2014: A Year of High Conflict in the World: Why?

© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

2014 will be remembered for its high-conflict boundary disputes and attacks on innocent students. Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, while lying about it until it was over. Russia continues to equip rebels in the Ukraine, perhaps with similar intentions, again denying any involvement. ISIS seemed to appear out of nowhere, taking over huge swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, making mince meat out of their national borders, including capturing oil fields and beheading westerners.  Yet, ISIS has also invaded Western countries by appealing to some alienated youth searching for a way to feel powerful. It was a tough year for school girls in high-conflict rebel zones, in Nigeria with Boko Haram kidnapping and enslaving over 300 girls, and in Afghanistan, Taliban rebels killing young school girls, who were simply seeking an education. In Guerrero, Mexico, more than 40 university students (male and female) were kidnapped and killed.

Perhaps the high-conflict personality theory (HCP theory) may offer some possible reasons why, although I am not an expert on world politics (although perhaps no one is right now):

1. All of these actions seem to be perpetrated by small groups dominated by antisocial personalities. Antisocials have a repeated pattern of behavior, including: a drive to dominate or destroy others, aggressive risk-taking, immediate gratification with little attention to long-term consequences, shameless lying, manipulation of others’ vulnerabilities, a severe lack of empathy and remorse, and an enjoyment of hurting others; combined with extreme charm and persuasive promises. The problem isn’t Islam, the Russian people, or a world gone mad. It’s antisocials taking advantage of several dramatic changes in our less-cohesive modern age, including the Internet, the major news media, and American ambivalence about our role in the world.

2. The Internet is a playground for antisocials. Slick videos can be made and promoted regarding any idea, no matter how absurd. Young people around the world can see images and read friendly messages, from antisocial child molesters to terrorists preaching hate. Few people realize how images can be a powerful influence on young people (and all of us) and how persuasive smooth-sounding words of antisocial strangers can be. We are too trusting that children will not get sucked in and we need to train them to watch out for antisocial behavior and people.

3. The major news media are in a decade-long war for “market share,” so that their weapons are extreme images and smooth-sounding words. The extreme behavior of a very few people gets broadcast around the world and influences more of the same behavior. For adults, it’s entertaining, but for young people it’s training. This combination of extreme images and smooth-sounding words splits people into like-minded subgroups who believe that everyone thinks like them. It is strangely empowering of small groups of people who lack self-restraint and believe that they are superior, and therefore have the right and wide-spread support to dominate others.

4. As a nation, America has been in a heightened state of fear since 9/11. This has led us to make bad decisions, and then to make bad decisions in an effort to fix things. It has been obvious for several years that invading Iraq was a bad idea. Our political and military leaders misunderstood the consequences of violating the borders of a sovereign nation, no matter how terrible we believed their leader to be. But after that, we dismantled their military, with the result that many former generals are now leading ISIS. You don’t dismantle an established “dominance hierarchy” without creating chaos. Likewise, Afghanistan – who knows what the lasting result will be.

American ambivalence seems to have the following pattern: 1) Invade a sovereign nation, 2) become the dominance hierarchy, and then 3) leave! And pretend there is a new dominance hierarchy when in fact they have to start over again in our absence. Apparently, you can’t train a dominance hierarchy – you have to earn it and maintain it.  In the absence of a dominance hierarchy, my theory is that antisocials will be the fastest to get into power – until a new dominance hierarchy can eventually take it away from them. In the future, the world community as a coalition will have to decide if an antisocial leader should be ousted, then do the job and stick around to rebuild. Removing Hitler and rebuilding Germany as a coalition for decades, such as sharing responsibility for Berlin, turned into a huge success.

The take-away from 2014 that I see is that you can’t fight antisocials alone – you have to learn to build coalitions and help non-antisocials long enough for them to earn their own dominance hierarchy, rather than leaving power vacuums with antisocials running loose. We will have to get over our ambivalence and choose our battles wisely when confronting antisocials – wherever they are.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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