A Conflict Analysis of Radical Freedom

The need for more questions

2020 ended and 2021 began with heated disagreements over what limits on freedom are reasonable. Authorities emphasize reasonable limits as the answer. Protesters emphasize freedom. Traditional who, what, where, when and why questions don’t ask: how do protesters define freedom?

I support peaceful protests and demonstrations, and will defend freedom to the end. And I support public health measures and reasonable limits on freedom. What happened in D.C. on January 6, 2021, was a demand for radical freedom, which I can’t in conscience support, but I analyzed it so I could understand.

Jane Jacobs.

Nothing in my conflict analysis suggests that the protesters for radical freedom have a plan for what society would look like if radical freedom prevails. From my decades of studying protest, there are other questions we need to analyze to ensure an adaptive society and sustainable future.

1. Whose interests do the protest’s aims serve?

Protests operate in contexts of politics, personal interests, values, beliefs, and more. Who benefits from each desired outcome? How is it better than the outcome they fear? Who is harmed in the change?

2. Which worldview(s) support the protester’s beliefs?

Social media ecosystems bestow perceived legitimacy on grievances, contrary opinions are lies, and beliefs justify acting as defenders of their truth. What changes when people interact only with those who agree? What attracts users to a worldview of no one can tell me what to do? What results from pursuing social media fame without boundaries

3. With freedom meaning No One Is the Boss of Me, what do protesters gain and lose?

Protests trigger counter-protests, equal and opposite reactions exerted against each other for influence. What consequences flow from (un)willingness to comply with rules, (dis)respect for science, (dis)inclination towards mainstream media, (mis)trust of authority, (anti)government opinions, (non)partisan (im)partiality, insistence on (dis)allowing public events, (il)legal (in)equality, (dis)belief in facts, and more? What are the residual effects within the complex social systems?

4. Whether intended or not, what happens after the protest ends?

Protests are inputs in a complex system that, if resilient, will reset from turbulence with unknowable consequences. How committed are those protesting for radical freedom long term? What are some likely challenges if radical freedom becomes normative?

5. How would radical freedom co-exist with responsibilities and other rights?

Courts have long balanced rights, freedoms, responsibilities, and reasonable restraints on freedom. What legal frameworks would survive if radical freedom prevails?

A supplementary question

Will those demanding freedom without limits be happy with or prosper in the society they protest to create?


  1. very concise statement of all the thoughts I’ve had about my years of participating and watching protests. You have a knack of distilling the big picture into its essence – I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Especially on the ways it might be possible to move people beyond the protest to find resolutions that go beyond shifting power from one group to another to sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your insights and good questions. All protests end eventually. Social movements such as environmental and women’s protests have sayings: From opposition to proposition. Usually, they mean: “Okay, now that we have your attention, here are the ideas and suggestions we propose to fix the problems.” Another one is: From protest to power, which reflects that many of our elected representatives entered politics through protest movements. This ties protest to community engagement. In other words, protesters are often people who care deeply about an issue and get engaged at a community level, which leads to standing for election. If they carry forward their good intentions to create positive changes, it does have the effect of sharing more than shifting power.

      What’s different about the “protesters” storming the Capitol in D.C. is that they care deeply about an issue that was provably based on misinformation and prejudice. They became engaged at the behest of one man who acted in his own self interest while insisting he acted in their interest. They aren’t a protest arising from a social movement that is interested in sharing power.

      A final thought. In complex systems, which protests and politics are, the established system will resist change. We often witness a new leader promising change and finding it almost impossible. This is called dampening. The other approach to change in rigid organizations that resist changes is to generate small inputs that amplify into big impacts. Amplification is nicknamed the Butterfly Effect.


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