Rivalry Results in Strife

Rivalry Results in Strife

“Rivalry results in strife,” writes Seneca in Letters From a Stoic. A quick Google search of strife gives us the definition:
angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict. Rivalry heightens our disagreements, it clouds our judgments, and creates enemies who will oppose us. When we give in to rivalrous forms of thinking, we compare ourselves, our power, our social status, and our possessions to others, and we also make ourselves vulnerable to others.

 

Seneca explains that life is better when we live without too great a concern over our things, our influence, and our power. If we focus on being the best person we can be, on being actively engaged in a meaningful way in the world, and on how we can be there for other people, we will live well and cultivate relationships instead of rivalries. Focusing instead on what we own and how many people know our names puts us in competition with others. It creates mini rivalries between us and other people who could instead be friends and allies. It creates the conditions for disagreements and struggles for dominance and assertion. Struggles that are often meaningless and harmful to all those involved.

 

Instead of actively castigating others and pushing against anyone we disagree with, Seneca would encourage us to live on our own path. He would encourage us to define ourselves without material possessions, without important titles, and without power. All of those can be taken from us, especially in the face of a bitter adversary. Creating a life that is dependent on the few things we realistically can control (like the faculties of our mind and our kindness toward others) gives us a foundation that can’t be taken away by enemies or rivals.

 

This is not to say that we should treat those who would otherwise be our rivals with undue respect. We should acknowledge them, interact with them, and respectfully disagree with them when necessary. We should not actively avoid them in all respects, or we will inadvertently create the rivalries that we are hoping to avoid. We should work with such people when necessary, and strive for ways to have healthy conversations and compromises where necessary. We must build relationships even with those we dislike, otherwise we risk creating polarized camps which devolve to strife, where everyone loses through rivalry, competition, and argument.

Physical Conflict and Military Economies

I’m currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Shirer takes us on a journey from the rise of the Nazis in Germany through the Second World War to Hitler and Nazi Germany’s defeat. I’m only a couple of hundred pages in, and just finished a section about Nazi Germany’s economy in the period leading up to war. A question I had was how a downtrodden and economically distressed nation managed to become economically sufficient and even able to build itself up to host the Olympics in 1936.  A military-industrial complex turned out to be the answer. German rearmament “creatively” funded and controlled by the state pulled Germany out of its terrible recession to the great detriment of humanity.

 

We know what soon followed in Germany beginning in 1939 after their economic turnaround driven largely by war preparations. Wars and armies have given us many scientific advances and breakthroughs, but they also support dangerous world views that will limit us in a globalized world. “The sooner we start thinking globally, as a planet-spanning species, rather than as isolated warrens of very different creatures, the sooner we’ll be able to do away with physical conflict entirely, instead spending our valuable time, energy, and resources on productivity and progress,” writes Colin Wright in his book Becoming Who We Need To Be.

 

Nazi Germany, the United States, and other nations have at different times fueled their economies by building up their army and military capacities. Scientific advances, new technology, and better safety equipment have come from the research and development of modern armies. At the same time however, armies exist to protect us from a dangerous “them” and allow us to entrench the idea that we are different from someone else and will need to use our physical strength to defend ourselves against their dangerous attacks. There is certainly a threat out there and a potential loss of innocent life if we don’t have something to protect us, but I think Wright and others would argue that we direct a lot of resources toward defending ourselves when we could be directing resources toward fostering better connections and further development of all humans globally.

 

Wright and I seem to be on the side of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The more we can do to improve everyone, from the most globally poor in desolate and devastated parts of the world to those who live in the most productive countries, the more our own lives will benefit. The alternative view is that the world is zero-sum, meaning that the pie is only so big and for anyone else to have more, we would have less. The zero-sum frame doesn’t see humanity as a global force but rather as collective groups of individuals who each have their own resources, skills, and abilities. Each pocket of humanity is responsible for its own well-being and advances, and each nation must do its own work to make itself great.

 

My argument is that approaching the world in this way will ultimately lead to fewer scientific advances, delayed development of the nations that need it the most, and instability that will breed resentment toward nations at the top and potential terrorism. That instability will create fear and further drive the need for a substantial military for protection, further driving a wedge between the nations that are successful and those who are not. What I want to see is a world that includes everyone, partly because we don’t know where the next genius to develop the next world changing technology will come from, and partly because each human should have their own chance to flourish and live a full life with reasonable living standards. This can only be done if we see ourselves globally as a single humanity and not as dangerous enemies.