Conflict and adversarial competition have never “taken the high ground” in human affairs so much as they are that low-ground or gravitational depression and strange attractor to which the chaotic and congested traffic of all human activity is inexorably drawn. This is not because violence or domination are necessarily endemic to human nature, nor is it in any sense plausibly because the 3.8 billion year struggle of life against itself has been particularly heroic or glorious for our lucky antecedents. Considering the generally catastrophic human experiences incurred, there is certainly no inherent motivation or aspiration to an eternal return to Hobbes’ state of bellum omnium contra omnes. There are, however, logical bases and biases to the information and energy processing systems of emergent complexity which require a cultivation of difference to generate the information and systemic sophistication through which we exist and by which continuity is assured. An analysis of the enigma of necessary difference is a powerful method of scaling the asymptote towards (Global) peace.
Conflict and the means or methods of its execution lie at the center of all personal and, by extension or necessary inversion, collective history. The cultural and ideological turbulence and subsequent compulsion towards novelty invoked by the difference and symbolic distance of adversarial competition is (an) engine which drives the procedural “ratcheting up” of Global cultural complexity and technological sophistication. For the same essential reasons that biological diversity effloresces under environmental duress, the distributed and procedurally developmental psychological and technological evolution of human cultures are infused with a largely unacknowledged bias towards adversarial competition. Conflict and difference in psychology, personality and ideology is the autonomous, ubiquitous, distributed and self-propagating recursive self-organisational fact through which cultural change (as literal evolition) occurs and by which the difference and boundaries of identity and culture are continuously disassembled and rebuilt.
There are of course layers or degrees of severity to conflict. A camaraderie cultivated around the symbolic tribal difference of affiliation to sporting teams is a caricatured form of conflict that is particularly instructive. Observe the ways in which colloquial social conversations and assertions of identity and difference provide apertures of opportunity for a predominantly playful game of who (by team association) is winning, who has aligned themselves to failure, the bearing of historical artefacts (and memory) to current circumstances and the forecasting of future systemic states and probabilities of success or failure. While the causal and consequential complexity of the many non-trivially internecine conflicts of Global history (among those wars still raging) are in human cost only very tenuously allied to the symbolic playground of sporting competitions, the underlying psychological and cultural symmetries manifest as expressions of a singular (but distributed) logical principle.
Where we observe in nature or physics a tendency towards increasing order and complexity, it is at a level of information and energy-processing systems the (autonomous) procedural development of efficiency and concision in the methods by which the self-propagating systems and symmetries of information and energy self-replicate. In human terms, what appears to us as an endless string of political and ideological conflicts is at a more fundamental level an essential method of entropy (and intermittently – of structure, novelty and information) generation.
The dissonance of difference (and a functional or symbolic value extracted from “useful” entropy) permeates living systems from genetics through to civilisations. There exists a very special epistemological blindspot in our ability to successfully or comprehensively understand the gestalt totality and holistic unity of material circumstances within (and as) which we exist. This represents a foundational logical mischief of paradoxical self-containment which arises under Global Systems analysis and for which we are poorly prepared to negotiate by the shared narratives of linear determinism.
Take any conflict or intractable tribal difference as a concept for consideration in your mind. Rotate this entity and complex artefact as a whole, see its many causes and dimensions of effect, its expressions or manifestations and the ways that these are not simply reducible to, or resolvable by, the (perhaps necessary or to some extent inevitable) caricatures of administrative and hierachically bureaucratic project management or of what is more often a selfish or at least uninformed political jingoism. Consider the many ways that psychological and cultural identity are axiomatically grounded in the difference and distance that conflict or competition incurs; that not only is an aspiration to individuated or consensus identity aggregated or built around a kernel of difference, but that an internalisation of a perceived, cultivated or autonomously emergent difference between any biological entity and the compound artefacts of an environment precisely is what that entity is composed of. Identity is difference and difference is the basis upon which all information, measurement, observation, knowledge and technology are generated as self-validating and autonomously self-propagating facts.
Beyond the various fascinating enigmas of logic, mathematics and physics which inflate our lived experience with existence, momentum, meaning and purpose – the psychological and cultural components of conflict present a useful conceptual surface through which we might palpate our own (shared) orientation towards conflict. If it is true that self-identity at a psychological or cultural level is always to some extent an inverse measure of the difference and distance implicit to language or the symbolic memory of culture encoded as aversion or aggression, then there are some curious consequences. If individual or collective Self is always defined (and is perhaps only intelligible as) an orientation towards the difference of a necessary Other, then the resolution of conflict implicitly requires the utter disassembly and radical dissolution of that self. However, the paradox in this is always already that an aspiration towards peace or conflict resolution requires a difference and distance from the object of aspiration, so it is not possible to approach by ratchet-like achievements any resolution or completeness and closure because the intelligibility of any aspiration towards unity is only plausible from that position of structured knowledge and action which requires the difference and distance of information to act.
Conflict is only as necessary as is a primitive or immature comprehension of our individual and shared sense of Self. The psychological and cultural maturity required to acknowledge and mentally process this concept is a complex order of magnitude removed from the median existence of human experience, intelligence, culture and communications. Popular political, ideological and cultural systems provide simplistic generalisations by which those political, ideological and cultural systems can continue to self-propagate. There are available solutions and concepts that approximate to levelling-up our collective wisdom and expressions of individual and collective self-identity.
The necessary manifestation of difference as a literal engine, machine or algorithmically optimal and concise method through which biological, psychological, cultural or technological change manifests is something of a fact; however, the ways in which that difference occurs is fundamentally not bound to conflict, hatred and war – these are the contingent facts of what has happened, not what necessarily must happen. It is only that conflict, war and their associated symbolic and material facts are the simplest (let’s say: “entry-level”) form or shape and topology that this difference has historically taken and around which psychological and cultural self-identity has self-gravitated that sees us staring so forlornly out of this pit we have all dug, and continue to dig, together. There are other, and better (but never “best”), political, ideological, psychological and cultural solutions to our shared existential angst and intransigently discomforting difference-based identities but the question is at heart one of how to recursively introduce them as a seed of subtle and refined intelligence into a Global system of stumbling, staggering and blindly self-propagating difference and conflict.