Thoughts on strategic thinking in our current crisis

There is much debate in my circles about how to respond to the the current crisis in democracy and our social fabric. I’m sensing some patterns among independent approaches being promoted separately. In this post, I attempt an initial overview of these and the necessity to validate all of them, especially from the perspective of broader and narrower visions of social change, and the gifts and limitations they bring.

The Capitol siege/demonstration/riot/insurrection (there is much debate over what to call this 1/6 event) has generated a wide variety of responses even within my own networks of normally more like-minded people. Some people are focused on identifying, calling out and punishing rioters and instigators (or, for others, culpable parties in alleged election fraud despite lack of judicial agreement that such fraud happened). Some say we should work to change opponents’ minds. Some say we should listen to opponents and build bridges and relationships across boundaries, healing our torn social fabric. Some want to focus on reforming the systemic dysfunctions and conditions that foster the social breakdowns we’re experiencing. And so on…

I find myself of many minds, for there are valid arguments for each of the above approaches (and many others). I naturally prefer transformational, co-creative approaches that tap the fundamental humanity and collective intelligence of all parties to generate initiatives that “promote the general welfare” and the health of the natural world we are all part of. But that takes time and special conditions to succeed. Win-win approaches are not the default setting of our societies. If such approaches had been seriously promoted a few decades ago, we would not be in the fragmented, self-destructive predicament we find ourselves in today.

So I have to admit that conditions are far from ideal for the kinds of deep intervention that promise transformational outcomes. We need to respond appropriately to the immediate conditions we face, while laying groundwork for better future actions to which we are committed. What we don’t want is to default into shallow fixes that enable a return to business-as-usual that soon drifts into even worse conflicts and dysfunctions.

Furthermore, even as we seek to handle these human dimensions of our predicament, we need to stay mindful of challenges unfolding in realms like the environment (e.g., climate) and technology (e.g., artificial intelligence). Human issues and dreams too often colonize our attention away from emerging crises centered in non-human domains whose complex dynamics we may fail to grasp until it is too late.

So here are some of my initial thoughts as I try to envision sensible strategic approaches to the current challenges filling our daily news:

  1. The threat of fascism or authoritarian populism is now palpably real and requires strong popular and official responses engaging law enforcement, judicial, legislative, administrative, political, media, nonviolent activist and even spiritual modes of response. Failure to do so will open the door to violent fascistic cultural conditions that will make it extremely difficult to pursue urgently needed cultural and systemic reforms for the benefit of all.
  2. The concentration – and hidden use – of elite power needs to be effectively countered by equity and transparency laws, cultural initiatives and systemic changes. Increasingly, people sense that elites function in ways that undermine our shared well-being and sacred collective values. That perception generates understandable mistrust of and opposition to elite dominated institutions which, in turn, feeds public passion for both repression and insurrection.
  3. The needs and perspectives of people on all sides of our “culture wars” need to be deeply heard, understood, and respected by all parties so that common cause initiatives can be co-created among those of us – on all sides – who have been so thoroughly manipulated. This includes identifying and countering those who are dividing us for their personal, corporate. political and geopolitical benefit AND establishing policies, programs, and new institutions that can help us creatively address our shared needs and aspirations. To the extent we blame each other instead of calling out the people and institutions that manipulate us, we are doomed to self-destruction instead of mutual liberation and wellbeing.
  4. Ultimately we need to move beyond systems that incentivize adversarial polarities – pro/anti, left/right, black/white, rich/poor, etc. – to co-create strategies that address the deep needs and aspirations of all people – in all our unique complexity. And we need to do that in the context of the larger living systems we are all part of, dependent on, and responsible for healing and sustaining, This especially involves moving beyond majoritarian winner-take-all approaches as we promote deep dialogue and creative, informed deliberation among broad spectrums of diverse people in search of what works for all and for the world at large.

Given the complexity of our current predicament, all four of the above approaches are vital – whether pursued independently, in parallel, or through strategic, synergistic collaborations. To the extent we leave out any of them, the others will end up being ineffective or counter-productive in the long run, if not also in the short-term. That said, I expect my own views of all this to shift as we move further into our shared unpredictable future…

Many resources for pursuing these strategies and for using uncertainty wisely are available on the pattern pages listed here. Click the pattern links that interest you and notice what’s available there.


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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

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