Solidary Incentives – G. Duffy, M. Wizard, V. Liveoak, S. Russell

This is continuation of a conversation that started with this post. Updated 12 September at 7:15 PDT. rdj

Oversimply, most political leaders there (as well as their associates in Dublin and London) are trying to settle. Hardliners across communities are of course skeptical and see the settlement effort as naivite at best and betrayal at worst. The question is whether the non-hardliners (can’t bring myself to call them moderates) can sufficiently build confidence in the settlement among constituents across communities. It’s unclear how one can readily build confidence in political contexts in which each side has demonized the other for generations, or, as in this case, for centuries.

Gavan Duffy

Well, ok, but what exactly is being done to “retract solidary”?? please be specific

If I am understanding this even vaguely, you are describing a [very slow and tentative] process, in Ireland, of reducing expectations, and especially guarantees, of special treatment or privilege based on one’s commitment to a [respective] faith — one example (and perhaps not a very apt one) might be in assuring equal access to housing, in any neighborhood; in the US there used to be deed restrictions that prevented the sale of homes in white neighborhoods to “coloreds” and although I don’t know if there are similar arrangements in Ireland, it seems plausible — and one can make that illegal, but that doesn’t necessarily end the practice or the expectation.

So, on that kind of level, please, what is being tried now that you know of? Or am I totally and completely not getting this one?

Mariann Wizard

Well, Marian, when you ask “what exactly is being done to retract solidary” incentives, you re-ask my question. I don’t know, exactly, how to retract them. Once you’ve demonized an enemy to mobilize constituents, how do you de-demonize that enemy when you want to settle?

The deed restriction example isn’t apt. Material incentives are easy to retract, by (in this instance) making deed restrictions illegal or (more typically) withholding pay (or threatening incarceration) for non-obedience to leaders’ orders. Solidary incentives, however, aren’t readily retractable.

Generally, we hear about vague “confidence-building” measures, but these tend not to bear fruit for at least a generation, if then. I suspect the underlying causal mechanism is “cohort replacement.” Political animosities fade as the hardliners slowly pass away.

Something faster would be helpful. There are of course the truth and reconciliation commissions. These tend to be employed where there were massive human rights abuses, but they could be useful in divided communities where human rights abuses have been relatively less severe. I haven’t heard of their use in Northern Ireland, though.

Apart from that, the only concrete proposal I can come up with is to educate prospective political leaders of the dangers of mobilizing in this way. Of course, revolutionary insurgencies typically have no alternative, as they tend to have limited access to material resources. This makes the proposal less than satisfying as a general solution.


After WWII the US and other Allies mounted large campaigns to rebuild Germany and Japan. (Rebuilding them–more or less–in the Allies’ images) Thus the Axis powers became more like the Allies, and are now in most ways Us not Them.

On a grassroots level, the process allowed people to see each others’ humanity by, on one side, helping the other, and, on the other side, receiving help from a former enemy.

Similarly, as China’s economic model has allowed more profit taking there, China has been de-demonized by the leaders of commerce. It is seen as more like us.

I believe that most of us on this list would have doubts about trying to make any of the targets of US demonizing more like us. But we can reach for common humanity in small ways. (That is why I worry when we repeat the demonizing of Islamic Fundamentalism.)

I hear Conservative complaints about how the media don’t publicize the “good things” the US is doing in Iraq–building schools etc. I would guess if the US were to focus more on rebuilding rather than attempting to attack insurgents then the humanizing would go both ways.

I agree that at the level of leaders, we need to do all we can to decrease the tendency to demonize whichever people is the target of the leader’s hate. But I think that maybe at the grassroots level, we need more helpful ways to make contacts between the Us’s and the Them’s.

One note–I wonder if peacemakers’ attempts to communicate the terrible suffering that the US are inflicting on the Iraqis is effectively helping grassroots contacts. American culture is so focused on solving problems, and in denying painful truths, that there’s extremely limited attention for massive sad stories–a sympathy glut. I think many folks connect better with individual stories, and ones with some ray of hopefulness, some vision of remedy, such as Ruqayya’s.

It is counter cultural to appeal to altruism rather than the profit motive. To incite feelings of love (or at least respect) rather than hate. But that’s the only way to re-draw the circle of Us’s to include the Them’s.

But we were the countercultural folks 30 years ago. Can we do that now?

Paz–Val Liveoak

Well, Val, I guess it depends on whether you think there are demons.

Demons, to me, are fundamentalists of any stripe: Islamic, Christian, Marxist, whatever.

People willing to sacrifice the human beings in front of them for some abstract good with which the people in front of them may not agree.

I don’t respect fundamentalists, except in the sense that I respect their right to be crazy.

But not their right to make the world crazy, which is their primary goal. Therein comes the conflict.

Steve Russell

The postwar rehabilitation of the Germans and Japanese certainly exemplifies the retraction of solidary incentives, but it took a generation at least — especially for the Japanese, whose ethnic difference from (most of) us slowed the transition (if it’s even completed). It’d be real nice to find a more efficient approach.

Grassroots encounters and other efforts to reach for common humanity are salutary, but typically ineffective. The underlying presumption is the “contact hypothesis,” the idea that positive interactions between persons in mutally disaffected communities will motivate them to drop their negative stereotypes of the other’s group. Unfortunately, the evidence runs counter to the contact hypothesis. People tend to explain away their positive experiences as ceteris paribus conditions, or exceptions to the rule, while retaining the stereotype. “Well, Ahmed is a really nice person, not like the rest of those damn Arabs.”

See Miles Hewstone’s discussion of the contact hypothesis in his book on causal attribution. Sorry, don’t have the full reference handy, but I recall the book’s title as Causal Attribution.


I don’t have to BELIEVE in evil actions since I can see them. And I agree they are often done by fundamentalists. But to consider fundamentalists of any sort as demons makes it impossible to consider that they might be able some day to grow and change. It ignores the good motives they might have for every single one of their activities or beliefs–even ones we might otherwise find in common with our own. Can a “demon” ever do good?

Sister Helen Prejean says of people on death row, “What would you or I be if we were only known by the worst thing we ever did?”

That said we can and should find ways to stop evil actions. But calling people demons doesn’t help IMHO.


I am not an academic. I don’t know if the Hewstone study includes work specifically aimed at rebuilding communities shattered by violence.

The group with which I work, Friends Peace Teams, has a very impressive project of community reconciliation in Burundi and Rwanda. Check it out here. Look for the African Great Lakes Initiative.


I will. I’ll also share it with a Kenyan doctoral student who’s worked on the ground in both Burundi and Rwanda and is writing a dissertation in this substantive area. I’m sure she’ll be interested.

Hewstone’s study is relevant, whether you are an academic or not. It would be an advance, for both theory and practice, to show that reconciliation efforts in any context produced significantly positive results, contrary to Hewstone’s conclusion. If they don’t, that would be important to know too.

Anyway, I’ll visit the website. I’m interested in cataloging the efforts that people make to retract or otherwise undo solidary incentives, successful or not, naively idealistic or not.


I agree that demonizing individuals does not advance the ball and I try not to do so.

Some individuals do manage to demonize themselves, and I don’t find it productive to spend time pointing out that Hitler loved his dog and had a horrible upbringing, both of which are apparently true.

But demonizing IDEAS is not the same thing.

The idea that it is morally correct to kill somebody over a theological difference or a political difference is repugnant.

You argue theology if you think it’s worth arguing and ditto politics but when it’s part of your argument that those who disagree must die you forfeit any claim to respect.

The “lawful” use of force on the international level is at this time limited to purely defensive wars and actions sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Bush, I suppose, didn’t get the memo.

The lawful use of force on the individual level is limited to self-defense and defense of another from imminent threat.

Is a rule of law a good thing? Some people say that governments, having monopolies on lawful force, may by definition only be toppled by unlawful force in an undemocratic situation. History does not generally support that hypothesis, but it dovetails nicely with the impulse to do violence that comes from injustice.

Had the Palestinians the discipline for a Satyagraha, there would have been a Palestinian state a long time ago and a lot fewer people would be dead on both sides. But Gandhi was right that the hard part is not dealing with your adversary but rather preparing yourself.

And you are right that you don’t prepare yourself by speaking in terms of demons.

I have come in my old age to just put some things outside what I consider to be rational discourse. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon. That’s what my little explosion about gay marriage was about at the Rag reunion. The other place my curmudgeonly persona comes forward is in excusing violence by people I believe to be oppressed when that violence is directed at the innocent. I guess now that I make a living in the world of ideas I have come to take seriously the idea that not everything is within the realm of rational discourse. Outside that realm there be demons.


This entry was posted in RagBlog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *