E.O. Wilson, “Is War Inevitable?”

“History is a bath of blood,” wrote William James, whose 1906 antiwar essay is arguably the best ever written on the subject. “Modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.”

Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group competition was a principal driving force that made us what we are. In prehistory, group selection (that is, the competition between tribes instead of between individuals) lifted the hominids that became territorial carnivores to heights of solidarity, to genius, to enterprise—and to fear. Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled. Throughout history, the escalation of a large part of technology has had combat as its central purpose. Today the calendars of nations are punctuated by holidays to celebrate wars won and to perform memorial services for those who died waging them. Public support is best fired up by appeal to the emotions of deadly combat, over which the amygdala—a center for primary emotion in the brain—is grandmaster. We find ourselves in the “battle” to stem an oil spill, the “fight” to tame inflation, the “war” against cancer. Wherever there is an enemy, animate or inanimate, there must be a victory. You must prevail at the front, no matter how high the cost at home.

Read the rest of Wilson’s article at Discover Magazine by clicking here

John Horgan, “No, War Is Not Inevitable”

There is no scientist whom I admire more than Edward O. Wilson. He is an indefatigable investigator, explicator, and champion of all living things, from ants to humans, and he advances his views in prose more elegant and intricate than that of many accomplished novelists. His new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, eloquently elaborates upon his hope, first expressed in his monumental work Sociobiology, that science can help us achieve self-understanding and even, perhaps, salvation.

I have one serious complaint against Wilson, though. In his new book and elsewhere, he perpetuates the erroneous—and pernicious—idea that war is “humanity’s hereditary curse.” As Wilson himself points out, the claim that we are descended from a long line of natural-born warriors has deep roots—even the great psychologist William James was an advocate—but like many other old ideas about humans, it’s wrong.

Read the rest of Horgan’s reply at Discover Magazine by clicking here

Published On: June 21, 2012

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