I generally have found that the main two reasons for conflict between countries, regions, or individuals are either over economics or over belief systems (religious beliefs in most cases). Both of these occur because, like with any creature, we perceive that our security and survival is threatened. Unfortunately, in many cases, such conflicts are unwarranted and can be avoided given we have the capacity to communicate and cooperate with each other. Before discussing such conflicts, I will first propose an analogy showing the similarity we have with conflicts that we face against the forces of nature.
Imagine you are on your farm in the Prairies of Canada and a storm is forming over your land. Basically you are about to be in conflict with something that threatens your security and survival. It could just as easily be a tornado, earthquake, famine, a tsunami or a volcano. Regardless you have a few choices. You can attempt to stop the storm, you can stand your ground and contend with the storm when it hits you, or you can leave and let the storm consume your farm. Basically all of these actions are actions that one country might take when in conflict with another country. You can attempt to stop the country from competing with you, you can stand your ground and fight, or you can stand down and let the country attack and take your territory and resources.
The one difference worth noting in the above analogy is that we cannot attempt to communicate with the storm in order to diffuse the conflict as we could with another country. We cannot ask the storm to reconsider it's path or attempt to mediate some type of solution with the storm. It is simply a force of nature following the path it must take based on the laws of physics. It is science, the flow of matter and energy, and there is no room for diplomacy or cooperation. When countries have a conflict though they have the choice to cooperate and reconsider the reason for conflict. I believe that all too often countries have avoidable conflicts. These may be due to conflicting beliefs, especially religions, or they may simply want to acquire the territory and resources of another country.
The storm example above was meant to show how we face conflicts as part of our survival with both the environment and each other, but unlike conflicts with the environment, countries have the option to reconsider reasons for conflict between each other and neutralize them before we start. Given the impact of our technologies on Life and Earth I believe it is becoming more important that we recognize that we need more diplomacy and cooperation to ensure the best survival of Life and Earth.
I understand that sometimes diplomacy simply does not work and ultimately some type of confrontation follows. If this is the case, given the impact of technologies that exist and have yet to come in the near future, it may soon get to the point where countries have no choice but to integrate and live under universal global guidelines. This may be the only way to minimize the chance of unnecessary conflicts over beliefs and economic needs.
Now I will look at the source of some of our different beliefs such as religion, ego, and discrimination.
Our abilities of "reason" and "abstract thought" may have enabled us to explore our religious beliefs, thereby bringing us closer to our truths. At the same time this has become one of the main reasons we have conflicts. One might call it a gift to have the capability to conceive and imagine what might happen to us after we die based on our religion, a state that other animals may not have come to achieve. We can "conceptualize" what might be and indeed there is no one that can confirm that what we conceive is not true. Maybe one might believe they will go to a lush world of happiness forever, to Heaven and see all those that they knew in this life, or possibly be taken from this world to another world - the next level of one's evolution.
Our religions are a part of the color of our world and each of us may find our own truth and comfort in them. Whether our ability of abstract thought caused us to "conceive" our religions or whether abstract thought gave us the ability to "see the truth" in our religions, our religious beliefs have given us many reasons to find conflict between each other, in a world that requires us to get along more and more. I think we can all agree that there are many disagreements that occur between cultures and countries because of religion.
If it is the case that our ability to explore our religious beliefs is a product of our evolving intelligence, unique to human beings, it might be wise for us to exercise more restraint when we fight over these beliefs. For example, after death you may see one world and I see another, neither of which we live in today. Yet we find conflict in our current world over the fact that we do not agree on these worlds that we conceive will be? Could it be that our ability to "conceive" in virtually unlimited ways allows us to expand each of our worlds so much that we create unlimited reasons to fight with one another, unlike other animals? Could it be that because we are so immersed in our own truths and beliefs, that we are so close to our own egos and how we define ourselves, that we can become blinded to the things we have so much in common - that connect us? If we wish to get along with each other better maybe we need to be more aware of how our belief systems can cause us to confront each other.
It is a wonderful feeling to believe we have found the truth, which may be in our religion, but is it a good enough reason for us to fight with one another where ultimately we might destroy each other and all life? Are we willing to sacrifice the lives of our loved ones and our future generations for the sake of our religious beliefs? Only we have the ability to modify or relax our beliefs - our truths - in order to work together with our fellow human beings who may have conflicting beliefs.
It may be that our intelligence has enabled us to "conceive" all possibilities but the religious beliefs that we sometimes have conflict over may be another side effect from our quest for technology that threatens us. Even if one of our religions is the truth I think we need to realize that, if we do fight over such beliefs, in the near future the price to Life and Earth may be much greater than it ever was. Maybe the solution lies in more readily accepting our differences and instead trying to find the many things we have in common as human beings.
I have discussed religion as one type of belief unique to humans. Briefly I just want to note some other beliefs that seem to be rare in animals and common in humans. Like religion, these beliefs leave humans with many reasons to see each other as different rather than similar - more ingredients for potential conflict.
Ethics - Right and Wrong
Ego, Self-image, Patriotism
Countries, regions, and individuals go to great extremes to "protect" their belief systems. They often take the form of religions, discriminating racial beliefs, simple ideas of what is right and wrong, patriotism, or any beliefs where we feel the need to protect our egos and self-image. In attempting to protect these ideas of ourselves we are more vulnerable to conflict than other creatures. In order to reduce our potential for conflict, individuals and countries need to recognize this vulnerability and make a conscious effort to question whether our conflicts over beliefs are warranted. In the world as it once was we could engage in conflicts with less concern over the rest of the planet but we are moving further and further toward a world where we affect each other more significantly due to our technologies. We are impacting Earth at a geometric rate while at the same time the size and ability of Earth to handle our impact is not about to change. We must bypass conflicts due to conceived beliefs and focus on the future of Life and Earth.
In addition to conflicts over beliefs, like animals, we have very real conflicts over our territory. I place this type of conflict under the area of economic interests, which is discussed in more detail in the next section called "Economic Disparity".
If you will notice the animals on the right, like human beings, they also seem to compete over territory, resources, mates, and so on. Under most circumstances animals within the same species fight on a one on one basis, traditionally thought of as the process of natural selection, in order to "weed" out the weak from the strong within a species. Very rarely do you witness large "groups" within a species (like countries or cultures) fighting between each other nor do you find animals within a species resolving their conflicts with much more than a one to one battle of brute force. On the other hand human beings, with their technology, often resolve their conflicts in ways that impact each other and the environment much more significantly - such as with nuclear weapons or highly strategic military confrontations. Examples to illustrate this are simply shown by the many wars that have occurred where entire countries have fought with each other causing casualties in the hundreds of thousands.
It is interesting how we fight for territory that we think is ours. One might say that North America was truly owned by the Native Indians until the Europeans settled it, but then what of those that may have lived on North America before the Native Indians.
How long does any culture or country really own any territory? Is the time infinite? Do humans really have a greater right to any territory that they might take from other creatures? If you buy a piece of property in the wilderness and build a cabin on it, you may end up destroying bird nests and the habitat of other animals in the area. Is this any different than one country invading the territory of another country?
What right does anyone have to any other creature's territory or resources other than that they are able to take it? Ultimately it seems that power rules but hopefully humanity can prevent territorial conflicts that might escalate to greater problems by working together. I think it is worth asking ourselves "if the world were working together as if one country would we find many of the territorial disputes that exist today"?
As a final example of how territorial differences affect us today, consider that currently there are issues with the territorial rights of the Northwest Passage. Global warming has opened a great deal of the Northwest Passage and allowed exploration of rich resources and enabled more efficient routes for world transport. Many countries are now taking a greater interest in having a claim to the territory. One can be sure there will be conflicts over the land and to say who owns it is a big question. Probably most important is that we find a way to avoid disputes over territory for the benefit of humanity as a whole.
I have discussed how human beings assume and how we develop our diverse belief systems. Whether we are individuals or countries, we have so many religions, so many ways to discriminate, and we seem to have an endless list of right and wrongs that are unique to our different cultures and countries. Ultimately, if we allow ourselves to distance each other over our diverse beliefs and our territorial disputes we will continue to find conflict. In a world where we are all affecting each other more and more it is urgent that we are able to work beyond our differences. If we do find technologies with destructive side effects that are accessible to all, conflict will lead to unforeseen significant consequences and there may be no way to turn back the clock. Our leaders need to understand that the countries of the world must work together. We must show more tolerance over our differences so that we might move forward into the future safely.
I do not know all the solutions but I do know the world has changed and our playing ground has changed. Unlike the past, it is becoming riskier to engage in conflicts given the new more destructive technologies we have available to us today. I feel it is fair to conclude that the different cultures and countries of the world must make a greater effort than ever to minimize conflicts and find ways to work together. Rather than wait for more serious consequences from the side effects of our technologies we should prepare now by learning to work together for our common interest - the preservation of Life and Earth.
Our conflicts are not much different than two worlds colliding. The difference though between conflicts between ourselves, and planets colliding, is that we ALWAYS have the choice to take one another from the path of collision.
I have focussed a fair bit on how countries have conflicts over belief systems. In the following section I discuss more about why countries have conflicts over economic interests and how such conflicts might be resolved.
Storm Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Conflict/Resolution Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net