RE: On the origin of .... war

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 10:52:35 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: On the origin of .... war
    Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2001 10:52:35 +0100
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    Hi Ted,

    >> 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.>
            That's like the saying the big problem with eating is that you keep
    on having to do it. War does not necessarily involve the accumulation of
    territory and riches, but merely the possibility of such. All empires end
    eventually, and at the tribal level there is a perpetual ebb and flow of
    power, and resources one way then the other. In other wors like eating,
    conflict is not necessarily a motivated act (i.e. that has a absolute
    purpose), but instead is part and parcel of natural behaviour.

            <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.>
            If a tribe doesn't fight back it gets wiped out. Tribes that fight
    back may survive. A bit too much social darwinism perhaps, but that is a
    basic principle.

            <It's rational in the sense of self-preservation.>

            Exactly, and that's the principle by which natural selection works.

            <But taken as a whole, it's perfectly insane.>

            In what sense do you mean 'as a whole'? rational in the sense of
    self preservation, in terms of natural selection is the whole.

            <It makes no sense for us to war with each other when we could be

            But what if the other party won't cooperate? The Prisoner's Dilemma
    suggests that 'tit for tat' is the best strategy- i.e. if they cooperate,
    you cooperate and you both win, but if they don't cooperate you lose either
    way, so it's better to then not cooperate either to show you won't be
    over-run. Have a read of Robert Axelrod's 'The Evolution of Co-operation'
    (I think that's what it's called).

            <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.>
            All war is about resources. Perhaps the earliest wars were tribal
    conflicts where the resources were actually the women and children of
    opposing tribes- and men too, remember the African slave trade was exploited
    by but not created by Europeans. Modern wars are still about resources,
    except the resouces have changed (e.g. the Central African war fuelled by
    the demand for coltan- a mineral used in mobile phones, so if you have one
    you're contributing to that conflict....). This is partly why the US
    rhetoric of war in the current situation is so misplaced. The enemies of
    America are not fighting for territory or resources (on earth at any rate)
    but simply for the destruction of what they see as unholy.

            <That apes engage in a sort of proto-warfare in no way suggests that
    > organized violence is instinctive among humans.>
            That's like saying "that chimps and humans share 98% of genes in no
    way suggests a common ancestor". Of course it does- what is hunting, if not
    organized and co-ordinated violence? The first modern humans lived by
    hunting, meaning they were capable of organised acts of violence and
    therefore capable of using those skills against other modern humans if they
    chose to, or needed to (some suggest possibly against neanderthals, for
    example. I doubt we'll ever know for sure).

    > < 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.>
            Not if that increased brain size and capacity allowed us greater
    capacity to adapt to circumstances, and innovate new ways of avoiding
    danger, finding food and so on. Gender size differentials are smaller in
    humans, but that hardly makes humans automatically egalitarian. Pretty much
    all of human history indicates otherwise, with the generally smaller gender
    in the more subservient role.

            <Cooperation among tribes would have been essential for our
    survival. >

            No it wouldn't. Before there were distinct tribes, there were
    simply extended family groups, in exactly the same way as many primates live
    now. The internal heirarchy of those groups would have probaly have been
    the same too, and these small groups would have been more than able to
    survive without persistent regular contact with other groups. Looking at
    tribal societies what do we see- lots of little tribes in relatively close
    proximity but with different languages, customs and beliefs, but all sharing
    basic hierarchical structures and so on. It's the same all over the world.
    I don't disagree that there is a cultural level to conflict today, but
    trying to argue that it doesn't have a precedent in nature doesn't wash.


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