Friday, April 06, 2007

Academia Nuts

As a number of you know, I've been bantering back and forth with people on a number of different politically oriented sites lately. One principle that rears its ugly head frequently is the thought that diplomacy is the only option for resolving conflict. My post isn't about arguing that point or not. It's about my intense need to, when seeing a problem, fix it.

The problem: why do academics, at least the ones that I know, believe that force is never an option, but diplomacy is the only option?

I thought about this over the last couple of weeks, and I have a theory. I only have a theory because of my experience with homeschooling our daughter for five years now, and for starting it with my son last year.

Press on!

In educating my children, I cannot fail them; I have to succeed. The options are simple, teaching methods either succeed or fail for the student. To that extent, I will try a method of education until deeming that it either works or doesn't work. If it fails, I find another method. Failure is not an option, the education process MUST continue.

This is not bad. I believe that each parent, whether they homeschool their children or not, would want the same thing. If one method of educating their children doesn't work, then try other methods until one is found that does work. Press on, because failure is not an option, at least in terms of the required subjects.

Applying education to diplomacy

So, how do I see this principle applied to diplomacy by academics? I believe many academics see diplomacy as the only option, and it MUST work. Much like they have to succeed to their fullest extent in teaching their students, they are on the same course with conflict resolution. After all, I don't believe it's a long jump to say that some conflicts exist because of a lack of education or understanding. So, why not look for different methods of educating people in order to resolve a conflict?

Does that make sense?

Where does it fall short? I believe this concept falls short in three areas:

1. Many conflicts do not - or should not - have an infinite life. In many situations, time is of the essence. This is not a power play or a fabricated urgency. Whereas education and diplomacy will take as long as necessary in some situations, there are other situations where expecting ongoing participation and completion of process are unrealistic or inappropriate.

2. Point #1 indicates that, if diplomacy doesn't work in a given period of time, then another option must be used. I'm not saying physical force is needed, but I am saying that stronger measures than "understanding my opponent" must be used.

3. Call me a cynic, but I believe that many folks who want "understanding" really don't want it; rather, they want to be understood. So, diplomacy really becomes a subtle form of manipulation, a way for the primary party to impose their ideas on the secondary party. I mean, isn't that what education is - imposing what's important to me onto someone else? I think this is an effective strategy for a party having a minority opinion; it may be their only hope for obtaining their desired outcome.


Through my puzzle solving attempts, I have come to believe there is a time and place for education. It is definitely needed in the classroom, wherever that classroom might be. However, I do not believe that the war room is a classroom. There are certain times and places where diplomacy is not the only option, and at other times when it is not even a viable option.

If we are truly open to resolving conflicts, then it is inappropriate to believe that diplomacy is always the only option.

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