book review: conflict is not abuse by sarah schulman

What are the main ideas? phew! this book is so dense that it’s actually hard to answer this clearly. i’m also writing this a few months out so i’ll try but i might be way off and distorting based on memory.

(1) the conflation of conflict with abuse is a hidden and oft-used tool of oppressive systems. (2) the escalation of conflict into abuse is powerful; it removes responsibility from the person who is being named as the abused and allows them to call in “the big guns.” (3) calling in of outside forces because of inability to handle abuse empowers the state. (4) abuse is real and conflict is real. confusing conflict with abuse diminishes our relationships, communities, and societies because it prevents us from learning conflict-resolution and encourages us to rely on outside actors (at the largest scale, the state) to solve our problems. (5) it is upon each and every one of us in interpersonal and community settings to question situations that are framed to us as abuse and make sure that someone isn’t intentionally or unintentionally escalating inability to handle conflict into abuse.

If I implemented one idea from this book right now, which one would it be? proper acknowledgement of difference between conflict and abuse requires checking out everyone’s stories on all sides. immediately jumping to ally with any party, even the oppressed party is an escalation tactic. asking questions doesn’t make one a bad friend or family; it makes someone a good community member who cares for the well-being of their whole community.

How would I describe the book to a friend? a dense, academic text that traces the impact of confusing conflict with abuse from the level of interpersonal relationship to the level of state oppression. the most surprising part is that the dynamics are almost exactly the same at both scales and at all levels in between. that means that learning how to interupt escalation at the level of individuals has many lessons to teach us about how to do it at the level of the state.

reminder: book review structure

words / writing / post-processing
345w / 11min / 4min