‘Conflict is more often driven by self-interest than genuine sense of right and wrong.’ “Show me a man who has no interest in his own good, and I’ll show you a man who is not in touch with his own humanity.” R. Alan Woods. Conflict can be driven by any emotion whether it be greed, love, hate or lust, after all conflict occurs merely when an individual feels something strong enough that they will not quell before opposition in violation of this emotion, because of this assessing the most frequent motive behind conflict could be investigated by asking the question; What emotion is the strongest and most frequent in humans? Doubtless, the answer to this question is relative to its target, a cynic might declare hate, a romantic love, a patriot pride; however all of these emotions can be elicited from both self-interest and a sense of infringement of a person’s moral code.
Throughout the span of a humans life the one motive that remains central to a person’s approach on life is the desire to fulfil ones owns emotions and take care of one’s own interests, in Graham Greene’s the Quiet American both Thomas Fowler and Alden Pyle act based on personal interest despite the usual contrast of both their emotions and their actions.
Fowler desires Phuong out of a sense of loneliness and longing for companionship, whereas Pyle desires Phuong out of the desire for a wife and a desire fulfil the responsibilities placed on him by his culture, allowing his life in his point of view to be considerably improved, albeit with the significant addition of the goal of making Phoung’s life better, which is also a manifestation of his own emotional need to rescue and help others, the fulfilling of which increases his emotional wellbeing.
The desire to serve our own interest is the force that characterises most of our decisions, whether it is in the form of greater emotional comfort and wellbeing by standing up against an infraction in our moral code or the simple taking from the helpless for direct personal gain. It is for this reason, that conflict is more often driven by self-interest than a genuine sense of right and wrong. Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese was a New York City woman who was stabbed to death and repeatedly raped near her home. Investigations recorded 38 witnesses, none of whom attempted to assist Kitty personally and only one whom called the police, afterwards stating “I didn’t want to get involved” The incident of “Kitty” Genovese’s death exemplifies the extraordinary lengths that humans can go in an attempt to prevent self-loss even at the cost of another’s far more severe personal loss.
By not acting these neighbors failed to stand up for their moral code and in doing so failed to act on behalf of what they presumably believed to be right at the cost of another s life, this also establishes the ability of self-interest to not only drive conflict in the way that self-interest allowed the event to occur on the side of the attacker, who was likely motivated by lust or anger, but to also discourage opposing action in bystanders out of a fear of personal loss.
The actions the witnesses of “Kitty’s“ fate took mirror the attitude of a large degree of the human populations attitudes. Historically, few stand up for their beliefs and moral code at great personal risk, the strength of self-preservation Is too strong for most , for every “hero” that acts, hundreds of bystanders fail to act. The existence of “heroes” Itself is evidence that humans often fail to act in times of conflict, after all if there was more people who acted in times such as “Kitty’s” murder compared to those who failed to act then the heroic deeds of people such as Sophie Scholl who sacrificed her life for the sake of a moral principle would become commonplace, merely regarded as a slight extreme version of the normal reaction.
Instead these people are revered for their courage, having books written and movies wrote about them, while these people likely deserve such images and their actions are evidence of either an increased emotional sensitivity or little direct self-interest it reflects very poorly on the rest of the populations courage and willingness to stand up for what they believe in. Behind every action is an corresponding emotion , meaning the intent of every action is to fulfil our emotion, not to respond to some moral code or the unfairness of life or the cruelty of another, acting on our emotions is in fact an almost entirely self-orientated activity .”People love others not for who they are but for how they make them feel” said Irwin Federman.
When a man acts to shelter a child it is not the fact that the child is in harm’s way that drives him into sheltering the child, but the emotion that the man feels upon sight of an exposed child, in this way in order to commit actions without a self-driven motive a person needs themselves to either have no emotion or no emotional fulfilment, however exceptions to this could possibly be shown by the actions of individuals such as Hugh Thompson Jr, who risked his life for the sake of others’ lives through his actions in the Vietnam war, namely intercepting his own force in an attempt to circumvent the massacre of hundreds of innocents.
It is possible however for an individual to enter conflict with an self-orientated aim and transition throughout the conflict into upholding moral principles and beliefs that may directly oppose the individuals initial viewpoint. Demonstrated best by Oskar Schindler these peoples sense of right and wrong eventually conquers the greed and self-interest they feel until they abandon the hope of gaining for themselves and embrace the hope of upholding what their moral code stipulates, Oskar Schindler entered the second world war initially motivated by profit but in a display of commendable tenacity and moral integrity saved over a thousand Jewish workers in defiance of the Nazi regime.
The selfish nature of emotions also suggests that if emotions are the driving force of action and the individual fulfils the actions his emotions desire out of a need for emotional wellbeing then the majority of actions are driven by self-interest on one level or another, and that since conflict is the result of two opposing actions and that the motive of self-interest contains all other emotions and so in a way conflict can be driven by both self-interest and a genuine sense of right and wrong, that a majority conflict must be driven by self-interest.
In conclusion, conflict is driven in the most part by self-interest but this is also true of almost every other action. The spectrum of emotions that self-interest encompasses is vast enough to include almost every emotion that an human can experience since actions are driven by emotions and conflict by both actions and emotions the cause of conflict can, in the majority of cases be traced back from the action to the emotion behind it to the drive that causes humans to fulfil the actions their emotions demand. This drive can be identified as self-interest, in this way almost all conflicts can be traced back to self-interest as both a catalyst and a driving mechanism