Throughout the span of my life, I have come to realize one large, indomitable absolute: conflict is essential.
I am a writer, and through the creation of narrative, both fictive and non, I have witnessed the importance of conflict. Would the story of Huck Finn be entertaining if Jim were to have lived a fair, unabashed lifestyle? Or maybe Winston, living in Orwell’s 1984, would have been secure in a totally safe society that bore neither conflict nor duress? The answer is very easy: no. It is a very generous thought to believe that we as creatures could exist in relative comfort in a world without conflict. But the world itself is far from generous.
There is a definite sense in most people that a society free from strife or conflict is an ideal one. I could not agree with that less. There are two major principals of conflict that concrete its importance. Analysis and evolution. I will explain.
Through criticism, sometimes regarded as a cynic’s trade, there can be evolution. Plain and simple. And without it there is none. During the time of the great Cambrian explosion, when life decided to become multicellular, there was criticism. Perhaps the greatest of them all. Natural selection. Through this process and a mere hundred thousand years or so, our species has been crafted into a race of strong, industrious, independent creatures. Without criticism we would still be simple-minded, instinct driven animals. There would be no struggle for gas prices, nor any difficulty about whether we should buy a Mac or a PC. As for analysis, it is the tool by which evolution is possible. But alas, without conflict there would be no need for analysis: we would not care why cancer was incurable, if it were curable. We wouldn’t be worried about the latest struggle for power in the middle-east, if the middle-east was totally serene with itself. Conflict is the inevitable distance traveled between two points, one being simplicity and the other being achievement.
Karl Marx was well versed on this concept and using conflict as his palette, he constructed his own field of social science known today as Conflict Theory. Though it can be hard for many to accept, sociologists across the globe agree with Marx if only in concept rather than execution. Conflict breeds differences. But what can society ever hope to achieve without differences? I’ll tell you what. Walmart.
Picture your individual life without conflict. You would never have to pay for anything. Your marital partner would never disagree with you. You would go to work, fulfill your task and never feel detached from it. Monotony would be your world and it would be endless. Sounds swell, doesn’t it?
We don’t just need conflict, we desperately demand it. In a world of ever-changing elementals conflict is essential for our survival as well as our evolution. Live with passion, but die with achievement. Strive for conflict because it defines our species.
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