“If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” – Veronica Roth.
It is an absolute and undisputed truth that human beings thrive on conflict. All the great stories, all the great imitations of life are based upon conflict. Without conflict, nothing moves. Without conflict there is no motivation. Without conflict, most people would be bored out of their minds.
Winter Is Coming
All storytelling, since cave paintings, have thrived on power struggles. Most cave paintings depicted some type of animal and hunter. The conflict was that people were hungry and needed to eat. In order to eat they had to conquer and kill the animal for food. Conflict is innately built into the makeup of human beings. It is part of our survival mechanism. Folks love “do or die” situations. Anything worth having is worth fighting for – or so goes the Western mantra. Without conflict, nothing is worth anything.
Because of this survival mechanism, we find that the most popular TV shows, movies, plays and bestselling novels are always chock full of problems. These problems are never of the common sort. They are diabolical, nasty, trashy, over the top, and usually lacking a solution. No one wants to be bothered with any story that is not full of strife and trouble. This is easily proven when we examine hit television shows.
Consider Game of Thrones. For years this notorious series was topping the charts at HBO, sending the internet abuzz and exploding on social media. The central theme of this series is greed. There is a throne, the Iron Throne, which is the seat of power. Almost every character in the series wants to take over the throne. Once done, he or she will rule as supreme leader of the imaginary continent of Westeros. The Game of Thrones characters will stop at nothing to satisfy their lust for power, including murder, betrayal, torture and all manner of sick, twisted behaviours.
The public absolutely LOVED Game of Thrones. No one could get enough of it.
Similarly, William Shakespeare, the master of drama and arguably the best playwright in human history, based all his tales on enormous conflict. Shakespeare’s audiences packed the Globe Theater. Folks would spend their last penny to attend his plays. Elizabethans could not get enough of the Bard and his tormented characters.
But there’s a catch. Upon closer examination, we see that Shakespeare’s stories might have been just as entertaining without all the malice and conflicts. That is, if only his viewers had been conditioned toward peace.
Consider Macbeth. This Scottish warrior had earned himself a high rank in the king’s court, a “worthy Thane” as he was called. Macbeth lived in an enormous castle with many servants. He had a pretty cushy life. He could have just as easily gone on in his world of privilege and nobility. There was absolutely no reason to change anything.
But no! Oh no!
Lord Macbeth, egged on by his diabolical wife Lady Macbeth, cooked up a scheme to murder King Duncan. In cold blood. The murder of the king leads the story into one conflict after another, finally resulting in insanity and beheadings. To this day, folks love it.
The moral of the Macbeth story is, perhaps, that regicide can only come to a bad end. Kill the king and you will suffer. No one gets away with murder. Which leads to another point about conflict…
Who Plays God?
Conflicting tales always contain some type of morality or greater truth. The morality gives people reason to pontificate about the power of “good” over “evil”. And this very idea leads to an even bigger conflict!
Good over evil is a common theme in all storytelling, but who gets to decide what is moral or immoral? It might be said that no one has the right to play God. No one can dictate behaviour, no one can dictate life and death. Thus, how can anyone really decide what is innately “good” or innately “bad”?
Let us look at an opposing viewpoint, still considering the Macbeth tale. Was the Scottish warrior wrong in his ambition?
Perhaps Macbeth and his Lady had good reason to want the king dead. Perhaps the king had been a tyrant, continually mistreating his subjects. King Duncan had, after all, sent Macbeth and other soldiers into battle. The war resulted in Macbeth’s and Banquo’s medieval equivalent of PTSD. Their stress led them to hallucinate and see witches. (Or perhaps the witches were real… merely lending their influence in the murder.) However, the point is, no conflict goes unexplored.
You Can’t Fool Mother Nature
There is, in fact, a biological basis for our obsession with conflict. The human body is set up in such a way that, whenever we respond to stress, anti-stress hormones are released in our bodies. These anti-stress hormones are substances like dopamine, endorphins and adrenaline. These hormones could be called “Mother Nature’s feel good chemicals”. They occur naturally within our bodies. When stress or conflict triggers us, we automatically get their peaceful jolt coursing through our bloodstreams as relief.
The problem is that folks simply become addicted to the dopamine and endorphins. Once this happens, human beings will do anything to create a stressful situation, simply because they want to receive the benefits of the pain-relieving chemicals. We end up exaggerating the conditions of our lives, going about looking for despicable situations, playing unpleasant video games, watching massive fighting on television, reading disturbing books and newspapers, thriving on evil. This is all done to serve our addiction.
When presented with serenity and non-threatening situations, most human beings will become so bored and detached, they will not know what to do with themselves. They have no idea how to interpret peace. They will set about finding problems in any situation they can create. For this reason, humankind keeps creating wars, poor economies, horrible workplace situations, hideous love affairs and all manner of horrifying situations. And we love it!
Perhaps a new paradigm is needed.
Give Peace a Chance
The idea of peace and non-conflict is a concept long overdue. But do people even want it? Could people actually handle serenity?
The change would not be easy and would require some retraining of our brains. We would have to abstain from stressful stories, break our addictions. We would have to turn off the news, stop criticizing, stop finding fault in every person and situation. We would have to get away from action movies, murderous video games, tales of lust and smut. Simply put, we would have to end all the stories upon which we currently thrive. We would have to learn to take pleasure in beauty, love and peace.
Could such a thing be possible? One can only hope.
All things considered, I’m not holding my breath. Are you?