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Civility Gets Real, Holiday-edition.

Holidays are a time to practice civility, which is another way of saying “diplomacy in action” around the table. The French have a unique approach to civility, which might be worth considering. But here in the U.S.,  just 31 percent “said they were eager to discuss the latest news with their family and friends” according to an NPR/PBS/Marist poll. and 84% surveyed by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate “experienced incivility” with 59% noting that they are giving up paying attention to politics as a result.

How can you enjoy your meal, have an exchange views, and still get along–let alone maybe even learn something?

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First, remember civility isn’t Festivus, the airing of grievances. So what is it? Writing in 1997, Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess observe:

In short, any reasonable definition of civility must recognize that the many differing interests which divide our increasingly diverse society will produce an endless series of confrontations over difficult moral and distributional issues. Often these issues will have an irreducible win-lose character and, hence, not be amenable to consensus resolution. While continuing confrontation is inevitable, the enormous destructiveness which commonly accompanies these confrontations is not.

via Beyond Intractability, “The Meaning of Civility”

Mark Shields and David Brooks offered some tactical advice in 2013:

David Brooks: My first tip: if you have a deep-down disagreement about how you were treated at your 13th birthday party, deal with it honestly and don’t submerge it into a political fight. Most family political debates are fought because of deeper family issues. Second, the key to a civil political debate is to consider the likelihood that you’re wrong.

And this useful anecdote when discussing healthcare (or insert difficult issue here):

Let’s start with story about a rabbi who came to the synagogue with two pieces of paper in his pocket. One said the world was created for me and the other said I am nothing but dust and ashes. And the reason the rabbi carried those papers is they were both equally true. So when dealing with health care or any other issue, it’s normal to have two opposing ideas be equally true. In Obamacare, it would cover millions of new people and it’s also true that the website doesn’t work well and it may hurt the economy. So, the big issues are always about balance.

via Holiday guide to civility from Mark Shields and David Brooks | PBS NewsHour

Again, the Burgesses provide these key concepts, as well, all of which are easier said than done:

  • Separate people from the problem
  • Obtain available facts
  • Use fair processes
  • Limit escalation
  • Honor legitimate uses of legal, political and other power
  • Separate win/win from win/lose issues
  • Limit the backlash effect
  • Keep trying to persuade and allow yourself to be persuaded

Maybe there is a Thanksgiving connection to civility after all–looking back to disagreement and contempt in early American history. In the 1600s, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, practiced a form of civility that incorporated that Teresa Bejan describes as “mental toughness to tolerate what we perceive as our opponents’ incivility, to live with them and continue to engage, even when we think them irredeemable.” She writes:

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As practiced by Williams, mere civility was more often an expression of mutual contempt than mutual admiration. We might recognize it as the virtue governing those unpleasant-but-unavoidable interactions with ex-spouses and bad neighbors, as well as anyone who voted for the other gal (or guy). But even mere civility can be quite demanding: In attempting to understand other minds on the model of our own, people make sense of disagreement by concluding that our opponents are stupid, bigoted, evil or even insane. Yet mere civility demands that we keep the disagreement going, no matter how disagreeable, to continue the battle of words without resorting to violence.

via Post Everything, WaPo, ‘You don’t have to be nice to your political opponents. But you do have to talk to them.”

Incivility isn’t just a dinner table issue–as it can spill over to the economy. There is a cost to incivility, particularly in the workplace. According to Christine Portal and Christine Pearson, writing in HRB, creativity suffers, performance decreases, customers retreat, and, when HR needs to get involved, costs can increase.

Even so,  not everyone things civility is essential. Consdier Hillary Clinton’s alienating “basket of deplorables” line, an ongoing discussion of racism and how to address it, as well as Senator Jeff Flake’s assertion, as reported on Daily Beast, that

[those] who do not call out President Donald Trump for incivility are complicit. “There are times when you have to stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry, this is wrong,’” Flake said on CBS’ Face the Nation. 

[Watch it on YouTube.]

Good luck… and could you please pass the cranberry sauce?

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The Athenian Model of International Relations 

 

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The way that a diplomat looks at the world matters. Civilizations and, today, nation-states, have differing views on the way the world works. A Chinese approach to diplomacy takes a different time-horizon than many Western countries, who tend to be focused on the short-term.

But what happens when you see the world as a business deal, or a zero-sum negotiation? What are the moral implications? Writing in the New York Times, columnist David Brooks draws a line between the values that shape our worldview–with an eye toward a few of the U.S. administration’s leading figures.

Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.
Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.
By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

via David Brooks in The New York Times, The Axis of Selfishness

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A Downsized State Department

statedeptentranceAn update on the so-called “deconstruction” of the U.S. Department of State, where the future of American diplomacy is still uncertain. How will a 30% budget cut impact the national interest?

Does Tillerson have the political clout to succeed?

Will reform lead to streamlined diplomacy?

Can we see the outlines of a Trump policy where soft power is ignored at the expense of hard, military might?

‘But as William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, put it to me, “Beneath the surface, there’s nothing at all that’s normal.” Hard power and soft power are complementary. Cut out one and American leverage is lost. Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state in the Obama administration, said, “Whether witting or not, this is not just the disruption of the State Department, it’s the destruction, and the minimization of the role of diplomacy in our national security.”’

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Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Rhetorical Tactics of White House Women

But at the White House, one former staffer explained to the Washington Post, women started using a simple rhetorical technique to stop interruptions and reinforce points made by other women. When a woman made a good point, another woman would repeat it, and give credit to the originator. This made the idea harder to ignore, or to steal. The women called the technique “amplification.”

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it,” one of president Barack Obama’s former aides told the Post. “It was an everyday thing.” She said that Obama noticed and began calling on women more often.
The women, perhaps unconsciously, had noticed two things. First, that repetition is one of the simplest ways of reinforcing any point—which can be seen through history across oratory and poetry. But secondly, that simply hammering a point home by repeating it oneself has limitations, especially in a competitive environment where everyone is clamoring to be heard. Some researchers have hypothesized that women are interrupted more because their conversational style tends to be collaborative, where men tend to be more competitive.

QZ.com

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Breaking Down the Syrian Ceasefire 


An excellent discussion parsing prospects, dimensions, and implications relating to the Syrian Ceasefire on today’s Diane Rehm Show.

The U.S. – Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria which went into effect at sundown on Monday is said to be, so far, mostly holding. Despite long odds for success Washington and Moscow hope their joint efforts can target the Islamic State and an Al Qaeda terrorist group while allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of increasingly desperate Syrian civilians: Join us for an update on the ongoing brutal conflict in Syria and prospects for this latest ceasefire agreement to hold.

Guests

  • Liz Sly bureau chief, Beirut, Washington Post
  • Jason Cone executive director, Doctors Without Borders
  • Philip Gordon senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, former special assistant to the president and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region from 2013–15
  • Faysal Itani resident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
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All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

Olympics are over. So what’s happening in Brazil politically-speaking? And what can we make of the impeachment of the country’s first female president?

Amy Erica Smith, an assistant political science professor at Iowa State University who studies Brazil, said these charges “don’t rise to the level of the kind of accusations that would merit impeachment,” adding: “It’s not a legitimate use of the impeachment proceedings.”

This is why Ms. Rousseff and her allies argued that the politicians pushing impeachment were not trying to protect the integrity of Brazilian democracy, but, rather, to manipulate it to serve their own ends. Calling the impeachment a coup became a way to question the motives of opposition leaders and to argue that impeaching Ms. Rousseff would be contrary to democracy.

Normally, following the law — which the impeachers were indeed doing — by design serves democracy. But, in Brazil, there is currently just enough corruption and just enough rule of law for political elites to play the two against each other.Corruption, Professor Smith explained, is so endemic in Brazilian politics that it most likely implicates the entire governing class. The country also has a powerful judiciary that is actively working to investigate and prosecute corruption — an unstable combination.

Source: All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

More recently, the issue appears to be a pivot toward economic issues. Should Michel Temer maintain control as the new president, “the hard part is just the beginning” according to Simon Romero’s latest article with the economy, questions about his legitimacy, corruption investigations, and uncertainty all key questions.

Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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Booklist | East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” by Philippe Sands

The Nuremberg Trials afforded the victorious Western powers the chance to prosecute a new type of crime. How did this happen? A new book by Philippe Sands of University College London how Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin contributed to this legal innovation.

“A nation was killed,” Lemkin wrote, “and the guilty persons set free.” Later, after reading Mein Kampf, he presciently declared it a “blue-print for destruction.” He went on to practice law in Poland before being forced to flee Europe, and ended up in North Carolina and the sanctuary of Duke University. In 1944 he published a book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The title may have been lackluster but he made up for it with the word he coined for the title of chapter nine, a word that would henceforth enter the legal lexicon as a means of classifying and judging the worst possible crime, the “crime of crimes”—“Genocide.”

Source: How to Prosecute a War Criminal | New Republic

Game Theory Parenting

According to Kevin Zollman of Carnegie Mellon and Paul Raeburn, game theory isn’t just for diplomats–although it has been applied to solving the conflict in Syria or smart decision-making. It can help parents overcome the cleverness of their own little evil genius negotiating opponents.

Here’s where a little knowledge of human behavior and game theory comes in handy. Psychologists have found that how children approach negotiations—and whether they share or turn spiteful—depends in large part on notions of fair play. And game theorists have devised various ways to approach any negotiation—some of which are more likely to result in fair outcomes than others. Some schemes require an authority figure—like a parent—to enforce them, but others are designed to structure the bargaining so that no enforcer is needed. What that means is, with the right incentives, kids can be taught to reach fair agreements all on their own.

Source: Scientific American, Game Theory for Parents

In The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, they recommend the following:

  • Force Cooperation
  • Make them Bid on Chores
  • Carry out your threats
  • Change incentives: Reward Honesty  or Make them Lie
  • Create Envy-free Situation

Putting game theory to work in the minivan is another way of saying that Nobel-winning ideas are upping your game:

Screaming “Don’t make me turn this car around!” never works. That’s what Zollman calls a noncredible threat—kids see through it, because they know it means you’ll suffer too. So pick punishments that benefit you. Like: “Stop punching your sister or we’re going to Grandma’s instead of the movies.”

Source: Kids Are Master Manipulators. So Use Game Theory Against Them | WIRED