Friday, November 28, 2014

Georg Simmel: Expansion of the Dyad

The two person, or two group "dyad" is a particularly important social grouping, according to George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. But what happens when you expand the dyad to three people, to the "triad?"

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

"The appearance of the third party.. [means an] abandonment of absolute contrast." In Simmel's view, it introduces three kinds of group formations. The third person might be a non-partisan mediator; he might be a "tertius gaudens" or someone who benefits from a two person quarrel; and he might even be someone who uses a dispute between two people to divide and conquer them. Let us look at each in turn.

The Non-partisan and the mediator. In many cases the addition of a third person can weld the two-person dyad together; the child "closes the circle by typing the parents to one another." But just as significant is the non-partisan mediator.
The non-partisan shows each party the claims and arguments of the other; they thus lose the tone of subjective passion which usually provokes the same tone on the part of the adversary.
In other words, the non-partisan "deprives conflicting claims of their affective qualities" and forces the parties to view a dividing issue more objectively than in pure adversary combat. "[A]ntagonism of the will is reduced to intellectual antagonism." Notice though that the mediator is not an arbitrator; he does not decide the issue; only the parties can do that. But the mediator must be viewed by both sides as neutral, either because he is equally close to each party, or equally distant.

Another impartial third element is the arbitrator, to whom the two parties render up the power to decide their issue. This requires not just a joint faith in the neutrality of the arbitrator, but "confidence in the objectivity of [his] judgment" beyon mere mediation.

As an example of mediation, Simmel offers the British King Henry III. His relations with the barons and prelates descended into constant conflict, and both parties came eventually to resort to a third element previously "kept out of state matters." We are talking about the beginning of the House of Commons.

The Tertius Gaudens. Here we have a third party that "draws advantage from the quarrel of two others", he is literally the third who rejoices at their difference. This party is similar to the third element that divides and conquers, discussed below, but does not need to be active in splitting the two parties. He may merely befriend one party to annoy the other. But the iconic case is two parties competing for the favor of another, as in two suitors for one woman. On the largest scale, the tertius gaudens is played out in the competition between producers for the favor of the consumer. Notice that the advantage of the consumer only applies when the producers do not collude with one another. In politics, the position of a third party is not as absolute, because a political party is not free to abandon its declared positions on the issues of the day; there is often only a narrow room for maneuver between two parties competing for the favors of a third party. A similar situation occurs in demarcation disputes between labor unions on a job site. If unions bid for their workers to do the job then the lowest bid wins. But if the unions collude to decide what pay should apply to each job then their basic interest, high pay, is preserved from attack by the employer.

Divide and Conquer.  In any three-element relationship the opportunity exists for the third element to take advantage of a quarrel between two others. In "divide and conquer" we deal with the situation where "the third element intentionally produces the conflict in order to gain a dominating position." There are many examples of this strategy, beginning with the prohibition by a sovereign ruler of any associations, thus heading of any combinations of people that might form a head of rebellion. The Anglo-Norman kings made sure that the estates of each feudal lord were widely scattered to make it difficult for any lord to become sovereign in a single contiguous district.  Similarly, employers often refuse to negotiate with a combination of employee unions. They prefer to negotiate with each one separately. The Incas liked "to divide a newly conquered tribe in two" and place a supervisor over each, with "slightly different ranks." This encouraged rivalry between the supervisors and prevented united action against the Inca. There are two basic strategies for divide and conquer. One is to get the two parties to fight each other. Where this does not work, then the third party combines with one other "long enough for the other to be suppressed, whereupon the first party is an easy prey for him."

It is easy to see why "two's company but three's a crowd."

Next: Subordination under an Individual

No comments:

Post a Comment