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The 5 Faces Of Fundamental Human Conflict

human conflict

The fundamental human conflict – When the interests of the self clash with the interests of one’s group. Find out more about the many faces of the human conflict.

Picture this: You’ve signed up to contribute an item to a bake sale for your local PTA. The bake sale is taking place tomorrow morning and all items are to be dropped off by 9am at your kids’ elementary school. You’ve bought all the ingredients and you’re fully prepared to make two dozen of your locally famous whoopie pies for the event. Lisa, the president of the PTA herself, asked you specifically if you could make your whoopie pies for this event. And she even mentioned them in the flyers that went out to all students in the district earlier this week. 

Aside from the bake sale, you’ve got other stuff going on in your life.

After having recently gone through a painful divorce, you have finally found a guy who you really really like. Tim is just everything—great-looking, charming, smart, funny, well-connected, and he’s got a great career. And you find yourself feeling fully in love with him and looking at his pictures on your phone constantly.

Right when you walk into the kitchen at 9 pm to start working on the whoopie pies for tomorrow’s bake sale, you get a text from Tim. And it says this: 

My weekend schedule has just changed around and it looks like I’ll be flying my plane into Key West. Have to leave in an hour so that I can drop off something for a friend down there before 8. I would LOVE some company. Are you around for a little weekend jaunt?

Your mind and heart are racing. Your kids are staying with your ex for the weekend. If ever there were a time that you could actually do this, that time would be now. But the whoopie pies! Those darn whoopie pies!

What do you do? Do you make good on your commitment to your local PTA and stay home by yourself tonight making those whoopie pies? Or do you jet off to the Keys with Tim, who may well end up being the love of your life? 

Framed another way: Do you do what is in the interest of the broader group (i.e., stay home and produce the whoopie pies for this local community event) or do you do what is clearly in your own self-interest (i.e., throw caution to the wind and fly to the Keys with Tim)? 

In our lives, we’re often faced with such social dilemmas. Dilemmas that pit our own self interests against the interest of some broader group or community to which we belong. In fact, such dilemmas are so common that we might think of them as the Fundamental Human Conflict

Related: How To Stand Up for Yourself Without Rocking The Boat

Within-Group Selection Pressures And Between-Group Selection Pressures

Renowned evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has focused much of his career on discussing how human evolution has included elements of both within-group selection pressures and between-group selection pressures.

In short, Wilson (2007; 2019) has argued that since humans are so incredibly group-oriented (or groupish), evolutionary pressures on our species across thousands of generations have included a combination of (a) pressures that benefit one’s own chances of survival and/or reproduction as well as (b) pressures that benefit the group or community that one belongs to, often at a cost to one’s own interests. 

Much of Wilson’s work in this area has focused on the nature of religion (see Wilson, 2002). In his work on understanding the evolutionary underpinnings of religion, Wilson found that religious organizations in general tend to work to inhibit self-serving behaviors and to facilitate other-oriented behaviors. This general process leads to benefits that flow to the group directly and that flow to individuals more indirectly. 

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Glenn Geher

Glenn Geher, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz where he has been awarded SUNY Chancellor Awards for Excellence for both Teaching and Research. In addition to teaching various courses and directing the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab, Glenn serves as founding director of the campus’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program. He is also credited as the founder of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS). Glenn has published several books including Evolutionary Psychology 101, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love, Straightforward Statistics, and Own Your Psychology Major! In Darwin’s Subterranean World: Evolution, Mind, and Mating Intelligence, Glenn addresses various topics related to the human condition.View Author posts