Process and Conflict.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
Conflict poses a significant threat to human well-being, making it crucial to understand its fundamental causes in order to build a better future. Although conflict can arise from various reasons, this post will focus on exploring one specific cause: our perception of how processes will unfold.
Goods can be categorized into those that are mine and those that are yours. For the purpose of this discussion, goods encompass physical objects we need or desire, human rights, relationships, and social position, among other things.
In simple scenarios, I know which goods belong to me and which ones belong to you. Likewise, I assume that you share the same understanding and agreement regarding this distinction.
Only in situations of extreme power disparity would I disregard this distinction between what belongs to you and what belongs to me. Assuming we both recognize the negative consequences of violating this distinction and consider ourselves ethical people, our interactions should remain stable, reducing the likelihood of conflict.
The challenge arises when ownership becomes unclear. Once a disagreement emerges regarding who is entitled to a particular good, both parties may become willing to engage in conflict to assert their claims. It is uncontroversial to state that uncertainty surrounding the rights to goods, particularly when reasonable arguments can be made for both sides, is one of the central underlying causes of any conflict.
However, ambiguity concerning ownership does not inevitably lead to conflict. In fact, if both sides acknowledge this ambiguity, they may be more inclined to compromise or share. The real danger lies in situations where both parties firmly believe in the validity of their conflicting claims. In such cases, one side is less likely to compromise on goods that they are certain exclusively belong to them.
Why should ownership ambiguity arise?
While it is evident that ownership ambiguity can stem from disagreements about the past, historical events, or their interpretations, another contributing factor is uncertainty about the future.
Our world consists of static situations, instantaneous events, and processes that unfold over a finite period. Sometimes, our sense of ownership hinges on our predictions of how a process will ultimately unfold.
If we believe that a process will inevitably lead to us being recognized as the rightful owners of a particular good, we may tend to view it as already belonging to us. Inevitable processes are equivalent to completed ones. If something is destined to become ours, then, in our mind, it is already considered ours.
This is where a problem arises. The future is often less certain than our beliefs would lead us to think. Each party involved in a conflict perceives the process differently and arrives at distinct conclusions about its ultimate outcome. However, both sides might consider their predictions as infallible, fueling their readiness to engage in conflict.
The solution lies in acknowledging our bias towards certainty. By recognizing the possibility of being mistaken about how events will unfold, we may become more open to sharing and compromising.