The MIT Technology Review’s summary of issues on February 12 included an interesting article called “Big Data Warns Today’s Peace is More Fragile than We Think”. This article begins with an interesting reflection that has been made and continues to be made by historians and scholars on the analysis of military conflicts, on whether the analysis of what has happened in the past could help us to avoid mistakes or patterns of behaviour that we should not make again in the future.
However, in recent years new research has emerged that studies conflict as a result of what they call the network effect, which is directly related to the structure of society and the quality of the interrelationships that exist between individuals or with other countries.
As the article says: “Society is a complex network of social, political and economic forces that depend on the network of links between individuals and the countries that make it up. These links are constantly being reorganized, and when the level of reorganization and associated violence rises above a certain threshold, the resulting pattern can become one of war”.
This assessment of how to analyze conflicts has important consequences, since events that occur in a network follow a mathematical law called potential law distribution. For example, why are a minority of forest fires devastating and a large number of fires quickly brought under control? This is because the size of these fires has little to do with the spark that starts them, but depends on the network of physical connections between the trees, that is, the structure and the way in which one forest is configured with respect to another, and furthermore this configuration varies over time.
Often when we analyse a conflict we focus on analysing those specific aspects that have triggered it. However, as in the case of forest fires, the spark that has triggered the conflict is not what will determine the extent or volume of the conflict.
We are used to think under a cause and effect scheme. However, the simplicity of our brain is not capable of quickly and efficiently analyzing the volume of interrelations that may be occurring in a network of relationships. We are not able to value all the positive and negative influences that exist on the game board. We are hardly capable of discriminating which news is false and which is true.
This new vision must make us think about how many times we have been the spark of a conflict, without thinking about whether the effects could be devastating for the life of a group, a community, a neighborhood, a town or a city.
That is why, when we analyze a conflict or find ourselves immersed in a process of confrontation, we must open our minds and make an effort to attract lucidity, seeking external and objective help, valuing disruptive or unconventional alternatives, generating new links based on what is common and vital to us, in short, making use of a relational competence as basic and sometimes forgotten as empathy.
Increasingly, we are connected and interrelated through network structures. These may be more dense or coexist in a less interconnected way. In either case, our obligation as citizens of an increasingly connected world is to decide whether we want to be an incendiary spark or are open to building a more sustainable and collaborative world.