This is a footnote from Lewis Coser’s article “Social Conflict and the Theory of Social Change.” He distinguishes “realistic” from “nonrealistic” conflicts on the basis of whether the conflict’s goals are something other than “releasing tension.” Nonrealistic conflict is a matter of performing a collective fantasy, of earning an “activist” badge, of feeling like one “is making a difference” without worrying especially about whether this difference is actually made. The tension released is a matter of dispelling the sense of personal impotence. 

I’m interested in Coser’s claim that “Members who join for the mere purpose of tension release are often used for the ‘dirty work’ by the realistic conflict groups.” Not sure if thIs is self-defeatingly cynical, to take advantage of the ego-driven enthusiasm of genuinely exasperated people, those who have become fed up with ordinary life’s traps. Are narcissists the shock troops of the coming insurrection?

I think of this when I wonder whether the “realistic” people are subtly encouraging the “nonrealistic” tension-releasers to view self-harm as a mode of sabotage. If you are a tool fashioned by capitalism, then damaging yourself is a good way of upsetting the machine! The more damaged you feel, the more you are doing for our cause of destroying capitalism!


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