Truth and Paradox

Another point that is worth making in regards to bargaining and negotiation is that the strategy employed towards bargaining and negotiation is most effective when it aims to gain something out of the other side, rather than defeating the other side. As the late game theorist and nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling wrote:

“Pure conflict, in which the interests of two antagonists are completely opposed, is a special case; it would arise in a war of complete extermination, otherwise not even in war. For this reason, “winning” in a conflict does not have a strictly competitive meaning; it is not winning relative to one’s adversary. It means gaining relative to one’s own value system; and this may be done by bargaining, by mutual accommodation, and by the avoidance of mutually damaging behavior.”

Schelling added that “most conflict situations are essentially bargaining situations.” Thus, our view of conflict has to be such that conflict includes the elements of common interest and mutual dependence. Schelling took a non-conventional view of conflict, in the sense that conflict has a non-zero-sum nature rather than a zero-sum nature. Thus, a conflict does not need to rise to the level of annihilation or mutually damaging behavior. As Schelling wrote: “A ‘successful’ employees’ strike is not one that destroys the employer financially, it may even be one that never takes place.”

Moreover, bargaining and negotiation with the aim of gaining something rather than destroying someone consists of a strategy full of paradoxes. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the absolute truth itself is an “absolute paradox.” Thus, even as it pertains to bargaining and negotiation, we are essentially dealing with paradoxes. Schelling wrote that at the tactical level, bargaining and negotiation includes the acknowledgement that “weakness is often strength, freedom may be freedom to capitulate, and to burn bridges behind one may suffice to undo an opponent.” Thus, a resolute goal at the strategic level is underpinned by a set of paradoxes at the tactical level. These realities reinforce the point that strategy is perhaps more of an art rather than a resolute science.

Aside from the complexities and intrigue behind issues such as bargaining, negotiation, as well as the historical process and strategies that tie into such issues, there is a lot of humor involved in these things if one reflects deeply. There is always humor involved in a situation, if we are perceptive enough to catch the humor. Thus, even in our current state, which is essentially a transition phase between a 500-year period and a period of history that is currently defined by a certain level of uncertainty, there is always humor and intrigue in these types of situations if one can detect the humor and the intrigue. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the leitmotif of the historical process is best defined by the Ancient Greeks through their emphasis on the tragicomedy behind human existence. In the end, there is perhaps cause to laugh and rejoice as the process manifests itself over time.  

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