Life cannot subsist in society but by reciprocal concessions.
---- Samuel Johnson, Letter to Boswell, 1766
There is a dialectic in social life, for it is governed by many contradictory forces. The dilemmas of social associations reflect this dialectic, and so does the character of social change. To conceive of change in social structures as dialectical implies that it involves neither evolutionary progress in a straight line nor recurring cycles but alternating patterns of intermittent social reorganization along different lines
---- Blau, 1967
So far, I have discussed the levels, dynamics, and elements of conflict. I have partitioned, classified, and interrelated them, while emphasizing the balancing and balance of powers. Clearly inherent in this view is the acceptance of change. No one steps twice into the same river of life, there is no absolute rest. All undergo change and what we manifest as a balance of our powers is momentary quietude, a transitory stillness masking underlying mutation. Balancing of powers, balance, unbalance, balancing, balance is a law of nature, a phasing of the restless conflict among all things and all life.
How is this changemanifest in society? What, in short, is the process of conflict? Figure 29.1 provides an organization of this process, a process-schematic.
Conflict moves through five phases. The first is the transformation of sociocultural (conflict) space into opposing interests. The second involves the will's choice to manifest opposing interests and a consequent situation of uncertainty. The third is the resulting balancing of powers, which may be manifested as conflict behavior. The fourth is the balance of powers, the structure of expectations. And the final phase is the disruption of expectations by some trigger event that renews the cycle: disruption creates uncertainty calling for balancing and the creation of a new structure of expectations. This chapter will discuss this process in detail.
There are two reasons for this. One is little awareness of differing attitudes. Minimal contact or communication provides little basis for opposing attitudes to be transformed into opposing interests.
So far there is no social interaction, no balancing, no overt conflict. Let me consider, then, Phase I in the conflict-process as the latent conflict stage.
At its roots, Phase I comprises the possibility of conflict inherent in the different meanings, values, norms, status, and class between people. It involves sociocultural space as potentialities. Consequently, Phase I always exists wherever there are more than one person, one group, one society, one culture.
Phase I also consists of those potentialities that are transformed into dispositions, into attitudes defining specific situations and goals, and are clustered into role-dispositions and sentiments involving religion, self-esteem, the superego, and so on. These clusters of attitudes define motivational components along which lie our sociocultural distances from each other. Such distances, as in wealth, power, prestige, and class, define the major attitudinal differences between people and their propensity to be mutually opposed.
What actualizes these attitudes? There are two major sources. One is acculturation through the family, school, occupation, and so on. Culture and subcultures are reservoirs of shared attitudes developed in the process of adjustment between cultures, and between culture and the environment. In their essence, these shared attitudes embody the culture's historical experience and are the means through which it can surmount challenges.
A second source is individual experience, the unique life of an individual broadly conceived. We not only passively learn from our environment and interact with others, we direct ourselves to learn, to new experiences. And we think. Thus, we can surmount our cultural limits to create what had been unknown.
The attitudinal lattice extending from our needs (Sections 3.3 and 6.3 of Chapter 3 and Chapter 6) is a net of overlapping and crisscrossing attitudes extended in various directions and in complexity as our culture and our personal experiences have through history become more refined, developed, and diverse. Let us take as given these attitudes and ask what brings them into opposition. A structure of conflict is created when we become aware of each other. Through personal contact or through written or verbal communication (books, movies, speeches, letters, and so on) we became acquainted with each other as persons or as classes of people. This awareness transforms potential opposition into opposing dispositions or attitudes.
This awareness need not be realistic. It can be entirely false, as an American perception during World War II, for example, that Japanese were inscrutable, stoic, and cruel. Awareness is cognitive and perceptual, and therefore totally subjective. Although such awareness may become adjusted to reality through experience, one's cognitive balance may resist even the intrusions of contrary perception. Such are many ethnic and racial stereotypes. Moreover, an important ingredient in the formation of awareness is indoctrination and propaganda, a creation of a particular perspective on some others.
However formed, awareness actualizes attitudes, and is the catalyst creating mutually opposing attitudes--the structure of conflict.
Attitudes, however, are nonactive. They are dispositions without strength. What activates them is the stimulation of our needs for sex, food, security, protectiveness, self-assertion, and so on. The needs supply the energy to our relevant attitudes which turns them into interests, into vectors of power. Thus, the latent "I want something done about criminals" turns into an active, crusading interest based on a desire for security when one's house has been burglarized several times.
Interests activated by needs transform a conflict structure into a conflict situation of opposing vectors of power, of a consciousness of opposition. As discussed previously, involved also in this situation is the mutually perceived capability of each party and their mutual expectations about each other, especially the credibility of their power.
Thus the Pre-Conflict Phase of latent conflict is composed of three subphases, or, if you will, transformations towards manifestation. The first is the sociocultural space of potentiality; the second is the actualization of attitudes through acculturation and experience and the creation of mutual awareness which transforms some of these dispositions into opposing attitudes; and the third is the energizing of opposing attitudes into opposing interests by stimulated needs. Figure 29.2 summarizes Phase I and the transformers moving it towards Phase II. In Figure 29.1, which also shows Phase I, these transformers had been omitted in order to keep the figure as simple as possible.
Let not thy Will roar, when thy|
Power can but whisper
---- Thomas Fuller, Introductio ad Prudentiam 1.xiv
Interests may oppose, two rival toughs may be aware of each other, as are two potentially contending politicians, but their wills have yet to manifest these interests. As previously discussed, we have many goals, of which the superordinate is one that we integrate our motivations around. But not all our interests are compatible within ourselves, and our will opposes or absorbs into the integrated personality those which are inconsistent with gratifying our major goals.
However, opposing interests create the pressure towards actual confrontation. Two conditions bring this about: an event (occasion) and a consequent decision by the will to manifest opposing interests.
Our daily lives abound with mundane examples of this process. Passing a drive-in, the smell of hamburger may trigger our will into deciding to buy (exchange power) one, as does seeing a useful item on sale in a department store. A naive criticism of our work may trigger our will into deciding to write a short essay on the whole subject (intellectual power). An especially bad cough from one's friend may trigger our will into inducing (altruistic power) him to see a doctor. And so on.
Our daily lives also exemplify a process that underlies mass movements. A Watergate scandal triggers a massive partisan attack on Nixon and attempts to rebalance in Congressional favor its powers versus the Presidency. A mutiny of a district police unit can trigger a military coup. The execution of an opposition leader can trigger active support for his cause and armed revolution.
Once triggered into active opposition, the will's course is uncertain. We can assume that the future is unknown, speculative, and at best a simple projection of experience within an apriori framework. What enables us to function routinely and generally satisfy our future goals are the crystallized structures of expectations within which we decide and act. These expectations constitute a net of predictions about the future that have been worked out through trial and error. They are reliable guides.
However, when new opposing interests come into being, when no structure of expectations for them exists, and when willful opposition is precipitated, reactions are uncertain and any decision entails some risk. Uncertainty is present in all new situations, although we ordinarily are half conscious of it.
Triggered by the smell of hamburger, I decide to buy one from the stand. If I have been a regular customer there, I will have formed a structure of expectations involving quality of service, price and taste of the hamburger, and so on, and the decision to buy a hamburger will have taken all this into account. But there is no such structure involving a new stand. The hamburger may be greasy and overpriced, and the service poor. My decision to buy a hamburger is thus made in a situation of uncertainty and involves a risk of indigestion, overpayment, and irritation that may spoil my day.
Such uncertainty in daily affairs is simply magnified when more important issues are involved. If we decide to marry over our parents' opposition, openly oppose the promotion of a popular colleague, or invest our savings in the stock market, we are embarking on a new journey and a risky venture. At one end is the mundane decision to buy a hamburger; at the other end is a foreign policy decision to attack another nation. Both are willful, uncertain, risky. One can end in indigestion and irritation, the other in national disaster. Both reflect the same process.
Some additional clarification about the meaning of uncertainty is required here. Surely many initiate open conflict with subjective certainty of success, victory, gratification. Indeed, some have pointed to the certainty of success as a major cause or condition of war.
What we have so far as Phase II, then, is the initiation of active opposition; the triggering of a decision to willfully oppose another within a situation of uncertainty. This phase also involves the preparation or moving into opposition stage, as when one walks to the hamburger stand and waits in line, or hands out guns to revolutionaries to storm a garrison. There may be conflict behavior in this phase. Preparations may be manifested, overt actions taken, in order to oppose or to succeed in such opposition. We may set the stage for a chess game by cleaning the board, prepare some notes for a debate, pick the moment to announce candidacy for high office, or wait until one's wife is in a good mood before announcing a two-week business trip.
The balancing of powers--of interests--involves three subphases: status quo testing, manifestation of power, and accommodations or force. To consider the first subphase, all individuals exist within some social frame of understandings, conventions, practices, norms, beliefs. We bring to any new social relationship our accumulated experiences and learning. We perceive a new relationship through a matrix of meanings, values, norms, and schema which orient our perception. And our perception of this relationship is the outcome of a dialectical balancing within our psychological field, a cognitive balancing involving the total personality. Thus, no new relationship is approached de nova. It is interpreted and given meaning through a cultural matrix and cognitive model. Moreover, any new social relationship develops against a background of relevant social practices which initially give some direction to behavior.
For example, buying a hamburger at an unfamiliar stand involves common meanings and understandings about the nature of a hamburger, the process of buying and selling, and the practices governing the exchange relationship ("Can I help you?" "Yes, one hamburger please with unions." "That will be 95 cents, sir."). We automatically accept and apply most of these practices and are unconscious of them until we visit a different culture. Moreover, in buying the hamburger we have come to expect from previous experience a certain price range and quality of food and service. But initially, our expectations about this new stand and its hamburgers are only hypotheses. We have no actual experience with this stand, and therefore must test our expectations. Standing in line, we look at what others have bought; we look for a sign giving the prices; we watch the service. Even if our interest is strong and we are hungry, if we see another customer get a greasy, overcooked hamburger from a surly waitress, we may decide that the gain is not worth the cost.
What has been involved is what I call status quo testing of our preliminary interpretation of another's interests, will, and capability--an initial trial and error testing of opposing interest, of what rights can be asserted or benefits won. It is the cautious circling, watching, and gauging period in animal play and combat. It is the squaring-off phase of a fist fight, when combatants move slowly around each other, feigning a punch here and throwing a half-punch there, to get each other's measure. It is seen in international relations when through minor moves and probes adversaries test out each other's will and interests regarding a changed situation, such as a power vacuum created by the withdrawal of colonial powers.
The assessment of relative power is not complete when the adversaries are provided with certified knowledge of their respective military strength. They also need to know under what circumstances the adversary is willing to fight. They need to know, in other words, which symbolic events would induce the other party to transform his war-making potentialities into warlike action. The potential antagonists must be able to ascertain which types of events have a symbolic value that releases the will-to-fight on the other side.|
---- Coser, 1963, p. 249
A child testing a new baby sitter, a businessman testing public reaction to a new product, or the prime minister testing the possible reaction of other nations to an armed intervention in a foreign crisis all manifest the status quo testing period of the balancing of power. It is this period that establishes an actual confrontation of interests. As, to continue my examples, one may indeed buy the hamburger,
Preliminary testing, however, may portend unacceptable risk, that the gains likely will not be worth the costs, that one's interests will not be satisfied. Then one enters into accommodations or accepts understandings essentially supporting the existing status- quo relationship. Thus, the balancing of powers may involve the status quo testing and the accommodation period alone. What is manifested as conflict interaction may reflect only status quo testing and the achievement of accommodations. After asking the price of a hamburger, you walk away; when the sitter appears firm, the child lets himself be led to bed; after testing the product, the businessman decides it will not sell; the prime minister decides that intervention involves too much of a risk of a larger war and enters into negotiations with the adversaries to resolve the crisis. Negotiations, mediations, compromising, abnegation, and so on are part of the process of power balancing and in their behavioral manifestations are conflict interactions.
Often, however, status quo testing may lead to an actual confrontation in which the parties try to achieve their interests. Success appears likely and compatible with the costs. You actually bargain over the hamburger or buy it at the posted price; the child screams at the sitter and is punished; the businessman produces his product and makes a substantial profit; the prime minister intervenes militarily while his adversary unleashes a verbal barrage of warnings and threats but sits on his military hands.
This actual engagement of interests is a clash of social powers. As we have seen, power comes in many forms. The confrontation can involve separately or in some combination the intellectual, manipulative, altruistic, authoritative, bargaining, or coercive powers. Each could be tested separately and in confrontation manifest different behavior and lead to particular accommodations. Since my ultimate concern is with violence, however, I will classify such confrontations into two kinds: those involving noncoercive social powers, and those involving coercion. I will focus on the latter. This is not to suggest that the other powers play a lesser role in the diverse balancing of social powers, but to simply highlight that aspect of the process which can lead to social violence.
A confrontation of noncoercive powers eventuates in some sort of accommodations. The "you take it," "no, you take it" confrontation of lovers or friends may end in both splitting it or in agreement that one will take it now while the other will get something like it the next time. The debate or intellectual argument may end in one side being persuaded or in both agreeing to disagree. The bartering of merchant and buyer may end in an agreed price. The clash between authorities may be resolved by submission to a higher authority or reference to some code or law. The maneuvering (manipulative power) of opposing lawyers to restrict each other's freedom of action in a trial may be ended in the judge's chambers. These confrontations will manifest love, altruism, legitimacy, expertise, persuasion, rewards, and promises. And through the manifestation of these bases of social power, accommodations will be determined.
To turn to coercion, it is in the confrontation of opposing coercive powers that we observe what is ordinarily called conflict behavior. In this balancing we see threats, warnings, defiance, intimidation, denunciations, and violence as well as fear, rage, hostility, righteousness, bravery, and so on. And we conceptualize various kinds of such balancing as struggles, contests, engagements, crises, fights, family quarrels, combats, riots, purges, coups, revolutions, guerilla war, civil war, international war, and the like.
The exercise of coercive power involves threatening a person into doing what we want him to do (Section 20.2 of Chapter 20). But while this behavior would be opposed by the other's interests, he does not want to suffer what is threatened either. The example I have been using of this situation is "your money or your life."
To be more specific about coercion, let me again use i and j to refer to two individuals, where j is the one applying coercion. Now, i is placed in a situation by j in which i is given a choice of either submitting or risking the negative alternative, which is either a continuation of deprivation or of the implementation of the threat. The victim may respond with altruistic power ("Please don't take my money--I need it to buy food"), with intellectual power ("You are risking years in prison for just the few dollars I have"), with authoritative power ("I'm the Bishop of St. John's and this is wrong"), bargaining power ("Look, if you let me go I promise I won't tell anyone"), or manipulative power ("Look out behind you!"). In all these cases coercive power is opposed by a different form of power and accommodation may take place through the victim's submission, compromise ("Okay, just give me ten dollars"), or success in convincing or inducing the robber to leave him alone.
However, coercive power may be met with coercive power or force. The victim may pull out a gun instead of his wallet; the government tax agents may be blocked by the peasant's barricade; a garrison may mutiny against an oppressive regime; and a nation's threats may be met by counter threats. Once such a confrontation of coercive powers or force occurs, the situation is fraught with new risks and contains an internal dynamism leading to violence.
The major parameters governing these confrontations are those defining all conflict situations: capability, interests, and will. First, what are the stakes of each in succeeding? For the victim of a robber, the money may be all that he has to pay off a gambling debt to the syndicate. If he does not appear with the money, he is dead anyway. For the robber, this may be a test of his courage by his gang, which may be watching from a distance. For mutineers, failure to overthrow the regime will mean certain execution. For the leaders of a threatened nation, public opinion may be so aroused that compromising may mean political suicide.
Clearly, the stakes define the strength of interests involved and the willingness to compromise or give in. But the mutual stakes are subjective, often hidden within each person's psychological field. As potential unknowns, they create an unstable coercive situation. For unlike the confrontation of other powers, in the clash of coercive powers the stakes may include the risk of one's life and an attack on another's.
Second is the uncertainty over capability. Can the other really use a knife, can he shoot and is the gun loaded, will the palace guard defend the capital, will the people rise up against the regime, or can the other nation militarily beat us? And third is the well-known problem of credibility. Once a threat is made (or deprivation is applied), a logic quite apart from current success is created for both parties. A called bluff weakens the next threat. In spite of a person's evident stakes or capability, if he does not carry through his threats he loses credibility. Unfulfilled threats to resign, to spank a child, to sever diplomatic relations, or to make war are sufficient to severely weaken a person's future coercive power. Most people know this. Politicians are acutely aware of it. And today's foreign policy leaders have this truism sewn on their underwear.
Nonetheless, in a new situation, a confrontation of coercive powers, estimates of mutual credibility are imbedded in a field of expression (Chapter 5 and Chapter 6). One does not want to concede high stakes when the other may be bluffing or lack the will to follow through. Moreover, the other's stakes may not be high enough to carry out the threat. Thus, each reading the field of the other converses silently in a thousand symbols to communicate capability, interests (stakes), and will.
Once coercion is jointly engaged, how can conflict be resolved, especially among those involved in a continuing social relationship, such as husband and wife, workers and management, rebels and governments, nations? In the complex of stakes there is a pressure to escalate conflict behavior. Consider. Either party surely could drop his threat in the face of the other's. Certainly it could be argued that the objective stake to one is not worth the risk of deprivation. But this ignores an intrinsic feature of the confrontation of coercive powers: the very credibility of the mutual threats is now included among the stakes. Yielding after having made a threat oneself is tantamount to giving up two stakes: the negative interest over which the confrontation occurs, and the credibility of one's future threats.
We have seen a variety of solutions to this impasse. Both can rattle sabres until each feels his will and capability have been sufficiently demonstrated, and a tacit accommodation and withdrawal can be arranged. This situation is the classic duel of boys ("I dare ya." "Oh yeah?" "Go ahead, if you dare."), and we have seen these standoffs in international relations (such as the Berlin Crises of the 1950's). Or others can rush in and restrain both parties. Restraint imposed from the outside maintains the credibility of each, and the one who initially applied coercion can forgo his stake without defeating his ability to apply credible threats at another time. Or an exchange can be worked out on an unrelated issue, whereby neither gets what he wants entirely but this is sufficient to save face for both. The wife demands that her husband stop smoking or else she will leave. Instead, he buys her the necklace she has wanted and her acceptance of it implicitly resolves the conflict without a loss of credibility. The husband still smokes, although this ploy has made him vulnerable to future manipulation.
While a clash of coercive powers can be resolved without escalation or short of violence, the confrontation inherently tends towards both. First, the mutual stakes, capabilities, and credibilities are incalculable. Precision is denied fields of expression and subjective factors. Nonetheless, one usually initiates open conflict with some expectation of success. And with unexpected resistance, success can seem a matter of simply increasing the pressure on the other, of raising the cost of continuing. "There is light at the end of the tunnel." Of course, when both parties share this perception, escalation becomes a mutually reinforcing process.
Second, given that the stakes include both the interest over which the overt clash began and mutual credibility, the two parties are inclined to overestimate the importance of their own stakes relative to the other's. Third, emotions and sentiments affect our judgment; both self-esteem ("He can't do that to me." "I won't be able to live with myself if I give in.") and righteousness ("How dare he!" "If he can do that to me, he can do it to anyone.") become involved. Righteousness incarnate was the American reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was seen as a "stab in the back which will live in infamy." This moral reaction ended any possibility Japanese moderates saw for an early negotiated settlement of the Pacific war.
The objective uncertainties of coercion, the overestimation of stakes, and the emotion engaged encourage violence. But here we must be careful, for there are two kinds of violence, empirically indistinguishable but significant for our understanding. One is violence involved in the application of coercive powers; the other is violence manifesting force.
Of course, violence can be the result of reflex behavior. Frustration, an emotional breakdown, or passion may cause one to strike or, as sometimes happens in family quarrels, kill another. But we are concerned here not with reflex behavior, but with intentional behavior, with acts and actions (Chapter 8). In referring to violence, I will have in mind actions towards some goal. Violence so understood, then, is the exercise of direct physical strength to inflict injury on a person or damage property in order to (1) intimidate another self into submission or (2) overcome the other's resistance. These alternatives provide the two understandings of violence.
To deal with the first, violence directed at another self is social violence. Its purpose is to convince another self that resisting or opposing one's demands are not worth the costs, to increase the benefits of compliance and the cost of nonsubmission. Compliance ends violence, while further resistance risks continued and perhaps heightened costs. Examples are twisting another's arm until they give in; torture aimed at getting a confession or information; trying to bomb another nation into negotiating what is at issue.
Social violence is the ultimate means of coercion. It directly affects the most basic interests: property; desire to avoid pain, injury, and death. For this reason, threats of violence are the most potent and dangerous. Dangerous, because the person so threatened can protect himself only by counter threats of violence or by the use of force.
Force, however, is physical power aimed at getting something from or doing something to another in spite of the opposition of his will (Section 19.7 of Chapter 19). It is applied to the person's body, not his self. Its application is an admission that the other's self will not succumb, and in this sense is a moral victory for the victim (as the proponents of nonviolent resistance point out). Examples of force are knocking a girl unconscious and raping her; shooting a person and taking their money; a coup d'état; a complete military defeat and takeover of another nation.
Force is the ultima ratio, the final means for deciding a conflict of interests, of arbitrating the status quo. It is a transformation of a coercive confrontation to the level of naked power, from a psychological combat of selves to a physical combat of bodies. Selves control the use of force only towards the end that is the defeat of the other's physical power.
Violence is a manifestation of intimidation (coercion), or of force. All coercive confrontations tend towards violence of both kinds. Such clashes are tests of strength in a situation of uncertainty
Although conceptually distinct, coercive violence and force are fused in violent situations. Mass conflicts usually are simultaneous attempts to intimidate into submission or to overcome adversaries. We could, however, characterize them as reflecting more one kind of violence than the other. For example, social violence that is largely an attempt to intimidate is manifested in the strike (the use of physical strength to deprive owners of their property in order to intimidate management into making concessions), gang wars, intentional political riots, terrorism, embargoes, and small-scale guerrilla war. Violent acts manifesting a predominance of force are assassinations (unless part of a terrorist campaign), banditry, large-scale guerilla war, civil wars, coups, revolutions, and total wars (such as World Wars I and II). These are not exhaustive lists, but are meant to illustrate the manifest difference between the two kinds of violence.
Social violence ends in some sort of accommodation of selves, of interests. Force stops with the defeat of one or another's relevant capability. Social violence concludes with a negotiated resolution; force ends in norms, rules, regulations, laws, or commands imposed by victor on vanquished. Both, however, have the same result: a balance of powers. Before getting into this, let me review the balancing of powers phase, as laid out in Figure 29.1.
Once the will decides to oppose, a status quo testing period follows. This is an initial determination through preliminary action of the other's strength of interests--his stakes--and of his capability and credibility. It is an initial process of estimating risks of dipping one's toe into the water. The consequence of this period is either to arrive at some accommodations between the opposing interests (as when the other guy is found too big to tangle with) or actually to try to gratify one's interest in opposition to the other's. In the latter case, the confrontation may involve either noncoercive or coercive powers. The confrontation between noncoercive powers will lead to accommodations, while coercive clashes may not.
Now, coercion involves a threat of deprivation if another does not submit to what is demanded. In the opposition of coercive powers there is not only the engagement of high interests, but also of stakes involved in maintaining the credibility of one's threat, of self-esteem, and of righteousness. For this reason, coercive clashes inherently tend towards violence.
Violence (ignoring reflex violence) is directed towards either intentionally intimidating or overcoming another self; it is either social violence or force. Coercive confrontations tend towards social violence, since this provides the strongest threat that can be made to cause another to submit. For this reason, social violence is the major mechanism of social control in societies, underlies all official law, and is the primary means of governmental regulation.
But social violence as actuality or threat may be insufficient to cause another to submit. Then force is the ultimate means, for by force we can overcome the resistance of another. Force is the final means of adjudicating opposing interests. It is when the stakes are high, when our most central values and needs are involved, when justice is believed to be on our side that we employ force. Might may not make right, but it does decide whose "rights" prevail.
Initial misperceptions, misconceptions, and miscalculations have been corrected and a more realistic assessment of possible additional gains and losses is possible. The test of strength and of will clears away doubts and corrects false certainties to a point of balance between possible additional gains and losses, a balance of powers
The balancing has manifested behaviors of various sorts, depending on the powers in conflict. Promises, exchanges, rewards, deprivations, threats, and so on that are solidary, mixed, and antagonistic behavior may have comprised the conflict interaction, a working out of the opposition, between the parties. The primary function of this behavior was to communicate and test each other's capability, interests, and will. And, as shown in Figure 29.1, the result, a triangular relationship among those three elements, undergirds the balance of power. The balance in turn is manifested in the variety of nonconflict familistic, contractual, and compulsory interactions we have with others. But before elaborating on this, I should discuss the structure resulting from and based on the balance of powers, the structure of expectations.
The structure of expectations, illustrated in Figure 29.1, is created out of the conflict interactions, the balancing of powers, and is based on the resulting balance of powers.
The balance of powers idea is rooted in our historical literature and thought; carried down from generations, it still maintains its freshness and modernity. Thucydides' account of the balance of power between Athens and Sparta, the speeches of politicians and leaders, and the alliances and maneuvering could apply to the historical conflicts between major powers, including that among the United States, Soviet Union, and China today.
What is carried by the conventional idea of a balance of powers is similar to the balance between the tips of your thumbs when pressed together from opposite directions. If your thumbs are properly, aligned, no matter how hard you press from both sides their opposing strength is in balance. The thumbs together will shake or move slowly around an equilibrium point. But this view of a balance of powers as between vectors of physical strength is misleading. Even if power is broadened to include the many forms of social power, the notion of a simple physical balance of opposing vectors is still deceptive.
A balance of powers may result from a physical balancing of powers, to be sure. But in general this balance involves something much more than a pushing and pulling of power. It is a field phenomenon, a total conversation between individual fields of expression. It is a complex, multifold resolution of the misperceptions, misconceptions, and uncertainties surrounding a particular social relationship. It is part of the process of developing norms, understandings, accommodations, and practices to govern a specific social relationship. At the heart of this development lies the triangle between capability, interests, and will. Expectations coagulate, solidify, and crystallize around the interchange between these elements.
Expectations are our predictions of the outcome of alternative behaviors. Here we can see the consequence of the balancing of powers that begins with a situation of uncertainty or misperceived certainty, misconceptions, and an inability to realistically calculate possible gains and losses and ends in a balance--a set of mutually determined expectations better predicting mutual responses.
Central to the structure of expectations is the status quo, those expectations governing one's rights. The status quo defines what belongs to us and what claims we can lay on another. Of course, this may not be explicit. It may not be documented in contractual or treaty form, nor even have been verbally discussed. Nonetheless, through conflict interaction each party comes to understand his rights, to recognize what can be claimed with at least the tacit acceptance of the other--to know where to draw the line.
Thus, we can see from the structure of expectations how balances of powers underlie society. The norms, practices, rights, and so on that constitute the structure of expectations are those very elements that bind us together in a cooperative, harmonious division of labor. All nonconflict social interaction--familistic, contractual, and compulsory--is a manifestation of such structures of expectations.
This is not to imply that our behavior is the automatic resultant of such balances, a floating branch tossed by currents of opposing powers to find momentary peace in the troughs. No. Our will is involved in all this; we are free to decide our course.
Once formed, the structure of expectations is not poured into concrete, but is a slowly changing system. Viewed at any one moment, or over a short period, it may seem unalterable, especially concerning the status quo. However, like geological formations seen in astronomical time, the structure of expectations is a fluid configuration of understandings and meanings. It is continuously altered through revised interpretation and minute adjustments as people interact within it. Even written contracts and treaties undergo successive interpretation.
These incremental changes in the structure of expectations are shown to the right of Figure 29.1. Successive changes in the status quo are shown by the overlaps. Moreover, these changes are influenced by interaction itself.
Nonconflict interaction is a manifestation of the balance of powers, of the structure of expectations, of the status quo. But such interaction also feeds back into the structure through the interpretation and verification of our expectations. Refined and amended by our continuing experience, our assessment of the other's capability, interests, and will is sharpened by the reality of his behavior. Consequently, Figure 29.1 shows at the far right the continuous feedback of interactions into an incrementally changing structure. Even though successively reinterpreted, the balance essentially remains a specific, forceful, or accommodative adjustment between contending interests, capabilities, and wills. While the structure of expectations shown in Figure 29.1 appears fixed, like the Constitution of the United States it is altered through successive interpretations and amended to be consistent with the changing meanings and patterns of social interaction, but in essentials it remains the same, as the Constitution is still rooted in the old balance of power between agricultural and commercial interests, between state autonomy and federal necessity, among regional forces, and among monarchy, aristocracy, and parliamentary democracy.
We are prisoners of this curse of temporalism where, using Malthus's terminology, maladjustments grow in geometric ratio while our adjustments grow only in arithmetical ratio.
---- Sorokin, 1969, p. 321
Because structures of expectation change only so much and so fast and are based on a particular adjustment between powers, they can suddenly become inactive or be disrupted. They become inactive when the parties involved no longer interact. Balances of powers are contextual, are formed with regard to a particular situation, as among new students, in a new job, in army basic training, between those on a special committee. If a party leaves--the student graduates, a person quits his job, a soldier is discharged, or the committee dissolves--the structure of expectations becomes inactive for him. Relations now return to a structure of conflict (awareness without interaction), new balancing, or the social space (as when one disappears altogether by dying).
If the parties renew their contact, if some trigger again stimulates active opposition, a new balancing of powers will occur. Of course it will build on memory (more of this later), and may simply reaffirm the old balance. If the party's interests and capabilities have changed greatly, the balancing may be more extended than before, simply because the old image--the remembered structure and associated habits--hampers a realistic assessment of changed circumstances.
Ordinarily, social relationships are continuing, as in the family, the church, the profession, the circle of friends. Vertical and horizontal movements occur, but are infrequent enough for the continuity of social relationship to outlive particular structures of expectations. At the mass level, interest and social groups, political parties, political institutions, and nations rarely disappear. Therefore, I will focus more on the disruption of those structures constituting continuous and long-lived social relationships as I have done in Figure 29.1.
Although such structures of expectations change dialectically as a manifestation of social interaction, they eventually are disrupted by some event. At first, the balance of power is congruent with mutual interests, capabilities, and wills. It is fresh and closely articulated with the conversation that was the balancing process. However, from the start interactions begin to alter expectations and subtly change some understandings. Moreover, people change, their interests shift direction and strength, their capabilities grow or wane. And in hindsight, concessions made may seem to have been extorted or unfair.
At any rate, the structure of expectations evolves and becomes routinized at the same time. It changes, but also develops an increasing hardening of the arteries. Expectations and interactions become automatic as the structure releases us from the daily chore of thinking and choosing anew how we should interact with another. Thus, while the structure changes dialectally, there is an increasing tendency through reiteration and reinforcement to maintain the same general structure. But interests and capabilities may have been transformed, wills (credibility) may have been called into question through interaction or events, and the structure of expectations may be incongruent with the balance of power.
We therefore have two periods in the history of a structure of expectations: a congruent period during which the structure closely reflects the balancing phase, and an incongruent period when the structure lags behind changes in interests, capabilities, and wills. During the congruent period their is a close relationship between the cooperation of the parties and what they want and are able and willing to do to get it. For the congruent period, whatever disrupts expectations changes radically the underlying balance of powers. For example, a family suddenly becomes rich, a man is promoted above his peers to be their boss, an earthquake devastates a town, a person has a heart attack, a dictator is assassinated, and so on. Sudden fortune or misfortune, sudden changes in the conditions of life (your mother moves in to live), can disrupt even what was until the event a congruent structure of expectations. This is because radical changes in social conditions as defined by the parties capabilities, interests, and wills always require a rebalancing to accommodate the new situation. Let me call what creates such sudden changes disruptors. A disruptor can upset a structure of expectations at any time. There is usually a clear connection between the social significance of the disruptor and the need for a rebalancing, a proportionality, so to say, between disruptor and disruption. The effect of a wife's death on a family's structure of expectations needs little explanation. Disruptors are a kind of trigger, provoking a new balancing of powers.
But there is another kind of event, seemingly without potency in itself, which can also totally disrupt a structure of expectations. This is an event which is in the nature of a final straw, or the spark to an explosive gas. And this operates wholly on an incongruent structure.
As a structure increasingly lags behind the reality of interests, will, and capability, there is increasing strain. A tension towards a rebalancing of powers builds up, a dissatisfaction with rights, rewards, or exploitation grows. But no move is made. The will remains inactive. We all have had this experience. Our comfortable routine enables us to do many things with little thought and releases our minds and energies for other things. Certain benefits flow with some predictability from the current balance. Rocking the boat is to create again uncertainty and risks. Often it is better to accept the known problems, which after all are known, than to risk the unknown. We prefer to let things go than to provoke a conflict and an emotional confrontation.
Moreover, there is a tremendous difficulty to disrupt "out of the blue" a structure of expectation. Without explicit cause, a particular event, the will is reluctant to move on the basis of dissatisfaction alone. We have the situation of conflict all over again, where some trigger is required to crystallize dissatisfaction or justify opposition. This is the "final straw." It brings the will to decide finally to act, it provides a specific reason for action.
Thus this kind of trigger and the one that disrupts are different in nature. The disruptor has the power to itself disrupt a congruent balance. A final-straw-trigger, however, in itself may be insignificant. It can be anything. Its only role is to break an accumulating strain resulting from increasing incongruence between expectations and their supporting balance of powers.
These triggers are therefore random events. The greater the tension, the more likely something will disrupt it. And the greater the strain, the more "insignificant" this something will appear objectively. As the structure of expectations in a family becomes increasingly incongruent (the wife's interest may have changed under the influence of the women's liberation movement), even a routine question could be explosive. A "When is supper going to be ready?" could unleash an "I'm not your slave" outburst. And the rebalancing is on.
Later (Chapter 32) I will argue that most mass social conflict behavior follows the disruption by a trigger event of some highly strained structure of expectations. This mass behavior is then part of the process of rebalancing. The initiation of this process, its timing and occurrence, is random. It is a function of the trigger. In this lies the fallacy of the historical-empirical causation studies of conflict, in which the such final-straw-triggers are mistaken for causes and the conflict behavior is explained as an effect of the trigger. This is misleading. Conflict behavior manifests the process of building a new structure of expectations, either after the disruption of the old or the stimulation of opposition within a situation of conflict. In both cases, a random event provokes action. Thus, the occurrence of conflict behavior is itself unpredictable, although we can conceive of such behavior occurring with a probability contingent on the strain in the balance and the nature of a disruptor (such as the birth of a baby). More on this subsequently.
Second, the disruption may mean a return to the structure of conflict. People are aware of each other, but their interests are no longer opposing. For example, a competitor for a position may have been moved to another department. You cross paths occasionally in the hall, exchange hellos, and pass on. There is awareness but no longer opposition.
Often social relationships are continuing, such as in the family, between friends, at work, and at the level of relationships between interest groups, political parties, institutions, and nations. Disruption neither constitutes nor results in a complete separation of the parties. There are continuing opposing interests and a will to oppose. As shown in Figure 29.1, then, the third rephasing begins again either with the will and preparation, with the situation of uncertainty, which will result in a new balancing of powers, or directly results in such. In either case, social relationships are continuing and the new balancing of power will lead to a new structure of expectations.
In this process, the effect of disruption is clear. Whether a structure of expectations becomes increasingly incongruent, with the greater strain on the underlying balance between interests, capabilities, and wills, or some trigger-event is likely to suddenly catalyze the disruption of what had been expectations congruent with the balance of powers, the implicit contract is torn up, many understandings and agreements are tossed out, and the status quo--the distribution of rights and privileges--is no longer accepted. Disruption "clears the deck" with regard to some situation, enabling an adjustment of social relationships to change beyond incremental accommodation. Rebuilding a new structure, rebalancing, again is manifested in a phase of conflict interaction. Conflict behavior reflects both the structuring of social interaction and its disruption. Thus, conflict behavior is not a cause of the breakdown in social relationships, but a sign of their building and rebuilding, balancing and rebalancing.
As an example, consider revolution:
Revolution, for example, is a type of social disorganization. It represents a cycle: social change--crises--resolution of the crises--equilibrium. Revolutions can, therefore, be described as a whole: societal inadequacy plus emergent action brings adequacy.... The fundamental problem of the study of revolution becomes one of accounting for the shift from one phase to another.
---- Meadows, 1942, p. 391
Armed conflict between states is always an attempt to "close," or carry to a completion, an adjustive cycle. It is an attempt, in other words, to get past a crisis-phase of an evolving frictional-tensional situation and to bring into existence a new level of relationships between the states involved: to establish, in other words, a new level of equilibrium or routine between them.|
---- Carr, 1946, p. 302
Regarding political conflict:
As political and social relationships become customary and habitual, they persist through more or less unconscious or unwilled conformity. The political equilibrium is threatened when the consequences of the customary and habitual are recognized and questioned. The process of establishing new ways of doing and looking at things is accompanied by political friction. Once established, these new ways soon become traditional and are relegated to the habitual.
---- Key, 1953, p. 85
And regarding conflict generally:
Since the outbreak of the conflict indicates a rejection of a previous accommodation between parties, once the respective power of the contenders has been ascertained through conflict, a new equilibrium can be established and the relationship can proceed on this new basis.
---- Coser, 1956,p.154
This process of balancing and rebalancing, of a continually returning to earlier phases, does seem cyclic. But there is another and more realistic view of this process balancing, balance, disruption, balancing, balance, and so on. As a helix!
The process never begins de nova. The parties will have learned from the previous balancing and structure of expectations. This experience and memories of their nonconflict interaction will constitute a matrix within which a new balancing will ensue. This rephasing is each time at a higher level of experience, of mutual understanding of each other's changing interests, capabilities, and credibility. This is the conflict helix.
Marriage is a classic example of this helix. Newlyweds must make a variety of adjustments to live in close contact, continuously. Snoring, reading the newspaper over coffee, leaving the cap off the toothpaste, leaving the toilet seat up, leaving clothes on the floor, playing the radio too loud, etc., etc., may all create considerable conflict of various sorts, as balances are stuck, as structures of expectations are formed and disrupted. After perhaps a year of such adjusting and readjusting, the conflict helix will reach a level of considerable mutual understanding. The structure of expectations are more durable, and remain congruent longer. After many years, the couple's interaction seems to flow effortlessly along invisible meanings, expectations, norms, and understandings. Each automatically anticipates the other's needs, frustrations, interests, oppositions. As a blind person has learned to navigate a room full of furniture without touching a piece, so a couple can learn to move about each other in harmony. The outcome of the conflict helix is relative stability and unity.
But this outcome is contingent. It is not free from disruption by changed circumstances. A husband who loses his job and spends each day at home, bored, will call for a new balancing, a new twist on the conflict helix. A wife's Ph.D. and a new teaching position may require a new balancing beyond the capacity of the marriage. A husband's decision to run for Congress may disrupt the structure built up over a decade of marriage. And then there is always the new baby, the mother-in-law....
The second subphase results from the transformation of potentiality into dispositions--tendencies to have opposing interests--which are clusters of attitudes connected to our needs, that lie along the major social distances separating us. Moreover, the full development of this phase requires our mutual awareness of our differences and similarities. Awareness plus attitudes tending to opposition form the structure of conflict.
Opposing attitudes can become activated by our needs. Infused with energy, they may become opposing interests, each driving towards satisfaction. This opposition develops in the context of our mutual expectations about each other in some situation, our capabilities to gratify these interests and our will to do so. The transformation of attitudes into interests initiates the third subphase. Interests along with capabilities and expectations define the situation of conflict.
Phase I is the latent conflict phase, since no overt conflict occurs. What follows is the initiation of conflict, Phase II, which is triggered by some event stimulating the will to manifest opposing interests. This is a situation of uncertainty, for the other's reaction to such an attempt is unknown, and the risks are objectively incalculable. But the will has decided and prepared for the actual confrontation of interests, of powers--Phase III, the balancing of powers.
The balancing phase involves three periods. The first is the status quo testing period, the preliminary assessment of the initial rights and benefits one can assert against another, and the capabilities and will he appears to have. The second period is the clash of social powers, the attempt by each party to manifest his interests over the other. Any and all forms of social powers may be involved, but we should discriminate between the confrontation of coercive and noncoercive powers. The final period involves accommodations--an adjustment of interests in the light of the knowledge created, the uncertainty reduced by the confrontation.
In the case of coercive powers, the clash may lead to the use of force, the use of physical power to manifest one's interests in spite of the resistance of the other self. Accommodation is a negotiation among selves; force is the physical bypassing of another self.
The balancing of powers phase may manifest conflict interaction, as powers conflict and accommodations are reached. Violence may also occur in the application of deprivation or implementation of threats. Moreover, if coercion leads to force, violence will certainly be involved.
Whether through force or accommodation, this final period leads to a balance of powers, and structure of expectations, Phase IV. This constitutes the network of formal or informal understandings and agreements based on a balancing among interests, capability, and wills. It is a structure of expectations, which involves at its core a status quo, a system of understandings concerning who owns or has other rights to what.
Nonconflict social interaction occurs within this structure, but such interaction is itself a process of learning more about another, through which the structure becomes gradually reinterpreted and incrementally altered. Such change is small and limited, for the structure is based on a given balance of powers, a specific historical triangle of interests, capability, and wills.
This triangle also changes: interests, capabilities, and wills shift in time, sometimes rapidly and radically. Thus, the structure of expectations becomes increasingly or is suddenly incongruent with the underlying state of affairs.
Finally, Phase V of the conflict process is disruption. Although a structure of expectations may end simply as a result of one party moving away or dying, ordinarily the structure will be disrupted. Changes in social conditions (a promotion, a hospitalization, an accident), or natural disasters (fire, flood, earthquake), or events (war, revolution, terrorism) which can upset a structure whether it is congruent with the underlying triangle or not. Often, however, an increasingly incongruent structure continues to exist, in which case there is corresponding likelihood that some small and chance event--a trigger--will disrupt it.
Once disrupted, the relations between the parties may return to that of potentiality, if they completely separate, or a structure of conflict if their interests are no longer opposing but there is some awareness--some contact between them. Often, however, social relationships are continuous, as with husband and wife. Then, upon disruption the process of conflict returns to the situation of uncertainty. The resulting balancing of power, the establishing of a new structure, reorders nonconflict interaction in line with new interests, capabilities, and credibility.
This rephasing of the conflict process, this re-enactment of the previous phases, is not a simple rewriting on an erased slate. The preceding experiences, balances, and their structures inform the new balancing, the new balance. Therefore, this conflict process represents more a helix than a cycle, a process spiraling upward in learning and adjustments. And unless there is a change in the fundamental conditions of the relationship, the helix will lead to greater cooperation and less conflict.
* Scanned from Chapter 29 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.
1. Contact and communication do not automatically facilitate and encourage solidarity or cooperation. Indeed, if a structure of conflict exists, such contact may stimulate strong opposing interests and thereby antagonistic interaction. "Greater contact between groups does not necessarily promote friendship. Contrary to the oversimplified formulations of many men of good will, bringing people together who have mutually exclusive aims or values usually heightens the chances of conflict" (Berkowitz, 1962, p. 168). Regarding this same point for nations, see Wright (1942, p. 9599 1114) and Deutsch (1968, p. 154). Sorokin thus explains why the "rapid expansion of contact and communication after the thirteenth century has been followed by an increase of war on this planet" (1944, p. 219, italics omitted). See also Sorokin (1969, p. 509).
2. "Revolutions are often preceded by public calamities, such as famines and wars, which short-sighted observers incorrectly regard as causative. Their true significance from the standpoint of the revolutionary process lies in the fact that they serve to spread and to intensify the inclination to revolutionary action" (Meusel, 370).
3. For example, see Blainey (1973) and Stoessinger (1974).
4. The confrontation is the actual buying and selling involved. Even if one automatically accepts the price of a hamburger, an exchange results which is based on a meeting of opposing interests. You would prefer to have both the money and the hamburger; as would the seller. These interests confront each other as you mutually work out an agreement to give up one interest for the other. You need not accept the price, but bargain instead, as do Arabs in a bazaar. If the price is nonnegotiable, you can still walk away.
5. In some situations people will fight, without hope of helping their cause, knowing with certainty that death will be the outcome. Besieged forts or criminals barricaded in a house sometimes refuse to give up. Violence then becomes a means of revenge (killing as many of the enemy as possible before being killed) or suicide. It has no social purpose, nor is it the use of force to overcome. It is not coercive violence.
6. I mean free in the sense that the will can decide spontaneously. That its decisions are not wholly the resultant of psychological, biological, environmental, and sociocultural causes. Note that even if force is applied to an individual, even if he is bound in chains to a prison wall, his will is still free to choose. This psychological freedom must be separated from the freedom of the body to act.
7. See also Meadows (1945) and Sorokin (1969, p. 481).