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Harmful Effects of Conflict

The harmful effects probably are easier to see. We have already indicated that conflict tends to cumulate rapidly. This snowballing tendency may lead to complete breakdown before the self-limiting features of most inter-personal exchanges have a chance to operate.

Before people can decide that the pain is not worth it, people may have been killed and property destroyed. Establishments may be closed or they may find themselves in chaos. Similarly, a company of soldiers may shoot down women and children in an orgy of destruction. A second negative feature of conflict, closely related to the first, is that it is often extremely costly. War probably provides the best example, for nothing else in human experience exacts such a toll.

The third negative feature has to do with social costs. Conflict is inherently divisive. It sets person against person and group against group in ways that threaten to destroy organized social life. United States has seen conflict so widespread as to raise questions whether anarchy might prevail. Youth against the establishment, blacks against whites, the poor against the affluent, and Jews against Arabs represent something of the range of conflicts. In such situations, the question becomes not simply how many people will be killed, how much property destroyed, or who will win; it becomes one of the societal survival. Can race wars be avoided? Can the police maintain order? Can universities operate? And can presidents keep the support of the populace? Whatever else they may be, these are real questions. And the answers are by no means obvious. Conflict threatens the existence of society itself.