Could Humankind Ever Transcend War?

Nov3WomanBurqaNorthAllOn the Last Word On Nothing, a debate on whether or not war is an innate part of the human makeup. Scientist John Horgan says no:

There is no evidence of hominid or human group violence (as opposed to isolated acts of violence) dating back millions or even tens of thousands of years. The oldest evidence of deadly group violence by humans — a mass grave in the Nile Valley — is about 13,000 years old, and the vast bulk of evidence dates from 10,000 years ago or less, leading scholars such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Doug Fry, and Erik Trinhaus to conclude that war is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, associated often with agriculture and permanent settlements.

In response, some skeptics say, Well, we don’t have good evidence of any human behaviors more than 10,000 years ago. Actually, we have evidence of many complex cultural behaviors — tool-making, hunting, cooking, art, music, religion — emerging far back in the Paleolithic era, but not war. The evidence is clear: war is a recent cultural phenomenon that culture can help us transcend.

Modern hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung and Hadza are largely nonviolent, and archaeological digs show that many early societies — including in the American southwest and horticulturalists in Abu Hureya, near the Euphrates — endured for centuries and even millennia while leaving no signs of warfare.

The fact that extremely warlike cultures — notably Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — can become pacifistic virtually overnight shows the degree to which culture, more than innate impulses, drives militarism. Most men are NOT natural warriors; they become warriors because they are sheep, who adopt their culture’s values, rather than wolves.

Read More: Last Word On Nothing

42 Comments on "Could Humankind Ever Transcend War?"

  1. A55bruuner5555 | Apr 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |

    not if don’t evolve our minds and hearts first. anything is possible

  2. Liam_McGonagle | Apr 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |

    ” . . . leading scholars such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Doug Fry, Jonathan Haas and Erik Trinhaus to conclude that war is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, associated often with agriculture. . .”

    Um-hmmm, baby.  Dat’s right–MONSANTO AGAIN.

    • Hadrian999 | Apr 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm |

      large scale war requires a sophisticated society with agriculture and either division of labor or a class system. without those you generally are limited to raiding or short seasonal conflicts. I doubt we will see humanity grow beyond war until humanity grows beyond scarcity, until that point we will always have someone to fear and something to fight over.

      • Liam_McGonagle | Apr 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm |

        Bingo.  My thoughts exactly.

        I’ve made some theoretical sallies forth on this issue with regard to the implications of Timothy Leary’s Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness.

        I personally am convinced that it is inevitable that a critical mass of humanity will experience the Neurosomatic Circuit within the next 1,000 years or so, relieving a lot of the reproduction oriented social pressures to engage in warfare.

        But until then, until slack-jawed hillbillies and bumpkins get over the marvellous novelty of working genitalia, we’re all doomed.

        •  yes, even great ape tribes have been found to go out on patrols to kill other tribes and establish dominance over territory..
          war is simply scarcity correcting itself in a way (IE too many people, not enough resources= war=less people =more per capita resources= peace= growth=more people=less resources per capita=war and the cycle repeats

          • I like to think we have more power to reflect upon my actions, consider more information, and predict what would be more beneficial in the long run than great ape tribes.

          • We definitely have more power to make typos.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Apr 5, 2012 at 11:51 am |

            I’d like to think that, too, but I live in Wisconsin.

            Okay, all jokes aside, I probably agree with both positions, at least in part.

            I do believe that there is something special about Humanity’s cognitive abilities, and that there really is such a thing as a coherent trajectory of social evolution.

            But the usual pattern to date suggests that things will get unbearably worse before they get better.  As individuals, we’re doomed to a declining dystopia of imbeciles and murderers.  But those few who manage to survive will be the seedbed of a more interesting, enlightened future.

            Not perfect, but an F-load better than we’ll ever see.

          • CapnCanard | Apr 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm |

            and it is always good to hear an encouraging word from Mr. Waits:

        • Anti_Secret_Squirrel | Apr 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm |

           I totally agree with the “slack-jawed hillbillies and bumpkins get over the marvelous novelty of working genitalia”.  I would like to also add that many of them are brainwashed and cannot think for themselves but they are only a product of their environment.  The current system at hand punishes people without children (which I am one of them) and rewards the people who have children.  I am unemployed (been looking for 6 months now) and my husband works in the medical field (his pay has been basically cut in half in the past 10 years) and we live well below the poverty line but I don’t qualify for any help whatsoever.  I really didn’t expect anyone would help me in my time of need but the people I know who have children didn’t have them cause they love kids and wanted to be a parent they wanted them so they could get child support and government assistance.  But can you really blame them when the system nowadays is for them when it was originally created to help people to be able to better help themselves.

      • CapnCanard | Apr 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm |

         Hadrian999, I agree… warfare seems to be the result of Civilization and moving beyond having Warlike culture may mean abandoning civilization and the cultures money and possession.  I believe it is possible but not probable!

    • Anti_Secret_Squirrel | Apr 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

      Yes, there are always has the be the “enemy” or “bad guy/gal” when really we should see the other side of the battle as “hey, these are human beings just like us and would we like for them to do to us what we are doing to them.” The answer to that question is “no”.  For every action there is an equal, but sometimes opposite reaction.  I think that if empathy was thrown into the equation more then people, societies, governments, or whatever you want to call them would not perform many of the actions they do in the current world at hand simply by thinking before acting/reacting.  In America (which is all that know of at the moment), if there is one bad person or group of people (take for example “people of Middle Eastern” decent who might possibly be Muslim) then they are all bad and we must lock all of them up, carpet bomb their country, and sacrifice liberty and freedom in the name of “security”.  Even look back to the Japanese internment camps during WWI we are the ones who put all the Japanese immigrants in the same category of them all being bad, lil’ Commies who are coming to take over America.  The same concept goes with Hitler also (all Jews are bad so we must “purge them”).  I think now is the time that we the people evaluate what is going on in our current situation and current government.

  3. Haystack | Apr 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm |

    Aggression is an innate part of human nature, whether that’s expressed as two hunter gatherers engaging in a brutal, hand-to-hand ax fight, or as two large-scale societies carpet bombing one another. I don’t think it’s accurate to treat it as something new. 

    That having been said, the level of violence that a given society can stomach is definitely a product of culture, and I do agree that it’s possible to ramp it down until we reach a point that war could someday be perceived as an unconscionable and antiquated practice.

    As it stands, the average person already has a very low threshold for violence…is just that the violence is always carried out somewhere else, by other people. I think we need to start seeing pictures of dead bodies and maimed Afghani children on the evening news, every time it happens, for as long as the war goes on. If the media were not making it so easy for us to collectively ignore the horrors of war, then perhaps we would be less brazen about inflicting it upon others. 

    • Columbia | Apr 4, 2012 at 9:13 pm |

      I’m not sure if aggression is innate Haystack – it is competition and fear that makes people aggressive. Take away those things and we would be able to live in harmony. The trouble is that we’ve set up a system that says that there is not enough and so we fight with each other for what we perceive to be lack. When in fact if we organised ourselves differently there could be an abundance of everything. It’s the system that is fucked….

      • ShitHead | Apr 4, 2012 at 9:16 pm |

         A fucked system supported by fucked people.

      • Haystack | Apr 4, 2012 at 9:51 pm |

        I’d  say that it’s innate but not inevitable.

      • Clank_glang_clong | Apr 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm |

         >The trouble is that we’ve set up a system that says that there is not enough

        No, Mother Nature set up a system where there is not enough.

        The world is finite.

        Resources are finite.

        Only in Utopia is there no competition.

        • Monkey See Monkey Do | Apr 5, 2012 at 11:28 am |

          Actually mother nature setup a system where there is much more than enough. Criminals and dictators have hijacked human society and made sure the resources aren’t shared fairly. They also make sure the wrong resources are exploited and precious resources are over exploited.

          • I for one don’t believe the concept of ownership has to be done away with completely, but limits must be set.

    • Clank_glang_clong | Apr 4, 2012 at 10:38 pm |

       Let’s also broadcast images of dead chimpanzees on television so that chimps don’t ignore the horrors of chimp war.

      • Clank_glang_clong | Apr 4, 2012 at 10:39 pm |

      • Haystack | Apr 5, 2012 at 7:56 am |

        Chimps fight their wars personally, so to the extent that they’re capable of empathy, there is no disconnect. 

    •  Wars get the big kick off with Monarchy, an innately violent form of government where refusal is punished with torture.

      If the majority of people were truly violent then punishment for refusal
      to fight would not be universal. The law as passed down from the
      minority, is either fight and chance death or be executed immediately.

      War is basically the ultimate expression of psychopathic greed, the
      minions, the inevitable brownshirts are the narcissists who for a few
      compliments about their special status will use their lack of empathic
      to force the rest to obey through violence.

      A greedy narcissist sees the whole world as greedy because they refuse
      to give the narcissist everything the narcissist wants and the insane
      psychopath sees the whole world as violent as prey and predator because
      that’s all their shallow lizard like emotions can see and they try to
      mould the world to fit that insane distortion.
      The psyhcopaths in government of course get propagandist the hide and distort their insanity, that’s why you have Alexander the Great who killed hundreds of thousands to feed his insane ego, and he is just one amongst many, the cry of the psychopaths but ‘aggression is an innate part of human nature’, it is normal to torture people, the enemy must be killed.
      All the while the real enemy hides amongst us, psychopaths who hide behind false charm, who plot and scheme the insanity every waking moment, who when they get real power kill hundreds of thousands.

  4. Clank_glang_clong | Apr 4, 2012 at 10:39 pm |

    John Horgan is a science _journalist_, not a scientist.

    I can’t think of any reputable scientist who’d make such sweeping claims about human nature and societies on such flimsy evidence. 

    • Auto5734955 | Apr 5, 2012 at 9:50 am |

      science journalist……you mean someone who writes an article based on gathering information from scientist….that means that he has spoken to more than one scientist who has given him enough of the same information to form an ‘educated’ opinion on the subject.  I agree you can’t think……..

  5.  things are changing from war with guns to economic warfare for those states that don’t have a military to back up what they can trade

    •  for those who have a military to back up what they can trade as war with guns happens to those states that don’t

  6. Eric_D_Read | Apr 5, 2012 at 12:09 am |

    Sure. We either have to go extinct or have one group of people become so completely dominant that no one else ever dares to challenge their rule. 

    • Johncunningham1956 | Apr 23, 2012 at 12:36 am |

      no so. domination is a fool with to much time and money and no brain power, war and dominaton are neanderthal and exposing those who want to dominate as the low IQ losers they are.

  7. Redacted | Apr 5, 2012 at 3:41 am |

    Is it relevant? Maybe. Either way its cool.

    War has changed. It’s become not just something to oppress the people who are attacked, but also something to oppress the people attacking. War is no longer about simple resources. War is about maintaining scarcity.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Apr 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm |

      I’m always a little ambivalent when people invoke nature-based arguments to defend their position, whether I agree with their ultimate ends or not. 

      Should human beings REALLY seek to emulate the behavior of animals?  Isn’t there some meaningful distinction to be maintained and even encouraged?

      I know that your post was probably just to show us that warfare is a social trait that transcends phyla, class and kingdom, without necessarily accepting, endorsing or rejecting it on a moral basis, so my comment is probably off on a little tangent with respect to your observation.

      Just thought I’d throw it out there.

  8. somegals | Apr 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm |

    I blame political correctness.  Men I really don’t blame you for hating women, they annoy me too!

    • somegals | Apr 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm |

      Now the US military is allowing women on subs, I don’t even think the gays on the boats want that.  Total insanity!   

  9. toddboyle | Apr 21, 2012 at 1:18 am |

    Paul Chappell is one of a number of people who examined this question: Please listen to his talk:

  10. Yes, easily transcend war thanks to ‘meditation @ 4:20’, daily!

  11. john cunningham | Apr 23, 2012 at 12:26 am |

     *we should be above war. wars are always wrong. the fool that says war is the last resort. war is no resort.! educate the people to the facts, religions are wrong, control is wrong, there are no winning in war only loser, and only a loser would start a war.we should have learned by now war is fought by people who die.fighting is an neanderthal personality trait.stomp your feet and throw a temper tantrume. wrong, ever were every time. even in sports i we laugh at you and tim tebow.

  12. So civilization is the source of war as we know it today. What’s the alternative? Human population is way too big for a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to be feasible. If we don’t want billions to starve, agriculture is where it’s at. And where there is agriculture, there is civilization. 

    As long as humans have time and resources on their hands to think about things other than how to hunt down an elk and drag it back to camp, we’re going to use that time to think of ways to kill the village across the river. It’s just how we roll. Even chimps do it, without civilization to make it easier. And we are, after all, little better than particularly clever chimps.

  13. This war is just the pretty stuff compared to the real war that is tearing societies apart, just take a look here it involves you and in this war you can die in your everyday life, when you think you are safe and with friends.

Comments are closed.