15 May 2022

"Conflict entrepreneurs" explained

"In her 2021 book “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” journalist Amanda Ripley explains what can turn disagreement — inevitable in any group or community — into potentially ruinous “high conflict”: a moment “when conflict clarifies into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them.”

In high conflict, the nuanced middle flees the debate, leaving only the most extreme voices to shout from their two distant poles. The threats feel existential. And the normal rules of engagement — the ones that allow a society to function — cease to apply.

The runaway blaze of high conflict is stoked by what Ripley calls “conflict entrepreneurs”: those who have something to gain from the conflict’s continuing, and who thus help it along rather than seek to tone it down, bundling conflicts together to make them feel worse and more distressing. These people delight in the fight, and in adding fuel to the fire...

When not calcified into a state of high alarm, conflict can be positive — it can force us to reckon with our own beliefs and those of our neighbors. Conflict can motivate us to be better people, and compel us to seek solutions that might actually create radical and productive societal change...

The constructive approach is one of curiosity and recognition — a commitment to finding the common ground that must and always does exist, and to not throwing more fuel on the fire.
Excerpts from an op-ed piece on abortion in today's Washington Post.


  1. "...domination of the scene by inflammatory actors..."

    A good description of public debate on most important topics over the past few decades?

  2. I think another useful approach would be to study how passive-aggression in the middle stokes anger at the extremes. It's not as if there's some noble and forthright contingent of centrists for extremists to emulate. Certainly not on the left.

    1. ...and not on the right either...

      No one is willing to have a conversation about difficult topics that are nuanced and require more time to listen & learn.

  3. Nixon called it "The Silent Majority." Jerry Falwell called in "The Moral Majority."

  4. "As the English writer G. K. Chesterton said: The bigot isn’t the man who thinks he’s right. Every sane man thinks he’s right. The bigot is the man who can’t understand how the other man came to be wrong."

    From an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:



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