From designing brain implants to urging us all to have more sex, scientists have spent decades searching for a cure for conflict
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Many pessimists, I suspect, adhere to the bad apple theory of warfare. They believe that war keeps breaking out because the worst among us, the bad apples, invariably drag the rest of us down to their level. The Yanomamo take this attitude, according to their chief chronicler, Napoleon Chagnon. "Almost everyone, including the Yanomamo, regards war as repugnant and would prefer that it did not exist," he writes. "Like us, they are more than willing to quit--if the bad guys also quit. If we could all get rid of the bad guys, there wouldn't be any war."According to this view, even if the vast majority of us are decent, empathetic, and inclined toward peace, humanity will always be plagued by warmongers like Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden, who have violent ambitions and are charismatic enough to attract followers, who may be bad apples as well. We good guys, goes the thinking, must remain armed to protect ourselves against those bad guys, sometimes with preemptive attacks. By this logic, war and militarism will never end.
But this assertion does not withstand scrutiny. A few individuals do indeed seem to be incorrigibly aggressive, violent, and lacking in empathy for others. Bad apples. Fine. But war itself, rather than an innate lust for violence, turns most people into bad guys. When peace breaks out, bad guys are magically transformed into good guys, as history has demonstrated over and over again. England, France, Spain, Germany, and other European states clashed violently for centuries, but war between these members of the European Union has become unimaginable. My father, who as a young man fought the Japanese, now drives a Japanese car and watches a Japanese television. He and my sister Patty have vacationed in Vietnam, and my daughter Skye has a friend whose parents are Vietnamese-American.