Living Options during Conflicts: Dialogic-Artistic Acts and the Ways We Love In This World


Marco Antonio Zamboni Zalamena – TRANSCEND Media Service

There are basically four different options for people living in conflicts: first, people can remove themselves (giving-up; spatial relocation); second, people can join one or another side (us vs. them approach, compromising); third, people can wait for outsiders to act on their behalf (negative transcendence) and four, people can work with the conflict forces/energies while still living in it (positive transcendence).

These four living options signify different concepts of conflict and each one of them is anchored by a main force (forza motrice) reinforcing a certain syndrome or phenomenon inherent to a conflict. The forza motrice, I argue, is nourished by the way we love in this world.

In the midst of a conflict we could argue that there is a repository of love forms that shape our attitudes and behavior. The love of remaining alive and well might or might not be greater than other forms of love. The extent to which one would love to remain alive and well is hard to define in words, nevertheless it should be considered as a force that is capable of guiding humans to act in a certain way or not in everyday situations, including those situations to be decided during the uncertainties of a conflict. That been said, the four living options can be understood as follows.

Spatial relocation

Egoistic-apocalyptic concept of conflict

One way of giving up in a conflict is to escape from it physically, and possibly mentally. Escaping from the conflict set is an option for those who realize that the conflict is essentially destructive and that there are no resources available to transform it creatively and non-violently. This egoistic-apocalyptic view of the conflict rejects the idea that a better outcome, yet inexistent, is possible. It requires few efforts to imagine that hope is an illusion. Usually it is the first-vista outlook of a conflict. Giving the local conditions during a conflict the chances to escape might be scarce and dependent on external conditions such as willingness of other regions to spur the emergence of such chances. One can only escape once a new and better option is available.

Syndrome: individualization of all life

If we relocate from trouble we could see this as an approach for individualization of all life entities in nature. It could be considered as an extreme form of anthropocentrism if only considering human individuals, but it could also be biocentrism if it considers individual living organisms, such as one particular animal or tree. Each individual seeks the better environment to settle down, to procreate and to continue evolution while thinking loudly “the world is mine.” We really have to question whether humans should be considered the most important agent in this world, and each person should question whether they are the most important individual.

Forza Motrice: excessive self-love

The understanding that can be drawn based on the qualities of people relocating from the conflict set suggests that excessive self-love is at work, hence, shaping their attitudes and behavior regarding the conflict. Self-love could be described as a pre-condition for being alive in this world. Even though we might not declare to ourselves “I love myself” everyday the simple fact that we take care of ourselves everyday is a sign of love. And even if we don’t take care, for example, of an injury that has affected us, it could be regarded as a necessary suffering for further learning in life, a learning that will help us to stay alive during further endeavors. Hence, self-love is not simply taking care of ourselves momentarily, when small injuries or big tragedies require doing so, but also processing our current suffering for further learning and survival.

Excessive self-love, in turn, happens when the love of life of one person surpasses her duties of taking care of and learning with the suffering of others in the same environment. The excess can not be quantified, but it will be expressed in attitudes and behavior relocating oneself or not to a new place. Excessive self-love should not be regarded as completely separated from the love of others. A person may relocate to a new place if she predicts that in her absence in this world no one would take care of her family or no one would carry on her culture, ideology, principles or language that might be at risk for future generations due to the circumstance of the conflict, for example. In these cases, love of others would nourish her self-love.


Dilemmatic concept of conflict

Another capacity level of those involved in a conflict is to compromise with one or another side, a temporary remedy for the conflict, not its cure. The options are located within the spectrum of absolute war/total destruction, on one pole, and the negotiated settlement, on the other pole. It is the trap of dilemmas anchored by extremisms. The dilemmatic concept of the conflict is concretized in packages of concessions and benefits that are built by the leading actors and announced as the only ones in town to support the cause. Compromising parties, as well as those interested in joining them, agree to give up some interests to support the cause. However, the distribution of choices is built under unilateral concessions, i.e. m:n, favoring the leading actors who pressure other people to join their sides.

The unilateral concessions are only possible because leading parties in a conflict exercise the power of coercion over others. Once the choices are ‘delivered’ under coercion, there is a great chance of those involved to be disempowered and oppressed. Rare are the situations in which the leading parties offer flexible concessions characteristic of processes of integrative compromises. And if they do so, it could be regarded as a strategic/manipulatory step to be followed in order to deliver long term benefits for the victors. Ethically, compromise, either in micro or macro, intra or inter-conflicts, is wrong, because it debases relationships among actors at the same time that it maintains the conflict on its surface. As a consequence, the essence of the conflict, which has the resources for its positive transformation, is blocked and does not constitute the main area explored by people involved.

Syndrome: dualization/polarization of all life

Since compromise is a vote of fidelity to a cause, principle or conflict explanation, or even a theory it does not advance a human capacity higher then realizing only the conventional dynamics and options of a conflict. It is an illusory aim generally sought during a conflict and carries an also illusory obligation quality. It is the officialization of poles in a conflict, the us vs. them approach. The polarization of all life also establishes the separation of the good and bad energies of things.

Forza motrice: conditional love

Conditional love is to promise pleasure/happiness under conditionalities and potential coercion. It works best at the imagination of humans as if we were all living under a surveillance apparatus a la panopticum of Bentham. According to this apparatus the coercive agent, e.g. security guard, can exercise his coercive power even if inexistent in reality for his presence in the minds of prisoners will ensure his limiting control. All in all, compromising with parties claiming to be the agents of a conflict, like any choice,  closes one’s eyes to potential new realities that could be co-created. It is to comply with the achievements, victories, and experiences of others without a chance of raising one’s voice about the circumstances of a conflict, hence to reinforce the dependency on the current status quo or accepting the past.

Negative Transcendence

Apathetic concept of conflict

People’s indifference about the conflict is a reinforcement of the idea that external forces will take care and heal the conflict. The resources to transform the conflict are seen outside of the conflict set, usually in international organizations and institutions with global reach. This apathetic concept of the conflict leads people to put themselves apart from the conflict and they, despite of recognizing it as a life event, do not change their ways of life in practice. It externalizes the conflict and delegates its potentialities to the voluntary acts of external entities. The involvement of external entities in a conflict, e.g. international intervention and cooperation are still voluntary par excellence even though the ratification and endorsement are under political pressures. It will remain so until and if a world government emerges at the same time that the national sovereignty is no longer a ruler. We could question ourselves if the evolution of the UN or another international organization will reach this level.

Syndrome: externalization of all life

To externalize a conflict is to recognize that only external forces are both the causes of its destruction and construction. The importation of outer knowledge is a feature that delegates the processes of conflict transformation to external qualities and modus operandi without necessarily taking into account the local vicissitudes that surround the conflict. Hence, we have external expertise trying to understand and to explain the local reality by introducing to it terms that might not be applicable to the local area for its nature is only fully understood by its own local terms. In extreme cases the externalization of all life can signify the conquest of one culture over another, without the chance of cultural exchanges to happen.

Forza motrice: apathetic/indifferent love

Apathetic love is represented by accommodated ways of life. It is a continuation of life based on the decisions of others. In a sense, it is a cowardly attitude toward life since it is nourished by fear of both change and co-creation of all entities of nature. It is watching life in a cinema room and not willing to act.

Positive Transcendence

Symbiotic/integrationist concept of conflict

The symbiotic/integrationist concept of conflict recognizes that a conflict is a life event not to be avoided but to be transformed since conflicting different levels of liveliness is a natural course in this world. It asks people for mutuality and respect anchored in co-dependencies. Transcending the conflict positively is to shine new lights into the darkness of the conflict; it is to look at peace in the midst of violence, seeing the unseen and exploring it. It is to explore the essence of the conflict and try to find the transformation of it in it. It reinforces togetherness and connectedness while pushing life to new realities; it gives birth to that which does not yet exist.

Phenomenon: co-creation of all life

Life under these circumstances are never being but always becoming something that pushes it forward. There is a chance to unfold and empower the unspoken voices of a conflict and to find in them the moral imagination that is necessary for a sustainable conflict transformation. Co-creating the destructive and constructive aspects of a conflict in order to push life forward is the quest of those who seek for unconventional and alternative strategies while still suffering from various forms of oppression in the conflict area.

Forza motrice: love of others (justice)

Loving others is the art of co-creating life despite of the unfavorable conditions that constitute life itself. The extent to which loving others will influence a conflict transformation can then be described as one’s inclination to sacrifice her self-love to save beloved ones, either friends, relatives and unknown persons in the same environment. As noted previously self-love and love of others are not separate feelings but, instead, they are intertwined in nature and substance to nourish different, but not contradictory, attitudes and behavior of living entities of nature. Dialogic-artistic acts based on the love of others are an essential attitude for a conflict transformation to happen sustainably and non-violently. One example of positive transcendence through art is shown below.

The art of swimming: Song Kang-ho, swimming amongst the waves of future wars?

What would you do if your government built a naval base in the ocean you swim peacefully everyday for belligerent reasons? In Jeju Island, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage, also known as the Love Land, a naval base is being built by the South Korean government and Samsung – and the US? – without consideration of local ways of life. Jeju Island is not only a place where an astonishing view of nature inspires someone’s life and gives a genuine meaning to it but also a space where locals have been spiritually connected to life forms beyond this world for centuries. If the construction of a naval base would be anywhere justified by any government or authority, then, Jeju Island would be one of the world’s least places for it. Why? Because it is hard to believe, ethically thinking, that a war apparatus will be build in a place where love and peace have been preached for a long time. The island’s geographic location and its people have nothing to do with the aspirations of the US of telling China that they are willing to get ready for a potential war against Beijing. But unfortunately, the geopolitical forces elected the island for a potential war between states without ethical evaluations of conflict transformation in international inter-state relations.

Locals who used to walk freely from one side of the island to another simply because they want to exercise their right to walk on their own land are now been stopped by security guards. Under such circumstances locals face different living options and despite of all influences that shape their decisions the only way to give sustainability to this conflict transformation is through the use of non-violent means such as art. I can not think of a wise and transformative force stronger than art to change the directions of the conflict in Jeju island. Art, of any kind, can be applied by locals and non-locals for its capacity to reach superior levels of sentiments hurts violence without coercion. And this has a local man in Jeju island done: Song Kang-ho has applied the art of swimming in order to transcend positively the conflict while still living in it.

He has not immigrated to Zimbabwe, for example. Immigrating would be a sign of giving up by spatial relocation. This would be loving himself too much (excessive self-love) and seeing the conflict only as destructive (egoism/apocalypse); he would see the island as one and he himself as another (individualization of life) entity, both separated in life. Neither has he accepted any form of compensation from the South Korean government or from Samsung in order to compromise his choice with that of his government. This would be conditioning his love and pleasure of living in Jeju to concessions. Compromising would reinforce the idea that the conflict was a dilemma and that he had either one or another choice (dualization of life). Neither has he waited for international logic specialists to acts on his and his fellows’ behalf. This would be an apathetic way of loving in which a conflict has nothing good to offer and only external actors are the skillful ones to act.

But instead, he opted to continue his everyday attitude of swimming despite of the police arrest when he reaches a certain distance in the ocean. He realized that his attitude of swimming amongst the waves of future wars is powerful, because it lacks violence and coercion. Realizing that such an act lacks violence and at the same time is powerful is an unconventional approach in life. The conventional approach for power equals to high levels of coercion and money. He considers the conflict as a part of his life (symbiosis) to be co-created with all living entities. And this is a way of loving others (justice) around him, regardless of all negative energies and uncertainties that surround the construction of a belligerent apparatus that is being built with lots of violence and lots of money.

Reflexive conclusion

Could we argue that different ways of loving in this world enhance or inhibit our capacities of transcending conflicts positively? And, could we argue that dialogic-artistic acts, such as Song-Kang-ho’s artistic swimming, are representations of loving others?

Art in the midst of a conflict does not relocate the resources for conflict transformation to other spaces. It usually tries to portray the positives aspects of a conflict, controversial or radical it might be. It often reinforces togetherness and codependency; it does not compromise with either side claiming to be the owner of the “true facts” about the conflict, let it be government authorities, insurgents or multinational corporations. It evokes a sustainable opinion and perspective about the conflict for its sources are in it. It breaks the trap of externalisms embedded in uncritical minds trying to describe the conflict; it does not externalize the conflict to leave its transformation in the hands of the “logic specialists”, e.g. international institutions and organizations, etc.

Art co-creates the conflict and gives to it sustainability for its positive transformation transcends egoism, dilemmas and apathies. Artists feel part of the conflict and of its construction and destruction, but do not regard themselves as victims of it. They have the capacity to listen patiently to that which has yet not been said and to see that which has yet not been seen in the messiness of a conflict until they unfold their best attitudes and behavior to lead their lives sustainably and peacefully.

Recommended link for the given example of positive transcendence in Jeju Island


Marco Antonio Zamboni Zalamena – UNESCO Bangkok


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Dec 2011.

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