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Towards a Model of Wise Power™: Quantum Politics and Second Order Change

AnalysisTowards a Model of Wise Power™: Quantum Politics and Second Order Change

Diane Perlman, Ph.D. 

Once again, much of the world is gripped by a compelling narrative portraying a simplistic, archetypal drama. It fits Galtung’s DMA model – Dualism, Manicheism, Armageddon –, nuclear threat included.

“It is a simple Hollywood script:  Ukraine is the angel, Russia is the devil, Zelensky is the hero and all good people will wear blue and yellow ribbons.” (All Things Russian are Being Punished” Fueling the Propaganda War)

This framing invites policies to defeat evil with weapons, crippling, biting sanctions and increasing pressure.

TRANSCEND Media Service and alternative media offer complex, historical, solution-oriented, relational perspectives that understand cause and effect, urging negotiations for an agreement accounting for all parties needs to end violence.

I will contextualize these two paradigms using theoretical models beyond right/wrong, win/lose, us/them to elevate public discourse.

I have been immersed in the world’s leading think tanks since 2003, co-taught a course on think tanks, and had brilliant international relations and foreign policy students live with me, deeply trained in power politics.

The best game in town is “smart power,” considered a leap beyond hard and soft power, combining carrots and sticks (how you treat a donkey), reward and punishment, still coercive and humiliating in its way.

Programs churn out “experts,” politicians and pundits who promote policies grounded in Newtonian Politics and First Order Change, described below. We daily suffer from consequences of the dominant consensus mindset.

Schools and institutions receive virtually no input or context from the field of conflict transformation. It is entirely unknown to most, or misunderstood as naïve or ineffective. When I present a transcendent perspective, people are curious, interested and open. We are absent where needed most.

It might help to frame a model of Wise Power™ – akin to the TRANSCEND Method-UN Manual, beyond hard, soft and smart power. Two theories frame the debate.

* Political Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – Newtonian Politics vs. Quantum Politics

* First Order Change vs. Second Order Change – Systems Theory

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (HUP)

I am not a physicist. I use this isomorphically as a principle of reality. This model can apply to medicine – allopathic, symptom oriented vs. regenerative, functional, naturopathic, biological repair, and other domains.


Light has characteristics of both particles and waves, known as the “dual nature of light.”  In some experiments light behaves as a particle, called a photon, that travels in straight lines, measuring position. In others light behaves as a wave, which can bend, and has momentum.

Hence, the “Observer Effect.” How we set up the experiment determines how light shows up. We cannot observe phenomena without accounting for our impact. We can influence whether conflicts and enemies behave as static or dynamic. Our approach impacts outcome.

We cannot simultaneously focus on both aspects. Interestingly, “the more carefully one tries to measure position, the more disruption there is to the system, resulting in changes in momentum.” If we focus on us/them, good/evil, we disrupt the system and alter momentum. If we reduce tensions, increase options, we can disrupt the concretization. Focus on aspect one disrupts the other.

HUP Applies to Energy and Time

One cannot measure the precise energy of a system in a finite amount of time. We cannot understand war dynamics in a finite window of months, ignoring decades of insults, rebuffed peace initiatives, rejections, broken promises, betrayals, unrelenting threats, humiliations, and deliberate provocations causing exasperation, hopelessness, with no way out, driving the inevitable last resort.

Humiliation and Fear

‘If you are going to humiliate someone publicly in a really crass manner, make sure that he doesn’t survive to take his inevitable revenge.” 
– Michael Brenner, On Humiliation

A synchronistic example is the “slap heard around the world.” Chris Rock publicly humiliated Will Smith, putting him in an excruciating dilemma of doing nothing or responding.

Perhaps humiliation turns a wave into a particle, hardening something dynamic, foreclosing possibilities. One need not minimize Hitler’s evilness to recognize that the punitive, draconian humiliation of the Versailles treaty laid fertile ground for exploitation. Or bin Laden’s actions attributed to 80 years of humiliation.

Foreign policy recommendation: Don’t ever humiliate anyone–ever. Create a graceful, face-saving way out.

“Never fight evil as if it were something that arises totally outside of yourself.”
— St Augustine

People are more dangerous when afraid. They may regress to primitive levels of functioning and lose higher level cognitive functions, from abstract to concrete, black-and-white thinking, collapsing from wave to particle.

Newtonian Politics

The kinetic, war model exemplifies Newtonian Politics. Like Newtonian physics it concerns the physical world, action/reaction, force, motion of bodies, and mathematical simplicity (numbers of weapons, sanctions, soldiers, dead, money, oil). Good guys and bad guys are reduced to objects – not subjects.

Quantum Politics

Like Quantum physics, Quantum Politics deals with invisible, dynamic forces, relativity, space, time, and psychological and relational dynamics.

Conscious of the Observer Effect, we can intentionally produce desired results, influencing whether adversaries show up as static or dynamic. Actions, rhetoric and strategies increase or reduce tensions. Focusing on positions, we sacrifice energy, dynamics and possibilities. There is a trade-off. Different laws govern each realm (Newtonian/Quantum)

Entanglement: “Occurs when two or more objects are connected in such a way that they can be thought of as a single system, even if they are very far apart…. information about one object automatically tells you something about the other and vice versa.”

The USA and the USSR/Russia have co-evolved, intensely reacting to each other, identifying in opposition to each other. We are deep in each other’s psyches.

The USA, emerged triumphantly from the Cold War while Russia, and Putin, experienced defeat and humiliation. Still, Putin requested to join NATO for peace and was rebuffed. Ukraine is a symbol, and proxy, embedded with meaning and emotions. (See Oliver Stone’s 2016 Ukraine on Fire,  banned on platforms.)

Political Heisenberg Principle™

We cannot judge our adversary’s behavior independently from our effect on them. With asymmetrical power, the dominant party is in a stronger position to change dynamics for better or worse.

Treating adversaries as inherently, unchangeably evil with threats, rejection, humiliation, and pressure provokes violence. Acting out of fear, we justify their fears, triggering “self-fulfilling paranoia.”

“The madness that is carrying the world closer and closer to nuclear war has at its core a psychological explanation: Each side, though fundamentally afraid, misperceives the nature of the danger it faces. Each side imagines that it faces an inherently, implacably aggressive enemy, when it actually faces an enemy as fearful as itself – an enemy driven mainly by fear, to do the things that lead to war.”
— Ralph K. White, Fearful Warriors.

(Caveat: perception of the enemy is also manipulated by fear, propaganda, humiliation, hidden agendas, power plays, vested interests, war and weapons profits, etc.)

Security assurances, recognition, and satisfying vital human needs, reduce fear and violence. The way to be secure is to make your enemy more secure.

Systems Theory: First Order Change (1OC) and Second Order Change (2OC)

From family therapy, systems theory and organizational transformation.

1OC – is focused on symptoms, using superficial, concrete, black-and-white thinking. The powerful often use coercive policies including deterrence, sanctions, maximum pressure, punishment, isolation, threats, military actions and so on. These provoke fear, anger, moral outrage, and escalatory asymmetric responses like resistance, increased group identification, and warfare of the weak, according to the law of opposites.

Hard power, soft power and smart power (carrots and sticks) are external, superficial forms of domination.

1OC can be a band aid, may prevent some violence and uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, or stop bleeding. It does not correct underlying causes. There is no endgame. It cannot produce enduring security or stability. Fragility of these measures is threatened by crises, conflict, vested interests, bad faith, misperception, lack of communication, exaggerated threats, fear and changes in leadership.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.“  — Albert Einstein

2OC Second Order Change addresses the causal relationship system rather than the symptoms.

For enduring security, it is essential to analyze what the underlying conflict is about, to identify all parties’ wants, needs, just grievances and legitimate goals. Conflict transformation techniques reduce tensions, address basic human needs (including identity, dignity, safety, security, self-determination, and sovereignty), and help bridge incompatible goals, using creativity and best practices (the Transcend Method).

The Galtung/TRANSCEND Conflict Diagram

It creates a new reality that includes and transcends the opposites. Higher order solutions-oriented problem-solving strategies hold promise in replacing war with effective approaches capable of producing deeper, more sustainable security.


FIRST ORDER CHANGE 1OC                                 SECOND ORDER CHANGE 2OC 

Old way of thinking                                                           New way of thinking

Addresses symptoms                                                        Addresses causes

Quantitative change                                                         Qualitative change

Change in behavior                                                          Change in relationship

Change within a system                                                  Transformation of the system

Linear, partial                                                                   Multidimensional, multi-level

External                                                                             Deep

Transactional                                                                    Transformational

Continuous change                                                          Discontinuous leap

Conflict resolution                                                           Conflict transformation

Compromise, unstable                                                    Create new reality, win-win, enduring, stable

No endgame                                                                      Endgame

Political immaturity                                                        Political Maturity

Inside the Box                                                                   Outside the Box

Hard, Soft & Smart Power                                              Wise Power, Transcend Method

Wise Power™: Beyond Hard, Soft and Smart Power

It is high time to reframe the current discourse to fill a profound, consequential void in political thinking, theoretical frames, and public discourse among think tanks, congress, media, activists from right to left, NGOs, and programs in international relations, security studies, political science, conflict studies, social sciences.

Wise Power ™ takes a therapeutic approach grounded in depth psychology, systems theory, conflict analysis, and other social sciences. This can open up a category to better inform policy design beyond “conventional wisdom” limited to Hard Power, Soft Power and Smart Power.

“Upon this gifted age in its dark hour,
Falls from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts … they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.”                                   
— Edna St. Vincent Millay

Let’s build the loom.


Diane Perlman, PhD   is a clinical and political psychologist, devoted to applying knowledge from psychology, conflict studies and social sciences to designing strategies and policies to reverse nuclear proliferation, to drastically reduce terrorism, reduce enmity, and to raise consciousness about nonviolent strategies for tension reduction and conflict transformation. She is a visiting scholar at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, is active in Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, and on the Global Council of Abolition 2000. Some of her writings can be found on her websites, www.consciouspolitics.org  and  www.SanityandSurvival.com. Email: dianeperlman@gmail.com

Tags: Cold War IIConflict AnalysisConflict TransformationInternational RelationsInvasionRussiaSolutionsUSAUkraine

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Apr 2022.

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