Tag Archives: Escalation

What’s The Real Reason Behind Conflict?

Two Guys Walk Into A Bar…

I was hanging out with a friend of mine in a sports bar one afternoon. It was Sunday, and there were a couple good games on, so we figured we’d kick back there for a while. Both of us were too lazy to make the proper preparations (meaning clean up enough) to watch the games at either of our houses. And also, and more importantly, the sports bar had several different TV’s, and so we could watch several games at once, even though we were only interested in two of them.

The only problem was that there was a gap between games for about an hour. Not really long enough to go to a different bar, but long enough to be concerned about drinking ourselves silly out of boredom so early in the day. One game finished around 1 PM, and the other didn’t start until around 2 or so. So there were, in between games wondering how to kill the time. I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit there with a drink in front of me for very long without drinking it. Even if it’s only soda or water, if somebody keeps filling it, I’ll keep drinking it. So I had to be particularly careful not to get too sloshed before the second game started. We had taken the train there, so neither of us were concerned about driving, but it kind of ruins your afternoon when you come home trashed at 4 in the afternoon. Any productivity you may have enjoyed in the evening is gone.

We noticed a group of people sitting a few tables over that for some reason didn’t seem particularly interested in the game. They didn’t cheer or exclaim during any of the spectacular plays that had happened earlier, and they didn’t seem to have any concern one way or the other when either team scored. So we focused our concentration on them to keep ourselves entertained.

They were all men, as were most of the patrons that day. They weren’t wearing suits or anything, so they weren’t businessmen in town for a sales meeting or something. But they seemed to be quite animated about something. Finally, one of them noticed us paying a little too close attention to them. He got up and made his way over to our table. I was a little concerned, when I realized if somehow they took our attention the wrong way, we may be in trouble, as there were only two of us, and four of them.

I remember once I took this course in political science. I think the professor wished he were teaching history, as we didn’t spend too much time talking about politics, but more time talking about the history behind the politics. The professor had this rather interesting view of human nature. The textbook would go on and on about different political viewpoints, and certain government bodies among countries, which honestly I find incredibly boring. I suppose the professor did as well as he would always get really animated when he started talking about things like human nature, and how different factors along with human history lead inevitably to various political systems.

Although he was a professor at a public university, and was required to keep his political and religious leanings out of the course material, I suspect he was a strong believer in capitalism, and a devout atheist. He always talked in terms of competition, survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle. His theory was that all politics, and all political maneuvering is purely the law of the jungle in action. Any efforts to present any public policy is really a means to an ends, which in his opinion, was always more power to the politician in question. His theory was that all political systems were merely a collection of strategies to amass more power to those already in power.

He believed that pure capitalism, on a level playing field, was the best way to make sure that certain groups of people didn’t secure power and then make it impossible for others to do so through the creation of draconian laws. He based this on the theory of escalation within a closed society. Whenever one group amasses enough power, they can put in to play systems, which will keep others from amassing power. This is the most stable when there are two separate groups wielding power, and the power will naturally oscillate back and forth. In the creation of a society, or in the early days, each group will slowly grab more power by escalating its dominance in the face of its adversaries. And the adversaries will respond by escalating their dominance.

It’s a bit complicated, but there is a mathematical model that describes it in terms of driving elements of a function in a closed system. There is a kind of symbiotic relationship between elements, that is one gets power from the others weakness, but if the other disappeared completely then so would the original groups power.

According to this professor, this explains why many countries in today’s modern world seem to be at odds, but really depend on each other for their respective survival. If the stronger would completely obliterate the weaker country, then they would lose a lot of their reason for existence. I’m not sure I understand the mechanisms behind all this, but when this particular professor described, it sounded really logical.

When the big guy from the group of four reached our table, he asked us if we would like to join them. Although it seemed a little weird, a group of four guys who weren’t outwardly interested in sports asking two guys who were at a sports bar to join them, we said what the heck.

It turned out they were seminary students who were at this big conference at the convention center downtown. It was a weeklong conference, and seeing at it was Sunday, they had the day off.

I’ll leave the strange, but interesting discussion that followed for another post.

And now for something completely different:


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