Category Archives: dynamics

The Echoes of Conflict

For the last several days, the headlines have been focused on a terrible terrorist attack in Paris and its aftermath. As I write, two killers are surrounded by French police and apparently ready to be killed as “martyrs”. There is a palpable tension in the air.

People react to these moments in many ways. In this case, some have reaffirmed their support for the journalists who were brutally gunned down. There is a sense of being “under siege”. That is understandable.

At the same time, it is much more difficult to fathom how this type of barbaric crime could have taken place. How could people have gotten so caught up in radicalism that they would kill in cold blood? At least one commentator noted that those fomenting  this type of violence hope to radicalize all sides — to empty out the middle. To force a civil war in Europe between Muslims and Christians.

It is a nightmare scenario and I do not believe it will happen. And yet, it is not so far fetched to discount that some would push for it –  that it would become a strategic idea to suck peaceful people into violence.

Well, when these types of strategic ideas take hold, many innocent people become swept up in the chaos that ensues. To see how, we don’t have to look far. Just consider the story of Petr Khokhlov in Ukraine.  it starts off like this

After their father died and their mother fell into drink, Petr Khokhlov and his brother, Sergey, were sent to an orphanage in Novouzensk, a small, dusty town of low-slung Soviet-era apartment blocks on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. The two boys had only each other. Petr was quiet and well behaved, scolding other students at the orphanage when they addressed their teachers with the familiar ty, rather than the more formal vy.

Sometimes, it gets harder and harder to pull back from the violence. And that is a strategic problem for those who are int interested in violence.

Why Kill Pakistani Children?

The news is just in. The taliban have launched an assault against a Pakistani school, killing over 140 people, of which over 100 were children. I boggles the mind.

So why did they do it? Someone, somewhere thought this was a grand idea. That person or persons must have had a reason to think so. And given the extreme nature of the assault, the underlying justification was likely to be extreme as well. What extreme factors contributed to such a decision?

Vox offers three possible explanations. It may be revenge for the recent Pakistani military attacks against them. It may be a message that the taliban is still a force to be reckoned with. Or it may be the result of a power struggle between taliban factions.

Underlying all three possible explanations is a rather stark common thread. At least some continue to believe that they can gain by committing atrocities. In other words, this was a calculated gambit, not the result of an accident.

To end this type of tragedy, I believe that we need to change the decision matrix that produces this type of decision. So far, this has meant “fighting fire with fire”. We might keep in mind that this is a tactic, not a strategy.

A Metric about the War on Terror

In Lawrence O’Donnell’s show about the tragic terror incident in Sydney, Australia,  this point emerged.

The war against terror is 13 years old. And American strategy has produced great tactical successes. But it has not reduced the amount of terrorism around the world. That is on the rise. 80% of these attacks took place in 5 countries. They are

  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Syria
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan

This is a success for Americans, as we have been able to stop significant follow up attacks after 9/11. But we have not presented a counter-strategy to radicalization that primarily affects people in the above countries, but could spread. We are not countering the message. And one must be concerned about the suffering that is on the rise as well as the threat of its spreading.

That is worth thinking about.

Goldman Sachs Starts Advertising

This is just a quick note — I just saw an advertisement from Goldman Sachs about their sponsorship of a project in New York. In itself, no big thing. Everybody advertises, right? Well not so fast. Goldman Sachs is not like Coca Cola or  McDonald’s.  Goldman Sachs does not sell anything to you.

Hmmm .. so why advertise? Very simple. Remember the meltdown? Goldman realizes that you do. Goldman realizes that you probably still wonder why this happened. And Goldman fears that you might think that it was to blame. So Goldman is engaging in nationwide PR to change the perception of what it does.

I do not write this to support or attack Goldman. Instead, it is just to point out that conflicts produce this type of behavior. Some call it CYA.  Some call it lobbying. But it does not happen out of the blue. There is logic behind it.

Conflict in the Things You Don’t See

“We live in capitalism”.  I like this quote (taken from Ursula LeGuin). We tend to think of capitalism as a universal. But in fact, it is just something — a system — that we use now. It is neither perfect nor terrible. More important, it is useful for certain aspects of modern life that we deem important — the pooling of capital to produce things more widely and at lower cost.

Ursual LeGuin goes further in her remarks about capitalism “It’s power seems inescapable. So too did the divine right of kings”. Ouch!  In other words, our smug beliefs about what is great about what we have now are vulnerable to trends that may shake it up and even turn it on its head.

Conflict does this. And, as Ursual points out, it often arises from sources that appear to be invisible.

Get Along? You must be Nuts!

Not too long ago, one could almost believe that mankind was entering a new era. It would be an era when war was unthinkable. There were too many opportunities for collaboration for folks to resort to war for gain.

That idea was thrown about in 1913 and more recently, it was thrown about in 2002. In each case, the dreamers who proclaimed the new era failed to grasp that conflict does not arise from global trends. It is a profoundly local process — arising when agendas collide.

The agendas may use global vocabulary, like the strife within Islam. But they are fueled by impasse at the local level. To see this more clearly, consider a conflict  that is not supposed to happen – the clash between marketing directors and heads of IT departments. Both are supposed to be advancing the interests of the firm. But they are often at odds with each other about who makes IT purchases.  There is no ideological clash. Nor is there a global problem. But a local problem repeats itself because of the same root cause — the question of which department will control the IT purchase budget.

Thinking about Ukraine in Five Years

One aspect of the crisis in Ukraine is positive. There is so much negative, that it is easy to overlook this positive thing. But it is there.

What is it? Keep in mind that before Russia intervened, Ukraine had been in and out of crisis for years. It was essentially a failed state. Politically, it was incredibly fragmented. And corruption was the norm.

Now? Ukrainians now have a powerful reason to come together. They sense the “gorilla in the closet”. And they are coming together. For that reason, I suspect that Ukraine in five years will be a much, much different place.

It is not the way I would have chosen for Ukrainians to ´do this. But it is an illustration of one aspect of the dynamic of conflict.