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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Nature of Conflict

By Michael Richards

Consent is the ultimate end of political action. Conflict is a means to obtain the consent of another individual or group. Conflict can be readily defined as individuals or groups who attempt to subvert or hinder other individuals or groups from employing the means to attain their ends.

When two individuals first meet, they engage in interaction. Man, being an acting being, always employs means to achieve his ends. When individuals do nothing to hinder those ends, they consent that the other person may attempt to attain those ends without any interference from themselves. When people consent, they allow other actors to act in a manner that they choose best.

However, in a world of limited resources, conflict becomes almost inevitable. Since resources are limited, individuals may be put in a position where they must hinder another individual from using up those resources so that they may attain their ends. A combination of scarce resources and individuals' unlimited wants is the reason why conflict is almost inevitable.

There are two categories to conflict, competition and coercion. Competition is when two or more individuals compete for another individual or group's resources by obtaining the cooperation of those other individual or group. Coercion is where individuals or groups attempt to use some form of pressure to convince the actors whom they are in conflict with to give up on their own ends.

Competition must involve the consent, actions, and resources of outside individuals either physically or intellectually. Physical is where consenting individuals employ their resources in a form of cooperation (exchange or partnership). Intellectually, individuals can choose a course of action in which resources shall be employed either through voting (democracy or market) or through hierarchy (much like an aristocracy or monarchy). Basically, physical competition is a form of action, while intellectual competition is the planning for action.

Now the reason that competition is a form of conflict, and not consent, is that individuals are competing for the physical or intellectual cooperation of those individuals they are trying to obtain. Since people and resources are both limited, individuals who compete are basically trying to get as much resources as possible to fulfill their wants while at the same time preventing the other person whom they are in conflict with from using up those resources.

An election for a politician (a form of intellectual competition) is a good example of this principle. In the United States, the goal of a politician is to obtain a majority vote. Both candidates attempt to convince others that they will employ resources more effectively to fulfill the desires of their constituents. Those that agree with the means or ends of the politicians will choose to vote for that person. Politicians may also employ tactics of adding a third party, who is much like their opponent, to divert voters away from his rival, so that his rival will not be able to get enough of the limited votes to win. Notice how the individuals running for office do not attempt to gain the consent of each other as much as they are trying to obtain the consent of the limited voting population.

Coercion, on the other hand, is when two conflicting individuals or groups try to pressure or constrain another individual or group so that their opponents will not hinder their goals. Coercion can either be through a form of violence or non-violence. When violence is employed, the goal is for one individual or group to constrain their opponents so that their opponents cannot hinder their goals. When a person is robbing someone, they use a gun to immobilize an individual into giving him money. If the victim does not heed the threat, then the victim will be shot and his money will be taken anyway (by being shot the victim is thus prevented to fight back and is thus immobilized). Slavery works along similar lines. A person who is a slave is forced to act upon the wills of their master, the same way a robber forces his victim to give up his money. Now violence is not just for unjust purposes, it can also be used in self defense as if the victim were to pull out his own weapon to prevent himself from getting robbed. This is important to consider when talking about law.

Non- violent coercion works where two individuals agree to attempt to obtain another's consent without the use of violence. Treaties, negotiations, haggling, and other forms of non violent pressures are still a form of coercion but seek different means to obtain the another individual or group's consent. Now while it looks good, it must be remembered that actions such as swindling and secretive theft are also a form of non-violent coercion. Threats to use force are, however, a form of violent coercion as the threat is still used to immobilize their opponent).

Conflict is the most important topic of political ethics and is the top concern for political scientists when studying law and rule making. However, while it is the most important, it is useless to study it without a good understanding of its primary ends which is the nature of consent.

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The Nature of Conflict by Michael Richards is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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1 comment:

  1. Yes... I hope many will take the time to read this and get a better understanding of political action and human action overall. It will really help them make concise and peaceful decisions.