Great Divides

When troops must be motivated to fight, “go team” speeches often invoke an ancient conflict, along a great divide:

Our fight, of [A] against [B] over [C], is but one battle in the ancient war over [F], along the great divide between [D] and [E]. Many do not realize how many of our apparently mundane conflicts are, in reality, battles in this ancient war. Today is a crucial day in this war, so we must not give up, and we must not lose hope, or someday [D] may lose [F] forever. Fight, fight!

Some classic great divides: tyrants vs. freedom-lovers, rich vs. poor, faithful vs. heathen, urban vs. rural folk, men vs. women, intellectuals vs. ignoramuses, artists vs. undiscerning, greens vs. greedy, civilized vs. uncivilized, east vs. west, farmers vs. herders, hill vs. valley folk, Aristotle vs. Plato followers, jocks vs. nerds, extroverts vs. introverts, neats vs. scruffies, makers vs. takers, communitarians vs. individualists, young vs. old, [can add more here].

Some questions, which I rarely see adequately answered:

  1. How is this division a key division, underlying many others?
  2. How do people acquire their sides in this conflict?
  3. How has this conflict lasted so long, without one side winning?
  4. How could one side finally win such an old conflict?
  5. Why is one side better than the other in an absolute sense?
  6. Why can’t those folks be persuaded that their side is bad?
  7. Why can’t peaceful compromise replace conflict?

Consider rich vs. poor as an example. Its devotees might say:

People really do most things for money, and so money is what most conflicts are about. Your position in this conflict comes from your wealth; the rich oppose the poor. This conflict continues because wealth can be inherited and random fluctuations in economic outcomes continually add to wealth variance; “the poor you will always have with you.” Today’s poor are worth fighting for, even if the fight must be renewed every generation. The rich are bad because inequality is bad, and the rich could reduce inequality by giving to the poor. Self-interest blinds the rich from seeing this fact. Peaceful compromise is possible but weak; with cash transfers, one person’s gain is another’s loss.

These are at least first-cut answers to my questions, though I doubt we do most things for money, and so doubt this divide is behind most disputes. Also, peaceful compromise can encourage the creation of more wealth, money inequality isn’t worse than other kinds, and whether inequality is bad depends on where it came from.

Who will answer these questions regarding their favorite “great divide”? I’d love to see a review of many great divides, comparing their answers and persuasiveness.

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