Rambo and the Dalai Lama:
The Compulsion to Win and
Its Threat to Human Survival

(Albany: SUNY Press, 1998)

with a Foreword by the Dalai Lama

by Gordon Fellman
Brandeis University

This book builds from the proposition that until now most encounters have been organized so that the point of them is to overcome the other. This is true for the most part of relations between men and women, parents and children, whites and non-whites, leaders and publics, rich and poor, labor and management, athletic teams, business firms, advanced societies and developing societies, straight and gay, tall and short, well and ill, and so on.

I call this assumption that one must strive to overcome or submit to being overcome, the basis of the adversary paradigm. It also applies to humans' relations to nature which, like people, has been constructed as an enemy to be overcome.

The ultimate expression of the adversary tendency is murder, and that collectively is war. War has usually been fought with the maximum technology available. The use of atomic bombs in 1945 suddenly and drastically cast adversarialism in a new light. For the first time in the history of warfare, it became possible, indeed likely, that in using maximum technology in all-out confrontation, overcoming the other would necessarily also mean overcoming the self; i.e., homicide became inextricable from suicide.

The threat of massive destruction by nuclear devices was complemented by another form of technological assault, the industrial degradation of the environment to the point of numerous deaths and severely damaged systems of land, water, and air needed for survival. The human tendency toward adversarialism has become incarnated in objective processes which neither created nor defined adversarialism but rather came to represent it in stark, terrifying ways.

Historically, alongside the adversary paradigm and in secondary relation to it is the mutuality paradigm, based on the mutuality assumption that the other can be a friend, a colleague, an ally. Religious notions of community and love flow from this paradigm, even if they are ordinarily undercut by the adversary organization and practices of organized religion. Political systems idealize mutuality in official documents like constitutions and in politicians' rhetoric but contradict it in their behavior. The same is true in most if not all other institutions such as education and the family.

My claim is that in order to survive adversarial forms of onslaught, including the ethnic and religious strife which appears to be replacing the one over-arching conflict of the Cold War, mutuality will need to become the primary governing paradigm in human affairs and in humans' relations with the environment, inverting the historic and continuing condition where adversarialism is primary and mutuality, secondary.

My analysis attempts to provide a useful vocabulary for what I see as fundamental crises, indeed survival issues, on our planet today. It is a contemporary version of the timeless contrast between competition and cooperation. I find that in the speaking and teaching I do on this topic, people pick up the words and concepts I use and employ them immediately, and most effectively.

The central innovation of my presentation is my analysis of adversarialism and mutuality as coming in both normative and compulsive or pathological forms. By the adversary compulsion, I mean something beyond ordinary competition in sport, business, or any other social context. I mean an addiction, a drivenness that subordinates other considerations to a passion, indeed an obsession, with "winning." It is this compulsion that, for example, defines the destructiveness of political systems that forsake the political possibility of resolving real societal problems, in favor of destroying the other candidate, the other party, the other program, no matter what it may be.

I also identify a mutuality compulsion. Including in mutuality the ideas of empathy, recognition of the full humanness of the other, caring, nurturing, support, and love, I see mutuality that denies adversary inclinations as compulsive, just as I see adversarialism that denies mutuality inclinations as compulsive. Based on denial of essential parts of the self, each form of compulsion works against the possible reconciliation of humans and nature to each other in ways that can enhance human survival and well-being.

The book goes on to deconstruct both compulsions. I claim that people tend to project upon others qualities they have been taught they can not and must not face in themselves. Hence the other becomes the repository of the selfish, dirty, violent, lustful, failed, immoral parts of oneself that one denies, and as well, the nobler, communal, loving, caring parts of the self that extend beyond immediate friend and family relations and which most people feel are beyond their capacity to realize. In both cases one assumes that one ought not or can not achieve what is implied in one's desires.

Survival requires what I call reappropriation of the full range of qualities that the self is. In a chapter called "Reappropriation of the Self," I offer an analysis of the extent and nature of what can be reappropriated.

I also claim that a more fully mutualistic society is already at hand, but in minor form that is difficult to recognize until it is identified. Most people are familiar with mutuality in some contexts but so far fail to see their proliferation, their connections, and the possibility of a freer organization of society based on mutuality as its premise rather than adversarialism. In three chapters on "Seeds of Mutuality," I examine old seeds in old institutions, new seeds in old institutions, and new seeds in new institutions.

The book nears its end with an analysis of what I see as the major alternative to the destructiveness of the endless adversary relations with which we are currently saddled: globalism -- recognition of the globe as the primary unit of loyalty. I see a global culture already emerging in outline form in political values, language, economy, music, religion, and more. My goal is to analyze and to move beyond analysis in offering hope in the form of visions of mutuality and actions to help bring it about.

Believing that films speak to and reveal major concerns and phenomenological definitions of character, issues, and tendencies in a society, I illustrate many major points by way of interpretations of major motion pictures including High Noon, The Godfather, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, Rambo, Silence of the Lambs, and Strangers in Good Company. This use of films is in the tradition of Erik Erikson's work on the films Wild Strawberries and The Childhood of Maxim Gorky and is an alternative to the more conventional analysis of literature in such contexts. Some popular music lyrics are used to illustrate points about adversarialism and mutuality in popular culture beyond film. Numerous contemporary issues and events, such as reproductive rights, criminal justice, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also are examine closely to elucidate and extend the analysis.

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