Re: On the origin of .... war

From: Dace (
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 06:08:10 BST

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    Subject: Re: On the origin of .... war
    Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 22:08:10 -0700
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    Hi Vincent,

    > Hi Ted,
    > <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
    > a reason, we need to be looking at the unreason that bubbles up from the
    > unconscious mind.>
    > No we don't Ted, Aboriginals get as much from war as anyone else-
    > territority, decreased competition for resources, opportunities to improve
    > the tribe's gene pool by kidnapping women and children etc. etc.

    Whatever is gained one year is lost the next. There's no gradual
    accumulation of territory and riches. Any tribe that does embark on this
    sort of prolonged conquest isn't a tribe anymore but a "civilization."

    At the tribal level, warfare is much more like competitive sports. Even if
    your "team" wins the championship this year, everything starts from scratch
    the following year. Over the long haul, nothing is gained. But it's fun as
    far as it goes.

    > It all
    > depends how one defines rational. In adaptive terms, war can be highly
    > rational, and a very good strategy for dealing with competitors within
    > own species in a single encounter.

    Ehrenreich deals with this in Blood Rites. Once warfare got started, it
    must have rapidly spread. If another tribe is attacking you, you must fight
    back or gradually be destroyed. But to fight back is to begin learning the
    war ethic, at which point you're liable to turn around and attack another
    tribe that still hasn't learned. It's rational in the sense of
    self-preservation. But taken as a whole, it's perfectly insane. It makes
    no sense for us to war with each other when we could be cooperating.

    According to the war ethic, manhood is attained only by killing another man
    and assuming ownership of his women and children. War, patriarchy, and
    slavery are all bound up in the same pathology. You might call it a
    memeplex. In many ways, it's the ancient prototype of the capitalist
    memeplex that currently divides the world into prey and predator.

    Btw, "rational" is originally an economic term. It refers to the need for
    individuals to weigh the pros and cons of a given action, to measure their
    ratio. Later the term was borrowed by philosophers to mean reasonable or
    logical or wise. As you suggest, what's rational isn't always reasonable.

    > I refer again to the evidence of great
    > ape raiding parties on neighbouring troops.
    > We often tend to think of rationality as in some way automatically removed
    > from what we are when it's not, and what we need to do is recognise this
    > otherwise we will never be able to turn away from instinctive flight/fight
    > responses to such acts.

    That apes engage in a sort of proto-warfare in no way suggests that
    organized violence is instinctive among humans. By the time hominids
    arrived, all those old ape-like instincts were long gone. Without serious
    size differentials between genders, hominids had apparently outgrown the
    "big-ape" mindset in favor of the more egalitarian coupling characteristic
    of later humans. The structure of violence that held together ape society
    no longer ruled. Our ancestors were taking a big gamble to emphasize brains
    over muscle, and this would have left them far more vulnerable than apes.
    Cooperation among tribes would have been essential for our survival. This
    is why warfare is cultural for us, not biological. Only in the last 12 to
    15 thousand years have we internalized the law of the jungle and subjected
    it to each other. Ehrenreich explains the psycho-dynamics that gave rise to
    this process.


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