Conflict to Consensus, Can We Get There From Here!

Dr. Frank C. Starr, Ridgway, Colorado

If we look at the genesis of conflict, we find conflict to be one of the most natural and common events in nature. Animals are in constant conflict and competition, as are plants, and there is much evidence that bacteria have been in conflict since the beginning of life over three billion years ago. Every living thing is dependent on food, water, shelter and space. How we acquire those four requirements of life differs for each species with the result, invariably, being conflict or competition in some form. The winner is the most fit and the one who produces the most viable offspring. Most animals accomplish this by establishing a pecking order which is done by means of physical and or psychological conflict. The result of such conflicts are decisive and often long lasting (at least through the ensuing breeding season); they also are rarely life threatening or severely debilitating to either combatant. They are fortunate in that they seem to have the good sense to accept defeat and their place in the pecking order. The result being they will have an opportunity to try again another time.

Conflict arises from what might be considered want, need or greed. That is, "I want it, I need it, you have it and I am going to take it and your needs be damned." Most animals have evolved to occupy specific niches which do not conflict with other species niches; thus conflict is limited to individuals of their own species, resulting in survival of those most fit to parent the next generation, and a stable ecosystem. To my knowledge there is but one species which solves its conflicts by leaving it's opponent dead or so debilitated that it can never again be a serious competitor for resources or mates. That of course is Homo sapiens. We are the only species that has ever changed its niche with out speciating, and that change of niche from hunter gatherer to agriculturist may well be the most significant happening in the history of life. We not only have the ability to change our niche to fit available niche spaces, we attempt to eliminate any thing that competes for our niche or niche space, be it plant animal or other human. We consider anything that might be in competition for resources we have a desire for as an  enemy to be eliminated.

Man versus man conflict comes from greed, which translates into "I want more power or more money. How do we acquire more of what we want? Through subterfuge or actual conflict. And how do you win? The best method, it turns out, is through mind control. You remember the song from "South Pacific": "You've got to be taught to hate and fear, to hate all the people your relatives hate. The people who's skin is a different shade, the people who's eyes are oddly made; you've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight." Many of our biases and bigotries are taught or learned early in life; others we develop through life's experiences and associations, and we staunchly refuse to admit that we could be incorrect in those beliefs. Our religious, economic, ethnic, genderal and social beliefs, we steadfastly hold onto, knowing that we are correct and those opposing views have no validity.

In recent years society has made considerable progress in reducing ethnic and gender biases (women and minorities are not as down trodden as they were 50 years ago), social boundaries are not as tight as they were, economic meism, however, is just as ingrained as ever and religious bigotry is, if any thing, more pronounced and entrenched than ever. From another old song by the Kingston Trio - "Hindus hate the Muslims, the Muslims hate the Jews and Christians don't like anybody very much."

How do we deal with these most deep rooted and ingrained of biases? Economic meism is the most basic bias there is. An old saying I heard long ago goes "A well fed person can have many problems, a truly hungry person has but one." There is no question that we would do what ever was necessary to feed ourselves and our family if we were truly hungry. The problem becomes "how much is enough?" We all feel we would like just a little more. We see greed in the form of corporate executives getting huge bonuses for doing unsavory things, things that most of us would not consider, but we are not in their shoes.

Religion is the oldest and most deeply ingrained of human beliefs, or faiths if you prefer. The Muslims know their faith is right; the Jews know theirs is the true faith; Hindus and Buddhists have no question but that theirs is unquestionable; and the Christians know full well that all of the others are wrong and Christianity can be the only way to know God. Could it be that God (if there be such a thing) has her/his own agenda and human religions haven't a clue as to what is right?

My own bias comes from my belief that this planet is badly over populated by human beings, and unless something is done to correct the situation we are on the fast track to destroying the resource base for the vast majority of species on the planet. When I try to discuss the subject with others they 1) agree but say there is nothing that can be done; 2) agree but don't want to take any chance of disturbing their economic base that is dependent on continued growth; or 3) violently disagree because their God has taught that Earth was made for man and man was made to multiply and dominate the Earth and subjugate all the creatures living with us.

Now comes the question of going from conflict to consensus. Under normal circumstances disagreements are solved by the parties involved arbitrating. To arbitrate each party must come to the table willing to give a little. Each gives a little, they bargain back and forth and eventually reach consensus. That may not be totally satisfactory to either side, but it beats physical conflict and each party goes home knowing that, at least they didn't loose. When consensus can not be reached the alternative seems to be physical conflict, war, or going away mad with the attitude that I will be back another time and I will win next time.