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A Conflict Paradox Example

A Conflict Paradox Example

What’s an example of a paradox in conflict?



Full Transcript

All right. I want to talk about this, this month’s issue of Scientific American, and the lead story is called “How We Conquered the Planet. Our species wielded the ultimate weapon, cooperation.”


One of the chapters is on competition and cooperation, and we actually know, as a field, more about this, and we’re more conscious of this one, than a lot of the other paradoxes. It’s amazing to me how central that is to all evolution and to all human development, as well as to our work in conflict.


So if I may read just a short quote from it, the author quotes a study by Sam Bowles, who’s an economist at the Santa Fe Institute who said . . . and I quote, “An optimal condition under which genetically-encoded, hyper-pro-sociality” in other words, extreme cooperation, “can propagate is, paradoxically, when groups are in conflict. Groups that have higher numbers of pro-social people who work together more effectively and thus out-compete others and pass their genes through this behaviour to the next generation.”


So if I can translate that, I hope it’s clear, if I can translate that, he’s saying, fundamental reason that we have come to dominate the planet is we’re better at cooperating with people who are not related to us. And why is it important? Because it helps us to compete. And how did this develop?


When resources became more limited due to a climate shift many, many years ago, like thousands of years ago, like 14,000 years ago or something like that. We had to be able to protect resources to compete with those who wanted to get it, and those who had developed this genetic capacity to cooperate more effectively, were better at competing. That ultimately led us to dominate the planet, to wipe out our competitive humanoid species, etc.


To me, that little scientific sense, and there’s a lot of other stuff that’s been written about this too, that scientific element of it is at the heart of everything we do in conflict. I think we often think that our job is to help people cooperate more effectively, and it’s not.


Our job is to help people cooperate compete more effectively. It is to help people integrate that. If we are out there as the people who are advocates of cooperation, as opposed to the advocates of helping people be more effective in conflict, we’re going to be isolated and be used much less than then we could be used, and paradoxically therefore, we won’t be able to help conflict move forward in a more constructive way.

About the mediator

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Bernie Mayer, Ph.D. is Professor of Dispute Resolution at The Werner Institute, Creighton University. He is without doubt a leader in the field of conflict resolution. Considered by many in the field of conflict resolution as an icon, Bernie has over a quarter century of experience in the field and was a founding partner at CDR Associates, the internationally recognized mediation and conflict resolution organization. Bernie originally trained as ... View Mediator