31 March 2008

This Is War, This is Man

Humans have a long tradition of war. Is it possible that war is so deeply bred into us that we can never outgrow it? This Discover article (via Dennis Mangan) asks a number of anthropologists, archaeologists, and biologists to answer the question.
The anthropologist Richard Wrangham is one of several scientists at Harvard who pre­sent a much darker view of human nature than Fry does. In his 1996 book, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (co­authored with Dale Peterson), Wrangham argues that “chimpanzee-like violence preceded and paved the way for human war, making modern humans the dazed survivors of a continuous, 5-million-year habit of lethal aggression.” Natural selection has favored combative, power-hungry males, he contends, “because with extraordinary power males can achieve extraordinary reproduction.”

...[archaeologist Steven] LeBlanc contends that researchers have unearthed evidence of warfare as far back as they have looked in human prehistory, and ethnographers have observed significant levels of violence among hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung. In his book Constant Battles: Why We Fight (with Katherine E. Register), he espouses a bleak, Malthusian view of human prehistory, in which war keeps breaking out as surging populations outstrip food supplies. Warfare, he writes, “has been the inevitable consequence of our ecological-demographic propensities.”___Discover__via__DennisMangan
One theory of war--the youth bulge theory--looks at societies that possess an excess of young males. Young males possess a surfeit of testosterone, which lends to aggressive behaviour. This aggression can be channeled toward domestic targets, or it can be channeled outwardly toward state-defined "enemies."
Gangland slayings in the Palestinian territories this week have pitted the Islamist gunmen of Hamas against the secular forces of Fatah. The killings defy civilised norms: in December even children were targeted for murder. But the killings also defy political common sense. Ariel Sharon's wall cuts terrorists off from Israeli targets and what happens? The violence – previously justified with the cause of a Palestinian homeland – continues as if nothing had changed, merely finding its outlet in a new set of targets. This makes it appear that Palestinian violence has never really been about a "cause" at all. The violence is, in a strange way, about itself.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist and genocide researcher at the University of Bremen, has an explanation for why this might be so. Since its publication in 2003, his eccentric and eye-opening Sons and World Power* (not available in English) has become something of a cult book. In Mr Heinsohn's view, when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent. The "causes" in the name of which that violence is committed can be immaterial. There are 67 countries in the world with such "youth bulges" now and 60 of them are undergoing some kind of civil war or mass killing. ___FinancialTimes
While peace-loving bonobos and boskops are close primate relatives of homo sapiens, the closest surviving primate relative of man is the common chimpanzee. And common chimps are familiar with war. And so are we.

Ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, and 19th century Prussian soldier and military strategist Karl von Clausewitz, are two men who made a study of war in an attempt to advise leaders on more rational war-making. Neither man could be consider a war-monger. Both men assume that there exist barbarism and violence in the world, that would surely force itself upon more civilised peoples if the civilised peoples made no provision for deterrence or counter-violence.

Just the preparation for war can sometimes bankrupt a society and lead to the overthrow of a government. The actual execution of a war is even more likely to lead to financial hardship in the society waging war. War is dangerous to all concerned. More than one ruler has been killed by his own guards--even relatives--for pursuing a war beyond all reason.

Yet not knowing when to prepare for war can be even more lethal--for entire societies. From time to time, societies have arisen that considered themselves evolved above the level of war. Their leading citizens could not justify the expense of the provisioning and training of a full-time or part-time military force. Consequently, we know very little about these societies other than that they were overrun by other groups--presumably more barbaric than themselves. Archaeologists sometimes dig up traces of their vanished way of life.

Modern Europe and Japan may be falling into that particular mindset--the "post-war civilisation" mindset. Europe is being overrun by illiterate and untrained immigrants rushing to fill the vacuum left by the failure of Europeans to procreate. A large portion of these illiterate and unassimilable immigrants are drawn to religious extremism and violence. Europe is not prepared, and has insufficient young males to form a credible defense of any type.

Japan faces a rapidly arming China across the water. A China that is growing rabid for resources and maneuvering room. Hemmed in by the Philippines, Taiwan, and the Japanese islands, China's rapidly growing blue water navy is looking for forward bases of operation. Japan no longer has the population of young males to draw from, in formulating a large defense force.

One theory of warfare promoted by Dennis Mangan, is that prosperity is an obstacle to war-like thinking. If a people grow prosperous, they want to enjoy leisure pursuits and pleasures. They adopt more of a "live and let live" attitude. This is very much what has happened to Europe and Japan, in fact. Certainly Canadian residents largely have adopted that attitude, and a large proportion of US residents likewise. War is expensive, and costs precious lives. Prosperous societies are less likely to produce large numbers of skilled military-capable men who are also considered expendable.

So countries such as the US have begun to invest in robotic instruments of war. Unmanned flying vehicles for reconnaissance and attack, unmanned ground and sea vehicles for attack, defense, reconnaissance, and explosives dismantling/demolition. Such an approach may eventually reduce the direct involvement of human members of advanced societies in actual warfare and peacekeeping.

But until these societies learn to segregate themselves from the violent-natured, often unintelligent perpetrators of religious, ethnic, and ideological warfare and terror, no amount of robotics equipment will make them safe from the other-than-advanced world which is always there, even if sometimes out of sight and mind.

Centuries will pass, and more, before civilised humans no longer need to study war and violence. Civilisation is equally endangered by leaders who ignore nascent threats in their midst as by leaders who go to war much too easily. Given the many problems faced by the western world that refuse to simply go away, facing the threats while reacting in measured and effective ways, will be a continuing challenge to people who would rather not have to deal with it.

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Blogger Michael Anissimov said...

Interesting post.

Just FYI, the Boskop thing is nonsense. See this post.

Monday, 31 March, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Very interesting. Thanks, Michael.

Monday, 31 March, 2008  
Blogger Will Brown said...

The most serious problem with this post is that the examples quoted all conflate the tactics chosen/adapted to wage war with the strategy that determines the appropriateness of a violent action.

All humans naturally seek to better their personal condition - in strategic terms, to advance their position. Ever out-maneuver a sibling when you were children to get something for yourself rather than what s/he wanted instead? As I said, normal human behavior, endemic to the species. So in one sense war should be considered the default condition for the human species and thus should be viewed as a positive Darwinian attribute.

Strategy is the collected art and science of defending and advancing one interest over all others (tactics, of course, being the means chosen to do so).

If you will stipulate to that, then the "ecological-demographic propensities" are nothing more then the environmental conditions that delineate the boundaries within which we contend for advancement.

"Youth bulges" are little more then measures of the resources available to the more strategically advanced individual's to utilise against their contemporaries. On their own, their bulk numbers count for little since they will otherwise contend against one another for advantage in any case. Citing their existence as some uniquely commanding danger is analagous to claiming that water gets wetter as it grows in quantity.

Those of us who seek the means to achieve the next level of the human condition (not to mention those of us commenting from your coat-tails) need to get a sounder grip on the motivating force driving us to do such a monumentally audacious thing in the first place, don't you think?

Tuesday, 01 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Good to hear from you, Will. Interesting comment. I agree that we must understand a lot more about the human psychology of war.

The "sibling rivalry" type of warfare was probably responsible for a lot of the centuries of war that Europe experienced until recently. Fighting for resources is one motivation for such war.

Religious wars such as the Crusades and the current jihad may be somewhat different.

Ethnic wars often turn into wars of genocide or and/or large scale displacement (ethnic cleansing). They are typically resource wars.

Next level humans will be oriented more toward rapid equitable conflict resolution and intelligent conflict navigation. Next level civilisation is a culture of abundance rather than scarcity, which will require a somewhat different system of economic and social calculation than the capitalism/socialism of scarcity we use today.

I linked to Clausewitz' "On War" and Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" in the main post, as an attempt to get readers to form a common base level of understanding. The other strategy books at Sonshi.com are also useful.

Many leftists want to avoid the study of war altogether--which is probably the surest way for a society to be devastated by war.

I think the reason so many generals and military people are so witless on the subject is a poor understanding of psychology and lack of insight. The reason a lot of psychologists are witless on the topic is a personal aversion to topics of violence.

Robert Heinlein said "there will always be war" to a group of young folks back in the late 60s, and he was not a popular man for a while. But he was probably right.

I just wanted to prick about the beast a bit and see what happened.

Tuesday, 01 April, 2008  
Blogger Eshenberg said...

Bellum se ipsum alet.(Let war pay for itself) or Silent enim leges inter arma.(In times of war, the law falls silent) and Si vis pacem, para bellum.(If you seek peace, prepare for war).......
We are created to fight,but we weak Europeans forget it:( or some one help us to forget it!?

Tuesday, 01 April, 2008  
Blogger mnuez said...

Kipling chimes in with The Gods of the Copybook Headings

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said "stick to the Devil you know."

In other news I ought to point out that internal violence is often to be found in societies that suffer from a large wealth gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The fact that 1 in every 100 American adults (and 1 in 30 American males between the ages of 20 and 34) currently sit in prison is not immaterial to the subject.

Tuesday, 01 April, 2008  
Blogger mnuez said...

Youch, wrong link:

Here it is: http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_copybook.htm

Tuesday, 01 April, 2008  
Blogger IConrad said...

In other news I ought to point out that internal violence is often to be found in societies that suffer from a large wealth gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots. I'm not certain that this sort of topic has a real place in the context of a society which eliminates traditional economics altogether. (Replacing the resource allocation methods of capitalism/socialism with something altogether new based on abundance.)

Wednesday, 02 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Martins: There is a lot of truth in acerbic aphorisms.

mnuez: Yes, internal conflict in a multi-ethnic society reveals a great deal about the society's historical weaknesses.

iconrad: The problem is getting from here to there. Habits of envy, dependence, and incompetence die hard.

Humans have never been equal, and never will be. Equality of opportunity and equality under the law are the best that can be done, besides creating an abundance of life and mind nurturing providence that people can take with them.

Can human nature change to fit a new era of cornucopia and relatively independent personal competence? The universe will present its own limits to us as we approach closer to it. Will we engage?

Wednesday, 02 April, 2008  
Blogger Richard Sharpe said...

The cartoon is misleading.

Women very rarely engage in war-like behavior as the risks are too high for them. Pregnant women especially.

Wednesday, 02 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Ah, but Richard, the woman is clearly being driven out of her mind by Peak Oil, Overpopulation, and Global Warming. Her desperation has overridden any other concerns.

For now and the foreseeable future, the better a culture is at peace and prosperity, the better it had best be at war.

Wednesday, 02 April, 2008  
Blogger Audacious Epigone said...


Have you read Nick Wade's Before the Dawn?? He deals with the chimp/human war/homicide connection in much detail, and spends several more pages comparing chimp and bonobo societies.

In 'archaic' h&g societies, homicide accounts for around 30% of male deaths (and that's without modern medicine fighting off natural killers!). In the contemporary west, it accounts for less than 1%. Violence, of which war can be thought of as a bigger version of the same (the US military conceptualizes the ideal officer as a "manager of violence"), goes back at least 800,000 years to our homo antecessor ancestors. And people tend to be the most willfully 'violent' as toddlers.

Since women have a lot more to 'lose' in the 'production' of offspring than men do, it makes sense that men perceive sex with women as scarcer than women see sex with men (the perpetual and strong male sex drive relative to the cyclical and less consuming female sex drive being the obvious proximate cause of this outcome). Men have to earn the women, either by taking them or getting lots of stuff to win them over. Women need only wait for the best to emerge and snatch them up.*

The physical prowess of men relative to women underscores the same. When something is scare, ways of taking it have to be developed. Brawn is one of those ways.

But as civilization 'progresses' the value of being able of to wield a superior amount of violence lessens. Reciprocity, the expansion of the moral circle (as Peter Singer puts it), broader society's ready and abundant supply (the police, FBI, etc) of overwhelming force to trump any individual advantage, monogamy (giving more men a stake in seeing order maintained than is the case in with pologyny). Thus, we kill each other less and the physical differences between men and women continue to converge.**

*The relative scarcity from the male perspective is not absolute. There is the man who is successful/handsome/charming/humorous enough to have more desire collectively aimed at him than he aims at the female field, but that is the exception. A far higher percentage of women than men get enough action to be sated.

**Over the last 100,000+ years of the human story. Populations have not all 'progressed' at the same rates, and the relative shrinking of those 'further along' might set humanity as a whole 'backwards' in time (I'm thinking along the lines of differences in TFR rates globally, and gangbanger/cad attractiveness in an Idiocracy at the street level).

Friday, 04 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comment AE. No I have not read Wade's "Before the Dawn." I only had a chance to briefly skim it, but it certainly is in accordance with a lot of other early anthropology I have read. I was amused by the leftist academic exaggerated reaction to the book.

The third world is growing, the advanced world--the repository of civilisation--is shrinking quickly. There is one hope for shielding most of the developed world from the growing anarchy in the third world: The west must not engage in full scale war with China.

That is largely up to China, of course. China is building its military very quickly--too quickly for peaceful purposes. But total war between the two areas of high intelligence: East Asia and the Euro-American sphere, bodes ill for civilisation as a whole.

As far as the male:female dynamic of the modern west, my favourite book is Lionel Tiger's "The Decline of Males."

Friday, 04 April, 2008  
Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

Mostly up to China, I agree. The over-the-top military rhetoric ("we will nuke several American cities") is especially worrisome. But our stupid antagonism of Russia by pulling Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania into NATO doesn't help. Seems to me there are three countries that are crucial in determining the potential of the Chinese threat: Russia, Japan, and India. I like what we're doing with India. Not so much with Japan, and not at all with Russia.

Saturday, 05 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

The current US Congress is truly a deranged body. Expect nothing rational to come from it. Hopefully the US State Dept is in full damage control mode to make sure that the US true allies are not too offended by the loose cannon methods of this congress.

Encouraging the EU to collaborate closely with Russia on scientific and energy projects is fine. Russia and China have always been at each other's throats, and the showdown over Siberia is coming sooner or later. It is hard to sympathize with either country currently.

The best long term solution for the US is to establish a strong, growing, and permanent presence in space as soon as possible. The moronic and dysfunctional ISS is not what I have in mind.

Saturday, 05 April, 2008  
Blogger Christopher said...

Dennis Mangan's opinion must be based on the early research on chimpanzees where they were considered warlike. It has been later proven to be untrue that the bahavior was based on their interactions with humans (feeding) dwinderling natural food supplies and habitat. Research on stable chimpanzee population has revealed no such behavior.

Monday, 03 May, 2010  

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