The following is a typical student response drawing upon the ideas in The Crucible and relating them to comparative social and political examples.
“There are many reasons for people to instigate and fuel conflict, each is as destructive as the others”
Conflict is caused for numerous reasons which may be political, religious or personal rivalry. Marcus Aurelius states that, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it”. Most of the time the reasons may be destructive such as a grab for land or resources which adversely affects many people, and leads to violence and destruction of a person’s way of life. However, there may be constructive reasons for conflict such as a desire to gain freedom, or justice for one’s people. In such circumstances, the reason for conflict may be destructive for those in power but constructive for the victims. Much depends upon the nature of the conflict and those involved.
One of the most common causes of conflict is the struggle for land and resources. Many countries conflict over borders. The Israelis and the Palestinians have been conflicting for the past century over the Gaza strip. A renowned Israeli writer, Amos Oz, writes about the conflict that has torn the Middle East apart. He states, “This is a conflict between victims, and between people who both have a just claim to the land.” His comments also reflect the situation of the white settlers and the Aborigines. The white settlers also conflicted with the native Australians when they sought to colonise the new country. Both wanted the land for their own survival and this caused ongoing conflict with disastrous consequences for the Aborigines. The white settlers proved to be more powerful as the natives’ spear was no match for the gun. The colonial settlers had positive reasons for the conflict, which was to establish a colony and ensure their survival in a harsh environment. However, the conflict was played out in violent ways and this led to the destruction of the Aborigines’ way of life. Subsequent policies also led to the forcible removal of indigenous children from their families. The purpose of this was to force the aborigines to assimilate. This may have been well-intentioned but it had a devastating impact upon Indigenous culture and identity. It had far-reaching consequences as the children suffered from loss of self esteem, confidence and identity confusion arising from the loss of their culture.
Conflict may arise owing to different political ideologies or because of a crisis of faith. Arthur Miller based his allegorical play on the McCarthy affair which was caused by the tension between communism and democracy and created havoc in America in the 1940s and 1950s. The witch-hunt against communism had efficacious reasons – to stamp out the perceived threat of communism as it was spreading through Eastern Europe and China. Joseph McCarthy, an American Senator, made a public accusation that more than two hundred “card-carrying” communists had infiltrated the United States Government. Again, this seems well-intentioned. He wanted to protect democracy. However, the reasons for the conflict actually proved disastrous as the accusations proved to be untrue. Many people suffered the stigma of being called a communist sympathizer and lost their passport. There were many trials often based on unsubstantiated accusations, just like Abigail’s. Although there were no executions, these destroyed careers. Up to 320 artists were blacklisted which for many meant the end of their careers – this brought about a great deal of professional and personal anguish.
In The Crucible, Abigail seeks vengeance for her illicit love affair after John Proctor turns his back on her. However, this conflict is also symptomatic of the tension between the church-run state and individuals who have positive reasons to conflict with the state. They seek to exercise their freedom and do not believe that Reverend Parris is helping them to practice their faith in the best way. Although they may have honourable reasons, the court and the religious “keepers” in contrast use the witch-hunt as an excuse to restore their authority and so use it for negative reasons. They place their faith in the girls, who pretend that they are being persecuted by the devil. The courts also wish to “root” out the devil in Salem and cleanse the community of evil spirits. It also becomes an excuse for others to vent long-held hatreds and it becomes an illegal grab for land.
The false allegations of witchcraft had catastrophic consequences for the victims and for many in Salem. Proctor suffers the ultimate penalty and pays with his life as he seeks to restore his reputation and find some “shred of goodness”. He leaves behind a pregnant widow, and she must suffer with his absence for the remainder of her life. Even Reverend Hale was lamenting and had completely lost faith in the church.
In many dictatorships or communist countries, political conflict is a frequent occurrence as is the struggle by many activists for human rights and freedom of expression. The causes of conflict are therefore honourable on behalf of the activists but not so much for the government. For example, many Chinese human rights activitists publish articles online that are critical of the Chinese government. Many are arrested and charged with “inciting subversion” and are sentenced to jail. Mr Gao, one of Chinese’ most eminent human rights lawyers, disappeared about one year ago after he represented the banned spiritual movement, Falun Gong. He was tortured and now lives under house arrest. Similarly, many asylum seekers conflict with the Australian government over legal and human rights. Contrary to international law, the Australian Government, mandatorily and automatically detains refugees who enter the country without proper documentation. This stance contravenes the Geneva conventions which states that: “everyone has the right to liberty and no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”. As a result, many refugees resort to self-destructive practices so as to gain a voice. One Iranian refugee wrote that suicide was common in detention camps. “We are all taking depression tablets. Animals in Australia have more rights than we have.”
The reason for conflict may not always be repugnant and destructive. There may be practical reasons as to why we need to change a situation that will eventually lead to positive outcomes. No matter how destructive conflict can be, there may also be beneficial consequences. As the Dalai Lama said, “Our enemy is our guru”. This is because we can learn a lot about ourselves and our community from adversity.
Finally, the destructive causes of conflict such as interpersonal rivalry, jealousy and greed can undermine social cohesion and an individual’s integrity and self esteem. My personal experience reflects on this type of situation. During my early school years, where students were disinclined to accept their actions, they had to pin their petty crimes to other students. One time, a troublesome student had stolen tennis balls. When the teacher was suspicious about it, the student immediately blamed it on me and some other students. I tried to deny the claim, but then I was asked who else would have done it. I did not want to accuse others of theft, because it was deceitful. In the end I remained silent and was given a warning of suspension. I realized that instigating conflict is simple, and that the results could be major. Adding fuel to the current situation will deepen the wound, and will lead to a more disastrous result. In the end, the ones affected are the victim themselves.
Often destructive reasons initiate conflict between groups in society. These may be the result of a “land grab” or discrimination. It might be a difference in political, religious or social ideologies. These may lead to violent solutions which are equally as destructive as the cause. However, sometimes conflict occurs because of positive reasons such as a desire to bring about a fairer and more just society. This may not benefit the dictators or groups of power that are persecuting others, but it may benefit these who are seeking justice. Whether or not the cause of conflict is destructive or otherwise, often depends upon the parties to the conflict and one’s stake in the dispute.
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