Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 7, 2009


John Horgan, New Scientist - Optimists called the first world war "the war to end all wars". Philosopher George Santayana demurred. In its aftermath he declared: "Only the dead have seen the end of war". History has proved him right, of course. What's more, today virtually nobody believes that humankind will ever transcend the violence and bloodshed of warfare. I know this because for years I have conducted numerous surveys asking people if they think war is inevitable. Whether male or female, liberal or conservative, old or young, most people believe it is. . .

Just a few decades ago, many scholars believed that prior to civilization, humans were "noble savages" living in harmony with each other and with nature. Not any more. Ethnographic studies, together with some archaeological evidence, suggest that tribal societies engaged in lethal group conflict, at least occasionally, long before the emergence of states with professional armies. Meanwhile, the discovery that male chimpanzees from one troop sometimes beat to death those from another has encouraged popular perceptions that warfare is part of our biological heritage.

These findings about violence among our ancestors and primate cousins have perpetuated what anthropologist Robert Sussman from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, calls the "5 o'clock news" view of human nature. Just as evening news shows follow the dictum "if it bleeds, it leads", so many accounts of human behavior emphasise conflict. However, Sussman believes the popular focus on violence and warfare is disproportionate. "Statistically, it is more common for humans to be cooperative and to attempt to get along than it is for them to be uncooperative and aggressive towards one another," he says. And he is not alone in this view. A growing number of experts are now arguing that the urge to wage war is not innate, and that humanity is already moving in a direction that could make war a thing of the past.

Among the revisionists are anthropologists Carolyn and Melvin Ember from Yale University, who argue that biology alone cannot explain documented patterns of warfare. They oversee the Human Relations Area Files, a database of information on some 360 cultures, past and present. More than nine-tenths of these societies have engaged in warfare, but some fight constantly, others rarely, and a few have never been observed fighting. "There is variation in the frequency of warfare when you look around the world at any given time," says Melvin Ember. "That suggests to me that we are not dealing with genes or a biological propensity."

Anthropologist Douglas Fry of Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, agrees. In his book, Beyond War, he identified 74 "non-warring cultures" that contradict the idea that war is universal. His list includes nomadic hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung of Africa, Australian Aborigines and Inuit. These examples are crucial, Fry says, because our ancestors are thought to have lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers from the emergence of the Homo lineage around 2 million years ago until the appearance of permanent settlements and agriculture less than 20,000 years ago. That time span constitutes more than 99 per cent of the evolutionary history of Homo. . .


Anonymous peaceful revolution said...

War is not human nature. War is, as Howard Zinn has said, an AFFRONT to human nature. If it were not an affront to our nature, no one would be trying to stop it.

The cause of war is not race or religion, either: people of different races and religions live together in harmony in many places - but these are the places where economic inequality does NOT run along lines of religion or race.

No, the root cause of war is not human nature, and it isn't racial or religious differences.

The root cause of war is Economic inequality - which is injustice - and yes we mean by economic inequality the (now super-extreme)extreme maldistribution of real material wealth; goods and services.

War is not inevitable because economic inequality is not inevitable - it is an artificial, non-natural construct and a leftover from unenlightened days and ways.

Economic inequality is as unnecessary as it is unnatural. Despite what the plutocrats and oligarchs and their media and apologists repeat ad nauseum, we do NOT have to give away our rightful earnings to them to make commerce work.

The natural order before permanent settlements and agriculture (when wealth became storable, preservable, portable)... was that no man could have more than he could get by his own sacrifice of time and energies to hunting and gathering. And in the natural order, if man no pickee berries or go fishing, man no eatee berries or fish. The insertion of money between work and eat does not change the fundamental situation of living in a human body.

It will become clear to humans that economic compensation absolutely must soon come to be scientifically based - on a unit of human labor - as opposed to now where "value" is ascribed based on no principle of justice or anything but randomness and everybody functions mindlessly - everyone just going for all he can get his hands on never mind who EARNED it by his own contribution - a dystem that in no way reflects what it takes to create wealth - or the violence engendered by the ceaseless stuggle to right the giga-extreme legal theft will certainly provide the scenario that finally sets the nuke bombs flying.

Equal pay for equal sacrifice of time and energies to working is the only thing that is not subversive of peace, freedom, democracy, safety, and happiness.

And sustainability.

July 7, 2009 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

It's also the case that the people of the Minoan civilisation on Crete, unlike the Egyptians across the water from them, seem to have had no warrior tradition at all - the written and artistic records that have survived appear to show a completely peaceful, egalitarian, Goddess-worshiping society that was a center for trade and culture in the Bronze-Age Mediterranean world.

The late, lamented anthro Marvin Harris made a very nice case that warfare came about as an effective but hideously wasteful method of refreshing the gene pool and controlling population -- a purpose it still serves among, e.g., the Yanomamo in the Amazon basin. Other, more advanced societies used herbal chemistry, elaborate tabu systems, and as a last resort infanticide to achieve the same goals with minimal bloodshed.

It's a puzzle to me how anyone could still imagine that warfare --or any other voluntary behavior-- is inbuilt.

July 7, 2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous vote for me because I raised the most money/bribes. said...

In much the same way Tolstoy's depiction of fourteen- year-old drummerboys marching into fixed bayonets without missing a beat until they are gutted depicts the absurdity that is war. the dogshit piled upon the head of a turd hairstyle of Donald Trump and the power-is sexy articles about Henry Kissinger in Playboy depict the absurdity of capitalism which has been the major contributor to every war on this planet since 1900. See Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End

July 7, 2009 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

Agreed. All forms of feudalism, including Capitalism, need to be extirpated permanently. They are magnets for those with anti-social pathologies and intelligence, and we will never have a decent world until those magnets are outlawed.

July 8, 2009 4:39 AM  
Anonymous pay justice said...

I strongly identify with and steadfastly support "soft" socialism's utterly rational, just, and noble ideal of "the world's wealth for the world's workers", but the solution is not centralized, planned economies. The bureaucracy required for that is wasteful, inefficient, and corruptible, too.

Capitalism can as easily prevent war as enable it. Capitalism can as easily provide prosperity for all as it can enrich a fraction few at extremely high cost to the many. Capitalism itself is a very good workhorse for humanity, BEING WORKED VERY BADLY. (Hello - Do we blame the car when a drunk runs it off the road into a tree, or do we blame the drunken driver?)

Unlimited personal fortunes capitalism is NOT the same animal as Justice Capitalism, capitalism finally married to justice.

Capitalism as now practiced is shot right through with legal thefts, and the primary legal theft resides in the very nature of transaction itself: the things exchanged are not of equal workvalue (the goods and services did not take equal sacrifice of time and energies to produce or provide), so every transaction is a fair exchange of time and energies PLUS a little or a lot of robbery on top. One party profits- gets out more from the pool of wealth than he put in, but that profit had nowhere to come from but from the loss taken by the other party. This drop of inequality is multiplied by trillions of transactions and the gains and losses add up, creating winners and losers automatically out of people who are all, speaking broadly, sacrificing the same time and energies to working.

Now add in that money makes money and you've sailed so far from compensating the only thing that actually creates wealth that our entire species is lost and adrift in the stormy confusion and danger and violence of overpayunderpay.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer means the rich are getting more and more for a unit of work while the poor are getting less and less for a unit of work.

It is this inherent flaw that no one seems to see, and no one wants to know about, so we go on supporting a panblind economic dystem wherein market forces automatically shift wealth in one direction and work in the other direction, with or without human agency helping things along.

If and when a majority becomes crystal clear that nothing whatsoever rational, sound, and legitimate says capitalism has to take the suicidal form of Unlimited Personal Fortunes Capitalism, then we will be moving to the joy and safety of installing the required/crucial/vital/essential corrective mechanism to counter the ceaseless transfer of wealth from earners to non-earners, from working poor to leisure class rich, that is killing us all and this planet.

Justice is a virtue essential to happiness, and economic justice is the most important justice since money is food and shelter and healthcare and education and every need and most wants. The investment in pay justice will reap the biggest dividend humanity can get for itself: survival, sustainability, safety, and happiness.

If only we can get these really really real understandings about bad mistakes in economics being the cause of our current giga-critical human situation, we can put justice capitalism to work for the benefit of all.

July 8, 2009 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

Well said! It's for precisely the reasons you give that I always write "Capitalism", making it a term of art, when I refer to private-profit capitalism. Capitalism qua capitalism is ethically neutral - the perversion is in socialising capital production and risk while privatising any profits, which is how the greedheads have set up, e.g., the SBA.

July 8, 2009 4:32 PM  

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