Mathematic of Conflict
Sectarian conflict increases exponentially with the number of groups that exist.
Consider two groups, A and B. They have only one set of conflicts, each with the other. Add another group, C and suddenly you have AB, AC, BC…three sets of conflicts. Oh well, not so bad. Add yet another, now you have 4 groups, with 6 sets of conflicts: AB,AC,AD,BC,BD, CD. Add a 5th group, and sure enough, there are now 10 conflicts. Mathematically, this is expressed by the formula:
where ‘n’ is the number of groups and the symbol ‘!’ means factorial = multiple of all the integers from 1 to n together : n*(n-1)*(n-2)*…*1.
There are some tricks in this formula. You have to understand that if n = 2, then (n-2)! would look like zero, and the formula would be undefined because you were dividing by zero…so we define 0! to be the number 1. This seems arbitrary, but there are actually some pretty neat ways of getting to this idea using series of factors in more advanced mathematical analysis…yawn…just take it for granted right now, that 0! = 1.
The first ‘2’ in the denominator (the bottom part of the fraction) is curious. This stems from the fact that if you only have 2 groups, A and B, you really only have one source of conflict between A and B (its not both AB and BA in counting the conflict areas).
So try it. Five groups of conflicts leads to 5!/(2((5-2)!)) = (5*4*3*2*1)/(2(3*2*1)) = 120/(2*6) = 120/12 = 10 or count for
ABCDE : AB,AC,AD,AE,BC,BD,BE,CD,CE,DE
(remembering that in counting conflicts, AB = BA…right?…so you divide by 2 if you count them all…which we didn’t here, we just listed half…).
I used to do this with my karate students. I would have them do n! push-ups during the course of the class, but within their groupings, so that they would do n push-ups first, then a little later, they would do n-1, and later still n-2…until we got down to one push-up which they all thought was pretty silly…one push up. And then, as they massaged their shoulders, I would ask them how many push-ups they did. As weeks went by, when we got up to n = 15, they knew they were in for 105 push-ups. This usually made them grin when they realized they had done a huge number of push-ups without really realizing it.
It didn’t take them long to discover that if you just take the two numbers, n, and n-1, cut the EVEN one in half and multiply the two together you get the same result. Thus, if we started at 11 push-ups, our total by the end of class was 55.
It makes the world go around.
It governs the exponential growth in strength you can achieve doing karate. (Well…don’t examine that one too closely.)
One time, we chose ‘n’ to be twenty. Even spread out, 190 push-ups makes you sore!
Quebec Bill 21
This is why Quebec’s Bill 21 is so important, and so misunderstood. In the good old days, there was really only one conflict, Protestant versus Catholic. One conflict was enough to cause a lot of strife.
If you think back to Medieval Europe, after 622 CE, we’re talking Catholicism versus Islam, and look at the trouble we got into there. Crusades, Inquisitions…some really nasty stuff.
Then you have to consider the sub-groups who decide to search out Witches and Satanists, whether they exist or not.
Realistically in Canada, with its commitment to diversity and multiculturalism, welcoming, as we like to pride ourselves, refugees from all over the world, we have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus,…and now even Atheists, the fastest growing group, second only to Christians if you include ‘nones’ and unaffiliated.
Let’s just leave it with the top four in terms of numbers: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists (or ‘nones’ or unaffiliated). How quickly can you apply the formula above? Six opportunities for conflict, even without splitting Christians into a dizzying variety of sub-groups. Go ahead, put the numbers in the formula and show your work.
Not one area for conflict. SIX!!
Is there conflict between different religions? Not in Canada, we say, bunch of PollyAnnas that we are.
Do we bring in peoples from other parts of the world where the conflict exists? If we do, we bring in the conflict, even ignoring the conflicts that already exist, right here in CANADA.
Canada has a history of sectarian divides. Look back in the early years of French English conflict culminating in the Plains of Abraham (the famous battle between French and English for the ultimate prize of Canada itself). A famous battle, yes, fought by an Anglican against a Catholic on the land named after a Jew (well…a Scott, anyway).
It is sobering to remember that in that battle of September 1759, BOTH GENERALS DIED! In fact, the victorious general DIED FIRST! Do our Muslim brothers and sisters know this history when they arrive, that our country was born out of religious struggle and war, a religious battle that didn’t even involve theirs? That battle was the result of the immigration of European war, of socioeconomic enmity between historical enemies, and not unrelated to the schisms introduced by the Catholic Anglican divide in 16th century England, because Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his Catholic wife. Problems with importing religious intolerance began our country’s history, and we must do what we can to suppress that intolerance.
Canada, notwithstanding its violent quasi-religious origins, has been relatively free of sectarian conflict. In the birth of our nation, we had the foresight (?) to delay the conflict by incorporating Catholic and Anglican traditions into our laws, so mixed as it was in French and English, in the British North America Act, particularly around the topics of education and language. We did not address the problem then and there. They shoved that one off to us.
But let us not forget our disinclination to treat Jews fairly during the dreadful holocaust of World War II. Our Canadian anti-Semitism persisted in attitudinal behaviours involving memberships of prestigious clubs, housing in particular areas, employment opportunities where rumours of quotas persisted…issues I was aware of as a teenager.
In welcoming refugees and immigrants to our great melting pot, most Canadians worry about inviting the sectarian violence we hear goes with it. At the same time, foreign policy of our neighbours to the south has stirred dissention and has lead to terrifying acts of violence as occurred on September 11, 2001, raising fears of similar tensions spreading to the New World. Was the cause of that torment religious, or was it because someone over here thought, “What is our oil doing under their sand?” Whatever the cause, the rallying cry was religion. As the rallying cry so often is.
All this as people become increasingly disaffected with religion because of contentious issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, medical assistance in dying, foundations for honesty and morality, entrance into paradise only for the chosen few, opposition to separation of church and state…well…even more complicated…churches and state.
Dealing with differences might have been practical back when we had only one conflict: Catholic versus Anglican. The rapid rise of immigration from all of the Judao-Christian-Muslim traditions gets us quickly to three, and the addition of the second largest group in Canada, the Atheists (or nones or unaffiliated) gets us to 6. Add a couple more, Sikhs and Hindus, or even start sub-dividing, and the number of conflicts grows exponentially, now quite reasonably at least 10, possibly 15 or 20 we have to prepare for, even BEFORE we start to consider the religion that was here when we got here in the first place, those of the North American Aboriginal!
We cannot do it, folks. The world is still too immature not to exert some control over these conflicts. Until we gain the tolerance that allows us to change our guide books wherein some nasty bit of ancient xenophobia commands punishment of things the other groups take for granted, our best bet is to avoid conflict rather than deal with it. Like the BNA Act. As long as we live out Tom Lehrer’s National Brotherhood Week**, written in jest, but sadly based in reality, our best option is neutrality, and that means modelling.
Don’t tell them what to do; show them what to do. That means, in the case of Quebec Bill 21, avoiding the conflict in day to day civic interactions by totally avoiding the displays. That means thinking ahead: to the woman in the Catholic nun’s habit processing intake of applications for Medical Assistance in Dying; to the clerk emulating Kim Davis with a button saying, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” checking applications for same sex marriages; to the teacher with a crucifix on her desk teaching religious instruction to the Humanists’ children.
Will this be used by malevolent bigots who wish to penalize some religious dogma they do not embrace themselves? Of course it will. Why would this law reduce malevolent bigotry? That has existed since before the Plains of Abraham.
The best we can hope for is to reduce the numbers of flashpoints, to hide the issues for a while until the populace gets used to interacting without enmity. Until expressions of groupthink, be it Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Atheist, hold no animosity toward some other group, until we all learn to interact without breaking into that animosity, until we learn to see such displays without being justifiably terrified because of vile expressions of groupthink punishments of ‘the other’.
Until we grow up, we are best advised to just avoid it.
Sore shoulders, a metaphor for diversity, due to exponential growth. The ‘n’ is large, and that is as it should be, but if we want to keep ‘n’ large, we have to be careful, we have to be realistic.
We celebrate tolerance of all, but we better do so by protecting ourselves from ourselves. Take your tolerance to work, but leave your displays at home.