What is the Greatest Political Conflict of all time?
We seem to live in a time when “politics” is in vogue and everyone knows the “right” solution for how all of us should live our separate lives. Instead of declaring solutions, I’d like to first focus on the problem itself. In order to solve it, we’ll have to ask the right questions, so first and foremost we need to know what we are up against. Which example is the “epitome” of political conflict?
USA vs Russia? Israel-Palestine? (Tribalism)
Some day, I hope I will live long enough to elaborate at length on my thoughts about the root of these conflicts. Ideological conflicts about tribal politics or wars between Abrahamic religions are certainly a fascinating topic, but personally I don’t see them as the biggest ones. Not in practice. They are, after all, ideological and based on ideas. Their roots are not objects we can directly observe while they physically approach us. What is a “nation” anyway? And where is God? Don’t bother trying to answer, it was rhetorical. My point is: if you can’t point to it, then the problem is likely in your mind and to avoid senseless ‘philosophical’ debates, I want the greatest political conflict to be right here and now… but also everywhere. #philosophy
So if that’s not the biggest conflict, then maybe we should just focus on something physical and large-scale. Something planetary like Mars vs Venus…
Men vs Women? (Binary dichotomies)
This conflict is more prevalent within all cultures. And not only is it between physical beings, it is also packed with emotions and long-term reproductive consequences. So maybe that one is it.
Recently I’ve also been having more than a healthy share of thoughts and conversations about this topic (in other words, it’s probably actually unhealthy to think/talk about it as much as I have ?). I must say, this battle between Boys vs Girls, Bros vs Hoes, and Sisters vs Misters is definitely a “juicy” one («lol, nice»).
But it’s still very much solvable. Biological sex is one thing, cultural gender is another, and societal structures are yet another. So it might seem overly complicated, but I’m quite sure that it’s mostly a matter of focusing on the very root of each of these conflicts. Don’t worry, I will arrogantly try to solve religion and politics first before I give you my answer to this one (I’m at a disadvantage because unlike religion and politics, I can’t convert to the other side or apply for their citizenship given that I am a man… or am I?).
Anyway, both of these can be “simply” (not easily) solved by planting new seeds in a motherland and raising the fruits of their loom together as if we needed to in order to survive.
So what’s the mother of all political conflicts?
My fellow human
Rather than staying philosophical or talking about groups of people, let’s get down to the ground and use concrete examples. By the way, before we begin, Do you have a same-gender sibling that is close in age?
See, a lot of people underestimate this when I tell them, but unless you know then you literally have noooo idea haha. Some friends who have an opposite-sex sibling might report conflicts, and others who have a same-gender sibling with a big age gap will have a closer idea to what I mean. (Twins are a fascinating case that can be excluded because they’ve been 100% together their entire lives). But to me the most amusing case is when I tell my friends who are only children about this.
If you don’t have any siblings, you might be tempted to compare “having a sibling” with your closest friend. But even the closest life-long friend could never enter the galaxy of what it’s like to share parents with someone. As I have told them: “imagine having someone who at some point you genuinely tried to kill because it was the only way to get rid of them, yet if someone looks at them the wrong way you will exterminate the very memory of that creature without hesitation or remorse. THAT is brotherhood/sisterhood! And unless you can show me the diagrams for how you plotted to kill someone, then you didn’t become as close as siblings do.”
So those who encounter the sibling-conflict and solve it should seriously get an immediate honorary PhD in Conflict Resolution form all Ivy League schools. It’s the most fascinating case of bipolar passion that you can feel towards the same person, and the more you had to compete with your sibling, the more you will know exactly what I mean. In essence: the more you have to lose/gain in terms of parents and resources, the more you stand to lose/gain by getting rid of them rather than sharing.
Well, my brother and I shared pretty much the perfect childhood.
No, seriously, here’s some quick bullet points:
Love. For the first 5 years of our shared life, we had two sets of parents. As I’ve said before, our grandparents lived with us in the same household. So we each got plenty of attention, and in case that was not enough, we also had my great grandmother there for a few years. There was also our nanny Lilia, which is a name he and I still remember at 30. If there is such thing as too much love, well, we sucked it right up between the two of us.
Entrepreneurship. We were never rich, but we had creative parents who turned cheap toys into unique limited-edition specials that no one else could have because they didn’t exist. My mom loves to tell the story of one Christmas where things weren’t going great financially, so they bought toys at a local Mexican market (picture a dollar/euro shop, but on the street because it can’t even afford the office space). And they put
equally-cheap affordable batman stickers on them. No one had heard of such villains in the entire DC universe. Oh, but these were new “bad guys”. Our parents told us the story of these new mortal enemies, and as kids we were digging every detail. Should anyone be surprised that both our parents started the businesses that they are currently running by themselves?
Exclusivity. See, this one is the real kicker, so I will discuss it in two points. I was 25 and going through some serious trauma when I realized the one mistake my parents made: they resolved our conflicts in a way that was not sustainable for us. I’ve praised both my mom and my dad before, so before someone tries to grant them sainthood, I have to also call them out on this error because it split me from my own brother. When he and I fought, I remember they would sit us in different rooms, take turns talking to us, and then force us to make peace. But during these sessions, they were free to say anything behind closed doors. They could say “you can beat him up if you try” to both of us if they wanted to. To this day, I can’t be sure of what story each of us received and the mystery of what happened behind those doors is honestly more intriguing than whatever happens at Area 51.
Exclusivity 2.0. It actually wasn’t until October 2019 (barely a year ago) that I had my aha moment about our sibling relationship. My parents were visiting me here in Europe, and right before we went to sleep one night in Rome, I decided to text my brother to say something about my parents. Let me repeat. I messaged my brother about my parents. I stopped stopped myself before I sent the message realizing “holy mother of God, my brother and I have always used the words ‘my parents’ when talking to each other.” This isn’t something my parents could have ever controlled or been witness to (their very presence ensured we didn’t use those words). And of course it wasn’t intentional between my brother and I. But how cognitively fascinating-yet-disturbing is that?! Two brothers, two parents… two families?
In summary: we grew up in a loving, creative family that valued our uniqueness so much that it’s almost as if we were both only children who somehow still got the full “sibling experience” as well (and to my only-child friends, we apparently also preferred the former?). If that is not a perfect childhood, well, I don’t want to hear your counter-example cause it’s objectively wrong, as proven by all this evidence lol.
My brother and I have always been the heroes of our stories. There was no Robin, we were both Batman (check my brother’s shirt in the first photo above ?). If our respective friends met the other sibling, many would likely say that we are the same person (Warning: don’t, we’ll both kill you). We can be extremely caring-yet-arrogant, smart-yet-reckless, and if you put an “alpha male” in front of us, we will shred his ego to pieces in a matter of minutes. Again, we were forced to share the perfect parents with someone who at times we wanted to kill but no one else was allowed to touch. No alleged ‘alpha’ has a chance against that because most of them only know the aggressive part and even if they beat us there… we would change strategy and kill them with kindness, cause the Alvarado López kids always find a way to get the job done.
Roots of Conflict
As I am painting this picture and writing this story of a brother that most of you have barely met, I realize I am glossing over essentially all of the actual conflict.
… I am not telling you about the tribalism where I went to Kansas State University and he went to the rival University of Kansas. Israel-Palestine gets a lot of attention for “unresolvable conflicts” but for the love of God do not mix Wildcats and Jayhawks (can I get an Amen, Kansas friends? I can’t believe I loaded the KU wiki page just now so I could put the link in, eewwww). ((Note: if any social justice warrior wants to get offended by my “downplaying” religious conflict, then you are definitely not ready for my healthy long rant about Abrahamic religions and their inherited unresolved brother/daddy issues, so let’s not go there for your sake))
… I am not telling you about the gender war, which was not between men and women but rather about who was a ‘bigger man’ and able to conquer more women. I have a lot to say about society on this topic because both males and females are at the root of toxic masculinity and femininity, but suffice it to say that this war was thankfully less relevant for my brother and I. Personally I refused to play this game of conquest knowing that he was always the more attractive one. In the same way that I refused to compete with my straight female friend for “who can get more numbers”, I knew it was a rigged game to see who could get more attention from women between my brother and I (to a point where our parents thought I might be secretly gay and I only found out years later ???)
… and I am not going deeply into the memory that is imprinted in both of our minds. The memory of my friends bullying him, and me watching.
You see, if you ask him about our youth, he will tell you that I was always an asshole to him. He might mention I bullied him with my friends when we were growing up. And maybe I wasn’t the nicest because I did push him off the bed and hurt him a few times and he busted his head once. But I can tell you that this all comes down to one memory, perhaps vague in his memory, but firmly implanted in my brain. I must have been 10 or 11. I can point to the exact spot in the yard of Centro Escolar del Tepeyac where we were standing. My friend Adrian and his sidekick Manuel (who was also my friend) were there, and the main culprit was someone who I can’t fully visualize. I was being influenced into some power games that turned against my brother and somehow I was supposed to choose loyalty to my friends by turning on my own brother.
And I did.
If you want to know why I hate tribalism, how much I love neutrality, and why I am a walking paradox, then it’s all right there. Part of me wanted to be loyal to my tribe, so I had to prove it. The other part wanted to remain neutral because I loved “both sides” and didn’t feel like I should choose. The part I have never told him, or anyone, is that my mind remembers a culprit that may or may not have been there. Frankly, perhaps it was me saying I needed to do this to prove my loyalty. I was young. And I was so torn. So maybe my mind built a wall around that and I am only now scratching at it. I’ve used the analogy of creating horcruxes before, usually in the context of romances, but I genuinely feel like this was the first time I split my soul. And I did it by attempting passive neutrality of “falling on one side” rather than standing my ground against-and-for both sides. Again, to this day I don’t know if someone else bullied my brother while I watched, or if my brain said “we have to do this, but you’re not gonna watch or remember this because that’s better for us” (There. Now you know the real root of why I despise nationalist histories that ignore their victims).
Maybe all of these years, my little brother just wanted to hear me say “I’m so sorry, brother, it wasn’t me… I know it was me, but it wasn’t, and I hate him for it. It’s always been better to forget him than to take responsibility for what he did. Because this is the one person who hurt you that I can’t seem to obliterate as long as I’m around, so I don’t know how I could ever undo time and properly apologize.“
It’s taken a long time to have these realizations in large part because my brother and I have rarely shared the same roof since 2008 (only a couple months during summers). But then again, if we had never separated, it would be impossible to break old habits that would keep reinforcing themselves. So maybe it’s the time and space that separates us which has allowed me to reconsider who I am, who we were.
“Remember who you are“, All of us know these words. And if we “look harder” I bet we will find that the root of most conflicts is internal rather than external. It’s rarely “the other” [nation/party/person] who is truly responsible for our inability to solve a problem (it takes two, and sometimes “we” need to become one with them because “they” won’t become one with us, hence it’s our ego that prevents us from solving the problem that we blame on the other person). If you want to continue the Mufasa theme, bear in mind what I said that in my family there are two Simbas, and two heirs to the throne. We often joked about who was the favorite child (as most siblings do), although it obviously didn’t start as a joke. We had to share parents/ego for a number of years. The holy motherland and our father above were not mine to fight for, they were “ours” to somehow share.
So I would argue that this is the biggest conflict of all. The conflict between human brothers/sisters. Not an enemy to destroy, but a rival to overpower. It’s easy to “divide and conquer” (I do it all the time with people’s comments) or to unite temporarily in order to destroy a common enemy (though this is also easy pickings). But rivals are the worst. When your mind is focused on constant competition (political, economic, or cultural) then neither side will destroy each other and therefore both sides will take turns rebuilding and becoming “stronger than before”. Or building newer and stronger alliances (if the analogy to national, religious, and economic wars is not painfully obvious to you yet, then I guess we’ll get there eventually).
Carry on My Wayward Son
To this day, this is the photo that I have as contact picture for my little brother. I say “little” but at 30 he’s older than many of my current friends, and he now has his own little Simba to carry the legacy. Yet this photo is how I will always see him when I put my ego aside and when I don’t let my mind compare or compete with someone who is the closest thing to “me” that I will ever have. I see a happy, smiling boy, with an outfit resembling the German outfit that I now sometimes drunkenly wear. Except now my ‘little dude’ has his own little guy and suddenly the boy who spent his whole life following my footsteps will eventually teach me how to do the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life: be a dad.
One thing I keep writing over and over in the dozens of articles that I’ve started drafting the past weeks is: we become the stories that we [choose to] identify with. Although these stories are becoming awfully repetitive when you find the underlying psycho-cultural thread. My brother and I grew up looking up to the same heroes, but it’s a credit to our parents that we always focused on the heroes and we never once considered acting like Scar & Mufasa or Cain & Abel.
Right now, I’m having one of those serendipitous moments in life where you think “hey, what do you know, that’s a nice coincidence!” It’s 6:12am on Friday and I wanted to crank this out overnight so that I can share it on Saturday which is my brother’s birthday. The coincidence is that “our show” ends this week. There was perhaps only one show that he and I watched together as adolescents. And the absolute series finale was planned for earlier this year but thanks to coronavirus it will now air on Nov 19. So thanks to the pandemic, I had enough time to think and write this so I could have it ready before both his birthday and the end of the series that we started together.
The series is Supernatural. For those who might never have heard of it, it’s the story of two brothers, Sam & Dean, who grow up in Kansas and fight [their] demons together. Although technically I could have seen myself as the older brother Dean while he was Sam, we both knew that Sam was the one more attached to his mom while Dean was the womanizer. So I guess we were both both.
The show was originally only meant to last 5 seasons, and I bought all of them on DVD when that was a cool thing to do. They carried the show to 15 seasons because of popularity/money, but the reason why it was only meant to be 5 seasons is because it was designed to be a modern interpretation of the story of Cain & Abel. Maybe you hate the religious undertones, and maybe you love them. Maybe you know the show or maybe you can’t be bothered to even click on the links about it. Yet everything I’ve been trying to say about conflict can be seen in one of the show’s [original] final scenes.
Context: Sam (“Sammy”) has been possessed by Lucifer, and he is about to open the gates to hell, so his brother Dean makes one final attempt to reach out to his brother despite the devil having control over him…
Ok, now let’s end on a happy note…