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Jared Diamond, Please Stop Propagating the Myth of the Savage Savage!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Jared Diamond is one of the great science synthesizers and popularizers of our era, and he resists the biological determinism that infects so much modern theorizing about our species. That’s why I brought him to my school last year to talk about his latest book, The World Until Yesterday, which I praised on this blog. But I wish Diamond would stop propagating the Myth of the Savage Savage.

Jared Diamond and other prominent scholars exaggerate the violence of non-state, "traditional" societies and downplay the violence of "civilization."

In a Q&A in The New York Times Magazine, Diamond says: “In Weird–Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic–societies we take these things for granted that just didn’t exist anywhere in the world until a few thousand years ago. We encounter strangers, and it’s normal, and we don’t freak out and try to kill them.”

So the norm before civilization was for humans to kill strangers on sight? Really? That’s my question, not that of Times interviewer Amy Chozick. She follows up Diamond’s extraordinary comment by saying: “[The World Until Yesterday] has been criticized for saying traditional societies are very violent.”

Diamond replies: “Some people take a view of traditional society as being peaceful and gentle. But the proportional rate of violent death is much higher in traditional societies than in state-level societies, where governments assert a monopoly on force.”

Diamond is so intent on dispelling the Myth of the Peaceful Savage–the idea that before civilization all people were “peaceful and gentle”–that he has replaced it with an equally absurd idea, the Myth of the Savage Savage. According to this view, before the emergence of centralized governments backed up by professional armies, our ancestors were mired in a Hobbesian war of all against all. Other prominent proponents of this notion include the Harvard Hawks: Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham and Steven LeBlanc. I call them the Harvard Hawks because they favor Hobbesian theories, not hawkish foreign policies.

Of course, some traditional societies—including horticulturalist ones that Diamond has studied in New Guinea–can be terribly violent. And modern WEIRD states have indeed reduced rates of interpersonal violence within their borders by establishing justice systems backed by police (although in the U.S. certain populations, especially the white and wealthy, benefit more from our legal system than others).

But the Myth of the Savage flies in the face of evidence that many societies of hunter-gatherers, or foragers—the most traditional of all traditional people—have had low levels of violence, particularly the organized, group violence called war. See my three posts last summer on studies of modern-day foragers as well as Paleolithic skeletons and Neolithic settlements.

Diamond and other defenders of the Myth of the Savage Savage also gloss over—to put it mildly—the violence of states, especially modern western ones. European nations, as they expanded around the world over the last millennium, often slaughtered and enslaved the “savages” that they encountered. See, for example, my recent column on how Columbus and other Europeans treated Native Americans.

“Civilized” states have also waged wars against other states, erupted into civil wars and slaughtered their own citizens. Look at the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, and all the great wars and genocides of the Twentieth Century, which killed hundreds of millions of people.

Diamond, because of his prominence, has provoked a lot of criticism, from the liberal-left as well as the conservative-right. My sense, after meeting him at Stevens, is that he too quickly dismisses criticism as “nonsense,” a term he repeats twice in the Times Q&A.

I urge him to reconsider his views on rates of violence in traditional societies, especially those that predated civilization. He might take a look at War, Peace, and Human Nature, a collection of essays published last year by Oxford University Press and edited by anthropologist Douglas Fry, which dismantles the Myth of the Savage Savage.

Or, since Diamond loves to roam across disciplinary boundaries, he should read A History of Warfare by the great British military historian John Keegan. Keegan credits western societies with inventing the concept of total war, which led to the industrialized carnage of World War I and World War II and the insanity of the nuclear arms race.

I admire Keegan not only for his scholarship but also his optimism. He writes in A History of Warfare, “War, it seems to me, after a lifetime of reading about the subject, mingling with men of war, visiting the sites of war and observing its effects, may well be ceasing to commend itself to human beings as a desirable, or productive, let alone rational, means of reconciling their discontents.”

Surely Diamond and the Harvard Hawks—and all of us—can agree with Keegan that, in spite of our enormous capacity for savagery, we also have the capacity to transcend war once and for all.

Further Reading:

Horgan, “Quitting the hominid fight club: The evidence is flimsy for innate chimpanzee–let alone human–warfare“: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2010/06/29/quitting-the-hominid-fight-club-the-evidence-is-flimsy-for-innate-chimpanzee-let-alone-human-warfare/

Horgan, “Will War Ever End?” (review of Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker): http://www.slate.com/articles/Arts/books/2011/10/steven_pinker_s_the_better_angels_of_our_nature_why_should_you_b.2.html

Horgan, “No, War Is Not Inevitable” (review of The Social Conquest of Nature, by Edward Wilson): http://discovermagazine.com/2012/jun/02-no-war-is-not-inevitable#.UefeMRZ8LlI

Horgan, “Worst Column Ever By Times Pundit David Brooks: ‘When the Good Do Bad’”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/05/21/worst-column-ever-by-times-pundit-david-brooks-when-the-good-do-bad/

Horgan: “Are We Doomed to Wage Wars Over Water?”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/03/26/are-we-doomed-to-wage-wars-over-water/

Horgan, “Margaret Mead’s War Theory Kicks Butt of Neo-Darwinian and Malthusian Models”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2010/11/08/margaret-meads-war-theory-kicks-butt-of-neo-darwinian-and-malthusian-models/

Horgan, “Is ‘Sociobiologist’ Napoleon Chagnon Really a Disciple of Margaret Mead?”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/02/25/is-sociobiologist-napoleon-chagon-really-a-disciple-of-margaret-mead/

Horgan, “New Study of Foragers Undermines Claims that War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/07/18/new-study-of-foragers-undermines-claim-that-war-has-deep-evolutionary-roots/

Horgan, “New Study of Prehistoric Skeletons Undermines Claim that War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots“: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/07/24/new-study-of-prehistoric-skeletons-undermines-claim-that-war-has-deep-evolutionary-roots/

Horgan, “Survey of Earliest Human Settlements Undermines Claims that War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/08/02/survey-of-earliest-human-settlements-undermines-claim-that-war-has-deep-evolutionary-roots/

Horgan, “Let’s Begin Talking about How to End Wars”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/02/20/lets-start-talking-about-whetherand-howwe-can-stop-waging-wars/

Horgan, “We Need a New Just-War Theory, Which Aims to End War Forever”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/04/24/we-need-a-new-just-war-theory-which-aims-to-end-war-forever/

Horgan, “How Can We Condemn Boston Murders but Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?”: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/04/19/how-can-we-condemn-boston-murders-but-excuse-u-s-bombing-of-civilians/

Horgan, The End of War, McSweeney’s, 2012.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jared_diamond.jpg.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. oldfarmermac 8:40 pm 01/21/2014

    I believe Diamond has the vast bulk of the evidence on his side.

    Peaceful coexistence between individuals seems to arise as the result of society developing to the point that the power to punish and or kill is reserved to the state, or whatever form of organization precedes what we call the state.

    The facts that historical and modern states wage war, or that “total war ” is a relatively new invention, are irrelevant to the question whether pre state peoples lived with the possibility that somebody would kill or enslave them.

    The best defense such people had , in my estimation, against aggression, was a low population density and a a lack of wealth that could be taken by force.

    There’s not much point in an aggressive individual or tribal group attacking an individual or another group that has nothing worth stealing unless the aggressor wishes to control the territory occupied by the victim.

    The biggest single exception to this generality is possibly the capture of women to be held as slaves and or wives or sex objects.

    Of course I’m only an armchair observer of the academic scene, but I detect a strain of denial of the evidence in articles such as this w one that relates to the concept of the inherent ” goodness” of mankind.

    Anybody who hasn’t done so already should read Pinker’s ” The Blank Slate ” of he does not understand where I’m coming from and his later book the title of which escapes me at the moment but it’s approximately “The Angels of Our Better Nature” or something close to that.

    We’re evolved animals and we’re an inherently aggressive species when aggression serves our ends.

    It’s a Darwinian world and any academic who fails to recognize the Darwinian basis of our behaviors which evolved back we competed with in small groups is living in a state of ignorance or denial. Politics has trumped science in such a case.

    Of course culture can evolve, and does evolve, extraordinarily rapidly , in some what Lamarckian fashion, but culture itself is at bottom a product of Darwinian evolution, as evidenced by the fact that it exists, and by the fact that other species possess rudimentary cultures.

    Chimps for instance cooperate to hold power in a hierarchal band or troop,, engage in territorial war, teach their young useful skills, use tools, etc.

    Culture has evolved in such a way as to reserve the use of violence to the state- and Darwinian evolution( in the broadest sense) has selected for states rather than small tribes or bands.

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  2. 2. rkipling 6:51 am 01/22/2014

    I’m not sure I understand your problem with Diamond’s position on savages. There seems to be considerable evidence for violent interactions between relatively small, traditional (I assume Stone Age) societies. I don’t think that necessarily means every contact was violent. Maybe if both sides were relatively well-fed when they ran into each other, it was more peaceable? Don’t know. Wasn’t there.

    Mightn’t it be that the distinction between violence in traditional societies and war in so-called civilized societies is just one of scale? Aren’t the conflicts primarily over scarce resources?

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  3. 3. badnursie 4:29 pm 01/22/2014

    I can appreciate the author’s point. If you ‘read’ Diamond as saying that WEIRD societies are ‘better’ or ‘more moral’ or even ‘superior’, then I would have to say you’re being unfair. My budget can’t keep up with his output, but the two previous books of his I’ve read have appeared to be objectively reasoned and supported by many facts.

    I don’t think anyone can fully buy into another’s full thesis on a subject like this, where ‘proof’ is subjective and argument requires enough reading to secure a PhD at some universities…the important things to take away from Diamond’s outlook is to refute the Romatic Age and the so-called hippies idealization of ‘natural man’, realizing that we are ‘natural men’, just with bigger missiles and many more of us.

    Our problem today, and the problem that has existed for many centuries now, is over-population. Even Medieval Europe was ‘over-populated’ for its technology and for the sort of village social justice that many feel is the optimum social organization for humans. Once we go into cities, with rulers, and merchants, and all that ‘great’ stuff we love today, there’s bound to be inter-group aggression and exploitation.

    I wouldn’t worry. We’re living on a planetary Easter Island. Let the mass aggression begin!

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  4. 4. JeffRudisel 7:37 pm 01/22/2014

    I’m sorry, but Horgan is a less-than-scientific dope who continually spouts his superiority to the experts he’s reviewing.
    He continues to get it wrong much of the time.
    And he’s mainly wrong again on this one.
    It continues to baffle me as to why I must be subjected to his snarky opinions time and again in your prestigious magazine.
    It’s getting tedious, and its making me question the magazine’s credibility.

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  5. 5. z34aa 7:55 pm 01/22/2014

    The biggest problem with both Savage Savage, and Peaceful Savage ideas, is that they do not acknowledge the fact that both civilized societies and those that predate civilization aren’t all the same. There were, and are, different cultures and and peoples that have different practices and beliefs in how to treat other people. So proponents of their respective ideas can both find real evidence to support their preferred view, which leaves them nothing to do but argue. Of course, that’s probably a good thing since it will keep them out of mischief.

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  6. 6. rkipling 9:11 pm 01/22/2014

    JeffRudisel,

    So, help me understand this? Someone forces you to read his blog at gunpoint?

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  7. 7. Chris2 2:23 am 01/23/2014

    From a layman’s perspective I find it strange that all other branches of the hominid family have bitten the dust, i.e. have become extinct soon after coming into contact with modern man. Think Neanderthals. “Savages” might respect strangers that for some reason command respect, e.g. because they are well armed, or can perform ‘miracles’, but defenseless strangers seldom survive to tell the tale, I’m afraid, at least in the vast majority of cases.

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  8. 8. rshoff2 6:51 pm 01/23/2014

    The idea of a savage savage or even a humane one, implies that our instinct driven actions have moral significance. They don’t.

    Remove competition for distribution of resources and chances are you can remove savagery. No more religion, no more football, no more, no more.

    So, it’s not really savagery we’re talking about. It’s distribution of resources. Oh, and the fact that we need to consume life to save our own.

    We are very much overpopulated to entrust that our nature will drive us to choose a healthy civilization over hoarding resources. So, it appears that we can only achieve the peaceful state by choice. However, I encourage us to consider that by changing the rules of distribution we can incline our nature to share…..

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  9. 9. rkipling 8:31 pm 01/23/2014

    rshoff2,

    Your first three paragraphs make sense to me. That’s pretty much the way I see it too. The consuming life to live part is obviously true. Plants and animals can be very tasty with a nice Chianti. Do I detect a bit of guilt associated with consuming other life? If so, you are absolved. It is in our nature and not a personal failing.

    I’m not sure what you mean by changing the rules of distribution? Is there a current model in practice anywhere in the world that meets your specification for improved rules?

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  10. 10. okburt75 9:44 am 01/24/2014

    It would appear that Horgan is more interested in promoting Horgan’s theory than acknowledging the effort of others who’s work he disagrees with for reasons best known to himself.
    No one forced me to read this article – I did so because of the title and the fact that it was in Scientific American, not the author – next time I’ll check out the author first and reflect on Scientific American.

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  11. 11. rshoff2 2:16 pm 01/24/2014

    rkipling – lol. Depending upon what we are devouring, merlot may be more satisfying… Me? Make sense? Why start now?

    You’re right, my last paragraph descended into rhetoric.

    Here’s some more rhetoric to dig the hole deeper: There are Three legs to fair distribution by my theory, hypothesis, ok -idea.

    1. Free Market Economy – a.k.a capitalism sans politics. It suits our individual instincts.

    2. Socialist Values – A culture where we personally take care of each other on a human to human needs basis and contribute as we best can. We do it as individuals because it is part of our value system. It suits our social instincts.

    3. Government – The fulcrum between our instinct for society/civilization and our instinct for individuality/freedom.

    Everything that matters to the human condition falls under those categories. Good things like food, shelter, education, healthcare and bad things like hoarding, war, religion, etc, etc, etc….

    But it doesn’t work because…. we are but humans! And I am a mere mortal (perhaps one day I may ascend to the position of ‘human’ before succumbing).

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  12. 12. rshoff2 2:19 pm 01/24/2014

    Our problem seems to be #3 ! But everyone knows that.

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  13. 13. rshoff2 2:28 pm 01/24/2014

    And thank you for the absolution. It does bother me that we scavenge and steal the very being of other living organisms in order to live ourselves.

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  14. 14. rshoff2 2:31 pm 01/24/2014

    And btw, #2 defines the people who are in turn the ones participating in #1 and #3. Therefore, those people behaving in a personally socialistic manner would assure that the decisions made within the private sector and government were humane ones. And the distribution flows.

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  15. 15. Chryses 6:57 pm 01/24/2014

    If there is sufficient evidence to corroborate the theory, I can’t fault Dr. Diamond for advancing it.

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  16. 16. rkipling 11:34 pm 01/24/2014

    Chryses,

    I agree that Diamond is probably correct. But while it is interesting to discuss, it’s difficult to see how it makes any real difference either way.

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  17. 17. ecosteve 5:31 am 01/25/2014

    I just read Jared’s book ‘Le monde jusqu’à hier’. There seems to be very little mention of violence in starving societies. Yet famine should surely be a major cause of violence. Famine has always existed, but is there any evidence of such viloence having been caused in prehistory?

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  18. 18. rkipling 7:40 am 01/25/2014

    I remembered a report on possible cannibalism at an Anasazi site in Chaco Canyon from several years ago. It’s not possible to know if famine was a proximate cause. A search will return lots of hits. Here is one.

    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/anasazi.htm

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  19. 19. David Marjanović 10:19 am 01/25/2014

    Further Reading:

    …Is there really nothing useful and accessible that has been written on this topic by anyone other than you?

    Link to this
  20. 20. rkipling 10:27 am 01/25/2014

    David Marjanović treats John Horgan as an equal, which is right.

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  21. 21. rkipling 11:33 am 01/25/2014

    John Horgan,

    You probably never heard of Marjanovic. He has no accomplishments, but believes he has no equal.

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  22. 22. ThatsJustDandy 3:03 pm 01/25/2014

    ecosteve, Very good point! I wonder if passivity is an energy saving response to starvation. Unless the odds are very high that your neighbor has a larder full of food, it’s better to conserve and wait it out.

    Maybe conservation is a better assurance of survival of the next generation than aggression in extreme environments.

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  23. 23. rshoff2 3:17 pm 01/25/2014

    Perhaps John is putting this out there for purposes of discussion. Or perhaps to make these concepts accessible to ordinary people. For those that already have the answers, I’m not sure the purpose of reading or discussing.

    Anyway. A transaction (hunting for example) may be positive to some and negative to others. My family in need of protein kills and eats the cow, your family loses the milk. Is that savagery? Depends upon whether you need the meat or the milk. What if I need the meat, but you only ‘enjoy’ the milk? Is it still savagery?

    I think the term savagery may have more to do with our interpretation of morality of each interpersonal transaction and less to do with the act itself.

    And yes, we are wired to survive, however, are we wired to do it causing as little damage as possible? Yes, I believe we are.

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  24. 24. rshoff2 3:20 pm 01/25/2014

    “Humans to kill strangers on site”, this concept sounds more like a fear reaction to the threat of survival. I’m ‘afraid’ your going to kill my cow so I make the first move!

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  25. 25. David Marjanović 11:20 am 01/26/2014

    David Marjanović treats John Horgan as an equal

    Huh?

    You probably never heard of Marjanovic. He has no accomplishments, but believes he has no equal.

    I have no accomplishments in this field, that’s correct. (About others, all irrelevant to this thread, find me in Google Scholar if you’re curious.) But I never claimed to. ~:-| I expressed surprise at a long list of “Further Reading” where every single reference is authored by the same person (without any coauthors even), who is also the author of this article. Don’t you agree this is strange?

    I’m not competent to form an opinion on whether or not, or to what extent, violence is innate in humans and/or war is inevitable and/or human violence/warfare has been decreasing in the last few thousand years, and I know there’s an ongoing discussion. That’s why I haven’t formed any such opinion, let alone expressed one. The one and only topic I’ve talked about is the strange composition of the “further reading” list. I honestly have no idea how feelings of equality have anything to do with my comment.

    Please, rkipling, explain what you’ve interpreted into my comment, because I can’t see it.

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  26. 26. rkipling 2:37 pm 01/26/2014

    I knew that would get your attention. Just yanking the chain of an arrogant upstart. Perhaps you will learn humility over time?

    As you were.

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  27. 27. rshoff2 3:25 pm 01/26/2014

    After re-reading the article and comments and thinking about John’s position on a war free world it made me wonder. *If* we are designed for propagation then we may not only be ‘wired’ for self survival and survival of offspring, but also ‘wired’ to help others survive (as long as it doesn’t threaten our own sense of survival or that of our progeny).

    Perhaps leveraging that self-interest of assisting other people to survive, and even thrive, would offset our propensity to war. Perhaps we can refocus on our best interest of survival. Help others survive and thrive. It’s also in our DNA….

    I’m of the camp that believes we are doomed to war by our genetics. However, it would be great to be wrong.

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  28. 28. rkipling 4:02 pm 01/26/2014

    rshoff2,

    The evidence would suggest both wirings you speak of are in place.

    Link to this
  29. 29. David Marjanović 6:07 pm 01/26/2014

    I knew that would get your attention. Just yanking the chain of an arrogant upstart. Perhaps you will learn humility over time?

    I still don’t understand. I asked Dr Horgan why he cites only himself in a list of “further reading” – what qualifications do I need to have before I’m allowed to ask that?

    Do keep in mind that I ask. It’s not a rhetorical question; I’m not presuming an answer. I mean what I say, and I don’t mean what I don’t say.

    But thank you for your admission that you’re trolling.

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  30. 30. oldfarmermac 6:38 pm 01/26/2014

    I’m no expert but I long ago made the choice to read the best of the literature accessible to a well educated person with some back ground in biology and I believe it is obvious that we are hard wired to cooperate with our recognized in group.

    At one time in the deep past that would have been just about everybody we came into contact with on a fairly regular basis.

    But as our numbers expanded and competition for resources- read here mates , food , water, shelter, status in the community- increased we increasingly competed with each other rather than other species for the basics, namely food and maybe water.

    So at that time the calculus of survival changed so that we began competing with each other as members of subgroups within the larger band or tribe .

    Both behaviors are now wired in and either can dominate depending on how we perceive another person or band of people. If they are strangers and times are tough we perceive them as actual or potential enemies but if we are well fed and otherwise well off and don’t feel threatened we can ignore them or even treat them as friends depending on circumstances prevailing at the moment.

    And we must remember that aggression is often a good survival strategy as is proven by the long term prosperity of some societies that have practiced it.

    Mother Nature doesn’t give a hoot or a damn about such concepts as morality except as morality might or might not affect the survival of the individuals competing to reproduce. She doesn’t care who or what wins the never ending Darwinian race for survival. She has no mind with which to even consider such a possibility or any other possibility.

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  31. 31. rkipling 7:26 pm 01/26/2014

    David Marjanović

    Well I’ll leave it to others to decide if I’m trolling or not. My reply to you had nothing to do with this article. I’ve read some of your other comments here and read some of your personal aggrandizement writings. I saw an opportunity to get your attention to suggest some introspection on your part.

    While you may have some raw talent, spending your time attempting to convince others of your greatness wastes that potential. Use your time productively. It passes far quicker than you now realize. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

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  32. 32. rkipling 7:28 pm 01/26/2014

    That presumes you actually are Dr. Marjanović.

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  33. 33. David Marjanović 8:09 pm 01/26/2014

    Well I’ll leave it to others to decide if I’m trolling or not.

    You admitted to yanking my chain. Trying to make people upset is called trolling. :-|

    your personal aggrandizement writings

    Again, I honestly don’t understand why you interpret personal aggrandizement into anything I’ve written.

    attempting to convince others of your greatness

    That’s not what I’m doing. I agree it would be a waste, it’s just not what I’m trying to do.

    In the case of this thread, I simply have a question for the author of the OP.

    That presumes you actually are Dr. Marjanović.

    Most of my papers (not the first one) will tell you my e-mail address. Send an e-mail there, and I’ll confirm it.

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  34. 34. rkipling 8:45 pm 01/26/2014

    Well okay, maybe you have changed then. Someone referring to themselves as David-F***ing-Marjanovic struck me as a bit full of themselves. If you have gotten past that phase, then perhaps my comment was unnecessary?

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  35. 35. rshoff2 12:58 am 01/27/2014

    Nobody is trolling and no one’s comments are unnecessary. Everyone benefits from open discussion. But hey, that’s just my opinion. I talk too much… :-)

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  36. 36. David Marjanović 12:14 pm 01/27/2014

    Someone referring to themselves as David-F***ing-Marjanovic struck me as a bit full of themselves.

    I’ve never referred to myself that way; that would be embarrassing. Others, however, have repeatedly inserted not just “F”, but “MF” into my name (as an in-joke referring to the length and thoroughness of some of my comments), and that’s mostly on a site with pretty high traffic; I’m not surprised you’ve found instances of that.

    BTW, if I wanted to pretend I’m a highly accomplished vertebrate paleontologist, why would I pretend to be me and not at least my former thesis supervisor? :-)

    Nobody is trolling and no one’s comments are unnecessary. Everyone benefits from open discussion.

    Just to be clear, I’ve never said or meant to say that rkipling hasn’t said anything useful in this thread; that would be factually wrong. Yanking people’s chain, which rkipling has also done, is trolling.

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  37. 37. rkipling 1:56 pm 01/27/2014

    Dr. Marjanović,

    I take you at your word. Please accept my sincere apology. I have embarrassed myself by my error. Somehow I mistakenly got the impression that you had referred to yourself in that manner. That misunderstanding colored my interpretation of your comments. I thought I was communicating with someone who was disrespecting themselves and a field which I hold in some respect.

    And I have to agree with your definition of trolling. I don’t seek conflict in comments. It is no defense of my actions, but I was attempting to get the attention of a specific individual who I mistakenly believed to be wasting their talent. Few have such capabilities. It angered me to believe it was being wasted by hubris.

    If you are willing, please provide links to any work you may have published online. Again my apologies.

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  38. 38. rshoff2 2:28 pm 01/27/2014

    rkipling – please don’t feel embarrassed! Gosh, based on that alone my comments would have to downright humiliate me. :-/ No room for that. You guys do have great dialog though. You two would clearly have a meeting of the minds (after much discourse) based on the writing styles and communication skills I see. I hope to see you two discuss other topics in John’s blog. We would all benefit.

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  39. 39. rshoff2 2:30 pm 01/27/2014

    There’s no sarcasm in that comment, it’s sincere.

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  40. 40. rkipling 3:12 pm 01/27/2014

    rshoff2,

    It’s okay. It isn’t belly cutting time. But, going after someone undeservedly is embarrassing. Not my first error. Probably not my last either. I’ll be all the more careful before I pull such a stunt again. Maybe the lesson should be not to do it to begin with?

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  41. 41. rshoff2 5:23 pm 01/27/2014

    I had a friend that criticized me pretty badly a few months back. We haven’t spoken much of late because my embarrassment about how he chose to do it. He apologized and we will eventually be friends again. What cut to the core is that he was mostly correct. That reinforces for me that we (all) can’t walk around being politically correct all the time when we (all) need to know some truths about ourselves. Maybe the only thing to consider is the chosen method. It sounds like David is fine because you gave him the opportunity to explain himself and defend his position. Actually, I was confused too. You are fine because now you know more about David and it cleared a misinterpretation. And I am hopeful that you guys will talk more in the future so I (everyone) can learn from your observations of any given subject that John introduces.

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  42. 42. Jerzy v. 3.0. 9:45 am 01/28/2014

    Long-distance trade in raw materials and ornaments like seashells – it implies that Ice Age societies already must have regularily met strangers. The few modern hunter-gatherers pushed into small and biologically marginal may not be representative of humanity past.

    Mr Diamond takes big flights of erudition into “what is natural for humans” and “if natural is moral or not”. They are enjoyable and good to read, but I feel they are neither scientifically sound summaries nor have practical value in solving problems of modern societies.

    Anti-malaria pills may be not natural, and shooting bandits in revenge may be moral. But does it mean that we should malaria medicine and allow Wild West style morality?

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  43. 43. Jerzy v. 3.0. 9:47 am 01/28/2014

    @rkipling
    Thank you for saving me time in telling that Mr Marjanovic was right. Had he be wrong, why would you switch to arguments ad personam?

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  44. 44. rkipling 10:50 am 01/28/2014

    Jerzy v. 3.0.,

    As I said already, I mistakenly thought I had a personal issue with him. It had nothing to do with this topic.

    I don’t attempt to make substantive arguments with personal attacks.

    This isn’t a personal attack either, but your comments would be easier to read if you proofed them before posting.

    If you are attempting to say that this topic has little practical application, then I agree. There seems to be no way to validate either hypothesis. It is still interesting to think about.

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  45. 45. ted_christopher 1:38 pm 01/28/2014

    Hi, I appreciate John’s efforts here and will check into some of his sources.

    I am not comfortable with the new sweeping generalizations about violence. I have read long-time observations about Efe pygmies and they didn’t register as savage savages. Also going way back India has had extraordinary non-violent movements (culminating for example in the Jain way of life). Those were presumably built on something and again I doubt that was the savage-savage paradigm.

    The larger question of violence here is violence towards nature (which is part the sustainability crisis). In this regard how did the old-timers stack up against us modern-ites?

    Finally, for a succinct squaring off of modern versus premodern (and also secular/scientific versus premodern/religious) you might consider the last 60 years of China in Tibet. How violent were nomads living (up until very recently) in remote places like Tibet?

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  46. 46. rshoff2 2:44 pm 01/28/2014

    Perhaps we are ‘mirroring’ what we see in the media and news. Not literally, but subconsciously. Perhaps psychopath killers chopping their victims apart bloody part by bloody part in our entertainment actually does do something to our social conscious. Perhaps glorifying the most dysfunctional aspects about ourselves via the media (makes us feel better about our failures I guess) not only feeds our minds but the minds of the developing children.

    Perhaps we could just as easily live in a non-violent society. John’s blogs are getting me thinking. Maybe there is a way out. But we have to do it for the future generations, we may be addicted to violence, always craving it no matter how far away we put it.

    Just saying’.

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  47. 47. rshoff2 2:00 pm 02/1/2014

    I see the conversation stopped! Perhaps my gruesome point is that as long as we can conceive of violence, war will exist. It is the natural progression of personal conflict. As long as we continue to nurture and teach the concept of violence in media, then we will not be able to escape war.

    Didn’t I read that there is a native language where the concept of time doesn’t exist? I guess if the concept of time doesn’t exist, why can’t the concept of violence? How about the movie 7 Years in Tibet. The german had to learn that individual competition is a negative characteristic, not a positive one to be rewarded.

    So, arguing against even my own philosophies, I ask, ‘is the concept of violence really in our genes’? Or is violence a path we take as a civilization, not even realizing that it’s of our own invention.

    I’m trying to think upstream of the world as we know it. Where did we diverge from the peaceful path? If it can exist, then how would we make such a leap and what would the world look like?

    I don’t think we could continue to live the lifestyles we currently do and get to that point. I suspect the population is too great to be supported by the lifestyles of that non-violent world.

    Is a non-violent, war free world a step backward where we just fit into ‘gaia’ as a species amongst many? That we step back and survive as peaceful animals? Are attributes of our intelligence not only advancement (science and technology) and ultimately adaptability with war being a consequence?

    Maybe it’s all a progression. We will get there, but not by denial and going back. Maybe we need to work forward, our genes will ultimately take our species to a future without war. Unfortunately, we as individuals will not see it.

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