A war on simplicity?
Kate Yoder was surprised to find her language getting violent when she started reporting climate change. “Some ancient spirit took hold of me, and I found myself deploying the narrative of war … of the climate movement’s leaders who’d gone all out with the wartime cliches. The only way to overcome climate change inaction, environmentalist Bill McKibben once wrote, ‘is to adopt a wartime mentality, rewriting the old mindset that stands in the way of victory’.”
Oppositional vocabulary is attractive, powerful, often necessary. But focusing on conflict “limits our collective imagination about what we can do to fix complex problems.” Wars on poverty, drugs, terror? None has been won. Can you wage war on a predicament?
While wartime language works for some people, for many ‘intractable conflict’ simply reinforces division. “The key is not to avoid conflict, but to complicate it.” Citing the wonderfully named Difficult Conversations Laboratory at Columbia University, when people are presented with nuanced rather than polarised information on either side, their “conversations looked like a constellation of feelings and points, rather than a tug of war.”
“As for getting rid of war metaphors themselves, well, it’s not easy … It’s certainly going to require some imagination.”