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Monday, January 19, 2009

Psychobabblers for Peace

The Huffington Post has an article from a representative of a group called "Conflict Analysis Professionals for Enduring Security" who attempt to place the Israel/PalArab conflict in terms of modern psychobabble.

It is a fairly good example of how people whose only tool is a hammer think that every problem is a nail. In other words, it shows how even experts in psychology can be easy prey for muddled thinking.
Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your election. We look forward to working with you to heal our country in every way we can.

We are interdisciplinary conflict analysis professionals including psychologists and other social scientists devoted to the study and practice of violence prevention, tension reduction, conflict transformation and reconciliation. Like you, we are deeply concerned for our friends, colleagues, relatives and all citizens of Israel and Gaza. We fear the consequences of this cyclical violence and failure to respond appropriately to the devastating damage. It will require expert intervention to heal wounds and reverse cycles of violence.

Right off the bat, we see the first problematic premise: that there is a "cycle of violence," similar to perhaps a married couple having a bad feud.

One of the problems of psychology as often practiced today is the aversion to blame. There is no right or wrong; there is only different ways of looking at things. Teach each party how to empathize and then the problem is halfway solved.

The problem is that in real life, there is right and wrong. I daresay that there is evil.

You recently said, "If my daughters were living in a house that was being threatened by rocket attacks, I would do whatever it takes to end that situation."

In conflict, it can be difficult to remember that "whatever it takes" includes caring for basic human needs -- food, water, warmth and protection, allaying fears, and providing safety, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What if "whatever it takes" requires supporting legitimate political goals, addressing just grievances, and allowing life with dignity, self-determination, prosperity and freedom? People prefer to get their needs met by decent means, and resort to violence when thwarted.

Barry Rubin recently wrote that Israel's situation is similar to living next to a serial killer. The CAPES people are insisting that the solution to that situation is to send him a box of candies.

Someone should remind the kind authors that when Hamas' spiritual forebears attacked and killed scores of Jews in 1929, nearly all of them from families who have lived in Palestine for generations, they were not "resorting" to violence as a reaction to anything the victims had done to them. There was no state, there was no "land theft," there was none of the factors that these self-defining experts are so sure are part of Arab grievances against Jews (and the victims were generally not Zionists.) Perhaps a wonderful social worker could have defused the situation then?

Our children would be safer if we could empathically bear equal witness to each historical narrative and rise above both sides to gain a true perspective of cause and effect, and the dynamics of asymmetrical power.
Uh-oh. Here's comes the psychobabble with both barrels:
We have two traumatized peoples, gripped by fear and moral outrage, who have spiraled into escalating reverberating reactions of mutually provoked traumatic reenactment, endlessly ricocheting back and forth. In this malignant process, each side draws people into believing the need to destroy the other. However, many on both sides work for peaceful coexistence.

Severe trauma on both sides, fear, envy and humiliation, and anger (towards ingroup and outgroup), make it critical to provide a massive infusion of healing interventions demonstrated effective. Please lead us in healing wounds, compensating losses, and using principles of restorative justice rather than punitive approaches which only fuel instability, as history has repeatedly shown. Time doesn't heal wounds, people do.

Actually, time does heal wounds if they are not continually re-opened by people who would not be the best candidates for the "massive infusion of healing interventions." And the analogy is exact: the Palestinian Arab refugee problem, which is seen to be the core of the conflict in the limited context that these authors are looking at history, is only existing today because of the active decisions made both by Palestinian Arab leaders and the leaders of every Arab country since 1948; decisions that are aimed at only one thing: perpetuating the pain to create a weapon against Jews controlling land in the Middle East.
We are aware of political pressures to take positions falsely framed as so-called "pro" or "anti" Israel or Palestinian. This zero sum thinking has no endgame. The only way to be more secure is to make your enemy more secure.
If the enemy has a reasonably functioning psychological makeup, perhaps the bolded words might make sense. However...
We must rethink what it actually means to support Israel and be pro-coexistence, and establish a policy of "Mutually Assured Survival," and mutually supported flourishing.
Since the times of early Zionism, this has been exactly what the Jews have been trying to do! It hasn't exactly worked. Only one side has consistently tried, decade after decade, to empower the enemy - often with disastrous results.

A rich body of knowledge, not well known outside academia, describes methods demonstrated to reverse cycles of violence. We are beginning to understand how terrorism ends and how extremist groups become nonviolent and productive through participation in legitimate political processes -- and also what causes radicalization and drives people to extremes (as, in this connection, when Hamas won in a fair election, they were prepared to form a coalition with Fatah, until they were punished and threatened).
According to these would-be brain surgeons, Hamas - which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel as well as pure anti-semitism, as its charter states clearly - should be rewarded because it won an election.

(Notice also the neat sleight-of-hand used by the author - earlier, she states accurately that "many on both sides work for peaceful coexistence," however, now she is discussing Hamas, which [by definition] does not have a single member who shares that goal. But one needs to read this article very skeptically to notice this deception.)

Would the CAPES people be as sanguine if the Ku Klux Klan won fair elections?
We offer any assistance in analyzing conflict dynamics, working with you to design strategies for healing and detraumatization, and guiding the delicate work of reconciliation needed to rebuild viable social and political institutions and reach equitable solutions to this historic tragedy. There are many creative strategies of conflict transformation, beyond diplomacy and negotiation, beyond carrots and sticks, and even beyond Smart Power. Wise Power can address complex ecology of interacting forces and events within the depths of human experience. Understanding principles of conflict studies, psychology, and other social sciences will go along way to help produce conditions for viability and enduring security and a lasting, just peace.
I would guess that other psychology professionals might disagree with this assessment.