The Virtue of Conflict

I was just watching a documentary about the first civilizations that states that for 99% of humanity’s time on Earth, we were hunter/gatherers, pretty much doing the same things for the whole time.

Then we began to settle down with our patches of grain, and herding animals instead of just following them. We discovered metallurgy… Squabbles became better-armed and graduated from fisticuffs to raids to wars… Conquest for control of resources–food and materials, work force, mates–led to the military/industrial complex, centralized governments, and organized religion, all with the need of offices and special places to interact with everyone else, like temples, training grounds, waiting rooms with counters… And everyone needed places to live that weren’t too great a commute to the jobs in those places. So, cities.

According to this documentary (FIRST CIVILIZATIONS, from PBS), management of large areas of land and large groups of people, control of all the resources in those large areas, led to a kind of security for those living within the pale. In that security, that peace, there was the possibility of evolving cultural ideas and skills: fundamentals of civilization.

As each centralized conquest grew and expanded its influence to surrounding communities, a couple of things planted the seeds of its ultimate downfall: Envy of other growing communities with conquest on their agenda; Complacence on the part of the too-long secure, the comfortable. So, inevitably some outsiders, energetic and hungry, break the peace and the comfort, and over-run the complacent.

Each power comes, through chaos, to enforce its own peace, and it is again, in those times of peace that culture has the time and space to grow. Each one, in its time, becomes comfortable and complacent, living on assumptions of permanence… And so it goes, a spiral of increasing complexity and problem-solving, as the very complexities and solutions engender and become the problems…

I suppose this model of progress/chaos/growth/chaos applies not only to whole societies, but also to each individual as we advance through our lives. “Chaos” is struggle, from the time previous solutions break down into problems, to the time we settle on a new solution that settles those problems, allows us to rest. But if we rest in place, if we don’t move ahead or keep our solutions evolving to resolve the problems that grow out of previous solutions… If we don’t keep paying attention, sooner or later, something snaps, and an adjustment forces itself on us. 

Earthquakes are a good metaphor.

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