Brock Lorber

More About: Voting and Elections

Conflict Resolution

In the week following passage of the health care insurance bill, the news was filled with reports of threats and vandalism against members of congress and their property. Media reports were filled with statements from politicians bewildered that their violent actions would engender violent blowback. The statements all ran along the lines of, "Americans do not resolve conflicts with violence. Americans resolve conflicts with the ballot box."

I don't have the first darn clue why any of these pols would qualify their statement with "Americans". No one resolves conflict with violence – no one has ever resolved conflict with violence.

Say there's a conflict over a resource and one party initiates violence to gain control of the resource. The other party may or may not fight back. Eventually, one of the parties will gain control of the resource through violence. But, the conflict hasn't been "resolved". The conflict remains just as it was, but now the parties are pissed off and bloody.

The only three ways conflicts can be resolved are through compensation, compromise, or cooperation.

The essence of human interaction involves thousands of low-level conflicts every day. Your morning commute is a conflict with all other morning commuters for space on the road. Every busy doorway is a conflict. Your employer, their customers, and you have a conflict over your time. You have a conflict with grocers and restaurants over the quantity, cost, and quality of food you purchase. On, and on, and on, all these conflicts are resolved through a combination of compensation, compromise, and cooperation.

At any given gas station you can witness conflict resolution. Customers compromise by queuing up to get a space in front of a pump. The conflict over gasoline ownership is resolved by compensating the owner, who is storing it in his underground tank. Customers cooperate by moving away from the pump as soon as their business with the station owner is finished, so another customer can move her vehicle to the pump.

Occasionally, this peaceful process is marred by violence. Perhaps a customer is in such a hurry he can't wait in line for a pump, or maybe a customer has no place to go and lingers in front of the pump rather than moving out. Whatever the reason, tempers can and do flare, typically involving a bunch of shouting and not any actual physical contact but no compensation, compromise, or cooperation at any rate. So, the conflict remains.

Meanwhile, at this busy gas station, the other customers continue to compromise for pump position, compensate the station owner for gas and corn nuts, and cooperate by getting out of the way and on the road with all conflicts successfully resolved.

Now, imagine the scenario where n customers and the station owner voted over ownership of the gasoline in the underground tanks. Certainly the ballot would indicate that the customers owned the gasoline by a vote of n to 1. In a politician's world view, that would apparently resolve the conflict.

But, just as certainly, the station owner would take issue with the democratic outcome and protest the appropriation of the gasoline. In the end, the owner would only release control of the gasoline without compensation if violence or the threat of violence was used to enforce the outcome of the election.

And, still, the conflict would remain.

Because, any of us can put scraps of paper or stones in a box and declare such action an election. We can bark loudly at the moon, and anyone else who will listen, that we have resolved this or that conflict using our ballot box. And, among a group of individuals who have explicitly agreed to an election as part of a compensation, compromise, or cooperation, we would be right.

But, if the outcome of the election requires violence to enforce, or even plans for the possibility of requiring violence to enforce, there is proof-positive that no explicit compensation, compromise, or cooperation agreement exists, and, therefore, no conflict gets resolved. The only thing decided at this type of ballot box is who controls the violence.

So, in the end, all those press statements boiled down to, "Americans don't resolve conflicts with violence," which is true, but is then contradicted by saying Americans do resolve conflicts with violence through the ballot box.

Occupying the seats of control of the largest, most violent gang the world has ever seen, it should come as no surprise that congress has a special affinity for violence, as long as they are in control. What never fails to astound me, though, is the willingness of media and media consumers to uncritically accept these contrived justifications for continued violence and, worse, offer a veil of legitimacy to it by participating in the violence-by-proxy scheme of electoral politics.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ernest Hancock
Entered on:

What he said.

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