Culture of Adversarialism


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This presentation postulates that violence and conflict are no more natural to human beings and their society than compassion and cooperation, and that their apparent ‘naturalness’ is because they are part of a cultural construct that is prevalent in today’s world. It proposes that this view of humanity came to be put forward as part of the myth developed to justify the European conquest and colonization of the rest of the world. It analyzes its modern–day reproduction as a hegemonic imaginary, who stands to gain and lose from it, how it is propagated, and whether or not one could speak of a conspiracy.

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Culture of Adversarialism

  1. 1. Adversarialism as Cultural Hegemony Peter C. Newton-Evans
  2. 2. Nature or Culture? <ul><li>Is adversarialism a ‘natural culture’? </li></ul><ul><li>Instincts versus learning </li></ul><ul><li>Nature / nurture – end of the debate </li></ul><ul><li>Biology = capacity / culture = choice </li></ul><ul><li>Are all cultures agonistic? </li></ul><ul><li>Cultures of peace versus agonistic cultures </li></ul>
  3. 3. Naturalization of Culture <ul><li>Why does my culture seem natural to me? </li></ul><ul><li>A self-fulfilling prophesy </li></ul><ul><li>Is the world really the way it is? (‘ser’ versus ‘estar’) </li></ul><ul><li>Historical amnesia and boiled frogs </li></ul><ul><li>Denaturalizing our culture </li></ul><ul><li>Normal pathologies </li></ul>
  4. 4. The two Dimensions <ul><li>Psicocultural : The structure of human conscious: mental models, assumptions, theories, beliefs, values, attitudes, symbolisms, representations, world views, neurosis and psychopathologies. </li></ul><ul><li>Sociostructural : Normative practices that regulate individual behavior, institutions that structure collective life, economic, political and judicial systems, hierarchies of power and authority, production and distribution of resources, division of labor, etc. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The two Dimensions (cont.) <ul><li>They reinforce each other in a continual feedback loop </li></ul><ul><li>They constitute ‘the world’, which is a cultural construct and can change </li></ul><ul><li>They are permeable and moldable, can be changed and must be reproduced in order to survive </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Psycho-cultural Dimension: Topics <ul><li>Representation: giving the world meaning </li></ul><ul><li>Discourse building: constructing the world </li></ul><ul><li>A few psychocultural dynamics </li></ul><ul><li>Seedbed of the socio-structural dimension </li></ul>
  7. 7. Giving the world meaning <ul><li>A basic human need </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Representation’ assigns and conveys it </li></ul><ul><li>The representational triad: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Referents : objects, phenomena, events, facts; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Signifiers : signs or symbols to refer to events and facts; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Meanings : interpretations and feelings relating to the former two. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>He who controls the repre-sentation of the world controls the world. </li></ul>Objeto o suceso Significado o sentimiento Signo o símbolo
  8. 8. For example… <ul><li>Referent : A man enters his neighbor’s house and takes away his radio. </li></ul><ul><li>Signifier : Culture A – ‘stealing’, Culture B – ‘borrowing’, Culture C – ‘sharing’. </li></ul><ul><li>Meaning : Culture A – conflict and resentments, Culture B – debt and reciprocity, Culture C – mutual appreciation and friendship. </li></ul><ul><li>Are these differences due to genetic diversity or to cultural diversity? </li></ul>
  9. 9. Discursive Hierarchy <ul><li>Cultural codes </li></ul><ul><li>Discursive constructs </li></ul><ul><li>Whole discourses </li></ul><ul><li>Complex formations </li></ul><ul><li>“ Human / Social Nature” </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is a war of all against all.” </li></ul><ul><li>Social sciences, dystopian art </li></ul><ul><li>An entire agonistic culture </li></ul>
  10. 10. Complex Discursive formations Political discourse Economic discourse Legal discourse Discursive Constructs on motivations Discursive Constructs on power, authority Discursive Constructs on justice, punishment Cultural codes Cultural codes Cultural codes Cultural codes
  11. 11. Whole discourses <ul><li>Dictate cannons of knowledge : what can/cannot be said/though, accepted ‘truths’ </li></ul><ul><li>Grant authority to produce this knowledge . </li></ul><ul><li>Define the ‘subjects’ : who can/cannot be actors or receivers of the discourse. </li></ul><ul><li>Make subjects personifications of the discourse (dominant / dominated) </li></ul><ul><li>Generate social structures that organize and regulate group practices in keeping with their inner logic. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Some Psycho- cultural Dynamics <ul><li>Dichotomic thought: exclusion versus complementarity </li></ul><ul><li>Prejudice and stereotypes: what is the next step </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnocentric intolerance: the good, the bad and self-questioning </li></ul><ul><li>Identity hygiene: projecting, demonizing, sanctifying, or empathizing </li></ul><ul><li>Cognitive bias: cognitive dissonance, confirmatory bias, communal reinforcement, argumentum ad populum </li></ul>
  13. 13. Our Options <ul><li>If the agonistic theories are true, the obstacle is human nature: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Give up: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Retire from society </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Join the ‘war of all against all’ </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Attack the evils we perceive </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Structure society to take advantage of the inherent adversarialism </li></ul></ul><ul><li>If these theories are not true, the obstacle is our belief in them: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sigh with relief and continue with life as usual </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Criticize those who try to make a change </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Help to build a new culture of peace </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. The right platitude:
  15. 15. Institutionalization of Adversarialism <ul><li>As we think we act </li></ul><ul><li>“ Normative Adversarialism” </li></ul><ul><li>The world is not the way it is. You can change it! </li></ul><ul><li>Vices and virtues are ‘made flesh’ </li></ul><ul><li>Denaturalizing institutionalized adversarialism </li></ul>
  16. 16. Incarnation of Adversarialism <ul><li>Capitalist system -- greed </li></ul><ul><li>Party system -- power struggle </li></ul><ul><li>Electoral system -- ambition </li></ul><ul><li>Political movements -- conflict </li></ul><ul><li>Legal system -- litigation </li></ul><ul><li>Defense system -- fear </li></ul><ul><li>Mass media -- fighting </li></ul><ul><li>Educational system -- competition </li></ul><ul><li>Games and sports -- contests </li></ul><ul><li>Religious sectarianism -- rivalry </li></ul><ul><li>Medicine & agriculture -- invasion </li></ul><ul><li>Social relations -- disputes </li></ul><ul><li>Adversarialism is a cancer that has taken all the organs and systems of the body politic. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Adversarial Institutions <ul><li>‘ Hard’ : </li></ul><ul><li>Economic system </li></ul><ul><li>Party system </li></ul><ul><li>Electoral system </li></ul><ul><li>Legislative system </li></ul><ul><li>Judicial system </li></ul><ul><li>National security system </li></ul><ul><li>Defense system </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Soft’ : </li></ul><ul><li>The mass media </li></ul><ul><li>Educational system </li></ul><ul><li>Religious sectarianism </li></ul><ul><li>Games and sports </li></ul><ul><li>Agricultural practices </li></ul><ul><li>Medicine and health </li></ul><ul><li>Social conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Structured thought </li></ul>
  18. 18. How did we get here and where are we going?
  19. 19. How the myth developed <ul><li>Brutality, inhumanity of conquest </li></ul><ul><li>Inequitable exploita-tion by colonization </li></ul><ul><li>Slave trade and employment </li></ul><ul><li>Rise of capitalism as economic system </li></ul><ul><li>Two world wars in Europe </li></ul><ul><li>North American world- wide economic imperialism </li></ul><ul><li>Justify genocide of peaceful non-Europeans </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimize European domination/institutions </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimize slavery as practice and institution </li></ul><ul><li>Naturalize capitalism as inevitable system </li></ul><ul><li>Explain how Europe’s “superiority” led to this </li></ul><ul><li>Legitimize excesses of deregulated free market </li></ul>
  20. 20. Genesis of the Adversarial Culture <ul><li>Greek and Roman roots: from agora to empire </li></ul><ul><li>Medieval Europe: cradle of the adversarial culture </li></ul><ul><li>The culture spreads: conquest and colonization </li></ul><ul><li>The institutionalization of adversarialism is consolidated </li></ul><ul><li>1945: the torch is passed from Europe to the United States </li></ul>
  21. 21. Building the Adversarial Myth <ul><li>Inconsistencies abound: civilized versus primitive barbarianism </li></ul><ul><li>Ideological justifications towards structural legitimacy </li></ul><ul><li>Ecclesiastic and legal allegations: trials by ordeal / combat; the virtuous rich man myth; lawful treatment of infrahuman beings </li></ul><ul><li>Pseudo-scientific explanations: essentialization (why does the sun shine), superiority, determin-ism and (if all else fails), the greater weal </li></ul><ul><li>Disseminating the discourse: degrees, books, schools, churches, arts, institutions, privileges </li></ul>
  22. 22. 2. Essentializing through theories 4. Adversarial culture is strengthened <ul><li>Observation </li></ul><ul><li>of prevailing </li></ul><ul><li>culture </li></ul>3. Legitimizing adversarial practices Vicious circle of adver-sarialism
  23. 23. Adversarialism as Hegemony <ul><li>Gramsci and cultural hegemony </li></ul><ul><li>Naturalization and status quo </li></ul><ul><li>Reproducing the hegemony </li></ul><ul><li>Chomsky and thought control </li></ul><ul><li>Identity manipulation </li></ul><ul><li>Strategic essentialism? </li></ul>
  24. 24. How to prevent socio-cultural change <ul><li>Limit the vision to the individual, not the social structures </li></ul><ul><li>Enable adaptation and conformity (“boil the frog”) </li></ul><ul><li>Promote egocentrism, individualism and consumerism (“you deserve it”) </li></ul><ul><li>Prescribe the ‘realism’ of superficial reform (“don’t be a utopian”) </li></ul><ul><li>Favor excuses: “I will change the system from within”; “it is only for a while”; “If I don’t, I will lose my job”. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Means for Social Control <ul><li>Hide the truth : give the illusion of freedom of speech </li></ul><ul><li>Censure any Opposition : no important voice, self-censure </li></ul><ul><li>False Consensus : manufacture consent, propagandistic media, intellectuals serve their masters </li></ul><ul><li>Distractions : absorbing occupations, consumer wishes, deadening entertainment, facile reporting, focus on minor issues, representative democracy </li></ul><ul><li>Fear : psychosis of insecurity (“ Close to Home ”), convince them how much they need their leaders </li></ul><ul><li>Impose game rules : ensure competition, winners keep winning, ‘old-boy’ privileges, adversarial change strategies </li></ul><ul><li>Despair : disillusionment, pessimism, cynicism, and feeling of powerlessness are effective paralyzers </li></ul>
  26. 26. Who Benefits from the Hegemony of Adversarialism? <ul><li>The powers that be : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Military-industrial complex, governments, mega-corporations, financial institutions, legal system, mass media, novel and film, social sciences </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Ideologies : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Elites, oligarchies, aristocracies; conservatives, political parties, Marxists, racists, white men </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Masses : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gives the world meaning, frees from blame and responsibility, skepticism is ‘cool’, parents & teachers, chauvinists & misogynists, the neighborhood bully. </li></ul></ul>
  27. 27. Who is Harmed by Adversarialism? <ul><li>Everybody ! </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Game theory: zero and negative sum </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Military expense: change the world in one year </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Party politics: you push and I pull </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Academic contest: the loudest voice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Competition: performance, interest, character </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Psychological, emotional and relational cost </li></ul></ul>
  28. 28. Is it a Conspiracy? <ul><li>Reasons to believe: # of promoters and beneficiaries </li></ul><ul><li>What is and is not a conspiracy theory? </li></ul><ul><li>It is not suggested in this case because: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Difficulty and unlikelihood for beneficiaries to agree </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Would not have had such a powerful, lasting effect </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Would be denounced by “ whistle-blowers” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Means putting the blame on an ‘other’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Would put the culture of peace movement in ridicule </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The adversarial culture is the inheritance and responsibility of all </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A conspiracy would not even be necessary </li></ul><ul><li>The massifying role of the mass media </li></ul><ul><li>Made / Let It Happen On Purpose (MIHOP / LIHOP ) </li></ul>
  29. 29. Is a post-hegemonic world possible? <ul><li>Hegemonies are as fluid as their discursive constructs </li></ul><ul><li>Directing their change requires joint effort </li></ul><ul><li>Not replace one hegemony with another, but achieve unity in diversity of world discursiveness </li></ul><ul><li>Agents of socio-cultural change are needed with an optimistic outlook of ‘historic agency’ </li></ul>
  30. 30. Thank you