which it is made. With it we are able to do things beyond the capability of the component elements.

Back to polarities in the social realm: as polarities result from continued escalation a natural corrective strategy is to de-escalate. However, social conflicts are rarely as simple or mechanistic as they are portrayed, especially when the conflict becomes polarized. The dynamic of polarization which was helpful in bringing the issue to the attention of the larger, myopic community (pun intended) can become dysfunctional when it devolves to the language of “enemies”, “right and wrong”, and positions. This is exacerbated in the West by our perception of the universe — natural and man-made components — as dichotomous. Everything is reduced to a high-contrast duality which subsequently gets labeled “good” or ‘bad’ — yet another duality.

The problem, I feel, is twofold: one, the inability to detect conflicts at an early stage and engage them to tease out the learning and transformation. The second is to view hot conflicts as bipolar instead of mulitpolar: this narrowing of the discussion ensures that there are parts of the conflict which are left unaddressed. These unaddressed components (you guessed it!) then escalate and themselves become polarized in an attempt to attract attention. The fruit of a conflict contains the seeds of future conflicts. How we deal with both the fruit and the seeds determines what types of conflicts we will have — and whether they will be helpful/relatively easy to deal with, or difficult.

For me the role of D&D is to help people discern areas of low-level conflict and engage them. Many conflicts are manageable when at their early stages, especially if caught before the point where people begin to personalize the conflict, become entrenched, and demonize/de-humanize the other side.

D&D also allows — in the midst of hot, polarized conflicts — to reintroduce and lay out the multipolarity of conflicts so that the present situation can be handled better AND capture the learning from “minority” viewpoints which helps reduce future conflicts or continuations. It restores the complexity in a way that people can hear it, and applies the collective resolve to transformation (of the group or conflict, usually both).

Finally, D&D can be used to ‘pull back’ a conflict by getting the polarized sides to re-humanize the others. (Maggie, are you still out there?) By restoring a healthy relationship between the parties it removes some of the more unhealthy aspects of conflict — escalation to violence, for example.

Conflict is necessary for us to live and grow. Polarization is a way to bring an issue into better focus so that the collective can better see it. D&D is a means for engaging conflict and dealing with polarization in ways that are (hopefully) helpful and beneficial to the parties concerned.

Thanks for the rich discussion,
Christopher

Margaret Herzig:

Hi Christopher and other folks. Christopher, yes, I’m following the discussion with interest but somewhat unevenly depending on how many emails I am faced with (it seems that every list I’m on is active now!). Here’s what I’ve been thinking.

I think that debates do what Christopher described. They heighten contrast. Debate can be a wonderful tool especially when those who listen to debates want to know what others feel is at stake when a decision needs to be made, and what some of the arguments are for going in one direction or another. There are many social issues that are quite complicated and it can be useful – especially when the controversy is relatively new – to have people who especially care about those issues clarify why it matters to them and why they think others should share their concerns or priorities.

I would label a controversy “polarized” when the pro/con frame dominates public discourse on that issue to the point where it’s hard to see or speak about complexities and when the costs of the pro/con frame on that issue at that time outweigh the benefits, i.e., when the debates are not helping people gain new understanding, when they’re repetitive and sloganistic and demonizing of the other side, and when they actually block new learning or new appreciation of the complexities of the issues – and when they block fresh thinking about possible solutions. It occurs to me that with this definition it’s possible that someone who is newly paying attention to a particular controversy (e.g. stem cell research) and someone who has followed it closely for months could have different experiences watching the same televised debate, with one learning something new and describing the debate as useful – not too “polarized” – and the other bored and annoyed with the predictability and over-simplification of the “polarized” debate – though both might label it polarized if the tone was disrespectful. So I think there are 2 elements: informational (level of simplification or “spin”) and relational. Polarization has particularly steep costs when the relationships between the speakers or “sides” are so driven by distrust and enmity that when citizens listen to debates they aren’t just hearing “heightened contrasts” and over – simplification, they are being misled by fudged facts or mind spinning logic or they’re having their emotions manipulated. I think that D and D can be useful preventively and as a means of de-escalation. When a controversy is new, different formats or conversation styles can be offered so that people can engage with the issues in a satisfying manner, to be heard, and/or simply to hear others while one sorts out one’s own beliefs. And in those conversations that take the form of a debate, care can be taken to enhance respectful speaking and guard against misrepresentation and unnecessary over-simplification.

When a controversy is beginning to get polarized or is seriously stuck, the benefits of dialogue are clear. (I know less about deliberation than I do about dialogue.) In dialogue, uncertainties are invited, as well as certainties; personal stories, commitments, values and connections are encouraged as opposed to simpler representational speaking; a safe, respectful, empathic relational environment is supported; and the concerns, dreams, needs and fears underlying the “positions” are revealed and engaged.

Perhaps we could view debate and dialogue as 2 good medicines, both useful in certain conditions but the “pharmacies of our public life” are fully stocked with one medicine – debate -and they have high demand for that medicine (especially by media outlets wanting instant drama), while few “pharmacies of public life” stock or get requests for the other. Even a good medicine used for the wrong situation can cause harm. Dialogue can be a good medicine (preventively, for promoting civic health) and a good antidote when over-used or inappropriately-used debate has caused harm.

Looking forward to more discussion on the list and at the conference in October.

Maggie Herzig
Public Conversations Project
Watertown, MA

Christopher McMullen:

Hi Maggie and everyone! Thanks, Maggie, for your succinct description: I feel you stated it clearly. Again I feel that polarization is part of a process that could lead to understanding but too often groups get stuck there: then the position and scoring “points” against the other side becomes paramount. I also like what you have to say about different people watching the same event and one seeing it as informational and the other as polarized. I think that is an important observation and I also think that such a perspective might require an approach to polarization that doesn’t demonize it as it just as well could be the result of our own (higher) level of development. Thanks for that bit of complexity!!

An interesting movie that I thought conveyed the essential elements of this discussion was “Control Room” where the various governments became polarized. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or how much the protagonists were above the system and saw the polarity for what it was: and what can happen to the ‘neutral’ (read facilitator, ambassador, peacemaker, mediator, etc) who comes in to the polarized situation and starts naming what is going on.

Peace to each of you, Christopher

Steven Mantz:

Hi everyone. This article happened to catch my eye a while ago. This is an example of how the United States is charting a new course in the area of international development, and is taking its first hesitant steps towards the goal of making a real difference in these regions.

Is this a credible effort? Is it being managed in the right way? There is no way to know. Since the entire public debate has hinged on arguments over the original case for going into Iraq, there is no alternate viewpoint on how we should actually get positively involved in this part of the world.

Hopefully, this type of effort will be seen as an issue in its own right, with its own debate.

I suppose it would be nice if we could have some sort of idealistic debate about how best to sponsor electric projects or various idealistic undertakings. However, I’m afraid such debates would be dismissed as hopelessly imperialistic, eg, British-in-India styles debates, by the Democrats, while the Republicans–at least, those outside the Administration–might dismiss it as hopelessly sentimental, optimistic, and overly activist and unrealistic. There are still many of them who do not believe in large expenditures on public goals, or other sorts of things.

There’s nothing usually surprising about any lack of public attention; most media coverage stays within the area of simplistic partisan battles. The complex issues within Congress or the executive usually do not get into the news. The problem here is that this issue is the crux of the current debate, but is not being explored with a diversity of views. We only have the choice of one party which feels the US can act assertively, but that it does not need to overly address issues like economic development, and the other party, which believes we should care about the finer issues, but which doesn’t believe the US has the right to act assertively.

There are certain basic decisions to be made in this area. We need to reach a public decision on our goals, and the methods to use. Ideally, both parties would seek to add their own ideas to this issue. Eventually, they probably will, just as both parties took positions on how to advance our values during the Cold War. Hopefully, this will occur soon, and not wait for another problem to cause us to turn our attention more to this.

Steve

Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Rebuilding Iraq, a Well at a Time Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004 09:04:56 -0400 (EDT)

The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by ‪sm890.geo@yahoo.com‬.

Here is that article.

‪sm890.geo@yahoo.com‬

“Rebuilding Iraq, a Well at a Time”

July 20, 2004 By JAMES GLANZ

MOSUL, Iraq, July 17 – Across the hardscrabble Iraqi countryside, dozens of modest construction initiatives, many so tiny and inexpensive that they could be called microprojects, are generating at least a taste of the good will that Congress envisioned when it approved billions of dollars for grandiose rebuilding plans that have mostly been delayed.

Typical of the little projects is a hole in the ground that was being dug last week by an ungainly contraption, chugging along with big, spinning wheels and an enormous weight that smacked the muddy earth again and again outside the isolated village of Khazna, south of Mosul.

The machine was gouging out a well as part of a civil reconstruction program led by American military forces stationed here in the north of Iraq, financed mostly by Iraqi oil revenues.

As a convoy of big armored vehicles picked their way, rut by rut, over the village’s zigzagging lanes toward the well, the dubious scene easily evoked the skepticism that has dogged the rebuilding effort all over the country.

But then a villager named Rabaa Saleh, standing among the swarms of children who had run out to meet the vehicles, gave his view of the proceedings.

“It makes people think good things are on the way,” Mr. Saleh said through a translator. “When this well is done, each time somebody takes a drink of water they will say the Americans did something good.”

Still, while local citizens like Mr. Saleh say they appreciate the work and are willing to credit Americans for paying for it, they often do not want to see Western faces at the projects themselves, fearing terrorist attacks and general hostility from ordinary Iraqis. At a ribbon-cutting for a major school renovation in Mosul on that same morning, the city’s education director refused to invite the American officers who had financed the project.

The man digging the well in Khazna was a Syrian Kurd subcontractor. That project will cost the United States Army just $35,000 and affect no more than a couple of hundred lives in a dusty village that has never had its own well.

It is hardly a match for the ambitious program of $18.4 billion approved by Congress last fall for rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, money funneled largely through nonmilitary government agencies and major American contractors.

But for various reasons, ranging from the lack of security in Iraq to bureaucratic red tape, the projects in that huge pot of money have taken so much longer to begin than initially promised that Iraqis – those who have heard about the work at all – often have a hard time believing that they will ever really happen.

Around Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq, the American military, whether through wisdom or sheer luck, has hit upon an approach that seems able to overcome that skepticism, at least locally.

From building a new soil laboratory to making improvements at a famous archaeological site to repairing a single elevator in a hospital, the projects are all small, fast and undertaken in response to a highly specific needs identified by local Iraqis.

The army here is working on dozens of projects, using about $20 million in financing, although that number constantly shifts as new sources of money are identified. Until the new Iraqi government took over on June 28, for example, the projects were financed from Iraqi oil revenues, and some of that money is still being spent. A little over $5 million, from the Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid program, is being split among 113 projects involving water supplies, sewers, wells and clinics.

The approach may be generating some of the good will that has been so elusive for America and its allies in a nation based on identification with neighborhood and clan. The results also come with the uncomfortable suggestion that the expensive rebuilding plan approved by Congress may never have the impact that lawmakers envisioned when they appropriated so much money.

“At the end of the day, it is about the small things that touch people’s lives,” said Nesreen M. Siddeek Berwari, the minister of municipalities and public works in the new Iraqi government. “The big billions number that has been mentioned doesn’t mean much.”

That sentiment certainly seems to hold true at the Nimrud archaeological site, south of Mosul, where a $28,000 grant to refurbish what remains of an ancient Assyrian capital has brought it several steps back from garbage-strewn chaos, said Muzamim Mahmoud, director of the Mosul museum and antiquities director for the province.

Walking proudly among the ancient chambers lined with huge bas-reliefs of kings and servants and bird-headed gods, Mr. Mahmoud said foreign tourists had visited Nimrud as recently as 2002. But looting after the American-led invasion last year left behind an abandoned place with little more than heavy carved stones to mark the glory that once inhabited this spot.

The money let Mr. Mahmoud rehabilitate the gate and guardhouse – now manned by Iraqi security officers – and clean up the entire site and make major repairs on a trailer used by archaeologists during their digs. Now there are even little pitched sheet-metal roofs over the carvings to protect them from erosion as Mr. Mahmoud seeks new international donors for permanent facilities.

“Step by step they need to repair the site for tourists,” Mr. Mahmoud said, “and this amount of money comes just in time.”

Projects in such isolated locations, across a dusty countryside that is still troubled by killings, bombings and mortar attacks, also illustrate the relative ease with which military forces can move about in the kind of territory that Western civilian contractors have often fled, leaving their work unfinished.

Approvals for the projects can take from a few days to a few weeks, said Maj. Wayne Bowen, a history professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., and a reservist who is overseeing projects that touch on higher education.

But with that speed comes a great reliance on the judgment of the Iraqis. Most proposals have been well considered, Major Bowen said, but there have been a few clinkers, like the time a university professor requested money to buy a pistol.

The informality of the process was evident during a visit by Maj. Glenn Mundt to a project intended to erect 31 electrical transmission towers as part of a plan to bring power down from Turkey. Led by Khalaf Dahan Hamoud, chief engineer at the Rashidiya substation near Mosul, the project was ahead of schedule.

Standing next to a half-assembled tower on a remote hill, Mr. Hamoud casually mentioned a much larger project that would restore a huge electrical loop in the north that had been severed years ago.

“Can you give me that project by Tuesday?” Major Mundt said. “Approximately. Within a couple of million dollars.”

Mr. Hamoud, looking surprised, pointed out again that it was a much larger project than the one he was about to complete.

“Just come up with a basic scope of work,” Major Mundt said, “and I’ll push it down to Baghdad.”

It was an exchange that the officials in charge of the Congressionally earmarked $18.4 billion could only dream about.

“We have to follow United States contracting laws and procedures,” said John Procter, a spokesman for the Project and Contracting Office, which is affiliated with the Pentagon and the State Department and is administering the Congressional money. “That’s where I think some of the frustration is coming from.”

Even so, some of the oil money was parceled out by the contracting office in a program called the accelerated Iraq reconstruction effort, and $500,000 of that money worked its way through the northern military authorities and into a project to rehabilitate the main terminal at the Mosul airport.

Amid the pounding of hammers and the bustle of workers tearing down a stained old drop ceiling, the assistant manager of the airport, who asked to be identified only as General Muhammad, said there was a $10 million to $20 million project afoot to restore the entire airfield. But that money would come from Congress, and there had been no sign of it.

“There is no bureaucratic channel,” General Muhammad said of the $500,000 in accelerated money. “It will be quick.”

General Muhammad, who asked that no pictures be taken of his face, referred to himself as “invisible,” clearly another reference to the dangers of being identified as a recipient of American money.

But for all those concerns, the projects are rolling forward, even where the strange contrivance was pounding away at the ground next to the village of Khazna. The technician who was running the machine, a Syrian Kurd named Khalid Esa, said he was within 15 feet of water.

‪http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/20/inter … ?ex=109132‬\8695&ei=1&en=e735fbff30dc74bd

Steven Mantz:

Hi Maggie and Chris. I totally agree with both of you. Maggie I particularly agree when you say the following: [by the way, your email reached me without line spaces between paragraphs, so you might want to check that. Don’t want people to miss anything! . ]

I would label a controversy “polarized” when the pro/con frame dominates public discourse on that issue to the point where it’s hard to see or speak about complexities and when the costs of the pro/con frame on that issue at that time outweigh the benefits, i.e., when the debates are not helping people gain new understanding, when they’re repetitive and sloganistic and demonizing of the other side, and when they actually block new learning or new appreciation of the complexities of the issues – and when they block fresh thinking about possible solutions.

It occurs to me that with this definition it’s possible that someone who is newly paying attention to a particular controversy (e.g. stem cell research) and someone who has followed it closely for months could have different experiences watching the same televised debate, with one learning something new and describing the debate as useful – not too “polarized” – and the other bored and annoyed with the predictability and over-simplification of the “polarized” debate – though both might label it polarized if the tone was disrespectful. So I think there are 2 elements: informational (level of simplification or “spin”) and relational.

I think that D and D can be useful preventively and as a means of de-escalation. When a controversy is new, different formats or conversation styles can be offered so that people can engage with the issues in a satisfying manner, to be heard, and/or simply to hear others while one sorts out one’s own beliefs. And in those conversations that take the form of a debate, care can be taken to enhance respectful speaking and guard against misrepresentation and unnecessary over-simplification.

When a controversy is beginning to get polarized or is seriously stuck, the benefits of dialogue are clear. (I know less about deliberation than I do about dialogue.) In dialogue, uncertainties are invited, as well as certainties; personal stories, commitments, values and connections are encouraged as opposed to simpler representational speaking; a safe, respectful, empathic relational environment is supported; and the concerns, dreams, needs and fears underlying the “positions” are revealed and engaged.

Perhaps we could view debate and dialogue as 2 good medicines, both useful in certain conditions but the “pharmacies of our public life” are fully stocked with one medicine – debate -and they have high demand for that medicine (especially by media outlets wanting instant drama), while few “pharmacies of public life” stock or g et requests for the other. Even a good medicine used for the wrong situation can cause harm. Dialogue can be a good medicine (preventively, for promoting civic health) and a good antidote when over-used or inappropriately-used debate has caused harm.

I totally agree. The point to me is there are numerous citizens who might actually have resources or expertise which can be use to actually cast light on the problem. They should be allowed to add depth to the debate. The political arena should not be solely the turf of those politicians who might seek to only aggravate or exacerbate the problem by drawing attention to our divisions, slogans and flaws, instead of actually supplying new information or new ideas which might actually solve the problem instead of prolonging or worsening it. Thanks.

Steve

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

Bill, good to see you! I like your thoughts. I wonder if there are certain social conditions at play that allow polarization — which I think you are right, is quite ordinary — to become (perhaps less ordinary) a defining feature of a social unit? For example, are contemporary declines in social trust, withdrawal from buffers like social groups (for example, fewer of us are associated through associations that actually meet) a factor?

At the same time, how polarized are we, in fact? Of course the media and political parties win in their respective markets through the tactics of polarization, but aren’t those markets each now about the same size as the radical middle, that emerging force some call independents? To me it seems that there is something deeper, more interesting at play than a mere polarization of America?

I am interested in our indicators of this polarization. It seems we have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but it would be interesting to a) develop time-series data for several dimensions of the problem which help us to illustrate the problem, and b) identify some strategies, some holistic and some very specific to the nature of the problem, to address polarization.

On another note, in response to Steven, in fact deliberation can’t, at least in theory, offer a solution to conflicts (I think you raise abortion?) where there are incompatible “comprehensive doctrines.”

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

Hi folks, and Steve. Glad this ‘conversation’ is still live; I had to duck off for a few days, and in coming back am intrigued that there has been at least one other concrete ‘ask’ on this list, in terms of moving toward some kind of action that might address the problem that has been raised. I have passed along the information about neighborhood assemblies to a colleague at AmericaSpeaks and hope that we can learn more about their effectiveness in constructive citizen engagement.

*** PART I *** On Steve’s point about Iraq, I tend to a different perspective. I believe there has been substantial coverage in the press around the handing over of sovereignty to the Iraqis, and the role Americans played in that process. I think we are well aware of the It was an arduous, perhaps premature accomplishment, but a major step forward nonetheless, and one that generated quite a bit of interesting reading full of footnotes worth chasing down, from the involvement of the National Civic League and the Mayor of Golden Colorado in writing the Baghdad City Charter, to the young New York University Law professor (Noah Feldman?) who consulted on the draft national constitution.

I think there are numerous issues that have been raised in these reports that go well beyond the pro-war/anti-war stances, which have to do with: – Definitions of, and acceptable event horizons for “true” sovereignty for the Iraqis – Legitimacy of the US appointed officials – US debt owed to the nation for reconstruction and development – Trial of Saddam Hussein – Role for coalition forces in protecting security

I think that ongoing tension, particularly over the US presence, has made it difficult to keep the focus on conflict off the front pages: we all likely care about our troops there, and want to know how they are faring, prickles of Vietnam and the mistakes of McNamara and others nagging us from behind…

But I would tend that, if one reads at least three different nationals (even our locals here in Vermont, where Bremer has retired to organize his papers) you can find some “third sided” coverage and a sense of more immediate debates than the justification of the war.

*** PART II *** On the question of polarization at large, it seems that the question of banning same-sex marriage is one headed in this direction. Both the process and the outcome of Missouri’s referendum and the decision of a King County, Washington judge offer two poles. Just as background, there are at least 12 states that will have marriage ban amendments to the state constitution on the ballot in November. I would say that this presents an issue to take the concern expressed around polarization in this list into action. For a couple of reasons.

1 – The issue is one that has constitutional implications, which we should take very seriously. This is movement afoot to ban same-sex marriage has deep implications for equal protection, one of the cornerstones of the Equal Rights Amendment (#28 ), which has to pass only three more state hurdles before it is fully ratified.

2 – To ban gay marriage in the constitution sets down an unprecedented historical record. Once this kind of amendment passes, we will have, for the first time in the secular law of an “advanced” democracy, codified social engineering, which is to say the government has made it its duty to signal legalized social relationships and the definition of family (outside of the sphere of human rights). Is this part of the historical legacy we want to leave behind?

3 – Gay marriage ban sanctions a climate of cultural superiority, of one “class” of citizens (“straight”) over another (“GLBT”). Much as Virginia and other southern state’s ban on interracial marriage (“An act to preserve racial integrity”) has tarred the legal and moral foundation of our nation.

4 – Ultimately it’s futile. As nations fail and institutions fail, we are setting ourselves up for a costly, relatively (in the sense of human history) short future of court challenges and cultural backlashes that are likely to be painful for many (especially children) and unnecessary.

5 – The data isn’t there. Much of the “case” for “the preservation traditional marriage” rests on data that isn’t there. There simply isn’t much evidence to suggest that the children of same-sex couples suffer any adverse effects of their upbringing.

Well, I am sure there are many more points to this “debate” and perhaps there is a way to move it into a non-polarized or deliberative mode. It seems a ripe challenge for the talents of this list. However, as a final point on this topic of polarization…

*** PART III *** Sometimes, it seems, there are causes and choices worth fighting for. I think someone earlier on this list, in reference to the Michael Moore film F-911 and the upcoming elections, said something to the effect of, “I don’t want to reach across to the other side, to dialogue and better understand my opponents view. I want to win.”

I think there are times when a nation, a people, a society and a culture come to a cross-roads, a juncture where history will be written on one of two broad paths. Some people perceive these choices ahead of time, choose a course, and fight for it. Moses, Hadrian, Yusuf Ibn Nasr, Joan of Arc, Marcus Garvey and JFK. History is filled with such examples… While there is likely room for a subculture of dialogue and deliberation, it seems unlikely that the “war of destiny” will be waged civilly. But maybe that’s okay; it’s a big step beyond revolution and bloodshed of the last century.

From today’s New York Times…A Bruce Springsteen Op-Ed, “Chords for Change”

lars

Steven Mantz:

Hi Lars. Thanks as always for your great reply. I would like to respond to a few points which you made. First of all, you say:

I think there are numerous issues that have been raised in these reports that go well beyond the pro-war/anti-war stances, which have to do with: – Definitions of, and acceptable event horizons for “true” sovereignty for the Iraqis – Legitimacy of the US appointed officials – US debt owed to the nation for reconstruction and development – Trial of Saddam Hussein – Role for coalition forces in protecting security

I agree with you. However, in my experience, the debate on all these issues, comes down to only two sides; those who throw their hands up, and say “I can’t believe we’re there, we’ve done everything wrong” and those who say “we’ve done everything right”. For example, in the first topic, definitions of true sovereignty, there seem to be only those who intone that the Bush Administration has delayed this too much, and others who say that this isn’t a major problem or concern.

Those few who actually do discuss this as an intellectual issue in public governance, seem to get little coverage. When I turn on Sunday AM shows, it always seems like the dialogue is always some reprise of one or both of the above partisan views.

If anyone has heard anything alternate, I would be genuinely interested to hear it. Any suggestion of good sources on brainstorming on Iraq, anyone? I’d appreciate it.

——-

Regarding your third point. Your message said:

“Sometimes, it seems, there are causes and choices worth fighting for. I think someone earlier on this list, in reference to the Michael Moore film F 911 and the upcoming elections, said something to the effect of, “I don’t want to reach across to the other side, to dialogue and better understand my opponents view. I want to win.”

“I think there are times when a nation, a people, a society and a culture come to a cross-roads, a juncture where history will be written on one of two broad paths. Some people perceive these choices ahead of time, choose a course, and fight for it. Moses, Hadrian, Yusuf Ibn Nasr, Joan of Arc, Marcus Garvey and JFK. History is filled with such examples… While there is likely room for a subculture of dialogue and deliberation, it seems unlikely that the “war of destiny” will be waged civilly. But maybe that’s okay; it’s a big step beyond revolution and bloodshed of the last century.

From today’s New York Times…A Bruce Springsteen Op-Ed, “Chords for Change”

I agree with you. I entirely agree that sometimes politics is, and should be, about the struggle between two alternate points of view, two paths, and only one will win out. I agree that is a proper part of politics. However, I am not concerned about any diminishment of this concept of politics. It is an integral part of the structure. It is hard-wired into the system.

By definition, politics is an ongoing series of votes, elections, and debates. The aspects which define winning and losing will always be there. My concern is how much we are doing the deliberative approach “also”. Not “instead of”, but rather “and also”. In fact, now that I’ve said how much I don’t think politics shouldn’t be polarized between right-wingers and left wingers, maybe I should also back up, and say that I don’t want it polarized between polarizers and deliberators!

There is room for both types in politics. Both types play an integral role. Anyone who thinks politics is not about the victory of some ideas, and the defeat of others, doesn’t understand the basic process we are seeking to join and to affect. However, there is still room for some concern about the degree to which our nation’s discourse reflects some diverse sets of alternate ideas. As I said in a previous email, this has, in fact, actually been a concrete part of the debate in past eras. It is not just some impossible ideal.

During the era of Progressivism, or of industrialization; or in response to great national challenges, like the era of European imperialism, or during various foreign wars, there were numerous real and diverse ideas on how to approach various issues. I feel that it’s recently that this diversity has lessened, although of course there were many eras of great partisanship also. I think personally, that this new partisanship is due to the loss of respect for politics which has happened since Watergate, Vietnam, etc. But there could be a number of sources of that. Hopefully, we can keep taking a different look at these things.

Steve

Christopher McMullen:

Hello, everyone;

I’m glad this discussion continues. I have a few brief (!!) comments regarding points made to date.

There is a point that is increasingly brought up in the gay marriage debate that I find somewhat disturbing. It is the view that banning marriage would for the first time write discrimination into the constitution. This is incorrect, as Native Americans, women, and enslaved persons (mostly of African descent, which later in many states evolved to targeting Blacks explicitly) were originally denied rights in our constitution. I think this is a crucial point as the whole of this country’s history has involved a struggle as to who was/is entitled to the “inalienable rights” we purport belong to all individuals. The difference is that the gay marriage ban is the first recent constitutional movement against a group — which is no less onerous but quite different from a first occurrence.

(This is mirrored also in the comment that Iraq was the first time the US invaded a country unprovoked. What of the taking of Florida – from revolutionary was ally Spain! — and Texas and the southwest to the Caribbean and Latin American incursions of the 19th and 20th centuries?)

I also think that polarization is presently being used by both politicians and the media to constrain the discussions — and thereby the solutions — of societal issues. It leads to a very narrow focus of problem definition and solution that, by how the questions/issues are framed, preclude other solutions or viewpoints being raised. “If” we will have universal health care; “how long” will we leave troops in Iraq; “how long” the Patriot Act or its provisions will remain in effect or how many of the 9/11 Report recommendations will be implemented & how quickly. These preclude the questioning of whether or not — to take the latter case — the solutions proposed hold up to all the failings that allowed the 9/11 attack to succeed. It is similar to an engineering or management problem: This unwanted occurrence happened, what in our process allowed it to happen? A similar question could be asked of the other measures taken as our response to those events.

I heard on the BBC today that some 500- 600 people of Muslim descent have been picked up in England since 9/11; of those 100 were held for an extended period of time. Only 2 (!!!) have been charged. Now, I don’t not know the normal ratio of number of suspects to the number of charges but this seems excessive to me, especially in a democratic society. To again use business as an example (not that I think it is the ideal model, but is one touted as ideal by many) any such expenditure of resources for so small a return would never be tolerated in most industries. Here in the US the suspension of capital punishment in Illinois was done because they estimated that as many as 25% of the convictions could be mistaken, yet there was still a cry of outrage. Meanwhile in manufacturing the goal is a six-sigma success rate (that is 1 defect per million, not 250,000 defects per million).

Polarization is being used – either intentionally or unconsciously — to constrain discussions and solutions to a narrow band of possibility. This is conservatism of a different sort, and in an increasingly complex world I think it spells doom for those groups/institutions that practice it. Survival depends on the diversity of solutions/responses available and the flexibility to implement. It is how guerrilla tactics in warfare succeed, and science continues to progress. Dialogue and deliberation can help restore a breadth and depth of inquiry and visioning that maximize the number of solutions identified and, hopefully the chances that the best solution will be selected.

Christopher

Steven Mantz:

Hi Lars. It is always good to see you. I would like to respond briefly to one of your points, and hopefully more later on.

Yes, deliberation, as you say, can’t supply the solution for two diametrically-opposed opposites, as in the debate over abortion. My problem is when politicians deliberately inflame polarization and make it the defining point and main focus for the whole political discourse, and try to make it our overriding societal concern, just in order to win votes.

For example with Iraq, they are more busy arguing over whether Iraq bought uranium in Niger, than creating a broad societal effort to actually help the third world, or to spread prosperity or democracy.

Yes, I realize there would be a debate over Iraq regardless of anything else. I accept that would be a part of our debate in any case. What bothers me is that nobody is even trying to do the other thing; ie to have an open debate about a broader societal effort to help the third world, etc. (Sen. Kerry’s speech last night was a good example, by the way. Every point about foreign affairs hinged on some flaw of Pres. Bush.)

Or to take another example, abortion. I understand that this would be an intense debate regardless.

What bothers me is the fact that politicians often try to make intense issues such as abortion this the number one issue in a campaign. We barely hear any talk about societal efforts to reach broad goals.

In general, any time politicians lean more towards “cultural warfare” issues and defining sharp differences, such as abortion or the Iraq war, instead of discussing ideas, resources or possible solutions.

Deliberation might help to present a picture more of the true complexity of these issues, and to focus more on societal efforts which are more than just choosing Team A or Team B–positive or negative–but actually present a few methods and resources, all viable, to get things done.

Bill Potapchuk:

Lars . . good to see you too! . . . sounds like you are well on your way toward your dissertation

I would like to work on the logical framework for this discussion . . . while we talk a great deal about national trends . . . as you do eloquently . . . with rare and important exceptions . . . most D&D is local . . . and can work under the radar of polarization on the national level and is focused on specific topics

so, for example, there was a project title Common Ground on Abortion that brought together pro-life and pro-choice advocates on a shared agenda to foster increased adoption and improve pre-natal health care in several states . . . and also negotiated guidelines for protesting . . . (Mary J: want to talk more about this?)

so to truly impact some of the national trends (which I agree, currently create conditions which fosters polarization in many ways) . . . and to think about a tipping point . . .

we need to have enough density of D&D processes within particular issue areas . . . and in diverse issue areas . . . and connection of a movement across those issue areas (which NCDD is an important part of) . . . to truly change and impact current social conditions which have deep roots in our psyche as well as the change and re-form the deep institutional infrastructure that supports the current way we conduct our public business . . .

and then effective linkage between D&D work between parallel trends/movements in collaborative governance, community building, dispute resolution, etc . . before we establish a sufficiently wide agenda and leverage points for action . . .

so . . . I think many steps and phases and developmental stages . . . before we truly have that kind of reach . . .

best .. . Bill

Bill Potapchuk
Community Building Institute

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

Hmm, I like that notion, a density.

Kenoli Oleari:

I heard someone on the radio the other day suggesting that polarization may be a useful tool and that it has played constructive role in American history. He described a cycle of checks and balances where some direction of power reached an extreme and then was pulled back by polarized opposition which then was able to bring the country back onto a more reasonable path. He used the current situation with Bush as an example, i.e. Bush has gone past a boundary and a natural force has polarized to pull him back. I think he was not sure how one could accomplish “regime change” without the power of polarization.

Another example is Kenya where an oppressive regime finally resulted in rallying enough opposition that a coalition formed that was able to overthrow it, in this case peacefully. Because they were able to rally such a large movement, the oppressive regime capitulated to an election defeat rather than trying to force their hand. However, the compromises necessary to build the coalition resulted in the election of a candidate for president that seems to be going down the path of his predecessor and betraying the peaceful “revolution.”

I think there is something here to be learned from Gramsci, an Italian communist who posited two necessary stages in revolution. The first is the one that we generally identify with revolution, namely the sudden reversal of power. This can happen through armed struggle, through changes like that in Kenya or the current dynamic in the US. However, this is not enough, says Gramsci. There also needs to be a change in the institutions. As in Kenya, there may be a change in power, but if the structure doesn’t change, what will keep whoever is in power from continuing the oppressive mechanisms firmly established in the institutions.

The second, institutional change, according to Gramsci must take place over time and needs to take place within the entire system, the “establishment” elements and the “revolutionary” elements. I suspect that what we are doing in Dialog and deliberation, the neighborhood assemblies work I am involved in, Tom Atlee’s co-intelligence work and other places is to work on the institutional change aspect. And, there is also the need for shifts in power. I think of the Jerry Brown governorship in California and, to some extent the Jimmy Carter regime in Washington. During these periods, there were more resources available for community based and community initiated projects. There were a lot of institutional changes that were made, because mainstream resources became available for these changes. So, there is some relationship between shifts in power and the ability to make institutional change.

Many of us dream about a new day, with new responsive, collaborative institutions that can respond to realities, make changes, all through some different process that doesn’t require polarization. A key question for us is “How do we get there?” A struggle for me is that I don’t have a taste for building influence in existing institutions. It is hard for me to either work from within to make these changes (I get frustrated and it seems to require too much compromise) or from without (this involves so much confrontation and frustrated displays of power-and polarization). I want to live already in the world I dream about.

So how do we deal with all of this? There may be some necessary stages of polarization in our path toward utopia. In Kenya many people died and many spent years in jail, some returning to act effectively for a massive change that now seems betrayed. I recently heard a noir novelist say that life was for all of us what it has always been for Blacks, native Americans and other disenfranchised classes, a discovering of how to get up each day and act courageously and creatively in the face of what is repeatedly a hopeless situation. I’m not sure if he is being cynical or hopeful. The situation we face sometimes seems like this.

I think we know more about our vision than our tactic for getting there. How do we reconcile the need for dealing with a quite “unpleasant” world (to quote Krishnamurti) and an urge to move toward the light? Ghandi seemed to blend these two and then was killed for his effort to neutralize the polarization between Hindu and Islam. He did achieve regime change. Did he achieve institutional change? What is our tactic?

– Kenoli

Jim Rough:

Kenoli,

I love your question …

Steven Mantz:

Hi everyone. I am part of a listserv which is attempting to reconvene an organization, FIRST, which was active during the nineties, and which sought to address issues from a Generation X perspective. I recently sent an email to this group, which I am forwarding to you.

As this email (I hope) makes clear, generational politics does not mean advocating one generation’s priorities at the expense of another. Rather, it means simply finding another way to step back, and to take another perspective on the current political climate.

This email discusses this further. We are all part of various subgroups and affiliations, each with its own ability to create a new perspective, and to create new insights. From this perspective, I hope this approach is useful to all of us. Thanks.

Steve

—————

Hi everyone. I would like to write to you about some basic aspects of our group’s ideas.

Some people have asked, why seek to reconvene a group like this based on an organization such as FIRST? After all, it was a generational group, for a generation which is now in quite a different stage, with more mature responsibilities. So why recreate a group which is linked to the ideas of a particular generation, and of a certain stage in life?

The answer, quite simply, is that the specific, unique experiences of Generation X, give relevance to a generational focus, regardless of the stage of life we might happen to be in.

One might then ask, how can a generational viewpoint have some particular relevance right now, given the complex issues facing the country? Let’s deal with that in a second.

Right now, there is a large amount of polarization and divisiveness occurring. Each side in the national debate views the other as totally opposed to the common good, and as being part of an irreconcilable world-view, without any common ground. This is particularly true in regard to the Iraq war, but also with other issues as well.

What would be the source for such divisiveness and polarization? It seems like this has been with us for a while. Where did it come from?

I feel there are several sources, but there are a few which seem particularly relevant. It seems to me that based on chronology, this atmosphere of polarization really got its start in the Sixties.

I am not saying that this is the full explanation, or the only source. But it seems to me that if you look at the politics of the last few decades, and the political discourse now, there are a few patterns which emerge, which can be illuminated by some trends which began in the sixties.

For example, the view of politics as a component of a larger cultural war, rather than as a search for solutions, has its roots in that era. Also, the assumption that a national undertaking like the Iraq War can all be summed up under the word “quagmire,” and lead only to a discussion of accountability, instead of a deeper discussion of better alternative types of action.

I am not saying that opponents of the war are right or wrong. I am saying that the manner of discourse is part of a broader trend.

Also, I am not trying to assign some sort of generational blame, or to find some magical solution for restoring a positive atmosphere. I am saying that if you want to understand the current lack of common ground, of consensus, you need to look at certain trends over the last few decades, and see where they got their source. And you need to ask what it would take to offer an alternate perspective.

Remember that my original question was, what is the relevance of a generational viewpoint? I am suggesting that politics has taken a certain form due to certain assumptions from a specific era, and the experience of the generation which came of age in that era.

Thus, if you want to find a different perspective, it might be useful to take the common experiences and outlook of a new generation, beyond ideology, and use them to take a fresh look at current issues.

That actually was the original premise of FIRST and many similar groups at that time. They may not have phrased it quite that way, but they stemmed from the belief that there were certain critical basic issues which both parties were failing to address, and that Generation X should make its voice heard to bring more clarity, and to create an honest debate about the issues.

I am not saying that our group, here, can bring about this general change all by ourselves. I am saying that sooner or later, this change will probably happen anyway, so it might be useful to use our existing network and resources to discuss this in some way.

Also, I am not saying this atmosphere is the work of one generation. It became dominant at one point in time, and has been basically accepted since then, as politics-as-usual. To change it might require an entirely different perspective.

There are a few things which are disturbing about the current political climate. It seems disturbing that Sen. Kerry and opponents of the war deeply criticize Pres. Bush, but do not then move to offer their own comprehensive plan for helping the less-developed in a positive way, or spreading democracy and economic success.

It seems disturbing that supporters of the war support our deep involvement in Iraq, but then do not need use that deep expenditure of effort and resources as a reason to move on to any broader discussion of how to cause positive change in other less-developed countries, or to look for more positive ways to create better conditions.

In general, it is disturbing to note the lack of common ground, of consensus. I also find it disturbing to note how often politicians take an issue like abortion, and highlight their narrowest differences in order to win votes, instead of seeking broader solutions. This is called “energizing one’s base,” but it really means “highlighting differences.”

This is no great secret, but voters are so sure that there are no deeper problems to be addressed, they don’t mind that politicians define themselves in this way. We need to restore that broader focus, of problems before they become crises.

It seems clear that eventually we will create politics based more on finding common ground, based on the need to actually get certain things done. Hopefully, we will be able to do this sooner rather than later, and in response to our own needs, rather than some worsening problem.

You are probably now saying that this is an optimistic scenario, or that this never actually happened in politics. The truth is, it did. During the Progressive Era, there arose a broad national consensus that something had to be done about the national monopolies, about overcrowded cities, about corrupt political systems. This led to the great era of reformers, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, LaFollette, etc. People from opposing points of view, but united by the need to solve problems.

Furthermore, in the era of World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War, there were much more similarity between the two parties about how to get things done. This all changed in the era of Vietnam and Watergate.

I am not saying that polarization, by definition, will always change to something better. But it seems that right now, there are certain specific problems which will eventually compel a unified response, just like the problems of the Progressive Era, the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. These current problems include issues such as global warming, the rise of extremism, the growing gulf between haves and have-nots. There are other problems as well, but thee are some examples.

FIRST, and many similar groups of that era, originally arose as a response to the inability of the two main parties to talk honestly about the real issues, and their inability to offer real solutions, or a unified course of action.

That inability is still there. It has merely been buried under the complexity and urgency of the issues now facing us. Groups like ours, or like NCDD, are an attempt to take a step back, and to see if an alternate, broader approach can be found. I feel that our group can highlight the potential of doing this from a generational perspective. I feel there is much positive work which can be done this way. I hope you find this effort useful. Thanks very much for being part of this group.

Steve

Tom Atlee:

Thanks, Steve.

While my work tends to focus on collective/societal CAPACITIES, your focus on ISSUES — especially basic, long-term issues — is quite legitimate. NCDD is trying to be a place where resources for dialogue and deliberation around specific issues are made generally available. See http://www.ncdd.org/resources/practice/ … ssues.html. If you can dig up some more materials to help dialogue on other issues of concern and let NCDD know, it might further the goals you express so well here.

Coheartedly,
Tom

Sandy Heierbacher:

Also, don’t forget our new web feature at (old link)

The De-Polarization of America: Major D&D-Related Efforts That Are Bridging the Partisan Divide

These pages describe in detail five programs that are using dialogue, deliberation, and D&D principles to tackle the intense polarization that is currently dividing America. NCDD is involved in each of these efforts to various degrees. The programs are: The September Project, Let’s Talk America, PBS Deliberation Day, Calling the Question, and the “We the People” National Convention.

Sandy Heierbacher
Convenor, The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD)

Joan Heron:

Hi I am also new and would like to introduce myself. I am a retired professor of nursing-I taught community health, family dynamics, mental health, and other subjects. I coordinated the graduate program for 6 years. I strongly believe that schools at all levels are too focused on cognitive learning and not enough on creating healthy whole persons to take part in society. In the early eighties, I developed a model for students to follow and wrote an article about it called “Creating health For a New Age” The basic premise is that there are four constellations of behaviors needed for people to function well in society and that health care providers need to model these in their practice. They are-holistic fitness including all levels-body mind spirit environment etc. Creativity is the second behavior-not just artistic abilities but creativity applied to everyday life, including relationships. Collaboration is the third- our society is much too focused on competition. Having a proactive orientation is the final behavior. All students developed a plan for working on this during the semester and wrote journals chronicling their work in these areas.

I have done a lot of work with small groups- for over 30 years and have developed collaborative teams wherever I have worked. It takes work on everyone’s part but when it’s working, the process becomes so rewarding in itself that the work itself sometimes seems like a by product. I started an interdisciplinary center for human services in 1984. Faculty and students from eleven disciplines worked together to help individual clients and families. After retirement, I was in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan (95-97) where I worked on a maternal-child health project. After I returned, I became an Americorps vISTA volunteer in Moscow, Idaho and worked to help the Young Children and Families Project become sustainable in the community(99-01). I joined a Unitarian fellowship 2 years ago, became the program committee chair and have done several presentations called Participating in Democracy, using Tom’s book as a starting point. I plan to continue this in the fall.

I am so glad there are so many of you working on such interesting and worthwhile projects in different parts of the world- together we can create the 100th monkey effect. I agree that the organization should have a name change to reflect the global participation that exists. I look forward to reading more about your projects, feeling my way into participation and meeting you at the conference.

Peace Is Every Step
Joan Heron

Sadeque Hussain:

Joan Heron, I am Sadeque from Indian. I have one small NGO , apart from peace building and conflict resolution we are also working towards mental health. Could you please inform me more in case you can help me providing Aid NGOs contact on mental health/peace.

Thank you and best regards
Sadeque

Joan Heron:

Hello Sadeque Since I have retired -10 years ago- I am not familiar with mental health/peace resources. I have forwarded your message to a friend in Turkmenistan who has been working with NGOs in her country. I also invited her to join NCDD so you and she can communicate directly. I will let you know if she thinks she can be helpful, I think she is away on vacation now so it may take awhile.

Best wishes in your good work.
Joan Heron

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