Preventing Deadly Conflict
Preventing Deadly Conflict
The Inevitability and Value of Conflict
As long as people hold different views of the same subject, there is conflict, classically defined as an incompatibility of positions (e.g. Hobbes 1964 : 83; Raven & Kuglanski 1970: 70). As such, conflict is inherent in the existence of separate units, whether they be individuals, parties, societies, or states; humans predate the conflicts they bear but without conflicting views individual socio-political units would have no reason for separate existence. At this stage, conflict is merely passive or potential, and generally unpreventable. But when parties escalate their positions to an intersocial relationship, such as an attempt to assert their position over others, they have raised their conflict to an active stage, the threshold indicated in figure 1 (Coser 1956: 8). Two parties that value the same thing passively and then make efforts to get it, two parties who have their own beliefs and then make efforts to convert or deny the other, two parties which hold different strategies for reaching a goal and then make efforts to make their approach prevail, are all cases of moving from passive to active conflict.
These efforts are usually normal and to be expected, and we engage in competition, persuasion, and bargaining all the time. When we run into resistance, we increase our efforts, but usually within bounds established by social norms and the value of the object to us. The value of the object is a personal matter, but social or interpersonal norms have several effects. Like personal values, they impose limits on conflict behavior, but they also provide established or acceptable ways of conducting the conflict. We can bid or bargain for the coveted object, we can debate or separately schedule the different beliefs, we can vote or adjudicate over the rival strategies. Many of our differences and even active conflicts are governed by established norms, and the conflict, though active and escalated to a certain point, is managed and resolved appropriately and acceptably.
A witness called to the stand on the subject is Robin Hood, who stood at the opposite end from Little John at the one-log bridge. Their passive conflict soon escalated as they reached the middle of the bridge and they came to blows, until Little John flicked Robin Hood into the drink with his deft staff. (They then made up and went off together to join the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest.) This kind of action is not common practice anymore: one-lane bridges have priority signs and red lights, or if not we have more informal procedural norms such as "age before beauty,""first come first served,""ladies first," alphabetical listings, or even rolling dice. These are termed conflict management devices; they replace violence as an arbiter and they demote the pursuit of the conflict to a social or political level. In this case, of course, they do more, they resolve the conflict, which no longer exists once the two parties have crossed the bridge safely (and joined the Merry Men). A second witness on the subject is the Chinese premier, who proclaimed his country's claim against neighboring countries over most of the South China Sea and the reefs and rocks (and oil and fish) in it. Hoping to avoid the Robin-and-John means of conflict resolution, interested third parties, including the United States, urge resort to other modern procedural norms of World Order such as the International Court of Justice or negotiation. A third witness is Vladimir Putin, who trashed World Order norms and the tenth of the Ten Commandments and escalated conflicts over neighbors' internal governance and territory into aggression, showing that Robin and John are not just historical or mythical characters.
But conflict has a deeper meaning in our society: It is the essence of our political and economic system (Matthews 1995; Zartman 1995). Democracy is bas