IFSR Newsletter 1991 No. 2 (28)
Prof. Stuart A. Umpleby
Department of Management Science
George Washington University
Washington D.C., 20016, U.S.A.
Visiting Research Fellow, Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies, Vienna
In the light of his own personal experience the author describes fundamental differences in Soviet and American processes of conflict resolution. These, as he proceeds to demonstrate, have deep cultural roots; the basic assumptions concerning morals are ,different in both societies. Now under Gorbachev, however, the Soviets are changing, they ate becoming much more frank and open.
I became interested in the topic of this paper when I was involved in arranging conferences between Soviet and American scientists in the fields of cybernetics and systems theory. When I first began working with Soviet scientists nine years ago, I assumed that scientific conferences involving Americans and Soviets would proceed in a fashion similar to meetings I had experienced among academics from North and South America, East and West Europe and Japan. Although I expected some difficulties due to the super-power rivalry I was shocked by the magnitude of the differences between the thinking of Americans and Soviets about topics such as the relationship of politics to science.
In order to comprehend the reasons for this disparity, I began to study Soviet history and culture. Learning about Marxist-Leninist thought helped me to understand the terms the Soviets were using and their frame of reference. But the theory that I found most useful in my interactions with Soviet scientists was that of two systems of ethical cognition formulated by a Soviet 6migr6 mathematician and psychologist, Vladimir Lefebvre 0982).
An Example of Cultural Differences
On most matters I found that working with Soviet scientists was not greatly different from dealing with scientists from any other country. However, when an issue of political importance arose, I discovered that Soviet scientists negotiated in away that was dramatically different from that I was accustomed to. (l should note here that the experiences I am about to describe occurred before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985.)
When an American begins a negotiation, he will often lead off with a conciliatory statement, thereby indicating his willingness to compromise and to reach agreement. A Soviet negotiator usually begins with a confrontational statement, indicating his commitment to principle and his determination not to compromise on vital issues. As a result of these opening statements Americans tend to conclude that the Soviets are aggressive, impolite, and unwilling to negotiate seriously. The Soviets are likely to conclude that the Americans are weak, not committed to their principles, and unprepared to negotiate seriously.
Not only do Americans and Soviets have different ways of initiating a negotiation;they also have different ideas of how it should proceed. Americans begin by indicating the area in which an agreement might be possible. They expect the other side to do the same. The region of overlap then becomes the focus of attention. The rest of the negotiation is envisioned as a process of clarification, wording, and working out of details. At the end of the process the negotiators are left with the satisfying feeling that they have jointly constructed a mutually acceptable agreement. This cooperatively produced success is interpreted as a sign that relations are improving and will continue to do so.
When Soviets negotiate, they envision a different process. One side’s opening statement defines issues on which no com promise is possible. They expect the other side to make a similar statement. A Soviet negotiator will look closely at what has not been ruled out. He will then state another issue on which compromise is not possible. He expects his “opponent” to do likewise. This dialogue in ultimatums continues until a situation has been defined that neither side has ruled out. This remainder becomes the de facto agreement. The feelings at the end of a Soviet negotiation are completely unlike those at the end of an American negotiation. Each side can consider itself victorious since it never compromised. At the end of a Soviet negotiation there is a feeling of exhaustion mixed perhaps with relief that a long and hard-fought struggle has had a satisfactory outcome. Rather than a feeling of friendliness among negotiators at the end of the talks, the most that can be achieved in a Soviet negotiation is grudging respect for a skilled and committed adversary.
Lefebvre’s theory of ethical cognition helped me to understand why Americans and Soviets negotiate in such different fashions. Lefebvre suggests that there are two systems of ethical cognition and that one is dominant in the West while the other is dominant in the Soviet Union, at least the Soviet Union up to 1985. Imagine a case involving a conflict between means and end. According to the first ethical system a good person is one who will not use bad means to achieve good ends, whereas according to the second ethical system a good person is one who will pursue a good end even if the means are bad. Paradoxically a person who is not willing to compromise by using bad means tends to be willing to compromise with others, while one who is willing to compromise in his choice of means tends to be in conflict with others. The difference is similar to the one between civilian and military ethics. In the former the commandment is, “Do not ill”. In military ethics killing is permitted in order to attain a military objective. A civilian hero assumes peaceful relations and is willing to compromise. A military hero assumes conflict and refuses to compromise.
Changes in Moral Reasoning
After Gorbachev came to power in 1985 our discussions changed dramatically. The style of conversation became more open and frank, and the content of conversation changed to include large-scale social experiments, in addition to the previous topics of epistemology, methodology and management (Umpleby, 1987). But as the Soviets began to express increased interest in American management methods, I found that I had doubts about the applicability of these in the Soviet context. These methods are based upon assumptions about human nature and the role of government which are markedly different from those I had been learning about by studying Soviet society. I then encountered a paper by Richard Graham (1988) in which he suggested that Gorbachev’s reforms had only been able to occur as a result of the fact that the Soviet people had already moved to different patterns of reasoning.
Graham’s paper was based on a theory which has been proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg. He suggests that there are five stages of moral reasoning.
1. The first is characterized by respect for authority and fear of punishment. A command economy might be an example.
2.The second is suitable for exchange relationships in a market place. Each side gives something that the other wants. A barter system would be an example.
3. The third stage of reasoning is oriented primarily toward peer pressure and the desire to belong by conforming to the standards of community. An emphasis on national identity would be an example.
4.The fourth stage of reasoning is concerned with law and order. Attention is focused on the idea that society operates more effectively when people obey the law. Survey research has shown that this type of reasoning is widespread only among people in democratic, industrialized societies.
5. The fifth stage is achieved only by a minority of people in the more economically advanced countries. This type of reasoning recognizes that laws are sometimes unjust and need to be changed. Strategies of nonviolent resistance, as practiced by Mahatma Gandhior Martin Luther King Jr., would be examples.
According to Kohlberg the stages of reasoning develop in series as a person matures. The sequence is always the same, and no stage can be skipped. Furthermore, one can obtain an indication of the level of development of a society by looking at the average stage of reasoning achieved by adults in it.
Using Kohlberg’s theory Graham suggested that the rise of Gorbachev as a leader and his survival in office reflected the fact that the Soviet population and Soviet intellectuals had reached a level of reasoning which permitted the reforms that Gorbachev was proposing. The success of the economic reforms in the Soviet Union and in other socialist countries may depend upon how much the thinking of the population has departed from the type propagated by the Stalinist system and upon the pace of additional cultural change. Kohlberg’s theory has helped me to understand how the cultural development of a society might be measured.and how the institutional arrangements in a country reflect the level of cognitive development of its inhabitants. Although there has been much discussion of the economic reforms needed in the socialist countries, there has been less consideration of which cultural changes are needed, if indeed the socialist countries intend to adopt Western economic and management methods.
Perhaps I should mention at this point that for many years social scientists assumed that political and economic systems may change but cultural systems remain relatively constant. This is quite different from the view advocated in recent years by business consultants who attempt to change corporate culture as a means of increasing productivity. For example, in companies experiencing strikes and distrust between management and labor, they work to increase openness and communication. I believe it may be possible to use some of the methods recently developed to facilitate cultural change in nations as well as in corporations.
My view is that an economy is based upon a cultural foundation. Now that the political constraints on socialist economies have been greatly relaxed, cultural constraints, such as attitudes toward private property, entrepreneurship and confrontation, will determine the pace of economic reforms. It seems to me that an economy cannot change fundamentally without major alterations in cultural beliefs either before or during the reform process.