Dropping out of negotiation to just compete.
Posted Jun 08, 2016
Our lives are a tension between negotiation and competition. Most of us have allegiance to both. We say, "Let the best plan for all of us win" (Negotiation), and "it better be mine." (Competition).
For example, I have split allegiance to society and to myself. I want to negotiate what works best for us all and I want what works best for me. Sometimes what's good for me is also good for society but obviously not always. What I want and what's good for us are often at odds.
How then do we split our allegiance between negotiation and the competition? Fifty-fifty is a lot to expect from people. For example, voting against our personal best interest is difficult, though sometimes do-able. The more direct and immediate the benefit to me personally, the harder it is to vote against my personal best interest.
We’re not very honest about how we split our allegiances. We tend to translate “In this competition, I want…” into “In this negotiation, I deserve...” because we can compete more effectively if we pretend we’re negotiating.
For some people, there really isn’t any negotiation. It’s all just a competition, perhaps because they’re greedy though that’s not the only explanation.
Sometimes it’s because people get desperate. Maybe they’ve been deprived for so long that they have escalated to pure competition, scrambling to get or hold onto anything. Sometimes they just compete because their appetites are unusually strong, their will power is unusually weak, they lack conscience, or they lack confidence that they can negotiate without losing. Greed does not explain all allegiance to competition over negotiation.
Sometimes people abandon negotiation because they’re surrounded by people who only compete. Social experience teaches them that life is nothing but competition, for example, when dysfunction, corruption and war sets in. Rule of law disappears and all that’s left is the fight and grab.
The currency of negotiation is rationale – reasons why this or that might be the best plan for all of us. The currency of competition is rationalization – excuses and justifications for why we should get what we want. Rationalizations are very difficult to distinguish from rationales. That’s by design. A rationalization works best when it looks just like a rationale.
Here are some popular rationalizations dressed up as rationales:
Conservatism: Because change is bad for us all, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice what I get.
Progressivism: I should start getting what I want because change is good for us all.
Spiritualism: I should get what I want because a higher power wants me to. There is a force for love in the universe – love on my terms.
Libertarianism: I should be free to get what I want because freedom is the highest virtue.
Capitalism: I should just compete for what I want because competition is the best plan always.
Anti-communism: I should get what I want because collective negotiation always turns into tyranny.
Tyranny (communist, fascist, religious, etc.): Negotiations make a mess of things so I’m taking over and will get what I want as a job perk.
Uncertainty: We can’t know what the best plan would be, so I should get what I want.
Meekness: I should get what I want because I'm always the victim, meek and usually overrun by others who demand more.
Morality: Moral law (selectively applied) says I should get what I want.
Identity politics: I should get what I want because my people were at a historical disadvantage.
Fairness: Ignoring what I want, I can make myself neutral. From my neutrality I can see that I deserve what I want.
Tribal Exceptionalism: My family, race, creed, religion or nation is the best, so we deserve what we want. And if you think I’m being selfish, I’m not. I’m generous. I think all my tribe’s people deserve more than you outsiders.
One way to guess whether these arguments are rationalizations, not rationales, is whether they’re applied evenhandedly. They rarely, if ever, are. For example, we tend to focus much more on unfairness to us than to others, on our personal liberty more than the liberty of others, on our definition of spiritual love more than other people’s definitions.
When push comes to shove, we tend to employ these rationalizations, window-dressing justification for getting what we want or think we need at the expense of others.
This is the human condition. The potential to drop negotiation altogether and just compete lives in us all. The more we succumb to pure competition, the more we compel others to do the same. This is the hidden cost of competitive escalation. In its wake we see cultures that have lost the capacity to negotiate. Rationalization takes over, every man for himself.
The best prevention is awareness, a keen understanding of the human condition and how it plays out in us all. It is through facing the darkness in ourselves that we can shed greater light within and around us.