The evidence suggests there is no insurmountable human genetic predisposition to war, but human survival likely depends on assuring there be no more war.
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Yogi Berra said it: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
On August 6, 1945, our world changed forever. On that day, an entire metropolis was wiped out with one bomb dropped from one airplane. This singular event demonstrated conclusively that the human race had reached a crossroads: We are compelled to end warfare, or sooner or later warfare will end us. The great physicist Albert Einstein, one of the architects of the Bomb, said it first: “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” assuming of course that anybody survives World War III and the nuclear winter that would inevitably follow.
To those who claim that ending war is impossible, we must answer that giving up is not an option! Neither is burying one’s head in the sand and pretending that nuclear holocaust can’t happen.
We’ve been lucky so far. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by the US war machine in 1945, not a single atomic bomb has been used in warfare. There have been many close calls in the intervening years, and since the Cold War ended, conventional thinking has it that there is no longer any danger of nuclear war.
Don’t fall for it. The USA is still “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” to quote Martin Luther King. According to Global Zero, a group that promotes eliminating all nuclear weapons, citing a Federation of American Scientists report, the United States has 7,700 nuclear warheads. The Department of Defense disclosed in 2012 that “as of September 30, 2009, the US stockpile of nuclear weapons consisted of 5,113 warheads.”
These devices are armed and ready to do serious damage to our world. President Eisenhower wasn’t kidding when he warned all of us in 1960 about the now-famous “military-industrial complex.” Every day that goes by, we are one day closer to a nuclear disaster.
And not just from Washington. The rightwing misleaders in Tel Aviv, the saber rattlers in London, Paris and Moscow, the loose cannons in Pyongyang, and the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan all hold the world hostage with threats of massive death from nuclear blasts, an irradiated biosphere and the dangerous precedent of the resumption of nuclear war. Nobody really seems to know for sure how many nukes really exist in the world. No one knows either how many are needed to end humanity, probably because it’s never been tried. But there will be no winners in this game of Russian Roulette. That much we do know.
As their economic system continues to deteriorate and rebellions develop, an increasingly paranoid and irrational American oligarchy could conceivably initiate a first-strike against its perceived enemies, or use its nuclear arsenal to retaliate against the perpetrators of a nuclear 9/11.
Are Humans Genetically Predisposed to War?
Many will use their concept of biology as a reason to scoff at the suggestion that we must end war. But even if warfare is in our genes, we still have to change – or someday perish.
In this year of 2014, the majority of folks in the world would earnestly like to see an end to war in all its forms. The good news for them is that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that while we are very adaptable, we are not predominantly designed by nature for warfare. Space constraints allow us to review only a small sampling of this evidence.
The most immediate and dramatic evidence concerns the mental health problems of those people involved in war. The consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder for returning veterans of American wars are now commonplace news items. In World War I, they called it “shell shock” or “cowardice.” Killing and maiming other people haunts war veterans for the rest of their lives. And for soldiers and civilians alike, the threat of being killed and the witnessing of war’s destructiveness can and often does cause serious mental illness.
According to a September 21, 2013 report by CNN, 22 American veterans – one every 65 minutes – commit suicide every day. And this figure may be an underestimate. Not counted was Levi Derby, who was not in the VA system at the time. Levi “hanged himself in his grandfather’s garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Casper, by an Afghan child’s death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.”
In the same article, former US defense secretary Leon Panetta called the suicide rate among service members an epidemic.
There are species for which fighting amongst themselves is completely natural and causes no appreciable psychological harm. For example, communities of common chimpanzees (not to be confused with their and our peaceful and sexy cousins, the bonobo) will conduct violent raids on other chimp communities over scarce resources, sometimes causing fatalities. However, neither the losers nor the winners suffer nervous breakdowns nor suicides as a result of these confrontations. They just carry on life as usual.
Most animal species, however, go to great lengths to avoid fatal encounters with their own kind. That is a principal reason your dog loves those trees so much when you walk him. He’s marking his boundaries in an effort to promote canine safety and harmony.
For a riveting first-hand account of how uncontaminated Stone Age forager-hunters avoid conflicts amongst themselves in the resource-rich environment of the Ituri rainforest of the Congo, read Clive Turnbull’s observations of the M’buti people in his six-decade-old classic The Forest People.
The same author wrote another book titled The Mountain People, detailing the horrific violence amongst a people facing death by starvation in the Sahel region of East Africa.
Other modern forager-hunter tribes who regularly war on each other have been pointed to as proof that war is in our genes, so to speak. Discounting threatened starvation as the cause, these tribes usually practice ritual warfare in which only a few warriors are actually injured or killed. One could interpret this as infantile warfare, a childlike copying of warlike behavior practiced by surrounding “civilized” peoples.
Modern greed and bad manners can be infectious. In many recorded instances, people living with primitive technologies copy the behaviors of adjacent cultures that have advanced technologies. And in some instances, specifically in New Guinea and the Amazon rainforest, this can even lead to wars of extermination against neighbors once in a generation.
According to a November 15, 2013 report in the Huffington Post, more than 70 members of the US military encounter abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault or are raped every day. That’s three every hour. This is a clear indication of the deep demoralization that exists within this violent organization. But then, historically speaking, warriors have never been famous for their manners or respect for others.
What is military boot camp but a two-month course that attempts to mentally and physically break, i.e. brainwash, pliable 18-year-olds so they can be reprogrammed to operate against their natural inclinations of kindness, sharing and cooperation. Only in this way can they participate effectively in the ultimate form of competition – war.
Some more evidence, if you need it
Here are some more facts that disprove the flawed theory “Warfare is in our genes.”
• For humans, sharing is the norm, while selfishness and bullying are universally despised. When someone grabs most of the pie while leaving a small portion for the rest of us, or butts into the front of the line, our instincts prompt us to say, “Hey, you selfish bastard! What the hell are you doing?” We don’t say, “Good goin’, dude! High five!”
• The first walled settlement has been dated to 7,000 BCE in the Neolithic Middle East. The main purpose of fortifications is to protect communities from organized violence, i.e. warfare. Prior to this date, fortifications didn’t exist anywhere.
• The first conclusive evidence of organized warfare is evident in the Talheim Death Pit in Germany, where archaeologists believe a massacre of a rival tribe might have been conducted at approximately 5,000 BCE. Thirty-four people were bound and killed, predominantly by a blow to the left temple. While death by human violence is evidenced as far back as 34,000 years ago, large-scale violence is a relatively recent development. The implication is that for millions of years of hominid existence, sparse populations of pre-agricultural, forager-hunter tribes lived in relative harmony.
• In separate scientific studies published in the August 2013 issue of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology, UC Santa Barbara anthropologists Adrian Jaeggi and Michael Gurven came to the following conclusion: “Sharing doesn’t just enhance the welfare of humans,” wrote Gurven. “The human subsistence niche would never have been possible without sharing. It’s no coincidence that sharing is most pervasive and structured among humans, the one primate whose economy is defined by high levels of interdependence.”
• A University of Virginia study used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to determine that we are hardwired to empathize with others, especially those who are close to us, as reported in the August 2013 issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. In other words, our self-identity is largely based on whom we know and empathize with.
• Cave paintings go back 30-40,000 years. Yet, most archaeologists agree with the American social psychologist Leon Festinger in his book The Human Legacy (1983, Columbia University Press), when he states on page 135 that, “the earliest known [cave] paintings that are described as representations of scenes of warfare are rock paintings from Spain . . . [dating from] between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C.”
• The theory has been put forward by some that since wars are fought mainly by men, therefore war is the result of “testosterone poisoning.” This notion was demolished by a September 2013 report in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicating to the surprise of researchers that boosting testosterone levels in humans can promote generosity, but only when there is no threat of competition. The findings show that testosterone is implicated in behaviors that help to foster and maintain social relationships, indicating that its effects are more nuanced than previously thought, and that the hormone itself does not automatically lead to aggressive or warlike behavior.
It would appear from the foregoing evidence that our genes and hormones are not to blame, but rather something else is.
The Root Cause of War
Around 10,000 BCE, something astounding happened to the human species. That event is known as the Agrarian Revolution. For the first time, after millions of years of precarious forager-hunter existence, communities of humans were able to accumulate surpluses of food. Extra food meant food security, larger populations, settled communities, and most importantly, the accumulation of food wealth.
Accumulated wealth in the hands of the greediest, smartest, and strongest few translates as power over the rest. The ability to get others to do whatever you want is an intoxicating feeling. Once begun, social power amasses more social power in a cascading process of accumulation. Enough never seems to be enough.
The wealthy few who rule over the majority have a name – the oligarchy.
Drunk with power, primitive oligarchies began organizing their societies into hierarchies and developing social institutions that would protect and even extend their wealth and privileges. Walls were built, laws were promulgated and armed bodies of men were created. These were the first states. We call them city-states.
Writing was invented at this early juncture for two purposes: To delineate who owns what, and to glorify and justify the first oligarchs.
Primitive oligarchies began coveting the wealth of neighboring communities and making plans to usurp that wealth by the employment of organized violence. By means of bribery, false propaganda and coercion, they used commoners to construct the first walls and the first armies. Bingo! War!
However, having said this, one must concede the fact that without agriculture, oligarchies, and states, humans would still be living at a very primitive technological level, enduring short perilous lives in wilderness conditions.
Curing the Disease of War
The conventional and paltry medical meaning of cure is to alleviate symptoms for a while. However, a deeper and more realistic definition of cure is to get rid of a problem in such a way that it never returns.
Ending war means preventing the occurrence of warfare for all time. Prevention of war or any other pathology logically requires addressing and eliminating the root cause.
Over the course of thousands of years, city-states have evolved into our modern nation-states. The first oligarchies composed of priests and warriors have passed through multiple mutations over time to finally become today’s millionaire and billionaire oligarchs, the fabled “1%,” whose thirst for more power is matched by their ruthlessness in obtaining it.
Naturally, all institutions of each modern nation-state exist mainly to defend and extend the wealth and power of its resident oligarchy. Contrary to relentless oligarchic propaganda, nation-states do not serve the interests of the majorities living in them.
The fire that stokes modern war is nationalism, commonly known as patriotism, and its infernal engine is the nation-state. Once the peace-loving majority of the world understands this, it will become obvious that neither the United States, nor its military, nor the United Nations can ever play a part in the cure of the disease of war.
We must finally acknowledge that chasing after the fires started by this firebug and putting out his fires is never going to stop his criminal activity. Neither will removing all the fire-starting equipment from our own homes. And we can all agree that extinguishing fires isn’t at all the same thing as preventing fires.
To extend this useful analogy further, fire prevention can only be achieved by uniting forces to track down the arsonist, disarm him, arrest him and extinguish his fiery career forever.
Step One in catching and putting an end to the activities of the firebug is to separate ourselves from the firebug, to stop identifying with and supporting the firebug.