RE: A time for war.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 20 Mar 2005 - 22:02:19 GMT

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    At 09:44 AM 20/03/05 -0500, Lawrence de Bivort wrote:
    >Greetings, all,
    >I am coming into this and hope I haven't missed too many of the key points.
    >As I understand it, the discussion is whether poor social conditions,
    >overpopulation, etc, are prerequisites for war.
    >If this is the question, then I think the answer must be that they are not.
    >We can cite several instances where war occurred without social distress
    >preceding it:
    >1. The European assault on the native populations of North America,
    >including several sub-wars that were motivated by a simple desire to
    >exterminate a people that were viewed as 'inferior' to the Europeans.
    >2. The 1602 attack by the Savoyards on Geneva.
    >3. The US attack on Viet Nam, and now Iraq.
    >4. The Crusades against Arabs in the Near East, and the Crusade against the
    >French Cathars of the 13th century.
    >This is, of course, not to say that wars aren't produced by poor social
    >conditions -- there are myriad examples of this -- but just to suggest that
    >human beings go to war for other reasons as well, such as ideology.

    The proximate cause of wars starting is almost always ideology, i.e., memes. The question is why memes--of the class that lead to people starting wars--have cycles where this class of memes have a lot of influence on large scale behavior and times when they don't?

    This is an evolved behavior switch that it seems obvious we got from our stone age ancestors. You can't exactly map the social behavior of hunter gatherer tribes into any time in the post agricultural period.

    Still, the kinds of things, a bleak looking future, particularly a sharp downturn after an extended period of good times, that activated our ancestors can be expected to activate the xenophobic meme mechanism that prepares a tribe's warriors for killing neighbors.

    For your examples:

    1. I don't think the expansion of the Europeans in the Americas can be considered a war in the sense in which traits leading to war evolved, that of one hunter gatherer tribe attacking another of equal technology. Neither can the expansion of farming peoples pushing hunter gatherer peoples out of their lands which happened in all centers of agriculture.

    But in all cases I can think of where the *natives* attacked, they were anticipating a bleak future due to the expansion of the Europeans who could support a lot higher population on the same land area. Of course this always backfired and provided an excuse for the Europeans to kill them off in large numbers.

    2. Do you have a web pointer for more historical background on this attack? There was generally a reason for some group to be having a bad time or anticipating a dire future at almost any time in Europe over the last several thousand years.

    3. Viet Nam was part of a world wide set of wars going back to WWII or before. You need to understand them as a lump. Iraq I have discussed in more detail elsewhere. The US population support for the attack came from being attacked first. (I know, it was completely unjustified.) The current war is due to the local population having *been* attacked. Nothing turns on war mode better than being attacked and dire economic prospects will keep a population in war mode till either they are mostly dead or there is the start of economic improvement.

    4. People who have looked into both the Crusades and the near extermination of the Cathars have made a case for resource pressure being the motivation behind them. I don't know of studies claiming otherwise, but would appreciate web pointers.

    Keith Henson

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