The Conflict Machine Explains Our Politics

A deep understanding of how the Conflict Machine impacts you and your community

At The Exit Network, we constantly use the term Conflict Machine. This article provides a deep understanding of what the Conflict Machine is. 


Our society uses conflict to address social problems such as poverty, literacy, addiction, crime, or security. The conflict becomes so real, we lose sight of actually solving the problems. The term Conflict Machine describes what’s really going on.

Here’s a more precise definition:

Conflict Machine: A system to address social problems that divides members of societies into warring parties where there must be losers.

The Machine is “turned on” whenever someone creates a proposal where those who oppose it are coerced into compliance or are forced to foot the bill.

The Conflict Machine is fueled by this coercion. Some people will have to abandon their preferred way of life or face a penalty, even if that way of life harms no one. Their happiness must be sacrificed to the proposer’s idea of the “greater good.”

These appeals to the greater good almost always hide both the coercion and the lost happiness. As a result, aggression becomes culturally acceptable.

The Conflict Machine is a better name for our politics.

Who Benefits?

Specific groups benefit from the existence of the Conflict Machine. Here are a few:

  • The Media. Good news doesn’t sell. Conflict gets higher ratings and more web traffic.

  • Industry Groups. Special interests benefit from government contracts, jobs, or favors.

  • Partisans. A vocal subset of people seems to enjoy picking on the other team. You’ll find them signaling their allegiances on social media.

  • Incumbent Politicians. The Conflict Machine concentrates power on a few people who are constantly angling to win and to gain some advantage on ‘the other side.’

The Conflict Machine is almost self-perpetuating, preying on a bad human instinct — instant success at the expense of others. Worse…

Social problems can be used to manipulate political bases. In fact, “Machine fuelers” treasure some controversies so much, they don’t actually solve them when they get the chance.

You’ll also hear people declare that they ‘delight in the delicious tears of their enemies.’

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Neighbors at War

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with standing up for your convictions. But most things just aren’t worth fighting over. When we’re face to face with our neighbors and colleagues, it’s much easier to…

  • Find consensus.

  • Engage in voluntary give-and-take.

  • Devise win-win solutions.

But in the Conflict Machine, people choose neither consensus nor win-win solutions. They choose politics instead and impose their preferred “solution.”

Politics is periodic civil war. Nationally, the battles occur in November of even-numbered years. The primary goal is to defeat the partisan enemy, the members of which are our neighbors — people we get along with in almost every other context.

If our partisan political team can secure the power, we don’t need to create win-win solutions or compromise. Even if our party wins by just one vote, we get to impose our values on the members of the other party.

We get our way at the expense of our neighbor’s happiness.

If we lose, they get their way at our expense. But we shouldn’t be too concerned. Over the next two years, we can feel righteous by showing how lousy and rotten the people in the other party are. Then maybe we’ll climb on top again at the next election.

A Pathway Out

Some people are getting tired of the Conflict Machine. If that’s you, you should be pleased to learn there’s a philosophy that not only shows a way out of the Conflict Machine, but also paves a path to happiness, harmony, and prosperity.

It’s called the Philosophy of Human Respect. It’s based on a natural principle (a statement of cause and effect)…

Human happiness, harmony, and prosperity decrease as persons experience violence or theft initiated against them.

Advocates of Human Respect can be called “voluntaryists.” The term, voluntaryist, summarizes the essential spirit of Human Respect — cooperation or persuasion instead of coercion. The conflict is unnecessary.

Voluntaryists can be personally progressive or conservative, so don’t be surprised when you find voluntaryists who share your values and concerns. But where the progressive (typically a Democrat) wants her values to rule over others, or the conservative (usually a Republican) wants his values to be the rule, the voluntaryist will point out that it’s both counterproductive and immoral to impose their individual preferences on their neighbors via the ballot box.

Voluntaryists appreciate just how harmful the Conflict Machine can be. This is why they want to…

Stop Fueling the Machine

Not every matter is life and death. If it were, we’d need to kill more of our neighbors!

Imagine for a moment you just signed up your child for Little League. The other kids on the team are different from your child. And their parents are different from you. Maybe they worship differently. They might even vote for the other party!

But here’s something you probably don’t think or do…

Since they’re different, I’ll punch them in the mouth. That’ll fix ‘em.

Instead, you find these differences interesting.

Have you ever had this experience? Have you ever met someone different from you and learned something new? It can be fascinating. Even if you don’t change your views, you feel you understand the world a little better.

You might even find you like this person.

Or how about this experience?

You begin talking with someone, and find out they disagree. At first, your instinct is to argue. But eventually, they help you change your mind.

Your new opinion makes your life better. Vive la difference!

Or, you talk to a person only to discover that you’re repulsed by their tastes. You choose to leave them be. You just don’t seek their company after that. C’est la vie.

In all of the above examples, you were acting like a voluntaryist. But in our culture, we have created a big exception, one which pulls us away from our disposition to live and let live.

Political Parties Love the Conflict Machine

Play politics, conflict follows.

Of course, it seems so much is at stake. If we don’t win, bad stuff will happen, terrible people will rule us, and hideous things will be imposed on us. All of that is presently true in our culture.

But none of it is necessary.

In fact, whether you’re progressive or conservative, you don’t need to fuel the Conflict Machine. The voluntaryist philosophy of Human Respect is the path out of it. You can promote your values through peaceful persuasion and voluntary cooperation instead of political aggression.

And if you want to escape the Conflict Machine, we at The Exit Network will show you how.


Jim Babka is the host of The Exit Network. This is our temporary website. Please subscribe.