On Resettling Refugees And Schismogenesis

by Travis Mateer

People who take controversial action in a community should consider the full range of impacts, regardless of their belief in the righteousness of their actions. If a backlash is anticipated, it might be beneficial to put some energy into understanding WHY people might be opposed.

Before continuing, let’s define that weird looking word in the title of the post, schismogenesis. The word simply means creating division but, as a concept (developed by the problematic anthropologist, Gregory Bateson), it has been applied in some very interesting ways. The examples at the link include natural resource management and modern warfare:

Bateson’s treatment of conflict escalation has been used to explain how conflicts arise over natural resources, including human-predator conflicts in Norway[6] and also for conflicts among stakeholder groups in shared fisheries,[7] In the latter case, Harrison and Loring compare conflict schismogenesis to the Tragedy of the Commons, arguing that it is a similar kind of escalation of behavior also caused by the failure of social institutions to ensure equity in fisheries management outcomes.

There is documented usage of schismogenesis by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS, an institutional precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)), against Japanese-held territories in the Pacific during World War II.[8][9] U.S. military academics have identified how China and Russia have pursued social-media strategies of schismogenesis against the U.S. and other Western liberal democracies in an attempt to polarize civil society on both sides of the spectrum to damage policy-making processes and to weaken state/military power.

Now, with that concept fleshed out, let’s revisit the refugee relocation program in Missoula.

I’ve been writing about this issue for years through my lens as a former social worker who worked at western Montana’s largest emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Back then it was the lack of housing that caused me the most concern, and that factor has significantly worsened thanks to the pandemic turning Missoula into a Zoom Town. Here is an excerpt I quoted from five years ago that is STILL RELEVANT to today’s situation:

Congolese refugees and the people trying to help them get settled in Missoula are facing a housing crisis.

Five families from refugee camps in East Africa will be in town by the end of September, none of them with a source of steady income or credit history.

It’s the job of the local resettlement agency, the International Rescue Committee, to help them secure both as quickly as possible, said IRC director Molly Short Carr.

But record home sales prices in Missoula have placed rentals at a premium. And in a town that swells this time of year with university students – many with no credit ratings themselves – property managers and landlords can afford to be picky about who they rent to.

“We’re kind of hitting a bit of a brick wall,” Carr admitted.

I’m familiar with hitting metaphorical brick walls. In fact, I’ve had metaphorical brain trauma from repeatedly hitting my head against that proverbial brick wall.

One pattern of repetitive head-bashing that occurs around this time of year is the Poverello Center warning our larger community that by the end of March the emergency shelter money runs out:

“What we are looking at though is over 100 people having nowhere to go at the end of this month. It’s really concerning. I think as a community we should be concerned about this. I think that the neighborhood, neighborhoods all over our community are going to be impacted by this change,” executive director of the Poverello Center Amy Allison Thompson said.

Now, contrast that reality with this one:

An international group helping refugees resettle in Missoula plans to expand its operations. The announcement came after news that President Joe Biden is significantly increasing the number of refugees that the U.S. allows into the country.

Beth Baker is the program manager for Soft Landing Missoula, an organization that works with the International Rescue Committee Office to help refugees settle. She was in a church lobby pairing customers with their orders from a fundraiser, one where refugee chefs baked cookies from their countries of origin.

So, while 100 economic refugees seek shelter wherever they can find it after March 31st, the IRC office is preparing to ramp up their efforts just as the president (same on I’m sure Missoula’s good liberals voted for) ramps up the bombing and killing of Syrians.

I don’t think Missoula do-gooders are intentionally creating division, but that will be the result if the supporters of relocating refugees to Missoula continue ignoring the reality of housing for poor American economic refugees already here while at the same time labeling any critics as bigoted, xenophobic racists.

To better understand how I might play a more positive role in addressing local eruptions of schismogenesis, I’m working on getting an interview with an amazing writer and thinker who is doing just that.

So stay tuned…

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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