INTERNECINE: conflict within a nation, organization, group

Is there anything more frustrating that to be a part of a group or organization which has come together over a common concern, articulated a statement of common purpose, and organized to meet that purpose … only to dissolve into conflict which threatens to destroy the group?  It happens all the time.   That is what is known as internecine conflict.  Never fear, it happens to the best of groups.

The word internecine is used commonly to mean internal conflict within a group, but when researching the word, it became clear that its original meaning was distorted by Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1663.  He added the prefix inter, giving it a much tamer and more common meaning, making it a word to be used in talking about group dynamics.   Its original meaning, however was violent … to the extreme.   It meant to battle to death.   Its Latin origin described vicious conflicts which were not completed until one of the conflicted parties was … literally … dead!  So much for group dynamics.

In its current use, therefore, the word internecine is appropriately used to describe family squabbles, organizational conflict, national disagreements, and … to get to the point … political squabbles.  They are irritating, frustrating, and embarrassing.  But, in the end, they are somewhat harmless and can be resolved over time.

However, the current political spectrum seems to have played leap frog with Dr. Samuel Johnson and returned to the word’s more Latin meaning.   There is a seriousness about those engaged in the internecine battle taking place in the U.S. government sphere.  It is not restricted to government officials, but has spilled over to the populace. 

The battle is fierce, and … although it is politically incorrect to say it out loud … there is something of a desire for it to be a battle to death.     There are references by candidates about the need to employ 2nd Amendment methods to solve our national problems, for instance.  That is a clear reference to the use of firearms to overcome the conflicts over issues which some people have made life or death matters. 

It’s true that the issues in our governmental conflicts are urgent.  They have to do with abortion, war, militant Islamic jihad, and emotional depression on the part of an unemployed nation.  These are matters which deal with life and death. 

But the missing element in this dialogue, the one which allows the dialogue to become frightening, is the failure to recognize the greedy, selfish and protectionist motivations that have brought about the conflicts.   The immediacy of the issues in the way they tread upon the toes of people involved, makes them seem increasingly personal, causing  exaggeration, accusation, and inflammatory speech.  The hearts of the people are pounding beyond the usual political dynamic.  Crazies have seized the moment to emerge as spokespersons for violence.  It’s a pretty scary political scene out there.

Our nation and our government are constructed upon principles which encourage dialogue, debated and argumentation.   It is part of the American way.  But the shift to calls for violence and injury (or potentially death) have brought about an internecine battle which is beyond the pale.  I find it frightening at times.

Fueled by big money, the availability of a welcoming media, and agenda-driven personalities, the populace has taken to creating more heat than light.  We pride ourselves as a nation upon the orderly transitions which signal new government.   They are not characterized by guns, bloodshed and the storming of buildings.  But those images seem to be exciting to some vocal people in the internecine, pre-election fervor of 2010.

It’s time to calm down, folks, and recognize the potential damage to be done by such behavior.  This government will prevail, and its orderly transitions at the national and local level will provide for needed changes.  Caution in following hot-headed, articulate rabble-rousers is wise. 

Dr. Johnson’s re-definition of the word internecine conflict is called for.

Photo Credit: toastmasters

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