MUSINGS ON THE INEVITABILITY OF CONFLICT

Peace,

Over time, the pen truly is mightier than the sword…

Nevertheless, I do not recommend bringing a ballpoint to a gunfight. Given a wide variety of reasons it can be seen as natural that two people might engage in conflict. History is full of conflicts – large and small – centered on resources, honor, perception, and desires. If we imagine a time of less complexity we can easily see two men from nameless tribes fighting over the remnants of a carcass during a drought. The need to feed one’s family and comrades takes precedent. There is a seemingly natural order of progression with human beings when life and limb are on the line. It follows a simple decision making equation

1. What is at stake?

2. How much is available?

3. Who deserves or needs it?

4. How to distribute the resource after it is under your control?

Over time this simple foundational schematic has expanded in complexity right along with the human world that was built upon it.

I. AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?

Despite an innumerable amount of literature on the topic of human morality or utopian ideals, both religious and secular, we all inhabit a world brimming with clashes. These clashes are focused on race, politics, government, economics and ideologies. It is not without ample reason that any person could look at the world and global history and want for a viable explanation. History as presented is a collection of big personalities, heroes, villains, and outstanding miscellany. One of the most important features of history is wars, their causes, their execution and their results. The victors of course write history, and the histories we are in possession of are largely tales of conquest, control and preservation of one culture’s beliefs over the other. Said simply, human history is a history of conflict. What is the cause of humanity’s history of warfare, genocide and prejudice against other men and women? Is empathy real? I’d argue that in many ways the conflicts of the New World are based in its creation and a seemingly unacknowledged fact of human existence that ‘natural’ human bonds are tribal. They are not in fact global in scope or even as broad as a state such as California.

Technically speaking all notions that plug one’s beliefs into a massive network of similarly inclined peoples is not ‘real.’ Benedict Anderson called these constructs “imagined communities.” Anderson was referring to nations in his work, It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion… …Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings. (49 – 50) The argument I will make in this paper is that the entire New World is an imagined community . While being suspended in air by ideologies and various cultural beliefs, the foundation of the New World is starkly tribal. In the end people will fight and die, for and with, the people they consider to be their family or relatives. While idealism throughout human history has succeeded in people joining ever-larger imagined communities, the last stage being ‘citizen of the world,’ it is unable to sever the ties that actually bind: relation and proximity.

II. VIRTUAL REALITY IN REAL LIFE

Human civilization has multiple starting points through history, both in time and location. While globalized commerce and syncretic culture have existed in what many would call the primitive past (Greek trade with Egypt, era of the China’s Silk Road, and the age of European invasions and colonization’s) the New World is a place of a different sort. For convenience sake the New World’s birthdate in this essay will be the year 1500. At this point we’ve had expeditions into territories previously unseen by European man, interactions with the native inhabitants and even examples of cultures never before seen physically in Europe making their appearance. On the global stage at that time there were aristocratic Kingdoms, the Church, mercantile and feudalist political systems, hunter-gather cultures and smaller sects of tribes and nations sometimes operating under a banner (Native American tribes, Bantu’s, Ethiopia, Aztec Empire). As time went on and European colonialism began to reshape the world one by one we see wars of survival between human beings over language, culture, religion, physical resources, and life itself. Via the deep and wide swathes of institutions, practices, and world view that places like England, Spain, France, the Baltics, and Germany have spread across the world, the literature, ethos and soul of Europe has effectively been superimposed on top of global antiquity giving us the New World we inhabit today. Naturally this statement is not all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. It serves as the jumping off point for the focus of this essay.

III. THE EARLY STATES OF NATIONS

The history of nation states and nationalism is only a couple of hundred years old. That development was preceded the cementing of perceived racial differences between men in literature, “science,” laws and in physical reality. Prior the New World a majority of the focus one had upon their “social avatar” was confined to religion. Passages delineating people as Catholics or Christian, Muslims or pagan, are replete before the 16th and 17th centuries. These labels are unabashedly signifiers of difference and serve to “other” people not a part of your tribe. As western religions were adopted and underwent influence from its new adherents more and more sects and tribes within the nation state formed. In the end the nation state served the purpose of sharpening the conflicts within various groups into a point called, ‘nationality’ by which the conflicts could be amalgamated into a new identity and continued. Racism as a concept is codified in the 16th -17th century using ideas from both the Enlightenment and Renaissance in Europe to create a myriad of social classes and fields of “study,” which were used to bolster the imperialist desires of their creators in Europe.

IV. REALITY: WHEN MAGICAL THINKING RUNS OUT OF STEAM

Predicting the actions of any individual person is nearly impossible. However the actions of large groups of people, especially those operating under some form of ideology or nationalism, offer themselves more readily to prediction. People in every nation on earth know the power of mob mentality. Whether it be a fully formed armed revolution, a drastic change in social mores, or pogrom, the mechanisms are similar. The actions of a collective mob are most times not ‘ordained’ by any power but rather ‘granted’ from within the body politic by a combination of the social environment and ideological priming. In Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell writes,

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

The mob that arises to alter a particular environment is merely the resurfacing of a form of the base’s tribalism. Mob uprisings traditionally are seen to arise when the circumstances have moved so far in one direction or the other that aggrieved peoples believe they have no other course of action other than changing the regime in power. Referring back to the original decision tree the mob has decided that their freedom or economic well being is at stake. The reason being the some group, invader or fellow native, that has caused their distress.

1. What is at stake?

2. How much is available?

3. Who deserves or needs it?

4. How to distribute the resource after it is under your control?

There are a few ways that humanity’s base tribalism comes to the surface and they all center on adversity. If your brother or mother is starving do you feed them before your cousin? Where does a recent acquaintance rate compared to a life long friend when life and limb are on the line? History seems to show us that divisions of ethnic, social or religious groups become enlarged and scapegoated as the resources in an area are running low. It must be noted that scarcity many times is merely an invention of those in power but the implication of scarcity can be enough to trigger the mechanisms which lead populations to internal conflicts.

“Sheep only need a single flock, but people need two: one to belong to and make them feel comfortable, and another to blame all of society’s problems on.” ― James Rozoff

 

V. Bibliography

Anderson, Benedict Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983)