Re: On the origin of .... war

From: Dace (
Date: Fri Sep 28 2001 - 23:45:07 BST

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    Subject: Re: On the origin of .... war
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    Hi Vincent.

    > <The point, again, is that what's
    > > rational for a few warriors in each tribe is not rational for the
    > > as
    > > a whole.>
    > >
    > OK, but that doesn't make war divorced from adaptive behaviour, only
    > that it's particular characteristics can be shaped by culture.

    It's an example of cultural evolution, i.e. adaptations to changing
    circumstances which are then inherited culturally.

    > OK, got me there! But social also doesn't mean removed from
    > adaptive value. We are social animals becasuse it's adaptive for us to be
    > so, and thus social behaviours like wars, can by extension be seen to be
    > adaptive also.

    It's hard to imagine a more anti-social behavior than systematic
    mass-killing. But you do have a point. War brings people together. All of
    a sudden a nation composed of innumerable separate interests unites into a
    single obsession: To kill the monster at our throats.

    While it's understandable that stone age predator-defense specialists would
    have opted for warfare as a means of maintaining their privileged status,
    this doesn't explain why whole societies get caught up in war fever. How
    did such a maladaptive response ever get started? There must have been a
    trauma in our past that warped our perception long enough for the
    institution of war to take root. Once that window of opportunity shut, the
    war meme has persisted partly from inertia and partly from adaptation. As
    you can see, the meme has done quite well for itself. As we've become more
    rational, its central focus has shifted from manhood and honor to territory
    and resources.

    Ehrenreich suggests that the trauma in question was triggered by our
    long-standing status as a prey animal. After becoming a predator, we still
    had the residual anxiety of hundreds of thousands of years of vulnerability
    to cats and wolves and bears. This trauma, in a much weaker form, remains
    with us to this day. When the beast is at the gate, we feel the need to
    band together and fight for the good of the tribe above all other (including
    rational) considerations. The world is divided between US and them, and if
    you're not waving a flag, you must be one of them. The problem, of course,
    is that whoever we decide to attack will have exactly the same reaction.
    The people of Afghanistan will see the beast at *their* gate, and they'll
    band together and fight to the death.

    > I'll not fault your references here. But pre-tool hunting doesn't
    > fossilize, and we know that apes and chimps hunt, without tools. Given
    > this, must one presume early modern humans didn't hunt? I'm not qualified
    > to say for certain.

    If we used stone tools to process animal carcasses, why wouldn't we have
    invented stone tools for hunting? It's not as if there isn't abundant
    fossilized evidence of our scavenging habit.

    > > > <Prior to this we relied on scavenging for our meat. For most of
    > > > our
    > > > > history, modern humans did not hunt.>
    > > > >
    > > > That's entirely wrong as well. Cave paintings dated to at least
    > > > 30,000 years ago at places like Chauvet and Alta Mira (spelling)
    > > indicate
    > > > quite clearly a hunting based culture created those paintings.
    > >
    > <The human brain reached its current size by 200 Kya. We've been
    > around for
    > > a long time.>
    > >
    > Brain size isn't the only indicator of the emergence of modern
    > humans. The dates of European cave paintings are thought to have followed
    > barely some 5000 years or so after modern humans first entered Europe.
    > Other modern human artefacts in Australia suggest up to 70,000 years ago,
    > but before that there's just guesstimation.

    The gap between the origin of modern humans in Africa and their arrival in
    Europe is 100,000 years minimum.

    > >> Pre-stone age tribes in the Amazon and in Borneo have wars-
    > tribal
    > >> conflicts. This must indicate that early human social groups had
    > wars as
    > >> well. They also have belief systems and rituals, social
    > hierarchies and
    > >>so
    > >> on.
    > <Pre-stone age?>
    > Yeah, IIRC, until colonists arrived they had no metal or even stone
    > tools, only wooden ones. Now they have knives and machetes and so on, coz
    > colonists have given them to them.

    Stone tools go back to the hominids, at least 1.4 million years ago, with
    the invention of the handaxe. All human societies are at least stone age.
    The Yanomamo of the Amazon had plenty of stone tools, and these were partly
    displaced after the 50s with the introduction of metal tools, such as
    machetes and axes, as well as aluminum pots and various other industrial

    > <The evidence for tribal warfare goes back 12,000 years and then
    > stops dead.
    > > Anything beyond that is assumption.>
    > >
    > Including the assumption that warfare didn't exist before then. We
    > have to fill in the gap by asking some questions: a) Do related species to
    > ours exhibit warlike behaviour? (Which is a difficult one, like the do
    > animals have culture question)- if so that may indicate the propensity for
    > warlike behaviour is inherited, and therefore is likely to have been
    > in humans pre 12000bp;

    I don't deny that the emergence of war may have been aided by an atavism,
    but the primary force was cultural/psychological.

    > b) Are there adaptive benefits to war? i.e. can one
    > see things such as improved reproductive success for the victors of wars,
    > again this would indicate the possible propensity for it to have existed
    > 12,000bp;

    Once war is firmly established, then becoming proficient at it is adaptive.
    But nothing as malignant as war could have *originated* purely as a result
    of adaptation. Some sort of trauma must have been involved, and Ehrenreich
    seems to be offering the most plausible explanation for this trauma.

    > c) are there any notable behavioural or physiological differences
    > between humans before and after 12,000bp- here there is behavioural
    > difference in the beginnings of agriculture, large scale settlements and
    > on, but this may simply have meant a concomitant increase in scale of
    > conflicts that meant evidence of war would be more likely to be preserved
    > the archaeological record. That last one is the $64,000 question. I
    > our instincts are different as to the answer.

    Physiological changes related to agriculture would have appeared thousands
    of years after the onset of war. The memeplex of war, patriarchy, and class
    division came first, and agriculture followed. Agricultural society
    involves far more labor and drudgery than typical pre-agricultural
    societies. It may be that the original farmers had to be coerced by their
    warlord masters into cultivating the land.


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