ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Cross-Check

Cross-Check


Critical views of science in the news
Cross-Check Home

World’s Biggest Warmonger Could Lead Humanity to Peace

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


Email   PrintPrint



Last week, on the same day that McSweeney’s Books published a new, paperback edition of my book The End of War, I argued that we must and can end war and militarism, our most urgent problems.

If Americans want to rid the world of lethal extremism, they should start with themselves.

In a thoughtful response to my column, my fellow science writer Keith Kloor suggests that “at first blush,” the quest to end war seems “quixotic and naïve.” Kloor poses a couple of questions for me that others have posed too—and that I struggled with while researching and writing The End of War. In this post, I’ll respond to Kloor’s queries and see if I can make him a bit more optimistic.

Kloor quotes me saying: “Sometimes violence is morally justified, even necessary, to thwart greater violence. So the question is, how should we react to lethal group violence when it erupts in the world today?”

“But is that the right question?” Kloor asks. “I would think that the greater challenge is eliminating the main reasons why one group of people sets out to kill another group. All through history wars have been fought over land, religion, flag, and ethnicity, to cite just a few of the major triggers.”

When I started researching war, I also assumed that to get rid of war, we have to get rid of its root causes. The trouble is, scholars have identified countless causes of war. One pseudo-explanation (which I’m glad Kloor does not mention, and which I rebut early on in my book and in posts such as this) is that war stems from a compulsion bred into our ancestors by natural selection. Biology underpins war, as it underpins all human behaviors. The crucial question is, why does war break out in certain places and times and not others?

The most popular non-biological explanations of war are what I call the Malthusian and Marxist hypotheses. The first posits that war stems from our tendency to over-reproduce and hence fight over land and other resources. The second holds that war stems from inequality, the tendency of societies (especially capitalist ones) to divide into haves and have-nots.

Scholars have also blamed wars on religion, racism and nationalism, which Kloor mentions above, as well as such fundamental social traits as hierarchy, sexism and injustice. If you cherry pick, you always find evidence to support your favorite theory.

But as scholars such as Lewis Fry Richardson (whom my friend David Berreby recently profiled) have shown, neither the Malthusian and Marxist theories nor any of the other explanations above can account for the vast diversity of wars. Moreover, some factors that provoke conflict, such as religion, can also inhibit it. Religion has inspired some of our greatest antiwar leaders, notably Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

I have found only one theory of war that fits the facts. The theory holds that war is a self-perpetuating, contagious meme, which can propagate independently of other social and environmental factors. As anthropologist Margaret Mead put it in a famous 1940 essay, “Warfare Is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity.”

In other words, the major cause of war is war itself, which has a terrible tendency to spread even to societies that would prefer to remain peaceful. I make this point in my book and in a 2010 blog post, “Margaret Mead’s war theory kicks butt of neo-Darwinian and Malthusian models.” Here is an edited excerpt:

In his 1997 book War Before Civilization, anthropologist Lawrence Keeley notes that war among North American Indians often stemmed from the aggression of just a few extremely warlike tribes, “rotten apples that spoiled their regional barrels.” He added, “Less aggressive societies, stimulated by more warlike groups in their vicinity, become more bellicose themselves.”

Societies in a violent region, the political scientist Azar Gat emphasizes in his 2006 book War in Human Civilization, have a strong incentive to carry out preemptive attacks. Societies may “attack the other side in order to eliminate or severely weaken them as a potential enemy. Indeed, this option only makes the other side more insecure, rendering the security dilemma more acute. War can thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fear of war breeds war.”

Many people are pessimistic about ending war because they assume it will require radical social engineering. World peace will require eliminating poverty, inequality, sexism, racism or [fill in the blank]. We will need to eradicate religion, or all embrace the same religion. We will need to get rid of all nation states and become anarchists, or form a single global government.

My analysis of war suggests that if we want to end war, we don’t need to create a society radically different from our own, let alone a utopia. If we want to end war, we should focus on ending war and the culture of war rather than on supposed causal factors. If we can do that, we will take a major step toward solving many of our other social problems, as I argued in my previous post.

And that brings me to Keith Kloor’s final challenge to me. He devotes much of his column to a discussion of how extremists on both sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine have “hijacked the peace process. Horrific spasmodic cycles of violence and death is the result.” He asks me how we can “rid the world of extremist groups that sow the seeds of war.”

Kloor has his causation backwards. Just as war promotes poverty, tyranny, inequality and resource depletion at least as much as vice versa, so war promotes fanaticism. Once militarism seizes hold of a society, it can transform vast populations into virtual sociopaths. It turns decent, ethical, reasonable people into intolerant fanatics capable of the most heinous acts.

Breaking out of what Kloor calls “spasmodic cycles of violence and death” can be extraordinarily difficult, but history offers many examples of societies that have done just that. Germany and France were bitter, bloody rivals for centuries. But it is now inconceivable that Germany and France—or any members of the European Union–would go to war against each other.

One of my favorite examples of a nation that has renounced militarism is Costa Rica. Like many of its neighbors in Central American, Costa was once wracked by terrible violence. But after a bloody civil war in the 1940s, Costa Rica disbanded its army, freeing up more funds for education, health care, transportation and tourism. It is often ranked as one of the most peaceful, healthy, “happy” nations in the world.

Transcending a lethal stalemate often, although not always, requires courageous, imaginative leadership, such as that shown by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat when they agreed to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s, or by Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Clerk when they negotiated the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s.

One way to promote peace is to point out to groups with grievances that nonviolence usually produces better outcomes than violence. This is the theme of the work of political scientist Gene Sharp, which I discuss at length in The End of War.

But to my mind, the U.S. remains the key to fostering peace today, both in the Mideast and worldwide. The U.S. preaches peace to the Israelis and Palestinians, just as it preaches to the Russians, Ukrainians, Iranians, North Koreans and other people around the world. But the preaching of the U.S. rings hollow.

To adopt Kloor’s language, the U.S.–more than any other nation or group–sows “the seeds of war” around the world through its militaristic behavior. Just look at the “cycles of violence and death” we have triggered in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have become breeding grounds for ISIS and other violent groups. The U.S. has the potential to become a moral exemplar and lead the world to peace. But if we want to rid the world of lethal extremism, we should start with ourselves.

Image: Flagartist.com, Wikimedia Commons

 

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.





Rights & Permissions

Comments 27 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. z34aa 7:20 pm 08/18/2014

    Your argument seems to have a logical flaw, at least to me, if war is the cause of war, then how could it have started in the first place? Since it is logically impossible for an effect to have itself as the cause, it means that there must be in truth some other cause outside of war (leaving out for the moment the idea that war is endemic to human nature, since you do not ascribe to the notion). This leads one to conclude that even if all conflict were stopped, at some point something could again cause it to happen.

    I will concede though that war is self-propagating, and if there were ever to be a chance at world peace (something I myself don’t believe is possible, since humans are not capable enough at truly understanding other peoples perspectives, if they even make the attempt, too avoid conflict.) not having war would go a long ways to stopping the kind of situations that result in conflict.

    Link to this
  2. 2. M Tucker 7:28 pm 08/18/2014

    The “…peace treaty between Israel and Egypt” is in a very fragile state and the extremists in Egypt that would like to support the overthrow of Israel are only being contained by a violent military elite; the actual authority in Egypt. Those who wish to subjugate others by force always use ideological arguments to sway the people who they wish to recruit as fighters. These arguments are very powerful to people who have lived very insecure lives for many generations. For the most part these people are completely disenfranchised and see no other recourse to address their situation.

    Let’s get down to the ‘rock and the hard place.” What is your solution to the refugee camps that have existed for 50 years or more in the Middle East? What is your solution to find homes for those people? How will Israel ever feel secure with so much arrayed against them?

    This seemed like an important point for you to make near the beginning for your last post:
    “I am not an absolute pacifist. If someone attacks me or a loved one—or even a stranger–I would do my best to stop him. Sometimes violence is morally justified, even necessary, to thwart greater violence.”
    The reason you give to declare that sometimes violence is morally justified can be so universally applied that we need to start there if you really want to see an end to war.

    Finally, how come you never mention any of the conflicts, conflicts that have raged for decades, in several rather large African nations? They always get overlooked and I constantly wonder why.

    Link to this
  3. 3. rationalrevolution 11:43 am 08/19/2014

    Peace between Egypt and Israel only existed because of billions in funding provided by the US, to both Israel and Egypt. What little peace there is between Israel and other Muslim countries in the Middle East is almost entirely a product of US foreign aid being paid to Muslim countries that is contingent on peaceful reticulations with Israel.

    In truth I don’t think there is any single cause of war., there are many. If we look at animals, however, we see that war is quite natural, it occurs between many groups in nature, from ants to chimps.

    Are we hard-wired for war by biology? Yes and no. Are we hard hired to punch people in the face? Well, not exactly, but if someone does certain behaviors that trigger our aggression, then yes, I think most people have a biological instinct that will drive them to punch someone in the face eventually.

    We have instincts. Those instincts are triggered by environmental conditions. The key then is to remove teh environmental conditions that trigger the warlike instincts.

    We can see in the Israel Gaza conflict that this isn’t happening, in fact the opposite is happening. What Israel is doing is just fostering greater warlike sentiment toward Palestinians, and likely vice versa, but the Gazans are clearly subordinate ones. It is up to the Israelis to move toward peace, but the ones being subjugated.

    But ultimately, what has to be done is to take the profit out of war. We will never end all violence, but it is profit motive that drives the major buildup of the ever more dangerous war machine.

    Link to this
  4. 4. PatrickDFR 1:10 pm 08/19/2014

    Hello John,
    I have the impression that what really bothers you is the US military/industrial power/policy. If I have your drift right, you believe that if the US disarms (maybe not completely) and forgoes war, somehow everybody will follow suit (after some time) and war will disappear. This seems to me misguided. Take the recent war in Mali. Jihadist (merely a handful) were taking over the country when a western power intervened (France). How can you stop might from being right? It is when might is used under the guidance of a set of rules (when ultimatly might is ruled by “right”). As long as you have criminals, you need a police (and this is true for world order where the police are armies, or for local order in your neighbourhood).

    You happen to think the US is a bad police force (and that may be true in many cases), but that does not mean that a police force is not needed (at least until there are no more criminals). So basically we are back to the question of how does one get rid of criminals? And here you will have to face the usual suspects: ideology, religion, inequality, etc. I simply do not see a simple question to the end of war.

    In (western) Europe war has stopped because people have suffered too much from them and that the major grievances are gone (Germany accepted the bitter pill of losing territory after world war 2, but due to the size of its crimes could not cry for revenge). So basically frontiers are stable and war would be doom to these rich and complex economies. But there are still regions in the world where people have less to lose and where nationalistic sentiment is strong (and there are grievances).

    NB: one can note many recent wars are basically civil wars (which are less responsive to world “police”).

    Link to this
  5. 5. Percival 3:17 pm 08/19/2014

    I agree that the U. S. is “the world’s biggest warmonger” in terms of scale, but you fail to address the reasons it is. It’s not so much who we choose to back (with rhetoric, arms sales or gifts, or actual “boots on the ground”) but *why* we back them. The phrase “American Interests” trips lightly off the tongues of politicians when justifying meddling in other nations’ affairs, but what interests, exactly? High-minded abstracts like the “cause of Democracy”, equality for women, or even Christianity? No. If you look closely, it’s mostly business interests. We side with nations and groups that offer profitable trade agreements to large American companies. We manufacture far more military materiel than our military will ever be able to use, for the sole purpose of selling or giving it to somebody because there’s a ROI (return on investment) to come from it. The arms manufacturers are usually subsidiaries of (for instance) Big Agro, Big Pharma, Big Energy, or, well, pick a big business conglomerate. If they’re not direct subsidiaries, their CEOs are golf buddies, Skull And Bones “brothers”, or otherwise linkable.

    What to do about this? Government will not reign in such businesses for the simple reason that they’re in each others’ pockets. Government contractors run for office, officeholders join boards of directors. Military leaders don’t get to decide which multibillion-dollar airplane, aircraft carrier, or whatever to use- it’s already a done deal because a Committee was “paid” to choose a contractor, and the contractor naturally wants as much profit as possible.

    The U. S. is not alone in this either- check out who makes and sells AK-47′s worldwide, and who licenses those sales.

    War is big business, bigger than energy, pharma, or agro.

    That business is not accessible to the kind of “vote with your wallet” manipulation from the bottom up like say Apple or Microsoft are, because voters have almost no say in it. Perhaps we could stop arguing about Right vs. Left, who’s the Greenest, and such superficialities, and grade candidates for public office according to which big business(es) they’re beholden to, businesses which may be accessible to citizen boycott. The Bush family was criticized for belonging to oil, yet Clinton and Obama are at least as “warlike” as either Bush. Who pulled Clinton’s strings, and who’s pulling Obama’s?

    It’s time we found out, and figured out how to make them feel the pain of war, even if only second-hand.

    Link to this
  6. 6. plswinford 3:52 pm 08/19/2014

    Hunter-gatherers, who don’t know any other homo sapiens exists, engage in battle. War is a way to gain advantage.

    Link to this
  7. 7. StrangeCharm 6:31 pm 08/19/2014

    There’s still that little “self perpetuating” issue that needs to be tended to before the world will be the way it really should be.
    http://www.marsoc.marines.mil/News/NewsArticleDisplay/tabid/1213/Article/168808/the-past-aligned-with-the-future-marsoc-becomes-marine-raiders.aspx

    Please forgive me if I retain my opinion that the probability of war being talked away resides somewhere between Slim and None — and Slim left town a long, long time ago.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Von Stupidtz 2:47 am 08/20/2014

    Morals of the war apart,Can we get Hans Rosling to do some number crunching on war?

    Modern warfare is confined to a limited theatre of operations,with far less casualties compared to the past. Looking at the data we may conclude that war has subsided with the trend continuing in future.

    If nations want peace,they should avoid pin-pricks that precede cannon-shots.- Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Link to this
  9. 9. rshoff2 12:53 pm 08/20/2014

    BINGO: “war is a self-perpetuating, contagious meme, which can propagate independently of other social and environmental factors”…”the major cause of war is war itself”

    It’s with relief and sadness that I know understand that our genes do not dictate war. Relief that civilization doesn’t have to be this way, sadness that there’s an overwhelming amount that we are responsible to change.

    Link to this
  10. 10. catharsis 3:06 pm 08/20/2014

    What sensitive, non-violent technique can the World’s Biggest Warmonger employ to resolve the beheading of journalist James Foley?

    Given that IS(IS) has already declared war on the wicked U.S., and Christians, and other minorities, what talk therapy is recommended?

    Link to this
  11. 11. rshoff2 3:52 pm 08/20/2014

    We have to get out of the trenches first. Foley is a sad casualty yes, but he is not an excuse to extinguish the human race with ever escalating warfare. Maybe it’s too lste but I think Horgan and his friends have a valid point anday provide direction. Let’s listen gor a change.

    Link to this
  12. 12. rshoff2 3:53 pm 08/20/2014

    Sorry for the typos. I’m on my mobile device.

    Link to this
  13. 13. StrangeCharm 6:05 pm 08/20/2014

    “We have to get out of the trenches first.”

    We will be able to get out of those trenches when James Foley gets out of his grave.

    Link to this
  14. 14. Podcaster 7:00 pm 08/20/2014

    rshoff2,

    You seem to be a staunch defender of this “end of war” proposition.
    Let’s try a thought experiment. Assume for the sake of argument that you are the principle actor of government of a group of people. Assume also that an adjacent group of people is governed by an organization that has as one of its policies the destruction of the people you govern.
    If that other organization were to begin and then maintain an aerial bombardment of the people you govern, would you respond with deadly force to terminate that aerial bombardment?
    If no, why?
    If yes, why?

    Link to this
  15. 15. rshoff2 6:19 am 08/21/2014

    I’m not a staunch believer in end of war proposition. Although I have come to believe that war is not a genetic mandate as I once had. I also don’t have much faith in humanity, so I doubt that we will ever choose to put war behind us.

    Being a military brat of a career Navy to Air-force father who served through the Korean and Vietnam wars, and having served in the Air-force myself briefly during peacetime I had always viewed civilians with distrust. They simply didn’t understand or appreciate what our military provided. As a pacifist, I always believed in a strong defense. Because that, I thought, was the best path to peace. And it may be. The problem is that once we have toys, we are compelled to play with them.

    In todays world, in it’s current state, then yes, I would continue aerial bombardment, but only if I could believe the good of humanity was on my side.

    But the situation you describe is a set-up. The proverbial chicken or the egg scenario. I ask you, why is the adjacent group determined to destroy in the first place? Is it in their genes? If yes, end of discussion. But is it?

    This leads to a grey area. Are you suggesting a focused defensive attack? Are you referring to an appropriately scaled defense? Are you describing a consortium that is bringing anarchist into the fold of civilization?

    Is war necessary today to maintain Western Civilization or even civilization at all? I’d say yes. Must war be necessary indefinitely? I’d say no.

    Will that come to pass naturally or with hard work and effort? I’d say it takes hard work and effort. Is our civilization the gold standard? I don’t know but suspect not. It is probably a great start. After all, it took a couple thousand years to get here. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Finally, I’d like to point out that war is to be approached with great reticence and the extreme desire to avoid it. All other aspects of relationships must be completely exhausted, we must be on the defensive, and we must not over-react to petty war mongers.

    What we should be doing with our resources is truly teaching, providing healthcare, distributing resources in a fair and productive manner, furthering automation, engaging each other in dialogue.

    Although 7 years in Tibet was a blockbuster, it did introduce interesting and relevant concepts.

    But the Military side of me says beat the sh!t out of anybody that messes with us.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Michael M 4:59 pm 08/21/2014

    And, of course, what of the 60+ military-relatively free nation of Japan, recently deciding to redevelop a war machine in response to international rhetoric?

    Our species indulges in murder, even within the limits of community size with which we are evolutionarily equipped to operate before violently fracturing. How do we extend our family/tribal morality to include those individuals and outgroups for whom we have evolved heuristics?
    Stereotyping, generalizing, accepted social behaviors of carrying lethal long-distance projectile weapons for preemptive and response to perceived threat: these are a couple levels of problems with which cultural change has to deal.

    Yet the implication of the consistent community size at which violent social fracture occurs (anthropologists, sociologists, and psychological researchers know it as “Dunbar’s Number”, about 150), is that a phenotypic characteristic of our species IS violent fracture, suggesting that there is no cure for war.

    Again, the list of nations without military is small and composed of very tiny nations. The list of nations not warring for over 60 years is larger, but also composed of small nations.

    For-profit investment bodies exist to exploit as much as they possibly can without dissolution of the corporation, and these artificial entities migrate or otherwise expand to areas in which they can grow profits. The wisest (greediest?) of these use every exploitation method possible under the auspices of violent protectors (read: governments, nations) to reduce as much as possible resources in any given area and doing this, alienate the dispossessed.

    How, then, does one change a culture sufficiently to eliminate warring?

    As a commentor above mentions, he has “a ‘military’ side which wants to beat the [shite] out of anybody who messes with [him].”
    Of course we clearly have discovered that “messing” with another is in the eye of the beholder, leaving open to everyone their most brutal and sociopathic pleasures.
    You cannot even get total agreement with those who purport to agree on principle – they are too busy impersonating male gorillas invading and threatening or committing infanticide wherever they go (or comment).

    Link to this
  17. 17. rshoff2 5:17 pm 08/21/2014

    Michael, I’m afraid you misunderstand. You would be hard pressed to find a more peaceful person than I, although, you will find many that say they are. Also, I disagree, ‘messing’ with someone is not in the eye of the beholder. Obviously, chaos and anarchy is not a successful strategy. Please try to read my comment for what it is instead of picking a sentence and implying that I am violent. After all, I’m simply answering an antagonistic question that was presented to me. I’m quite sure that much of the opinions I hear and read are thoughtless (meaning lacking in reflection) myopic, selfish, and self-serving. Mine is not, whether you appreciate it or not.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Podcaster 8:16 pm 08/21/2014

    rshoff2 ,

    “In todays world, in it’s current state, then yes, I would continue aerial bombardment, but only if I could believe the good of humanity was on my side.’”
    As my question was if you would use deadly force to interrupt the aerial bombardment, I shall read your response to be that yes, you would use deadly force to stop the aerial bombardment. Quite reasonable and understandable, but doing so refutes Mr. Hogan’s end of war thesis.

    “But the situation you describe is a set-up. The proverbial chicken or the egg scenario. I ask you, why is the adjacent group determined to destroy in the first place? Is it in their genes? If yes, end of discussion. But is it?”
    Alas, the situation I describe is not a set-up. It accurately describes what Hamas has done and currently is doing to Israel from Gaza. You may also be aware Hamas, the government of the adjacent group determined to destroy, is in fact, committed to the destruction of Israel. The destruction of Israel is integrated into Hamas’ raison d’être, so, in that abstract sense, yes, it (the impulse to war) is indeed embedded into Hamas’ genetic makeup.

    I’m confident that no amount of Mr. Hogan’s, or anyone else’s for that matter, fervent desire for an end of war will deter Hamas, ISIL, or any other fanatic group from waging war, and in so doing refute Mr. Hogan’s end of war thesis.

    Link to this
  19. 19. llirbo 8:47 pm 08/21/2014

    rshoff2
    Michael, I’m afraid you misunderstand.

    Rshoff2, Your comments are extremely well thought out and I thank you for it.

    Link to this
  20. 20. rshoff2 8:59 pm 08/21/2014

    Podcaster, My apologies for misreading your question, but yes, you correctly assumed my answer to be the same. Therein lies a problem. Hamas, from what I understand, does support chaos. Israel does not. I am neither jewish, nor muslim, nor christian. I disagree with religion as it takes peoples freedom of mind from them.

    I don’t know whether I support Mr. Horgan’s end of war thesis or not. In that assumption you are not correct. However, I do support some of the premise. If Mr. Horgan was good enough to chat with me extensively over a great period of time, and educate me to his experiences and thoughts and learn about mine, then I would be able to tell you whether or not I support his end of war thesis. But I’m sure that is not practical solely to establish my views on his thesis. In fact, my views don’t even matter because I have no power to start or stop military actions.

    I see myself as a type of realist. I am a pacifist (I have strong feelings to manage, but I do not take actions against people). I also believe in a strong defense and the right to use that defense. Military is necessary right now. I’m not religious, but I prefer to look at the large picture in human terms. You ask a question about a current conflict. My impression of the end of war thesis is that we must step back, look at the big picture, and stop before the trigger is cocked for yet another war of which we cannot yet describe. I also believe that it suggests there are a relatively few people in power, including Hamas, that has it within themselves to cease. Of course, their people cannot be left out in the cold either. They must be permitted to thrive as well. But this entire topic hinges on the argument that War is not a genetic mandate. I don’t deny war exists. My position has changed as to why it exists. In our DNA? If not, John Horgan is correct and we can stop -if we choose. But it’s a hard choice that only strong people can make.

    Link to this
  21. 21. rshoff2 9:37 pm 08/21/2014

    Thank you llirbo, I hope my latest comment doesn’t disappoint you. But this is, after all, John’s blog. So I shall shut myself up already!

    Link to this
  22. 22. Podcaster 6:10 am 08/22/2014

    rshoff2,

    “I am neither jewish, nor muslim, nor christian. I disagree with religion as it takes peoples freedom of mind from them.”

    All ideologies, religious, political, or scientific, establish some particular organization on how experience is organized and understood.

    That is the intractable problem upon which Mr. Horgan’s hope founders, for once one admits, as he has, that there exist exceptions to this rule, then it becomes subjective. Once the ideal loses the luster of objectivity, it becomes just another individual’s dream.

    Link to this
  23. 23. rshoff2 11:29 am 08/22/2014

    Well Podcast, you may be thinking in broader terms about our conversation. It had been my assumption that war was in our DNA. Reading John Horgan has disuaded me from that idea. That is the basis of my support. In addition, if war is not a genetic mandate, then it is an option to move forward without war.

    What hasn’t been introduced is the notion of free will (which I don’t deny in general concept) and absolute predictability (which I strongly accept and which appears to determine the next instant) . That would not be a discussion on genetics and biology so much as one on physics.

    I’m afraid that unless everyone were interested in putting their self-interests and parochial notions aside to make clear basic choices (ie, put down the gun), then they have chosen to continue the path of war. If physics where conscious we could simply ask what was to be, but it’s not so we have to guess. Guessing gives us the sense of free-will when in fact it’s simply ignorance.

    For all those people that think humans are brilliant and have the corner on intelligence, I say we are but a blind deaf and dumb animal whom may -or may not- play a miniscule role in what will have been evolutionary history on this dinky little insignificant planet we call Earth when the play of physics of our universe is spent.

    So with all the ego and arrogance of our best minds and most advanced scientists mistakenly believing their years of work mean anything, you and I are nothing. We mean nothing and it really doesn’t matter to the universe what you choose to do to others. That only matters to you and me for a very brief moment in time. If we choose the path of pain and destruction to ourselves, it doesn’t really matter. So my question to you: Why do it if there is really nothing to be gained? Think big. What does the earth, sky, and stars have to gain by our torture and destruction?

    Oh, that’s right. It’s for god.

    Link to this
  24. 24. rshoff2 11:39 am 08/22/2014

    “All ideologies, religious, political, or scientific, establish some particular organization on how experience is organized and understood.”

    I don’t relate to that statement. We each experince and understand the world around us through our shared biology. Sky is up to each and everyone of us. Water is wet to everybody. Food is required by us all in similar intervals. We all share experinces that are ubiversal to the human animal as a result of our biology, it is not the result of ideology.

    There is a feild which we all traverse…..

    Link to this
  25. 25. jayjacobus 2:06 pm 08/23/2014

    Identifying the traits of leaders should be a priority. Long before a person becomes a leader his propensity toward war or peace should be known and the aggressive, war like leaders should be rejected.

    In our country we don’t distinguish between hawks and doves. This means that we have an even chance of getting a hawk for president, senator, representative, judge, secretary on down. We are open for war. But we have no incentive to reject hawks. Worse than that other countries’ leaders can be just as war like.

    Until leaders are selected on their peaceful intents we will keep having wars.

    Link to this
  26. 26. tribalypredisposed 8:33 am 09/1/2014

    First, the “meme” idea is simply wrong, memes do not reproduce, evolve, have differential fitness. Nor are they all-powerful and capable of controlling humans like puppets. And the “meme” idea quite literally reduces to “culture,” so Horgan is right back at the anti-science Standard Social Science Model “blank slate” view of humans and war asserting that evolution and genes have nothing to do with it. This is in fact a just-cannot-be-so-story, it is simply impossible that evolution could result in a species with a blank slate mind at all, let alone one which is also easily manipulated by random thoughts at a heavy cost to it’s fitness. I have pointed out this fact to Horgan multiple times before, but he would rather continue in his fantasy land than deal with the real world.

    “Once militarism seizes hold of a society, it can transform vast populations into virtual sociopaths. It turns decent, ethical, reasonable people into intolerant fanatics capable of the most heinous acts.”

    Interesting. How exactly does it do this? What is the process? Is there, perhaps, an underlying evolved predisposition that makes us vulnerable to being lead to war? Would it not be useful to understand that process that makes the vast majority fall into line and get marching? Would that not be better than blindly opposing uncontrollable and infinitely variable “memes?” I think it would be best to give up our naive blinders and look the war monster in the face, and I have tried to do just that in my paper “Altruism and War” (http://theroadtopeace.blogspot.ca/)

    Link to this
  27. 27. jayjacobus 6:24 pm 09/5/2014

    @ tribalypredisposed

    Dictatorships subjugate their citizens through torture and murder.

    Democracies protect the liberties of their citizens.

    One warring country causes other countries to go to war. One peaceful country does not attract other countries to want peace.

    We are potential warriors in international relations.

    A bad child turns his parents into tyrants. Bad countries do the same to peaceful countries.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X