Dennis Sandole

Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Can you tell me little bit about the disconnect between cognitive intervention processes and effective conflict generators?

A: Yes, that is something I introduced to way back in Conflict 610, my research methods class. I thought you guys should know a little bit about that, not just to do effective research in the field, but letting you know that you to are part of the subject matter. Also I thought that it applies to all aspects of the field. Yes, I think most of us in the field tend not to make this connection between who we are psychologically which to say, perceptually, cognitively, and who we are in terms of underlying emotions. Somehow there is this thought that if only we could get to the parties through some kind of rational decision making process that we impose upon them, even through some Lederachy ??? process. We still impose upon them that everything will be ok at the end of the day. We seem to fail to realize that no matter how intelligent people are that the underlying emotions are perhaps reflected in historical memory, grounded in historical memory, grounded in ??? chosen trauma. No matter how intelligent they are, as there are 1000s of intelligent Israelis, intelligent Jews. For instance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mention to the Israelis the plight of the Palestinians, often times it is their head off a brick wall, quite often because of the underlying emotion that is basically a wall of resistance that is really, really hard to penetrate.

I don't think we spend too much time making that distinction between the intellectual, cognitive psychological perception on the one hand, and on the other hand the underlying emotion because underlying emotion is meant to be the nonrational, the irrational, that is almost biological, we don't want to touch that. We have more conflict ideology than we do conflict resolution objectivity, conflict resolution methodology that can grapple with all types of realities. We have more of a one-dimensional set of ideologies that says, "if only we could lay our hands on these people..." This is very American; it is a new form of missionarism. We are going to not bring Christianity we are going to bring peace, and the two are correlated of course. We are in many ways the new missionaries, and we don't want to know about resource methods. We don't even want to know about training. We just want to know about good intentions, and sometimes that is all it takes. We might be more part of the problem than we are the solution. Part of this is not recognizing that there is a disconnect between what we see, and that applies to us too, and what we feel. Quite often we see what we feel. This is the reason that I had you read Tom Kuhn, Structures of Scientific Revolutions, two scientists looking at the same thing. Why is it if there are two different people looking at the same thing and someone asks them the same question, and you can get two radically different answers. Or worse it may produce two competing sets of data that are experimentally collected to justify their perceptions. If that could apply to the high priests and priestesses of truth, what about Serbs and Croats and Russians and Chechnians, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, European Americans who are angry with each other. There is not too much on this disconnect on the contrast between the cognitive level and the emotional level.

The irony is as third parties we operate on the cognitive level. We sit down and talk to people who are talking. I don't know anybody that trains in terms of getting the talk to trickle down to the emotional level. Maybe some of those who do neuro-linguistic programming might argue that is what they are doing, or those who have a Buddhist orientation of third party intervention. Short-term training and indeed masters of science did not get you to much in the intra-psyche level of even a third party. You might get brutalized by going into a Kosovo or by going to a Rwanda as a member of the humanitarian intervention, seeing the death and destruction, and then you are expected to sit down and bring the parties to the table. How have you been trained to deal with that yourself? I dare say not to well. Then we are expected to do something miraculous for the parties and we say here at ICAR that we are concerned with deep-rooted conflict. If it is deep rooted and protracted that means something has traumatized the individuals and we may bring them together across the table first and not just through cognitive but the underlying affective bringing them to the table might not get us to far. That is what is wrong with the Middle Eastern peace process we are already bringing them to the table. We are not dealing with that sense of outrage that drives Hamas or that drives Sharon. Hamas and Sharon are both perpetrators of war crimes; unfortunately Americans only mention this with the regard to the Palestinians, although Secretary of State Collin Powell in Jordan did rebuke the Israelis for killing a Hamas leader saying it was impediment to peace. We in the United States, as the third party, only assail and assault the Palestinians who are recipients of structural, cultural, and physical violence constantly, and then when they inflict it upon the Israelis, which is horrible, we only condemn them. That is ignoring the cognitive affective disconnect. Not just disconnect but connection. Unless we deal with the rage, the outrage then we are not going to do anything at the cognitive level, except force people at the point of the bayonet to have democracy, which is what I think we are doing in Iraq.