Conflict Movie: ‘Good Will Hunting’ Possibly Had a Point

Great posting from my friend Mel: Matt Damon telling it like it may be, even is*, as the character Will Hunting in the great movie, directed by Gus Van Sant: ‘Good Will Hunting’

Footnote:Telling like it is’ means taking a clear stand on causal chains that may surprise us. As per the comments to this posting, this does not mean that the character Will Hunting is accurately describing a particular actual causal chain involving any real intelligence service. It is a movie, it is art, it is suggestive that such chains might exist.

Indeed the Iraq War may provide some evidence about the potential mis-use of intelligence information to make major foreign policy decisions….but this blog posts material to provoke debate on the basis that (as in good universities, as in Socratic dialogue, as in all good self-questioning) conflict aka argument is a good road to improved understanding, especially compared with unthinking orthodoxy or what may be worse: using your intelligence to prop up an already jumped to conclusions. And without argument how do we expand solution space?

As for art. Well this movie is not great art, but it is art. And art, in my view, fails if it tells us what to think or even how to think. It’s real aim is to simply make us think: challenge our cozy preconceptions, our view of how the world is. And while this blog is not art, it does share this goal: hopefully, to make you stop and think, without telling you how or what to think. Thanks to my commenter on this posting below for suggesting some clarification.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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13 Responses to Conflict Movie: ‘Good Will Hunting’ Possibly Had a Point

  1. jjhiii24 says:

    One would have thought that in your 32 years working on conflict handling you might have developed a little more objectivity and less pessimism regarding the nature of how the world works. Whoever wrote the script for Matt Damon obviously had an agenda to dramatize the character’s intelligent opposition to those who would exploit his talents and to serve the premise of the film, and since it is a movie script it seems more likely that Good Will Hunting doesn’t represent a realistic view of either the human character or the world he inhabits.

    I’m not suggesting that there is no truth to the notion that individuals are sometimes exploited by others who aren’t forthcoming about their intentions, or that the government is without culpability in unilateral actions which result in casualties both foreign and domestic, but it seems clear that this portion of the film is designed to create conflict, and not present an objective evaluation of the subject. This particular clip does not necessarily “tell it like it is,” and to suggest that it does is misleading at best.

    I spent several years as an intelligence specialist in the late 1970’s, and all of my associates were individuals with a genuine interest in protecting America from those who would do us harm, and while Matt Damon does a great job of delivering his lines, in my opinion, his scripted words do not represent anything even close to a definitive or realistic point about how the world works.

    • @ jjhii24. Absolutely. This blog is intended to cause conflict, contesting, argument. It is not intended to put forward any orthodoxy, Matt Damon or Gus Van Sant’s or anyone else’s. All I think that the movie clip was doing was showing how there are casual links we often don’t notice. I consider conflict something that if creatively handled comes up with new answers, and in this sense your comment is profoundly generative, giving me a change to creatively contest it. See my pages at the top of the blog. And I originally come from Wales where we love arguing almost as much as the Irish or the Macedonians.

      I am not remotely pessimistic about conflict handling if people use good process, mine or anyone else’s. If they get real about what they are facing, understand their own and the other side’s real interests, and use creativity to expand solution space. There is no conflict we couldn’t fix with a mind open in these ways….And that is what I have done for 35 years…..cut good deals….

      The movie clip does suggest something about intelligence agencies. They often serve someone’s concept of the national good, which may be quite mistaken. For example, I am not sure if you think the intelligence basis of the Iraq War was misused, or was simply wrong in the first instance, the ‘dodgy dossiers’ of the Brits, but clearly it led to stupid action that has cost the US $2-3 trillion and its place in the world. I don’t recall hearing anyone in the NSA or CIA or Military Intelligence wondering if the US was being played for a sucker by China in its ‘War on Terror’. So Group Think ruled at very least.. Who gained from the Iraq War? China. Who loaned the US the money to get bogged down there? China. That is the sort of casual chain Matt Damon’s clip might suggest we look at….

      I don’t doubt your colleagues in the 1970s were trying to do a good job. But none of them uncovered Watergate (oh that was domestic), and they had done a terrible job at understanding the enmity between the North Vietnamese and the Chinese for the previous 10 years, which might have led to far better divide and rule approach, and made North Vietnam a US ally as with Tito in Europe. One of my US Special Forces friends just made that point to me the other day and he is very conservative….

      I know some UK Military Intelligence folk who fought the IRA in northern Ireland and they had the one quality I have never found in US intelligence folk: they had immense empathy for their enemy. Not sympathy, or approval, but deep understanding as in the old ‘know your enemy’ from Sun Tsu. They knew Irish history backwards, and everything they possibly could about every leader in the Provisional Irish Republican Army. And of course they had infiltrated the hell out of them, and even could order the killing of anyone who found one of their agents. That is good intelligence work if morally a bit grey….

      Pleasure to discuss this with you, but don’t assume what I post is what I think…. 🙂

      I am not sure today what sort of job the US intelligence agencies are doing. Give me 10 years and we will see if they are understanding the Chinese Game Plan….

      Footnote 1: I am fascinated by the cognitive errors of most intelligence work: two in particular. Firstly the failure to ‘Red Team’ data, assumptions and conclusions on important issues. Get a fresh team to pick it all apart and seek counter data. The recent Bin Laden raid was an exception. Red Teaming is exactly what I mean by creating conflict/debate. At some stage you have to act so this in not an excuse for paralysis by analysis, but if you have time, it is worth actually figuring out reality before you bet the military farm on it. ‘Don’t just do something, stand there’ as my ER doctor friends say…

      Secondly, the general failure to seek Rumsfeld’s ‘Unknown unknowns’. They rarely seem to look for the blank spots on their data maps, such as ‘Chinese involvement in 9/11’ Who knows if they had any, but I would want it on my list of data I was looking for; ditto Pakistan ISI involvement etc. Another example in WW2, the Germans never seemed to ask: ‘how good is UK/US codebreaking?’ It was unknown unknown for the Abwehr….

      Footnote 2: I worked for the US military for 3 years and deeply appreciate the dedication to service they show, and nothing I have posted above is intended to detract from that. Also I have briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency and US Navy (9 Admirals no less) on some learning system work I did in the corporate world, so I have some sense of their world too.

      • jjhiii24 says:

        Well, you certainly are succeeding in creating conflict from your standpoint, but I was not especially reassured by your more considered response to my comments. While you and I may not see eye-to-eye as to what constitutes a credible “causal chain,” or whether or not the US intelligence corps has always acted without “empathy,” posting material on your blog that intentionally promotes conflict and argument may be satisfying to you personally as someone from Wales, but it seems completely in opposition to your stated premise to “use creativity to expand solution space.” That almost seems like a fireman going out to start fires so the fire station crew gets practice for the real thing.

        I’m not familiar with your “conflict handling process,” and did not mean to suggest that you were trying to “put forward any orthodoxy.” Your estimation of the failures within the intelligence community notwithstanding, it seems clear that you personally advocate the position that there actually IS some sort of causal chain that needs to be looked at with regard to our intelligence gathering efforts over the years, and that may be true, but your views on the subject seem clearly biased to me and pessimistic in general.

        I did not intend for my comments to be “profoundly generative,” in spite your exploitation of them for that purpose, and disagree that your response to contest what I wrote was particularly creative, but I do admire your conscientious attention to the subject and your more considered explanation of your thoughts about the clip from Good Will Hunting. Perhaps it might have served your purposes better had you included some of them in your original post and posed a question for your readers to consider.

        Please don’t think that my comments here are intended in any way to provoke you or create opportunities for you to stir up conflict. I simply felt that the clip from the film should have been accompanied by something a bit less “casual” than suggesting that it was “telling it like it is.”

      • @ jjhiii24. Good points. I have just added some footnotes and content to my original reply to you. No fire setter, though actually the national parks do have controlled burns to rid them of combustible material so they don’t have catastrophic burns from accumulated debris. And I don’t so much stir up conflict as uncover it as you did with the Good Will Hunting comment. I don’t think we can expand conflict solution space without uncovering conflict and dealing with it. And I will add some caution to my original posting….Thanks for suggesting it….

  2. vokoyo says:









    • Kyrie Eleison says:


      I can’t speak for everyone but let me assure you that I harbor no ill will for the people of China. It is both upsetting and frustrating to see the hardships and exploitation that the Chinese must endure just to provide for your families, and if given a choice you would want so much better. What can you do?

      Our foreign policies do not help matters any, in fact I’ve read reports stating that our demanding businesses are making things much worse for the typical Chinese citizen in our crusade for cheaper imports and ever expanding profit margins.

      As long as the lure of money and power drives those in both of our countries to ignore what they are supposed to be doing (taking care of the people) and instead focusing on self-interests and promoting their own ideologies, it will become increasingly difficult to change things.

      If we are not careful, eventually we could reach a point where the social contract is irrevocably broken, and once that happens … well, I suppose it does not really matter much what happens next since it will be very, very bad. It seems like certain people are forgetting the fundamentals of why we have societies to begin with.

      As it says on the Gadsden flag: 不要踐踏我。

    • Rough Translation: When we looked China’s diplomacy, discovered actually she very many when can in violate own values and in the benefit situation, to various countries’ compromise.Obviously Chinese diplomacy defeat.

      The Chinese Communist Party implements the good-neighbor policy, may say is the thorough defeat.The Chinese Communist Party present leader so-called carries out Deng Xiaoping that set “to conceal one’s abilities” the policy.But actually, this is only one kind of escape challenge ostrich policy.Now China faces bad international environment, then had decided this kind of ostrich policy is defeated inevitably.

      Not only under this kind of ostrich policy leadership, the Chinese diplomacy the fraught with uncertainty, the chest does not have the lofty aspiration, also does not have the system diplomatic strategy, also does not have the long-term diplomatic goal.This kind of headache medicine, the foot pain medicine foot -like foreign policy, causes the Chinese diplomacy when faces each kind of provocation to be at a loss directly, reveals weakly condition, when facing excellent opportunity, also does not accomplish nothing because of the strategic preparation.

      To North Korea to India to Japan even is Vietnam, China all is the fraught with uncertainty, one makes concessions, to implement dark conceals one’s abilities.Originally, Deng Xiaoping’s concealing one’s abilities, is refers usually saves the strength, the critical moment gets rid of decisively, is one positive enterprising diplomatic thought.But the present, has become one kind of ostrich policy actually, makes the human reluctantly.

      Actually, according to the Chinese present strength, simply does not need so to yield, Chinese Communist Party to Southeast Asia country, to Japan, even is the Vietnamese North Korea, all lets too many.Demonstrated completely to the great nation style, the fraught with uncertainty foreign policy, only cannot be shamed the Chinese!

      As for to Indian and Vietnam’s diplomatic processing technique, the Chinese Communist Party makes one think simply the shame.The situation resembled the same year Qing government to win France, but still compensated France to be same.The human thought is 絕 the big shame.

      China in with Japan, Vietnam, Russia, all around powerful nation in and so on India political economical intercourses, has not occupied how many small advantage, also has not let these big powers give up the prejudice which rises to China and be hostile to, own benefit is invaded unceasingly, has no alternative but to say China’s foreign policy has the very big flaw, this is the Chinese country layout plan and the foreign policy disastrous defeat manifests best.

    • Kyrie Eleison says:

      To expand on my previous comment: There is a clear strategic advantage to a reserved, non-interventionist policy… provided that you’re able to hold everything together internally. Perhaps it depends on one’s point of view, but China in no way looks weak to me.

  3. Kyrie Eleison says:

    Someone please provide a compelling reason for me to not be upset with the following, which are just a few of the things that keep me “pessimistic” in regard to certain agencies and types of people in general:

    Operation Northwoods/Mongoose
    Our hand in the whole Mosaddeq/Pahlavi situation and how it affects relations with Iran today
    The Gulf of Tonkin
    The Iran-Contra Affair
    Mena, AK and the trafficking of cocaine
    House Rpt. 108-414: Everything Secret Degenerates – The FBI’s Use of Murderers as Informants

    This is just for openers.

    A popular internet meme acronym is: NYPA. Perhaps the people who try (and often succeed) to pull stunts like the ones listed above would do well to remember this before pushing for some operation that does not serve in the best interests of our country.

    • Kyrie Eleison says:

      (Make that Mena, AR. Sorry for the typo.)

    • Kyrie. We have to keep our morale up. Yes the military and national security has always attracted its share of sociopaths who play lethal games that are not in our interests. And yes law enforcement sometimes gets dirty hands. But there are also good people in the military, FBI and other agencies trying to counter this crap. And you should note that in many countries we wouldn’t even know about Iran Contra or Tonkin. It would have been hidden. That said, I am always amazed that in President Reagan’s historical reputation, it seems to be forgotten some of the really bad things he did on Iran Contra. Iran Contra was in my view treason.

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