Peter T. Coleman
Source: Peter T. Coleman

Morton Deutsch, eminent psychologist, Columbia University professor, mentor extraordinaire, and one of the founders of the field of conflict resolution died last March at age 97. Deutsch spent his illustrious career creatively and systematically studying ways to make the world more just and peaceful. He was a tough-minded and tenderhearted scientist with an intense commitment to developing psychological knowledge that would be relevant to important human concerns. In other words, he was deeply theoretical and genuinely practical. He believed in the power of big ideas to improve the world, and in the vital role of science to refine them.

In honor of his passing, I have selected a series of ten major scientific contributions that Deutsch made in his efforts to promote a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. These are by no means his only contributions—there are indeed many more. However these are those I have found as most consequential to my own research and practice, and that I feel are most likely to have the biggest impact on our future. Brief snapshots of each contribution will be presented here in a series of 10 weekly blog posts in approximate chronological order of the questions he studied over his lifetime.

10. Sustaining our Planet: How Can We Promote a Sense of Global Community?

Concerned with the major challenges facing our planet in the 21st Century and with the political and ideological fractionation and polarization that present serious obstacles to addressing these challenges, Deutsch in his final years turned his attention to promoting a global human community. Borrowing from Anthony Marsella, he defined a global community as the interrelatedness of peoples, groups, communities, institutions, and nations that is facilitated by technology and includes political, economic, and social interdependence. Deutsch (2012) wrote,

“The global community is multicultural, multinational, and multiethnic and is affected systemically by world events and forces including technology and media, environmental conditions and changes, militarism and war, economic upheaval and inequality, disease pandemics, sexism, racism, and social injustices, and more (p. 300).”

Together with Eric Marcus and Sarah Brazaitis, Deutsch employed social psychological knowledge about groups and how they form, how they develop, and how individuals identify with them—to provide a framework for thinking about some of the issues related to developing a global community. Published as a chapter in 2012, the authors suggest that one of the first tasks for change agents promoting global community would be to identify a small group of 30-50 individuals who could initially serve to organize, coordinate, and provide leadership for the larger collection of potential change agents. Once such a group could be established, the authors proposed that they formulate a strategic plan for action, addressing the following questions:

  • What are the common values and interests that most of the people in the global community share? What are the common problems they must deal with if they, their children, or grandchildren are to avoid severe harm and to prosper?
  • How can most people on the planet be communicated with so that they become aware that their values, interests, and problems are widely shared—locally and globally?
  • How can guidelines be developed and communicated that will encourage and provide workable models for effective cooperative action, at the local and global levels, to fulfill their values and address their collective problems?

The authors envisioned a systemic change process unfolding on two levels: (1) The “bottom”, the people of the world and (2) the “top”, the leaders of the existing institutions in the world such as the UN, nation-states, the global economy, education, healthcare, etc. Their chapter on the subject concludes with a call to action:

“Our discussion is only an outline of some of the important social psychological issues involved in developing a global community. Clearly, much work must be done by scholars from many different disciplines to build a base of knowledge that would help to foster an effective, sustainable global community. It is our belief that developing such knowledge is an urgent need that should involve more and more scholars and receive encouragement and support from universities, foundations, and governments.”

Mort Deutsch was an intellectual giant with a true moral compass, on whose shoulders many in the fields of peace, conflict and social justice stand today.  The foundation he has provided for our work is sound, lasting and ultimately promising and optimistic. His insight, passion, and commitment today live on in all of us.

References

Deutsch, M., Marcus, E. C., & Brazaitis, S. (2012). A framework for thinking about developing a global community. In Psychological components of sustainable peace (pp. 299-324). Springer New York.

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