Let us continue building our map.
We will remain on the left side, moving towards war in bloom. It would be nicer to talk about peace, harmony and music, but if peace is to have a chance we need to understand why the “competition” is so strong.
Let us start at our center point, AGON.
Let AGON stand for game, competition (as we find in sports). As I see it the impulse to compete (we don’t have to call it good or bad) is very basic to Man.
Think of a tennis match. The match is over and the contestants part. Now imagine that they still harbor hard feelings and anger. Then the match is not over. It has overflowed and infected life outside the framework of the game.
One could say that the energy has moved to the next stage.
AGON is delimited and “cool”. When it heats up, it gets personal, intense and moves to the stage of ANTAGONISM.
AGON >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> ANTAGONISM
If the two tennis players go even further in their enmity they might resort to actual physical (not just emotional and verbal) violence. This I call AGONY. Now we have a private war going on, size Small but still a war.
Difference between Agon and Antagonism: temperature, intensity and added emotional element.
Difference between Antagonism and Agony: actual physical violence.
Let’s zoom in on more nuances. AGON relates to (delimited) sports, contests, parlor games, card games, etc.
Regarding the emotional element it is hard to draw clear lines. Even in a card game or Monopoly we can become emotionally involved, angry or sad. But usually this wears off after a short time. We don’t go for weeks fuming about our loss.
A positive side of AGON relates to self-development. With sports and games we can train and improve our bodies, coordination, reactions and also our emotional control.
This can be in teams or by ourselves, with stronger or weaker elements of win-lose.
In more harmonious, inward-directed forms we can challenge ourselves to a duel, trying to win over ourselves, not others. These higher aspects of AGON are beautifully illustrated in the movie Peaceful Warrior. As the title says, here war (agon) and peace are harmonized.
Not all of us are into sports or games but I think hardly anyone is free from some kind of antagonistic impulses / activities.
These range from ephemeral and lightweight to heavy, problematic and poisonous.
Outlook we have, often in excess, but inlook (English for introspection) is just as much needed. At the root of ANTAGONISM I see these impulses:
- I want me to be right and you to be wrong
- I want to be better / stronger / richer / more beautiful than you
- I want to be in control, and you to be controlled
- I want 100 times as many Facebook friends and “likes” as you have (modern variant)
Let’s be radically honest and admit that it can be wonderful to be ADMIRED, RIGHT, the BEST, the most BEAUTIFUL. Getting lots of praise and “likes” can create a wonderfully warm feeling in our breast.
But this is not = the antagonistic impulse. The latter wants to see someone lose, and is much more concerned with seeming than being.
Lavish praise does not make us good –quite apart from the fact that praise from some people carry no weight at all. Winning an argument does not make us right — even though we “won” this particular arguing match against a particular (perhaps very illogical) opponent.
Still we allow ourselves on some level to feel like KINGS under such circumstances. Other parts of us know better, rather thinking ourselves beggars for being so easily flattered. But the impulse to be king is usually stronger than the insight of begging.
So we fight, in true antagonistic fashion, for these prices, medals and awards, even though deep down we know that they are not gold but tin, not substantial but mere image, no true adventures but cheap thrills.
- quarreling about who’s fault something is
- debating religious / philosophical / political / etc. questions
- trying to prove that you have been unjustly treated
- trying to prove hos silly and credulous other people are (popular with “skeptics”)
“Quarrel”, “debate” and “proof” are important keywords. Generally, we find ANTAGONISM in all situations where the impulses mentioned above enter.
ANTAGONISM can be of shorter or longer duration. Family feuds can go on for generations, while a heated quarrel fires up, fizzles and dies down after some hours, maybe days.
“I want what you have. But since it doesn’t look good in these modern times to just take it away from you, I will find or fabricate some crime on your side which will serve as motive for me to declare war on you, you terrorist, you!”
So far the left, dark side. In the next part we will finally look at the other, brighter side of our map.