Post No.: 0215
We often go to war because the will, influence and decisions of a few (i.e. politicians or generals) will sway or override the will of the many, where such political decisions or initial public support are frequently regretted in hindsight. Another problem is that the good guys (whoever they are, for all sides usually claim to be the good or righteous, but in this case it’s those who protect lives) must win all the time and only have to lose once to lose big – yet the terrorists, criminals or bad guys only have to win once to win big time. The point is that only a relatively ‘few bad apples’ is often all it needs to cause trouble or ruin things for everyone else.
A lot about the politics of potential conflicts is about ‘saving face’ or ‘not looking weak’ in front of other nations – but we need to be smarter and rely on the brains and foresight that cannot be seen from the outside or immediately, instead of the superficial, external and public images that can be. It’s often about metaphorically flexing muscles and trying to reputationally show who has the larger biceps rather than who has the greater social intelligence. A lot of people still think like cavepeople in this very different world and society to what ancient humans used to live in, and that’s because genetic evolution in this case is too slow to keep up with the civilisational and technological changes of the past few millennia in particular. We ultimately need to be the ‘bigger person inside’. This is not so easy because violent or coercive approaches tend to be quicker and easier for achieving results against a more vulnerable group than non-violent or non-coercive approaches, and sometimes with grave and imminent threats there seem to be no other solution but to intervene with force; but stronger people try their hardest to do the more difficult things. It’s often a failure of political or personal skill and intellect to have to resort to violence, war or conflict to try to achieve one’s aims or settle disputes.
International relations are a lot about dancing between being diplomatically friendly but making it clear ‘don’t mess with us’. Deterrents such as nuclear weapons work well when they work but can quickly escalate matters and the potential level of destruction as a result of brinkmanship if they ever fail to work, as covered in Post No.: 0106.
There’s politics and then there’s the people, and even in democracies these don’t always neatly align. So if one is criticising another country’s government then this critique should not also be generalised and directed at that country’s citizens too (unless a specific individual or subgroup supports their government’s actions). However, even when no malice is directed at another country’s citizens, citizens of a criticised government can still sometimes take it as a personal attack on themselves because people tend to want to defend anything that is associated with themselves and their ingroup or tribe, even if it is just an arbitrary or involuntary association and nothing more. So people don’t just often crudely categorise other people based on what, who or which apparent groups these other people are associated with, but categorise themselves based on what, who or which apparent groups they are themselves associated with (e.g. a person born and bred in country x, who is ethnically associated with country y, can sometimes still feel that it’s an attack on him/herself to have country y criticised, unless this person vocally criticises country y on that specific issue him/herself). This is perhaps a pre-emptive self-defence measure in case other people will stereotype them based on these negative associations?
Whatever the case, people should be judged according to their own individual beliefs and actions rather than the beliefs and actions of other people or the governments they happen to be stereotyped or associated with (e.g. not all Chinese people support communism, not everyone in the UK voted to leave the EU, not every American wanted to invade Iraq in 2003, not all Jews support the current Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinian territories, and so on).
Anyway, ‘principled negotiation’, in this context, involves separating the problems from the people – so no ‘ad hominem’ attacks, where we attack something about the person rather than something about the arguments he/she makes. It concerns focusing on the underlying interests of the stakeholders rather than the positions – so dig deeper to uncover what everyone really wants at the root (e.g. it’s not that a party really wants a wall built but wants greater controls on immigration. Yet it’s not really about immigration either but having stable jobs for every local citizen and lower crime rates). It includes generating a variety of options before deciding what to do – so don’t narrow the options down prematurely. And it’s about insisting that the solution be based on some objective standard i.e. experimental scientific results or real-world data – whenever you say something, you can be sure that the other party would’ve heard something different, so this last point is important if you want to be persuasive. These elements of principled negotiation will help in many other contexts where a win-win outcome is desirable too.
Overall, humanity needs to employ more social and emotional intelligence and other ‘soft skills’ that include good communication skills, courtesy, empathy, compassion, integrity, trustworthiness, adaptability, patience, responsibility, cooperation and principled negotiation approaches for settling differences.