Re: On the origin of .... war

From: Dace (
Date: Fri Sep 14 2001 - 22:22:45 BST

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    Subject: Re: On the origin of .... war
    Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 14:22:45 -0700
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    > Hi Ted,
    > Thanks for recommending the book about Ehrenreich and the feedback.
    > I'll try and read it if I can find the time.
    > It was Darwin who pointed out already the inherent imperfection
    > of the fossil record. Therefore, the fact that we fail to
    > uncover artificial evidence of warfare in fossil remains of
    > early humans does not necessarily imply that hominids did not
    > engage in warfare prior to the earliest findings of instruments
    > of warfare. I hope, therefore, that Ehrenreich makes a solid
    > case in defending the position that humans did not wage war
    > prior to 10,000 BC.

    It's hard to make a solid case about anything in prehistory. Nonetheless,
    we can be reasonably certain that war is not biologically ingrained. It's
    inconceivable that such a weak and vulnerable species as H. sapiens could
    have survived for hundreds of thousands of years if we'd been conducting
    organized killing campaigns of each other. Warfare couldn't have become
    prominent in human history until our technological proficiency gave us a
    degree of dominance. This wouldn't have occurred until the Upper
    Paleolithic. The question is why, once we were no longer subject to the
    "law of the jungle," we then internalized it and began subjecting it to each
    other. War is a meme. Though Ehrenreich doesn't use the term, she's
    essentially describing how this meme was born.

    > Upon acquiring better odds of survival through living in
    > clusters, it follows logically that human population began
    > to increase.

    The big jump in human population goes back to the origins of agriculture,
    circa 8000 BC. The reason agricultural societies tend to grow rapidly in
    population is not due to abundance of food but because of sedentary
    lifestyle. It's the mobility of hunter-gatherer tribes that continually
    thins out their populations.

    > Through a collective organised effort humans
    > gained access to more and better quality resources and
    > were better able to fence off and even dominate and domesticate
    > predators (e.g. dogs). Indeed, it is here where the
    > prey-predator role of humans inverted.

    This inversion occurred thousands of years before agriculture, during the
    UP. With the end of the last Ice Age and the collapse of the ungulate
    populations that had provided the bulk of predator diets, the threat of the
    beast receded. It was also about this time that the bow and arrow appeared,
    making us the ultimate predator.

    > With clusters building its own stock of resources, it
    > became the target of desire by envious rivaling clans. And
    > through the comitted effort of a greedy cluster as a unit
    > it may have been possible and thus worth while to attempt to
    > take hold of another nearby cluster's resources. I guess this
    > is what one might call war: the organised collective effort
    > by one clan to try to take hold of a resource that belongs to
    > another clan by an unauthorised and hence violent means.
    > Objects of desire may include, territory, food, fur, women,
    > artifacts, intruments, weapons, inventions.

    Ehrenreich doesn't deny that many rational triggers for war have "cropped
    up" over the millennia. Her only concern is what got it started in the
    first place. And it definitely started before agriculture. As William
    Benzon pointed out, the myth of the "peaceful savage" was exploded (once
    again) about five years ago in a book by Lawrence Keeley called War Before
    Civilization. That's what makes the question of the origin of war so
    fascinating. There just doesn't seem to be any rational basis for it.
    Aboriginal tribes get virtually nothing out of it. Yet they're often just
    as enthusiastic about war as we are for team sports. Instead of looking for
    a reason, we need to be looking at the unreason that bubbles up from the
    unconscious mind.

    Ehrenreich's thesis is being illustrated all too well by the mass reaction
    to the terror attack. Instead of looking at ourselves and wondering why we
    inspire people to give their lives to the noble cause of killing us and
    destroying our treasured icons, we're consumed by the sense that, once
    again, the beast is upon us, and we must band together to fight it off. All
    capacity for rational response is swept away by this overpowering reflex.


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