A Cause of Conflict and Concern

The world is a less violent place than ever before, but conflict has not gone away. It has simply become less physical, less kinetic, and has been driven into other spheres.

War is now waged in the widest array of arenas: between tax authorities and foreign multinationals (EU-Apple), through sanctions and visas, over the internet, through culture and the media, via travel bans, via adoption bans, and in competitive sport as well (think doping bans and record hacks).

Conflict permeates every realm of public and private life, leaving no domain untouched. Less people die than ever before from "real wars", but more people arguably find themselves in the midst of battles between interests - private, national and international - than at any other point in human history.

The interdependency and complexity that globalism has resulted in has exponentially increased the amount of contact with, and number of attack vectors available to adversaries. But why, in an interconnected and global world, would anybody ever seek to be an adversary of another? Very simply: perceived and real inequality, as well as both a fear and obsession with relative gains.

There are ample studies showing that people would rather be (1) poorer but have the same money as their friends, than (2) richer, albeit much poorer than their friends. Let's give human-beings the benefit of the doubt and label this effect "insecurity". Clearly this is something that holds true outside not just of friend groups, but all perceived peers.

Inequality of all kinds and at all levels drives destructive behaviour

Globally: International Affairs

On an international stage, in a club of world leaders, even if a leader and their cronies, a nation and her people, are all being enriched by the growth of a nation - if it is perceived to be to a lesser degree than some unfairly benefiting neighbour - then there will be cause for conflict - a demand for restitution.

With an optimistic view of human nature, we may at least partially view the conflict between Russia and the West today in these terms. The international stage provides the ultimate ultimatum game, where all players end up worse off than they might, because notions of unfairness in the initial allocation of resources drive actors to spite one another.

Economically: Development

On an individual level, the advancement of less well-off peoples has the positive benefit of closing the gap between the rich and poor, but the ironic side-effect of increasing the poor's awareness of inequality in the first place (perhaps increasing the risk of conflict). People who have never known how green the grass might be on the other side are now just glimpsing it for the first time. For some this proves aspirational, for some it leads to huge insecurity, but for all it leads to discontent, because there is the knowledge that life could be better - and a need to reconcile the reality that it is not with this. In spite of the fact that it is capitalist development that enabled these realisations, in many peoples minds, someone, something, or some system must be to blame.

Individually: Domestic Politics

'Tis also the case that those who have loved and lost a standard of living, who then see it persist all around, albeit without them, will be acutely aware of inequality and to a large extent I believe this explains the state of domestic politics throughout the West today. Once again, there is the belief that someone, something or some system must be to blame. This is the nirvana fallacy.

There are no substantively different, or "better" systems. There are only proposed tweaks to improve the current capitalist status-quo. Yet there are those who seem to promise radical change like Donald Trump, or Brexit, without actually proposing what radical change might look like.

An admirable belief we can do better pushes good people towards charismatic, visionary leaders. The unconscionable ignorance that surrounds supporting these same leaders in the absence of any proposed solutions condemns these same good people to the fate they deserve. Unfortunately, it condemns the rest of us, too.

Broadly speaking, the types of people who voted for Brexit are the types of people who will vote for Donald Trump. Their concerns are inequality, perceptions of unfairness and relative gains. The UK-EU remain campaign was not wrong to campaign on the presumption that security was the key issue. But a desire for security is borne from a feeling of insecurity, and the UK-EU leave camp's message of "take back control" in this respect proved far more emotionally appealing.