We are so programmed to think hierarchically that, when faced with some kind of conflict, most people automatically look to create a higher authority.
The legal system is the perfect example. You have a problem, you go to the higher authority of the court. If that doesn’t work out, you appeal to a higher court. And then, when those few asshats on the supreme court make a final decision, it’s all over. Done. Problem resolved. Except, of course, that it isn’t.
When the top of the food chain makes an awful decision, the response from people is that we need to create an even higher authority to keep them in check. But that higher authority will only abuse its power as well. A United Nations with real teeth, or a functioning worldwide criminal court whose authority outstrips the supreme courts, will not resolve the problems. They will only create new ones. Then people will start clamoring for a yet higher authority to keep them in check.
And around and around we go.
That doesn’t mean that we shrug our shoulders and give up on resoving conflict. It means that we have to think horizontally instead of vertically. If I have a conflict within my community that cannot be resolved, why can’t I take it to another third party to mediate? And when they have a conflict they cannot resolve, they can do the same. Conflict resolution does not have to come from someone who cannot be challenged.
The fact is that many conflicts cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. There is no possibility that we could ever devise a system of rules, regulations, and boundaries that would ensure nobody will ever fight over land, water, or other resources. In fact, making those structures rigid usually makes matters worse. People move. Things change. What might have seemed like a perfectly rational way to manage something 100 years ago, makes no sense now.
Part of dealing with the problems we face is getting out of the hierarchical mindset. Instead of asking how you can create a higher authority to overrule those whose actions you do not like, ask yourself how you can create systems for problem solving and accountability between people and groups of equal power.
Thinking vertically has gotten us into this mess. It is thinking horizontally that will help get us out of it.