Wired For War, Ctd

by Zoe Pollock

A reader writes:

I think one could argue that murder is less common among chimpanzes only because the risks to the attacker are significantly higher: without weapons, murder has to be executed (please forgive the pun) by hand which is ugly, painful and dangerous.


I read Horgan's article and the Dan Bailey article that he cites.  Junger's use of the neuroscientific word "hardwired" is low-hanging fruit as refutations go, but I don't see that Horgan made a strong argument against Junger's general implication that war comes from somewhere deep down in our humanity.

Horgan comes close to relying on the myth of the peaceful savage when he says that, "tribal societies in regions such as the U.S. Southwest did not fight continuously; they lived peacefully for centuries before erupting into violence."  In "War Before Civilization," Keeley points out that anthropologists attempting to argue for war as an invention of (to paraphrase) the white man have often done so by defining war in terms logistically impossible for primitive societies to meet.

While it is difficult for primitive societies to muster the supplies and manpower for even short-term group violence, some of them have homicide rates dozens of times higher than that of modern industrial nations (p. 29).

The Bailey article that Horgan cites is based on a 2007 book by Jonathan Haas.  Hass also edited a 1990 volume entitled, "The Anthropology of War" in which Clark McCauley notes that, of the three societies discussed that had the ultra-rare distinction of having never been known to engage in war, violent conflict was avoided largely through extreme ethnocentrism.  Basically, these societies shunned war as the purview of dirty foreigners, defined as everyone outside the tribe, whose influence was invoked at the slightest hint of intratribal tension.  In McCauley's words, "the fact appears to be that hating violence requires violent people to hate" (p. 14).

And if I might draw on my experience as a former Marine infantryman who served three tours in Iraq (which I normally hate doing as I've seen too many peers use the fact that they've "been there" to argue an otherwise groundless claim for the wonderfulness of the war), I have to question whether Horgan's point that young men don't CAUSE wars is all that important.  There's an endless list of causes one would need to draw up to explain every war that's ever been fought, but once they are in it, young men certainly contribute to an inertia that makes it difficult and sometimes suicidal to stop war.  Many that didn't necessarily want to kill from the outset become desensitized to the idea, or worse, are motivated by revenge as friendly casualties mount.