Why We Can't 'Just All Get Along,': Dysfunction in the Polity and Conflict Resolution and What We Might Do About it

22 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2018

See all articles by Carrie Menkel-Meadow

Carrie Menkel-Meadow

University of California, Irvine School of Law; Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: January 4, 2018


In these politically divided times discourse is at a new low, affecting the polity and all everyday relations. This essay reviews some of the sources of the dysfunction (affinity bubbles, “moral tribes,” “politically correct” limits on acceptable speech) and offers some guidance on what might be done to improve learning and communication across value divides, focusing on modern behavioral social science research, some political and conflict resolution theory, and examples taken from the arts and theatre. While many offer ideas for more “rational” reason based engagement, based on more conventional political and deliberative democracy theory and practice, this essay suggests that rationality and “more facts” will not work alone. Attention must be paid in political discourse and everyday conversation and decision making to instrumentally bargained for common and tradable interests, value-based ethical, religious and moral concerns, and emotional issues and feelings that are often at the source of deeply held views. Conflict resolution practice focused on empathy development and human engagement through storytelling is one often effective tool in smaller group encounters. The challenge is to be able to “scale up” what works in one context to more complex macro forces of conflicts over basic values that divide us. The essay attempts a (pessimistically) honest assessment of our current situation and them makes a few (more optimistic) suggestions for how to combine the rational, instrumental and affective (emotional and experiential) dimensions of conflict into more productive engagements, even if such engagements do not necessarily produce conflict “resolution” or “agreement.” Conflict “handling” may be all we can hope for in the present moment, but the essay also suggests that sometimes when conflict is based on essential and strongly held values (of equity, equality and social justice) conflict may be necessary, functional and unresolvable.

Suggested Citation

Menkel-Meadow, Carrie J., Why We Can't 'Just All Get Along,': Dysfunction in the Polity and Conflict Resolution and What We Might Do About it (January 4, 2018). Journal of Dispute Resolution, 2018 Forthcoming, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3096754

Carrie J. Menkel-Meadow (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Drive
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
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949-824-1987 (Phone)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
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202-662-9379 (Phone)
202-662-9412 (Fax)

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