20 October 2017

How to bypass cultural imperatives

Philip Salzman writes:
Peace is not possible in the Middle East because values and goals other than peace are more important to Middle Easterners. Most important to Middle Easterners are loyalty to kin, clan, and cult, and the honour which is won by such loyalty. These are the cultural imperatives, the primary values, held and celebrated. When conflict arises and conflict-parties form based on loyal allegiance, the conflict is regarded as appropriate and proper. Why There Is No Peace in the Middle East, Philip Carl Salzman, 14 October
On first reading, this seems correct. If so, it would devalue my attempts to encourage the issuing of Middle East Peace Bonds. But what would ordinary people - men and women - in the Middle East or, indeed, anywhere else, say if they were given the chance to voice their opinions in private? I'd like to think that they would happily ditch tribal loyalties in exchange for peace and the consequent brighter prospects for themselves and their descendants. Middle East peace might seem overly idealistic, and it probably is, if we see tribal loyalties which, simply because they've persisted for a thousand years or more, as intractable. But slavery too, used to be considered part of the natural order of things, along with other physical and societal pathologies. Over the course of a conventional politician's planning horizon, of course, Salzman is correct. Conventional politicians, unfortunately, generate conventional policies; a particularly ineffectual approach when trying to address problems that will most likely require an array of possibly untried and adaptive approaches for their solution.

Applying the Social Policy Bond concept to armed conflict might be the way forward. For some regions, a definition of our peace goal might need to be more nuanced than 'cessation of conflict' (as measured, say, by numbers of people killed or made homeless). But the bonds can target peace, however defined, over a decades-long term, which means that bondholders would be motivated to bring about popular, sustainable peace agreements. 'Cultural imperatives' and other so-called 'intractable' problems, I believe, are amenable to solution: we might not know the exact nature of such solutions, but we can and should be giving people incentives to finding them.

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