It is no great surprise, I suppose, that I am a fan of beef . As someone who unironically likes the corporate cd where an anonymous rapper trolls the rivals of fast food restaurant Wendy’s, and someone who regularly watches SB Nation’s video series on Beef History, I have spent a fair amount of time watching and listening to the history of people whose competition leads them not to get along with each other for a variety of reasons. It would seem that beefs spring from a variety of causes, as diverse as the reasons why people do not like each other. There are times where people are too similar and do not get along, and other cases where disagreement seems just about inevitable given the prickly sort of people that they happen to be. As someone who is a bit prickly myself, I am fascinated by how this dynamic leads to problems, sometimes ones that last for decades.
Ultimately, for beef to happen two people have to be willing to be stirred up against each other. There are some times when people are esaily stirred up and so they are known for having beefs with a lot of people. Those who are antagonistic and like to start trouble tend to find out who responds to their antagonizing and the results are generally entertaining at least to some people. There are some people who mean no real harm and are able to apologize and recover from a negative first impression to develop a relationship of mutual respect, but there are some times where toxic interactions and mutual hostility lead to a relationship that can never get better. There are some times where people can never really overcome the unpleasant relations that they have with each other, and that can be a real shame. One might want to be friendly but simply find it impossible to communicate in a civil fashion and overcome the hostility that one feels for someone else.
Beef begins, therefore, in some sort of provocation and susceptibility. Such conditions are not very uncommon, and so beef is not very uncommon. The provocation can come from deliberate attempts to provoke others from one of the two parties or third parties that want to stir up trouble for others, and it can spring from deliberate efforts as well as honest miscommunication and misunderstandings. But either way, it requires there to be some sort of incitement that leads people to dislike each other and two people that are both susceptible to taking those disagreements and that awkwardness and unpleasantness as the fuel for hostility, sometimes hostility that can feed off of itself until one reaches the point of no return. It is not surprising that the Chinese military tradition, such as Sun Tzu’s art of war, warns people against being easily provoked because being known to be prickly and easy to take offense can allow people to manipulate events with predictable and negative outcomes. This can be true in areas outside of war as well, and is certainly something to keep an eye out when it comes to the way that these conflicts can be manufactured by interested parties.
We may say, therefore, that like many aspects of life, beef begins in two realms that have to interact with each other in some fashion. The first is some sort of vulnerability in the people involved themselves, whether that is the character flaw of being a provocative and instigating sort of person or in being vulnerable to lash out in the face of provocation from others. The second is in the situation that involves people developing a mutual aversion to each other. For something to be beef there has to be mutual hostility between the two, otherwise one is simply dealing with trolling and bullying. But if one trolls a thin-skinned person who can respond in kind with ferocity, then one has beef. I tend to think of there being some sort of justice in beef, but also a sense of futility as well, in that it takes what should have been a nothing of an incident and turns it into the start of a war. But wars too are often started because of insecurities and prickliness, why not the little wars between people or companies that are beefs?
 See, for example: