On Becoming a Roger Fisher (or a Noam Chomksy): Part II

Roger Fisher, author of Getting to Yes and founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, may not be considered to be part of “the left.”  He claims to be a pure pragmatist, though I have written about him as a political philosophier in my blog (see “Listen, Learn, Leverage, Lead: Our Most Pragmatic Strategy Has Yet to be Seriously Tried”).  I include him here with Chomsky for a couple of reasons.


First, Fisher, far better than most, shows us where there’s important work to do.  I give examples farther below.


Second,  I see a key place for important work on the left in writing issue content articles to effectively bring Fisher’s pragmatic approach into the work of the left.  Specifically, the textbook, Coping With International Conflict, intersperses content chapters with chapters on method.  The content chapters  or “case studies” include:  “The Middle East,” “The Antiballistic Missle Treaty,” and “The bombing Campaign in Vietnam.” If these descriptions of actual events don’t meet the standards of the Left, someone should write new ones.


4. This is number four of my examples of places that need work, from Part I of this blog article.


Third, I’m convinced that comparing questions “becoming a Noam Chomsky” with “becoming a Roger Fisher” stimulates needed reflection on where we go next.


As I’ve said, Fisher emphasizes his role as a pragmatist.  He directly mentors people to think like an activist, a participant.  He calls us toward “becoming a Machiavelli,” toward very specifically “advising a prince,”and he suggests an approach that, he argues, is more effective than power politics.  Concisely, in Dear Israelis, Dear Arabs, he goes through seven less than productive questions (or examples of work that might be done).  These are:


“What Happened?…

What Caused Past Events to Happen?

Who Was Right and Who Was Wrong?

What is Legal?

Who’s fault is the present situation?

What are their real intentions?

What is probably going to happen?”


He concludes with the thesis of the book, answering “A Better Question:  What Ought to Happen?”  In fact, he concludes the book on page 20, then presents six major examples of “yesable propositions” to Arabs and Israelis on what, specifically could be done to address some part of the conflict.  Additionally, in the introductory material he specifies 27 numbered items (and 7 lettered sub items) that needed to be done in resolving the conflict.


That’s Fisher’s approach.  Dear Israelis, Dear Arabs was essentially a companion to a longer book explaining his method, International Conflict for Beginners.  Both of these books are long out of print, though three chapters of the second book are online.  The first book, likewise, is far out of date with regards to his actual, specific propositions and items to be done (but not with regards to his method).  Fortunately Fisher’s ideas have been updated with Beyond Machiavelli, a concise little paperback, and the textbook, Coping with International Conflict, which includes, I believe, about everything from International Conflict for Beginners.  There are some key materials online also (http://www.pon.harvard.edu/hnp/theory/tools/tools.shtml).  (I have also listed worksheets from various books by Fisher and colleagues in my blog.)


Fisher’s work opens up much work to be done.  To continue from part I of this blog and my item #4 above:  


5.  Fisher et al seem not to have explored in writing the group application of these methods, their use in grassroots organizing.  Work is needed on that.


6.  The books that get at the method best are about  international conflict.  We need writings applying them to other domains, particularly congressional organizing.


7.  The course on Coping with International Conflict at Harvard (and these particular books) are designed to get students (and readers) to implement the method in a specific circumstance.  Whatever your issue, what is one specific, (sufficient, realistic, operational) “yesable proposition,” and who needs to receive it.


8.  For example, I’m trying to start a Farm and Food Engagement group at ZSpace.  The first need in my mind is to bring the two sides of this movement together.  Values are shared, but positions are directly at odds.  At present many on both sides are not aware at all that the movement is split in this way (divide and conquer!  See my White House Farmer blog).  What specific proposals must be made to key leaders on both sides to stop this nonsense.


9.  I recently posted on Justin George’s article, “Animal Liberation and Participatory Theory,” (2/11/09).  In my latest comment there (posted contemporary with this post) I call for a mediating person to use the “one text” method to try to come up with a resolution of our disagreements.  I think it would be instructive.


I plan to do considerable work with Fisher’s method in the future.  So far I haven’t done nearly enough.  


Well, I hope these examples illustrate what I’ve been trying to say.  Persons like Chomsky and Fisher have found areas of needed work and they have been very productive in these two, very different ways.  I too have found needed work and gone to work on it, over time identifying with Chomsky and Fisher.  Surely my own examples help to illustrate how there is much more to be done, just in my domain, than I’m every going to get at, let alone get done.  Many are needed.  All are welcome.  As ZNet staff have emphasized:  engage!

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