Conflict Resolution: Charles Darwin’s Top Ten Conflict Tips

Charles Darwin (1809-82)


The evolution of the species by means of natural selection has had a huge impact on our mental view of conflict. The conflict of species for survival as a means to limit potentially exponential population growth is in a sense a central mechanism for the creation of new or evolved species: a natural example of conflict and creativity. Darwin therefore introduced us to another way of looking at conflict: a source of the very design of life through endless automatic natural processes: variation, selection, reproduction. The insights of Darwin’s heirs the Neo-Darwinists are profoundly important and generative for work in conflict.

  1. Co-operation is as important as competition. We need to distance our approach from the 19th century Social Darwinists who coined the phrase ‘the fittest of the fit survive’.
  2. Evolution is more than a zero-sum game. The ecological niche (one might call it a conflict landscape) is as important as the characteristics of the organism struggling to survive and organisms collectively create their ecological niche.
  3. Evolution is not Social Darwinism. There is some evidence that 19th century Social Darwinism played a role in the development of far Right ideology that lead to the Nazis. Darwin’s ideas do not self-evidently head that way, though there is a recurring tendency for his ideas to be appropriated to support their concepts of hierarchy, unfettered free markets and inequality: another form of Hobbes’  ‘war of all against all’.
  4. Cooperation is as much a part of a species fitness to survive to reproduce. Lynn Margulis has even provided evidence of cooperation at the cellular level in the case of bacteria entering the primitive cell as Mitochondria, and creating a new synthesis that is the cell that we see today.
  5. Inclusive Fitness is key. It is therefore not just unfettered competition between genes, but also the impact of kin (sacrificing to save shared genes) and reciprocal altruism (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours) that has impact on which genes are passed on.
  6. Neo-Darwinism helps us understand and improve our data rationality. Natural selection has equipped our species with a strong sense of the real. If we were as solipsist (the world as a figment of our imagination) as Post-Modernism assumes, each locked in a subjective ‘narrative’, then we would have been extinct long ago. As a social species we have fairly strong inter-subjectivity or ability to see a common reality.
  7. Empiricist Realism is key to human species survival. Neo-Darwinism provides powerful support for an empirically grounded, pragmatic view of reality that is essential for successful conflict work.
  8. Species common interests are an underrated feature of good conflict work. We should also be able to appeal to a rich range of species common interests and ways of looking at the world that we share.
  9. Beyond Post Modernist pseudo-skepticism. Darwin’s real contribution to conflict work is as the foundation of a post-post-modernistic rational, secular, skeptical, but ultimately hugely powerful perspective.
  10. The Creative Conflict Model of this blog is a form of Post-Darwinian conflict synthesis. It assumes that we can understand the effect of our genetic disposition and use our mental processing power derived from evolution to do better than evolution. We can be wiser, more moral and more focused on long term species survival and planetary protection than our genes wired us for. And religion and spirituality, secular moralities and the sheer drive to be more decent human beings all benefit from understanding the evolutionary forces they are trying to improve on.

Personal Footnote: I have never felt the slightest conflict personally between Darwin’s theory of evolution and belief in God or in the wisdom of religions. But I understand that this is not how many others see things, and by posting as above, one is immediately caught between people, who believe in the literal truth of the book of Genesis on the one hand, and a 6000 year old earth; and on the other the Richard Dawkins militantly atheist school of thought, who see evolution as the ‘universal acid’ eating away at belief. I suspect both approaches as being category errors: misunderstanding both the nature of the Bible and of the process of evolution.

I am reading Robert Alter’s magnificent new translation of The Five Books of Moses and will post on it in due course. I do, however, firmly believe that the earth is more than 6000 years old.  I have a photograph on my wall here from the Hubble Telescope looking across approximately 13.5 billion light years of inter-stellar space, or in other words looking back 13.5 billion years into the past. I cannot conceive of a Supreme Being who is not comfortable with such immensity of time and space.

Interestingly, recent research has suggested that religious belief improves life expectancy and reproductive success, so religious belief may be a divine, or otherwise, process to help us survive. 🙂 Now there is a thought.

And I am not sure evolution made Darwin very happy:

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Academic Conflict, Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Conflict Resolution: Charles Darwin’s Top Ten Conflict Tips

  1. Pingback: The Trouble with Genocide « creatingreciprocity

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