Social conflict is ingrained in history. Sociologists and historians provide valid arguments to support the beneficial and negative aspects linked to social dissension and dispute. Determining what’s beneficial and what is not becomes more accessible when looked at in retrospective, often decades afterward. It would be useful, however, to gain some preliminary insight into what is causing social conflict today and where it’s actually leading us to before the costs begin to outweigh the benefits.
The DNA of Social Conflict
In general, social collision and quarrel are linked to many causes. It develops in both vertical and horizontal contexts. Economic, territorial, religious, cultural, ethnical, environmental, biological, climatic and other factors create a mix of cocktails that lead to unrest and conflict. It can be sudden or it can develop very slowly, at times even barely noticeable until it explodes. One can study social conflict from other angles, such as identifying, understanding and engaging the actors. This is useful as the outcome of social conflict is closely linked to the individuals and group’s ability to manage it through social interaction. This is key for determining its outcome but, in addition, also critical in determining its cost. More often than not, the latter has a much more immediate effect. In other words, the handling of social conflict will affect costs and results, and in that order.
The whole idea boils down to minimizing cost and maximizing gain. Is this possible?
Social Conflict Today
From class struggle to cultural hegemony, theorists have all added a large variety of ways to look at and understand social conflict. It’s not the aim to discuss all of these approaches here, though not because these have nothing to contribute to a greater understanding of the subject, especially in a historical context.
Hence, identifying the DNA of social conflict requires that we perform an MR and not just an X-ray of the complex make-up of our society to properly identify the deteriorated or broken links of our society’s fabric.
We can certainly identify and use various facets of modern conflict theory to broaden our understanding of a wide range of current social issues. These can be, for example, linked to gender, race, pay-gap, class, globalization inequalities, etc.. The list can be long, but they do not rank equally in terms of how they are identified or in the cost-benefit equation. Hence, identifying the DNA of social conflict requires that we perform an MR and not just an X-ray of the complex make-up of our society to properly identify the deteriorated or broken links of our society’s fabric. We can quickly grasp the idea when looking at this issue at a family or at a smaller social scale, such as within one’s workplace. The theoretical potential to maximize gains and minimizing costs is evidently there. Most will agree to this. But how does one first identify and measure costs or gains? How is this accomplished?
In my opinion, society and the individuals that integrate it have real problems in understanding what is really at stake. As a result, the possibility to deal with gains and costs is limited or made close to impossible for ordinary people just getting by on society’s mainstream.
The New Manipulative Tools of Social Conflict
As mentioned earlier, getting to know the actors is essential in order to find adequate engagement and solutions to conflict. This is where it starts getting complicated and the following are reasons as to why this is so.
The real actors and their roles in the conflict are not easily identifiable and the underlying nature of social conflict is concealed in order not to reveal the vested interests.
Confusion in the description of the nature of the social conflict is an essential part of manipulation and an effective weapon.
Combustion and clamor are achieved through analogous channels easily accessible to both manipulators and legitimate actors.
Bogus information – which always has existed – is carefully designed with state-of-the-art technology and marketing psychology and segmentation in order to reach large target audiences and trigger expected responses through emotions rather than through reflection.
Manipulation and deceit have acquired very powerful tools during the last decade. The strategies and techniques of social manipulation include the use of the following: Distraction, degradation, distortion, complacency, guilt, ignorance, stupidity, vulgarity, arousal and last, but not least, hate.
The sophistication of manipulation has caught almost everyone by surprise. The techniques utilized do not differ much from the ones used by psychopaths, sociopaths and predators and which we often see and have learned to recognize in movies and TV series. What changes is that society at large and certain parts of it have become the carefully selected prey. The action takes place in unmapped invisible terrain, just as if rats were moving at great speed through our water and sewage systems, spreading disease and fear. It’s just as if social conflict was taking place at different levels of consciousness and fading into unconsciousness.
We are living in Nietzschean world. His rabid descriptions are quite fitting. Are we, at the end of the day, our own worst enemies? Benjamin Franklin once said: “I have met the enemy, and it is in the eyes of other people”. Which is it?
The Effect of Social Conflict
Though it is true that social media and all the technology that goes with it has allowed protesters around the world to activate social response and some degree of change, we must start understanding that the same technology in the hands of the mighty with political and economic gain, which often go hand in hand, can cause mayhem. The question is whether the image we ultimately want to sit with is that of an Egyptian girl activist holding her mobile in Cairo during the Arab Spring marches against oppression, or the Q T-shirts at a political rally in the U.S., if not the outright outbursts of violent hatred among people who have the perfectly equally available option to live in peace and in a place of proactive social compromise.
Whether social conflict turns at to be an irredeemable sunk cost, with little or no enlightenment in the permanent quest for improvement, is not a responsibility that ultimately sits with the perpetrators of manipulation with sinister objectives in mind; the responsibility ultimately lies with the society at large, that is, of each and everyone.
Apply the idea that “one is one’s greatest enemy” to the words attributed to the Chinese warrior and philosopher Sun Tzu: f you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Tired of the notion of a hundred battles, and as a challenging but soothing alternative, I offer Nietzsche’s quote: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”