Yesterday, I sat down to write a post on the role of conflict in drama and in life, as I worked on other matters. As the piece evolved, I realized I was working with two distinct streams of thought that are totally unrelated to each other and totally related. I couldn’t figure out how to make the streams flow together but I couldn’t figure out how to get them to diverge either. I got stuck. Then, I came up with this solution which, I realize now, mirrors exactly what I’m talking about in, between, and across each stream.
I’m not even sure if it makes sense to me yet. Proceed with no anticipation of resolution.
|Very early in life, I realized I hated the show Three’s Company. The story was always based on the same kind of misunderstanding — a misunderstanding that could easily be resolved if one of the people involved simply spoke honestly and directly about the matter at hand.
I recently realized that, at the age of seven or so, I was observant enough to recognize the narrative pattern of the show and clever enough to solve the problem the show presented each week, but I was not so observant or clever to realize that, without the weekly misunderstandings, there would be no show. My proposed solution solved the show out of existence.
As a writer, I have little interest in dramatizing most forms of human conflict. The vast majority of it seems to me to be irresponsible, grossly inefficient, and essentially irrational.
On my view, most of the conflict people experience on a day-to-day basis is easily avoided or resolved. People need only talk openly about their concerns, recognize and acknowledge alternative perspectives, and accept that sometimes people may need to go their separate ways if no solution is found.
Conflict is not quite an illusion but 98% of it is is irrational or irresponsible.
This isn’t to say that every person embroiled in a conflict is irrational or irresponsible; it is to say that persistent, re-occurring, or perpetual conflict is a symptom that one or more people are acting irrationally or irresponsibly.
This also isn’t to say that there is no conflict in my work; it is to say I rarely investigate conflict that is directly caused by human agency and, when I do, I never celebrate it. Instead, the conflict I present tends to be almost metaphysical.
Sometimes, as in Home in Time, the conflict is the fault of the nature of the universe itself. Sometimes, as in Prisoner’s Dilemma, it’s the fault of an artificial choice situation. Sometimes, as in the first part of Paris is Dead, it’s the fault of memory. Rarely is the conflict easily reduced to or analyzed in terms of human agency.
The characters in my plays don’t live the conflict; the conflict lives them.
I should also say, on my view, the external origins of conflict do not absolve those involved in it of personal responsibility for the choices they make. No matter how over-determined we are by our circumstances, we can always choose other than how those circumstances seem to demand we choose. For every X, there is always a not-X. Even in the face of unspeakable horror, we can and we should not react to horror with horror.
|I’ve never enjoyed conflict for conflict’s sake.
I suspect this is because I grew up in an environment with only two modes of being: uneasy quiet or near-apocalyptic cacophony. Unfortunately, like all other human primate children, I could not adopt the strategy that every other mammal adopts in these kinds of circumstances: flee!
I suspect this is why, during high school, I was fascinated by stories of World War 1 and life on the Western front. The idea of waiting for — with no option to flee — an inevitable, pointless, and annihilating artillery barrage must have resonated with my own experience of life on the “home front”. My goal, whether I explicitly realized it or not, was to avoid the barrage whenever I could and endure the cacophony whenever it inevitably occurred.
The person I’ve become has a hard time believing it but, when I was eighteen, if I had been presented with the opportunity to run off to a war — a real war — I probably would have done it in a heartbeat. Truthfully, the horrors of pointless industrial slaughter seemed glorious.
Today, I think I understand why: the annihilation of escape and the escape of annihilation. Annihilation is-as escape; escape as-is annihilation. Blessed union with the divine unknowable.
Because I could not flee the circumstances of my home front, at some point — I suspect I know when and where — I decided it was my job to prevent and / or circumvent the inevitable artillery barrage. More accurately, I realized I couldn’t count on anyone else to do it for me.
The shortcoming of that decision was that it increased the perceived cost of conflict. Once the guns inevitably blazed, not only did I have the guns to deal with but I also had to deal with my sense of failure at not being able to prevent them from firing.
Over the years, with some effort, I’ve learned that certain forms of conflict with certain kinds of people are inevitable and that it’s not always my fault if and when the conflict occurs. It’s not my job to keep the peace at all costs.
One of the discoveries that has helped me unlearn my childish and overactive sense of responsibility is the fact that some people need conflict to sort out where they are in the rankings. Without the external place-setting that certain forms of conflict afford, they feel lost and uncertain. Moor-less. They need it — genuinely — for their sense of well-being,
As a result of this discovery, so long as the place-setting conflict isn’t cruel, predatory, chronic, or deceitful, I put up with it, by thinking of puppies wrestling with their litter-mates. Some pack animals simply need to squabble sometimes.
But even for these uncertain puppies, peace is the objective, peace is the objective, peace is the objective.