Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Idle ruminations on conflict

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I do not by “conflict” mean “violence.” In the world of animals, for example, a predator’s taking down a prey may be violent, but it is not conflict. OTOH, Megs and Molly occasionally do conflict: much hissing all of a sudden. (And sometimes, I confess, Megs seems to court conflict, as last night when she jumped up into Molly’s chair while Molly was in it was clearly transgressive. Megs knows the rules, as evidenced by her outrage when they are broken.)

I got to thinking about that little kitty conflict and had the sudden thought that their conflict could not be culture-based—and human conflict so often is: religious wars (Protestant/Catholic, Sunni/Shiite) or, on a mundane level the ad exec who wanders into a biker bar when the home team has lost: culture clash often leads to conflict.

But these kitties don’t have culture, so what is the basis for their conflict? I asked The Wife and she hazarded that it could be territorial triggers, for example.

That intrigued me: what you have, in a sense, is “hard-wired” culture: the behavioral imperatives ingrained through evolution. Some of these would not lead to conflict—jerking one’s hand back from hot object, or balancing on a log or, indeed, on your feet and learning to walk show behavioral imperatives—that is, I think all humans everywhere exhibit those behaviors. Those are culture-independent and thus animal in origin. Roughly speaking.

But, since we’re animals, all of the above applies to to us. So, what conflicts arise from our animal nature rather than our cultural being?  Looking at primal drives, jealousy/mate-possessiveness has certainly led to conflicts, and it does occur across all cultures. A purely animal conflict.

Probably also tribal warfare in competition for food sources.

It occurs to me—probably again—that it is those conflicts, being culture-independent, that drive great literature (by which I mean works that appeal to many cultures). All cultures would, I think, grasp Macbeth, and Othello as well.

It also probably indicates that we’re not going to rid ourselves of such conflicts; they spring directly from what sort of animal we are.

And it occurred to me that these basic animal imperatives are what drive culture: a way must be worked out for handling the mate-possessiveness/jealousy thing. The details will vary—those are culturally dependent (significance of color of dress, for an obvious example)—but the same basic drives must be handled so that they are compatible with another great animal imperative: that we are a social animal—and that drives all sorts of conventions and constructs and so on. Any solutions found must work in a social-animal context.

Just thinking aloud.

UPDATE: Given the basic nature of these animal imperatives, strong enough always to demand cultural expression and controlling conventions, it seems evident that a social order and structure whose rules contravene our animal imperatives will never grow large and may well have trouble surviving at all. One immediately thinks of the Shakers, but less extreme contraventions of animal imperatives can be found—small in scale, I would think—and they fail equally. The idyllic commune of the ’60s, for example.

And I suspect Libertarianism may be a belief system doomed to small influence and failure because it contravenes a basic part of our nature: that we are a social animal. I don’t think “social” means what Libertarians seem to think it means.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me (watching a movie) that a lot of interpersonal conflict dis driven by the twin animal imperatives of freedom and control. Certainly every land animal seems to want freedom: the legendary fury of the trapped animal, the way animals don’t like to be pressed—the personal space of a black bear is probably larger than that of an adult human, but both react to invasions of personal space. How this was selected for evolutionarily is easy to see: animals that were wary of being trapped and a bit skittish more frequently lived to have progeny than those who were gregarious with other species. So it’s a very basic drive indeed, and it pops up in all sorts of negative feelings at any analogue of being physically trapped—e.g., not liking either of two feasible choices makes one feel “trapped.”

So the imperative for freedom seems clear enough. How about for control? I think this is not much of an issue with solitary animals: for them, the question does not arise. It’s in the social animals, such as (say) humans that the imperative for control plays a role: while we may have to go along to get along and play the game, etc., we do want to see ourselves as in control of our lives, though as social animals we are n many ways constrained by social currents: the balance between being free and being social. We probably see more easily how a person operating in response to social currents might feel that s/he is making a lot of indpendent choices that to an observer appear to be simple responses to social currents—and probably driven by a constant imperative to maintain as much freedom as possible, and using that as a selection principle for choices as they appear—you know, I think I could write a program to do that. Where’s the free will?

On a more specific level, we want to be in control in any situation and, if control is lost, to regain it as quickly as possible. Control (obviously) can be inward and/or outward directed, and probably more conflicts arise because of the conflict of each wanting to control the situation and each other’s imperative of freedom. And, of course, since it is a social animal, there’s all the social-connection ramifications. Maybe that’s why that sort of conflict is ubiquitously displayed: because it is the ubiquitous conflict.

The key—totally NOT a secret—is to find the balance, where each need is reasonably satisfied. It’s a skill, so it requires practice—i.e., it is practical knowledge, not theoretical knowledge. Descriptions are of little help. “Thataway” is as good as any.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

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