[Opinion] Self-Determination and Autonomy

As individuals continue to publicly engage in the completion of their own narrative arcs of conflict, personalized and individualized to them, external third parties have to determine at what point is it wiser to shut down their self-determination and deny their autonomy.

Self-determination basically says that parties in a conflict have a right to determine the outcome of that conflict with minimal influence from an outside, third party. Self-determination works really well when all parties in a conflict are on the same page and are talking to each other about the same thing. Self-determination doesn’t work so well when all parties in the conflict are pursuing their own ends selfishly.

Autonomy says that parties in a conflict have a right to make their own decisions, and to experience their own consequences. Consequences are an interesting element of discussions and debates around autonomy, because they come from a toxic mixture of responsiveness and reactiveness. Plus, there’s the interesting shift of responsibility around consequences: One party would rather not experience them; the other party would rather that they did.

When autonomy and self-determination are combined, sometimes parties in conflict feel as though they have a responsibility to administer consequences. This doesn’t come about without making a judgment about the other party, their motives, their autonomy, and without taking away their own self-determination.

Equal and opposite reactions apply mostly to physics experiments, and mathematical equations, but break down in the world of reality when they bump up against autonomous, self-determining, human actors. Neither is physics a worthwhile explanation (or justification) for dealing out consequences to another party in judgement. When this happens, human nature—deeply flawed, deeply evil, deeply selfish—takes over. And tools from social media applications to projectile weapons, become the means for one party to deal out consequences in judgment.

The thing is though, for as many justifications (or explanations) that are provided for engaging in judgmental behavior, using tools immediately at your disposal, there is little requisite increase in wisdom. And even if there were an increase, to paraphrase from Gandalf, “even the wisest among us cannot see all ends.”

No one can predict change in a party in conflict.

Just like no one can predict continuity.

Hindsight and confirmation bias trap both parties in a cycle of vicious violence, where peace takes a back seat, to reaffirming threatened identities, and maintaining a laser-like focus on the outcome of the conflict narrative that fits the worldview that doesn’t force change at all.


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