Friday, July 19, 2013

To war or not to it part of our DNA?

So in his study of 21 indigenous foraging communities, Fry, director of the Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research program at Abo Akademi University in Finland, reached a simple but profound conclusion: war is not inevitable, and must have been rare until relatively recently. (from "War not part of human nature: Science study" by Kate Allen, Toronto Star, July 18, 2013, below)

Although the anthropologist concludes that we can eliminate war as a social institution, his study, while obviously comprehensive, does not begin to examine the corellation between war and the many for-profit companies that are engaged in prosletyzing its allure.
Start with the movie companies, and the video game industry, and move to the weapons manufacturing industry, and then to the military culture that has been devloped through detailed and persistent "brain-washing" as an instrument of national pride, and then move onto the culture of masculinity that has provided cover for far too many men, and more recently women, who seek to exercise some personal "power" in a universe that seeks deliberately, and monstrously like a leviathan to rob them of anything that resembles personal power, having hooked millions, if not billions to some digitial device as a seduction and a substitute for political power (having abrogated that by and for the ruling elites)....
And then, while we cclebrate "extremism" in all forms of human activity, including the extremes of brutish communication, with metaphors of "take-out" and "smack-down" and other forms of verbal threats, followed too often by legal and/or quasi-legal actions, and also celebrate the return of fallen victims to wars we never should have entered, there will be decades, if not centuries of "undoing" in order for the world to eliminate war as a social institution.
Competition for the best universities, and for the best jobs, and for the biggest deals, and for the biggest houses and for the highest priced cars and many of the other symbols of power and status have evolved so far that many of these pursuits have taken on the panache of military strategy, including jealousy, revenge, dominance, control and, if necessary, elimination of the enemy, as s/he is perceived. A brief story of a man who applied for a position as head of a school, simply because he wanted to assure that his more virulent enemy did not attain the post, helps to illustrate what I mean. Another story about three candidates for a co-op position, as part of their university program, finds the third entering the waiting room of the interviews, carrying a bucket of water, with which he douses the other two, so that only he is "dressed appropriately" for the interview and gets the single position that is available.
While these stories smack of the "individual" acts of violence that the researcher points to as evidence of violence, without the need for war, they also smack of a kind of insufferable intolerance and insecurity that seems to be more prevalent in the last few decades than at any time in the last century.
As with many academic studies, this piece might be one more indication that the conclusion reached is good "theory" but hardly likely to be borne out "on the ground" our lifetime of in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.
War not part of human nature: Science study

Murders were far more common for personal reasons than tribal conflict in modern hunter-gatherer cultures, anthropologist Douglas Fry found, suggesting early humans weren’t prone to go to war until civilization came around.
By Kate Allen, Toronto Star, July 18, 2013
The men in anthropologist Douglas Fry’s study killed their wives. The men in his study killed other men for their wives. The men — and they were almost always men — killed the killers of their kinsmen. Men killed other men for stealing honey. For suspected sorcery. For boasting.

What the men didn’t often do, Fry found, was take up arms against outside groups — in other words, make war.
So in his study of 21 indigenous foraging communities, Fry, director of the Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research program at Abo Akademi University in Finland, reached a simple but profound conclusion: war is not inevitable, and must have been rare until relatively recently.
The research, published Friday in the journal Science, will fuel a current scientific controversy and a long-standing philosophical debate: Has civilization tamed an intrinsic impulse for warfare? Or did organized society provide the preconditions for combat?
“It’s a controversy both about human nature and the human past,” Fry said in a telephone interview from France.
Fry and a colleague examined instances of lethal aggression in mobile forager band societies — nomadic communities that hunt, fish and forage almost exclusively, relying on agriculture and livestock for at most 5 per cent of their subsistence.
These cultures are thought to be the best modern substitute for early human history, or how we lived before the invention of agriculture and the complex social structures required to sustain it. Data on them was obtained from the standard cross-cultural sample — a database of ethnographic information on 186 independent cultures. Much of the information on these societies was collected in previous centuries, when contact with industrialized civilization was minimal.
Winnowing down the societies in the database to those that were strict foragers and were well-described left the researchers with 21 groups, from the Hadza of East Africa to the Kaska of Western Canada. Among all 21, there were 148 instances of lethal aggression.
Fry examined the circumstances of the killings in detail, and found that exactly half were motivated by interpersonal events: revenge within the band for a family member’s death, or the murder of a sexual rival. One clan, the Tiwi of Northern Australia, were particularly murderous, with 24 instances of interpersonal homicide among them. In the other societies, the mean number of murders was four.
A smattering of accidents, executions and even a bit of starvation cannibalism made up another 16.2 per cent of the deaths. But only 33.8 per cent of the killings arose from inter-group conflicts. When the anomalous data from the violent Tiwi are removed, war was behind just 15.2 per cent of the killings.
Fry’s results contradict other research published in Science that examined eight traditional societies and found evidence of war in all of them — a study Fry believes has too small and too self-selective a sample.
It also rebuts popular books on violence, in particular Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker argued that violence is an “inner demon,” that tribal warfare was rife throughout human prehistory and that it was only improved by government and cosmopolitanism.
For Fry, the theory that war is innate makes no sense. Early human foraging bands had ample room and resources: there was no reason to war over food or land, because there was more than enough to go around. There would have been few material goods to steal in combat, and nowhere to store them. He also points out that with the rare exception of chimpanzees, which raid neighbouring chimp clans, most mammals do not kill within their species, resorting instead to harmless threat displays.
It is hard to tell how accurate a stand-in modern hunter-gatherer cultures are for the first 45,000 years of human life. But Fry also marshals archeological evidence to back up his theory. Nearly all of the evidence of war from the archeological record — specialized weapons, big gravesites full of battle-scarred fossilized skeletons, cave art — dates to within the past 10,000 years, and proliferates beginning 4,000 years ago when the first city-states arose.
In other words, statehood provided the rationale for war, Fry says — and that means war is a recently learned behaviour, one we can unlearn.
He points to slavery as an example. Two hundred years ago, most people believed slavery was natural and had always existed. Today, that idea seems crazy.
“As an anthropologist,” says Fry, “I don’t really see why we can’t give up war as a social institution.”

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