The Intimacy of Enemies
When Maps and Territories Are In Conflict
And What We Can Do About It
In a 2007 article published in the journal ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Milton Dawes writes about the founder of general semantics, Alfred Korzybski, the following:
The impact of Korzybski’s experience on the battlefields of World War I led him to wonder how we humans became so advanced in the fields of science, mathematics, and technology, yet continued to behave so primitively with each other?’ He was very concerned with the ever expanding gap between progress in the scientific fields and the quality of our human relationships. Over a period of twelve years “[h]e studied human evaluations in science and mathematics and psychiatry, ‘at their best and at their worst’ as he put it, from the standpoint of predictability and human survival”. (Manhood of Humanity, page xxiii)
How might general semantics inform peace building efforts, particularly with respect to evaluation errors in the mapping process? What does it mean when different parties are operating with different maps, assuming that each represents the same territory? How do parties in conflict err in essentializing their respective identities? What can the general semantics concepts of non-identity and non-allness do to overcome these intractable conflicts?
These questions, and more, will be addressed in a conversation between Dr. Zachary Metz of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and Dr. Michael Plugh of Manhattan College.
Do small things matter in big conflicts? Dr. Metz focuses his attention on micro- and meso-level action and interaction, using this lens to understand small groups that work to build peace in intractable conflicts. His analysis illuminates forms of sociologically unique political power generated in and by these groups. The groups he studies are all led by, and made up of, “local” actors at the national or subnational level. They are working in a wide range of settings, including Palestine and Israel, Iraq, Myanmar, Northern Ireland and Lebanon. While the activities undertaken by the groups are varied, Dr. Metz's research shows how all engage in specific forms of profound transgression, working directly with counterparts who are viewed as “the enemy” in the hegemonic conflict narrative.
These groups are generating a specific and unique form of power. Dr. Metz characterizes and theorizes this form of power as “the intimacy of enemies”. From his inquiry, he derives six attributes of the intimacy of enemies:
- Border Crossing;
- engaging in specific forms of Interaction and Action;
- Redefining the Situation;
- generating Emotional Energy;
- acting on Agency and Freedom;
- and, finally, Creating Alternatives to the prevailing conflict hegemony and order.
His work is concerned with the exceptional capacity of these small groups to create potent alternatives, and how this is hopeful and consequential, even in the most brutal conflicts.
Zachary Metz is a partner and the Director of Peace Building practice at Consensus, a consulting firm specializing in negotiation, conflict resolution and peace building, having worked in the field of conflict resolution and peace building for twenty years. His areas of expertise include training and large-group facilitation, conflict assessment, conflict-sensitive development, restorative justice and program design and evaluation. Prior to joining Consensus, Metz was the Director of Education & Training for Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR). He served as the senior trainer and facilitator for CICR’s interventions in Iraq, Lebanon, East Timor, Burma, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and has provided expertise to the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs, International Organization for Migration, Search for Common Ground, and a wide range of international political and civil society organizations. Metz has mediated hundreds of disputes in the private sector, in communities and within families, and directed mediation programs for inmates inside a maximum security prison and juvenile detention facility. He teaches the graduate course Applied International Peace Building at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He received a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia University, and an MA in Sociology from the New School for Social Research, where he also recently completed his PhD studies with a focus on intractable identity-based conflicts.
Michael Plugh, is Professor of Communication at Manhattan College and a President of the New York Society for General Semantics.
Come join us for a peaceful and energetic discussion!
7 PM to 9 PM Wednesday, April 21st via Zoom.
Registration is free, but all attendees must be registered in order to receive an event link by e-mail.