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

(Albany: SUNY Press, 1998) with a Foreward by the Dalai Lama

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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.


Gordon Fellman

Gordon Fellman has been a member of the Brandeis faculty since 1964, having previously obtained a BA from Antioch College and a PhD. in Sociology from Harvard University. He is currently a Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. During his tenure at Brandeis, Professor… MORE >

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