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Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

What Times are These? The Unruly Tyranny of Mobs

Bertolt Brecht wrote, "what times are these/when a poem about trees is almost a crime/because it contains silence/against so many outrages."

The same can be said for a post about negotiation strategy and tactics.

My friend and colleague, mediator and AAA arbitrator Deborah Rothman just returned from a very short vacation to Paris and the view from Europe is one of fear and growing alarm about the manner in which our political process has degenerated into hate-filled cries from the crowds at Republican rallies (see Rage Rising on the McCain Campaign Trail).

A waiter at a small bistro near the Champs-Élysées confided his fear that the  "nuclear code" could fall into the hands of a short-tempered or vindictive occupant of the Oval Office, a concern that I admit had been absent from my own consciousness before that moment.  Other Europeans with whom we spoke were mystified that more Americans did not exercise the right to vote, particularly in an election as important to the future of the world economy as this one is.

I returned from Europe more worried more about unruly mobs fueled by anger and fear than about the "smears" on Obama (against which you can take action here if you're so inclined - Truth Fights Back).

If the 20th Century taught us anything, it is this: we are all capable of genocide, and its lesser form, hate crime.

The Holocaust of European Jews

The Armenian Genocide

Lynching in the United States

Ethiopia's Genocide of the Anuak (21st century)

The Genocide of Native Americans in the United States (17th-19th Century)

The Cambodian Genocide

The Rawandan Genocide

The My Lai Massacre (Viet Nam War)

Bosnia-Herzegovina "Ethnic Cleansing"

The "Arab"/"African" Violence in Darfur

. . . . too many more to catalogue


The Stanley Milgram Experiments (response to authority)

The Stanford Prison Experiment ("guards" abusing "prisoners")


See The War Against Despair is Up to You New Media at Awaken Your Superhero thanks to Susan Carter Liebel on Twitter here.

(right:  my own blurry iPhone St. Chapelle photo where we heard a string sextet play Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart  this past week - sublime) 

Theodore Roosevelt on Mob Violence, Campaign Speech and the Rule of Law (9/28/1900 NYTimes report of "Governor" Roosevelt's response to mob violence in Roosevelt-Bryan campaign)

Tips on Avoiding Inflammatory Language from beyondintractability.org

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide here

Genocide Prevention Task Force (U.S. Institute of Peace)

United Nations Action Plan to Prevent Genocide

Genocide Prevention (U.K.)

Hate Crime Prevention Tips

The Nature of Hate (.pdf excerpt here) or buy the book here

Constructive responses to extremism from beyondIntractability.org

Mediating Evil, War and Terrorism:  The Politics of Conflict (by Ken Cloke)

Conflict Revolution by Ken Cloke and my review here

Constructive responses to terrorism from beyondintractability.org

Hate Crimes Research Network



Comments (11)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Susan Cartier Liebel - October 11, 2008 3:24 PM

Vickie, when I lived in London for a period of time as a student, American politics was huge from cabbie to professor. I was embarrassed how much they knew and cared about our politics versus us. Why? Because, unfortunately, everything we do affects them in ways we can't conceive.

CNN is televised everywhere today :-) And how non-U.S. citizens are impacted by our political and financial behaviors and to not be aware of it or, worse, not caring about it is the height of American arrogance and why we can be seen as the ugly American. (not you :-)

It is the same when we discuss the environment.

Who is President and the impact on the rest of the world goes far beyond Roe v Wade. But then I'm preaching to the choir.

I'll get off my soap box now!

Zach - October 11, 2008 4:50 PM

While I agree that cries of "kill him" and "treason" at Republican rallies are wrong and should be spoken against by the Republican leadership, I am curious.

We've seen nothing but vilification of the current sitting U.S. President for the better part of the decade, and no one bats an eye. Crazy stories and speculation that Sarah Palin's youngest, Trig, was the result of a teenage pregnancy of her oldest, and no one calls that hateful or wrong. Crowds follow Michelle Malkin around at the Denver Democratic Convention, screaming essentially identical messages to the ones you point at above, and where's the outrage? Where's the reporting?

Republicans have to step on this kind of thing happening at their rallies, and they need to do it hard, and they need to do it fast, but understand that the idiots doing this are responding in kind to idiocy on the other side of the political aisle.

Vickie Pynchon - October 11, 2008 5:12 PM

Thanks for the comment,Zach. Yes, there are idiots aplenty and a lot of foolish talk and misinformation, as well as vilification by both "sides" of the Presidential race.

What concerns me in particular about the current difficulties for McCain/Palin on the campaign trail (supporters shouting "kill him," etc.) is just what concerns you and my solution is the same as yours--repudiate it loudly, immediately, firmly and without apology. McCain has done that and should continue to do so.

I do think there is a difference between crazy stories about, say, Trig's parentage and suggesting that a candidate is a "terrorist" or is "different from 'us'" because these suggestions can trigger intergroup violence based upon deeply held and often unconscious or semi-conscious prejudices.

White/black, Christian/Muslim, "Jap"/American, have all been used for the purpose of stirring racial, national and religious hatred in the service of political goals to ghastly effect.

We do need to draw lines between types of "villification" because our global history teaches us that we can all be moved in the direction of attempting to destroy a villified race,ethnicity, nationality or religion.

Check out The Ambivalence of the Sacred for a tremendous analysis of this problem here: http://www.beyondintractability.org/booksummary/10026/. As the linked review notes:

"In ethnoreligious violence, religion itself claims that its institutional self-understanding and prerogatives are implicitly or unconsciously subordinate to a different ideology, such as the nation-state or the ethnic group.

"Nationalist and ethnic leaders recruit religion to make sacred their struggles and therefore legitimate the kind of dynamism and activity described earlier, which includes martyrdom and suicide, as well as acts of sacrifice and compassion for the fellow countryman and woman or other co-religionists.

"This kind of religious violence is an extreme form of religious militance-it legitimates violence and sometimes sees violence as a sacred duty or obligation. The chapter gives examples from Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere."

This applies equally to all types of intergroup violence, not simply religious. Nationalism can be a form of a "religion" as can any type of identity-based 'ism.'

Chris Annunziata - October 11, 2008 5:14 PM

Oh, please. The double standard among liberals is alarming. My good friend works for a locally broadcast but nationally syndicated Libertarian radio host. The host and the staff routinely receive vitriolic hate mail and death threats excoriating the host for his libertarian/traditional conservative views that people should stand up for themselves and not expect the government to nanny them. Apparently free speech is only hateful if it is uttered by conservatives.

The personal attacks on McCain as "unbalanced" or as you put it, "short-tempered or vindictive" or as Obama campaign ads implied - old, feeble & out of touch - are no less hateful than the truthful remarks that Obama consorts with a known and unrepentant terrorist who organized bombings of US government buildings. Obama himself admits that he knew about Ayers activities.


Should the issues matter more than these attacks? Yes. But to assert that it is coming only from the "right" is naive and biased.

Chris Annunziata - October 11, 2008 5:21 PM

If you want to be truthful, and balanced, post this link:


Does that sound like an ad based on a message? Based on an issue?

Sounds like a smear to me.

Vickie Pynchon - October 11, 2008 7:49 PM

Thanks for dropping by Chris. I totally get your passion on these issues.

Again, my concern is about stirring up identity-group bias in crowds. What I mean to discuss is the responsible way to respond to crowds calling for anyone's head, be that head "conservative" or liberal.

I don't believe that speech should be outlawed (I'm one of those darn ACLU liberals after all). I believe it should be condemned. See Concurring Opinions' well-reasoned post on this here: http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2008/10/ugly_political.html

As to the Barack ad about McCain not knowing how to use email that you asked me to link my readers to, I think it's silly and unworthy of a presidential campaign.

Last but not least, I did not say "short tempered and vindictive" -- the waiter in France did and I believe he was referring to Palin, not to McCain.

The point here, however, is to express worry about angry crowds during a time of economic upheaval and to provide resources for people interested in de-escalating these potentially dangerous events.

Chris Annunziata - October 12, 2008 12:23 AM

You wrote:

I returned from Europe more worried more about unruly mobs fueled by anger and fear than about the "smears" on Obama

Since you did not decry Democratic supporters for similar acts of hate speech, what you claim as a concern for "the responsible way to respond to crowds calling for anyone's head," appears to me to be a biased characterization of the Republican candidate for president and his supporters as an "unruly mob".

Of course, this is your blog. It is your opinion. But I find it disingenuous to claim ex post facto that your point was to encourage discussion of ways to defuse allegedly dangerous events. As you are an unabashed Obama supporter, it simply came off as a ham-fisted way of smearing McCain and his supporters.

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