Mediation and the Game of Truth

Foucault writes about how society creates a “game of truth”, a certain set of truths that we think is our reality. Or in other words, a deceptive reality that engulfs not just the concepts we need to operate in day to day life (this pen is green – and we all agree that it is, so we can refer to it as such), but also a certain way of seeing ourselves. Our place in the game. Foucault also says that to step out of that game, to realize there is a Truth beyond this game, is to get closer to freedom (or perhaps enlightenment). Truth then is the absence of game-rules, the notion of sameness, or emptiness.

What we do in community dialogues, in mediations, in much of peace work is to create opportunities, hold the space for two groups (tribes, communities, whatever) to step out of the game they are in. Conflict is the ultimate game of truths, a game of positions that solidifies our subjectivities to the point that we are willing to kill for it. Many mediation theories suggest that the way to resolve conflict is to change the rules of the game. They posit that if game theory can define our behaviour, we can understand it and use it to manipulate rules and thus behaviours.

But to change the rules of the game, to manipulate and reposition, is only ever a partial solution. The only way to resolve conflict (or to get closer to freedom, it’s the same in this case) is to skip out of the game entirely. It’s to say I don’t want to play any more. Arguably, this is just changing the rules of the game so much that the game becomes unrecognisable. That’s one way of seeing it, but there’s something more. There is that sublime moment when you can see that a mediation is working because two people in the group realise that they are pawns in a game, they see the game, and therefore they skip out of the game. They step out of their subjectivity and become witnesses. Perhaps they see the Truth of their sameness, the Truth that beyond this game there is something in which they recognise each other. And from that moment on it’s possible to invent a new game – it is possible to be more free.

Nietzsche wrote of the superhuman. He said we all carry within us the notion of a common humanity, that is higher and more free, more free of the processes in which it is trapped. This is our Superhuman. Or emptiness. One Buddha is not enough. Etc. It’s the notion common to any social revolution, including peacebuilding: that the way to change is to provide pathways to sameness that build more collaborative and freer societies.

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