Ending War - Is It Possible? The Magnitude of the Challenge
It’s critical that we be realistic. Convincing diverse countries to establish a global peace system would be an enormously complex undertaking. Many would say, impossible. Daunting social and political realities must be confronted, compromises must be made, and tools to enforce the peace must be put in place. And as will be described below, for any peace to endure, we must make certain that the agreement is in harmony with human nature.
Numerous articles and books survey and evaluate those challenges. These are a few notable works by experts who believe that in spite of many hurdles, ending war is not beyond human possibility: Hind & Rotblat – War No More (2003); Irwin – Building a Peace System: Exploratory Project on the Conditions of Peace (1988); English – The Collapse of the War System (2007); Meyers – Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide (2009); Shifferd – From War to Peace (2011); Hand – Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War (2014); Horgan – The End of War (2014); World Beyond War – A Global Security System: An Alternative to War (2017).
War is so deeply embedded in our cultures and history that I liken an ending-war campaign to the challenges of putting a permanent colony on the Moon or Mars. To colonize Mars—an idea many still consider impossible—thousands of companies and projects must master a myriad of both technological and social issues. But there are people who believe that, if motivated by sufficient resolve, we can do it. Work is already under way by visionaries like Elon Musk and the NASA Mars One project (NASA, 2017, Space X 2017, Wall, 2017). Given the reality that peace systems have been created, and that humans have an astounding capacity to make social change—masterfully described by neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky in his book Behave (2017)--were we to see the emergence of a sufficiently powerful coalition of peace-seeking visionaries, there is good reason to believe that even ending war is not beyond our reach.
What would be required to move from wishing to create enduring peace to actually doing it? The official title used to describe the field of animal behavior is Ethology. Because I’ve spent the last eighteen years researching the origins and causes of war, I now am officially a peace ethologist. And during those years of study I came to the not surprising conclusion that if we wanted to put together a plan to end war, a great many realities—political, social, and financial—would be involved.
So many issues that I needed to find a way to create some order out the complexity. I began to place the necessary political and social actions into groups where the organizations or projects involved shared, in general, a common concern. I ended up with nine groups or “cornerstones” (Fig. 1). (Hand 2014, pp. 129-187) A brief summary of the focus or concern of each cornerstone is in an Appendix. All but two, “Empower Women” and “Enlist Young Men,” are similar to elements described in other books like those listed above. The cornerstones are arranged in a circle, not a to-do list, because they must be attacked simultaneously; the works they embrace are complexly intertwined. It’s quite evident that a successful colonization of Mars will require coordination of many elements on a massive scale. Similarly, it may also require that the cornerstone elements of a successful ending-war effort be purposefully coordinated so they reinforce each other. Figure 1 – Cornerstones of an Enduring Peace
If coordination doesn’t emerge at some level, the principle of divide-and-conquer, which currently facilitates the war industry, may well stymie ending-war efforts. Suggestions for how the cornerstones would contribute to ending war and could be coordinated is presented on the website AFutureWithoutWar.org (AFWW.org), in a book, and in an essay. (Hand 2005, 2010, 2014) Each cornerstone embraces many complex issues and the work of hundreds if not thousands of organizations and projects. Just imagine, for example, what kind of extraordinary efforts would be required to “Shift our Economies," the cornerstone depicted on the left in Fig. 1. (Eisler 2007, Hand 2014, pp. 173-179).
The cornerstone at the top, “Empower Women,” is derived from consideration of this book’s second subject, Sex. More specifically, the biological phenomenon of sexual dimorphism. Human sexual dimorphism with respect to social conflict, as will be explored below, explains why empowering women as governing partners with men—if you will, parity governing or koinoniarchy—along with the other cornerstones, is a necessary condition for ending war. Most particularly it is critical to maintaining any peace agreement. History teaches that peace treaties have regularly been created and signed by men, and sometimes have lasted for a good while. But clearly over long periods of historical time they have not endured. There is no guarantee that parity governing will be the cure for this pattern of failure, but for reasons we will consider under the topic of sex and sexual reproductive priorities, there is reason to believe that it might be.
Biological Reality and War Few people would question the need to take political and social realities associated with human nature into consideration when devising a path to a warless future. To date, however, failure to take biological realities of human nature into account is, in my view, the most seriously under-appreciated (or completely ignored) factor hindering our many attempts to free ourselves from the killing. Consider that a review of history shows that no amount of social engineering, no law making, no peace treaty, can endure the stresses of time—decades and centuries—if it does not take human nature into consideration and is not designed to be in harmony with it.
The most notable recent example of a grand failure was the attempt at Communism. This is a form of governing that has many appealing theoretical qualities: e.g., the idea of community, and sharing so that all people have what they need. From a biological perspective, however, a fatal flaw of Communism was that the mechanism adopted to achieve the desired goals entirely contradicts human nature. In simplest terms, the means to achieve the ends was for the state to take the fruits of labor from some people who were very productive and distribute them to people who were less productive (or often in reality, less lucky by birth or circumstance) so that the needs of all were met. Very specifically, there was to be no ownership of private property. Human beings are not by nature willing to have any of the fruits of their labor taken by others. History demonstrates that ultimately, unless populations are kept in check by force or by “bread and circuses,” humans will eventually revolt against a controlling state, tyrant, or dictator. The occasional peace of tyrannies hasn’t lasted.
Interestingly, and noteworthy, people will agree to willingly vote to have SOME of the fruits of their labor distributed to others—if they receive very desirable benefits in exchange (e.g., free health care and education systems, good jobs, clean water and healthy food, etc.). So for example, because it does not contradict human nature—it allows people to choose to willingly share—democratic socialism at least has the potential to be stable and enduring while providing good quality of life and respect for human rights. Norway is currently the world’s most obvious functioning example of this approach to governing.
It is to redress this lack of appreciation for the critical importance of incorporating biological reality into any effort to achieve an enduring end to war that War and Sex and Human Destiny will take a deep dive into the nature of sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism, a reality that is the result of natural selection, is what explains the existence of some evolved, highly significant male/female differences in our social preferences. But first we consider both our current social status and dilemma with respect to war, and some fundamental assumptions about human nature that undergird the arguments to follow about human behavior and sexual dimorphism.
Roughly 250 years ago an explosive rise in human numbers on Earth began, illustrated with the graph that opens C1. Imagine the disruptive social effects of that explosive rise. During hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that shaped our human nature, we lived in a world where, when resources ran out or disagreements erupted that might lead to what we call war, rather than make war some group members could pack up their meager belongings and move to an unoccupied place. Moving relieved the social pressure without anyone getting killed. Biologists call that very successful (survival) adaptation dispersal. Arguably, dispersal is the human preferred, evolved response to major lethal social conflicts.
As a result, we now occupy all habitable landmasses. The economist Herman Daly described this phenomenon of population explosion and global dispersal by saying that we’ve transitioned from an empty world to a full world. (Daly 2005) This transition is putting enormous pressures on our affairs, exacerbating the kinds of grave unrest that trigger wars. Large cohorts of young men, East and West, fall into crime or are seduced into radicalism. Sweeping tides of ecological refugees and people fleeing wars impact all nations. There are no empty places to which unhappy or starving people can disperse without bumping up against people already present, who are possibly themselves in dire conditions.
Our dilemma is that we have created this new, changed, full-earth environment that has no emigration escape hatch. It’s an environment to which we urgently need to adapt if we want to avoid stumbling into a dystopia of the crowded world envisioned in so many novels and films. A conscious or unconscious sense that there is no escape is part of what triggers in so many people the feeling that something is terribly wrong and humanity should maybe make some substantial changes in how we relate to each other.
So consider Albert Einstein’s insight that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Arguably the global community has a sense, conscious or unconscious, that the time is ripe for a massive, adaptive change. So a primary purpose of War and Sex and Human Destiny is make clear that to shape a “better” future, including but not limited to ending war, we need to understand ourselves; we need to look through the lens of biology to answer the question, “What kind of animal are we?” Only then can we understand what direction or directions adaptive change needs to take to succeed…and be sustainable.
We named ourselves Homo sapiens—wise man—but our behavior is often so harmful, to ourselves and increasingly to the planet, that “wise” may not fit us very well. A better choice might have been Homo acutus—clever man; we are without doubt very clever. During hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, when our ancestors lived as simple bands of nomadic foragers, we came to possess behaviors so clever that they made us one of Earth’s most dominant species. And a primary assumption of this book, written from the perspective of biology, is that many of these behaviors weren’t based on carefully thought-out reasoning. They were the results of blind forces of natural selection that rewarded behavior that ensured the survival and reproductive success of those ancestors; the behaviors favored by natural selection were not always and did not need to be the result of carefully thought-out reasoning.
So still based on biology, a second assumption, related to the first, is that our behavior is guided not solely by learning and culture. We often make social choices guided by many genetically-based, evolved, predispositions/preferences/tendencies/urges. In the text of the essays that follow I use these terms for motivational tendencies more or less interchangeably. These “built-in” tendencies powerfully motivate and influence many of our social actions. And specifically with respect to social conflicts and social behavior, we’ll examine why some of these urges (genetically-based predispositions) are not always the same for our two sexes.
Daly, H. (2005) Economics in a full world. Scientific American, 293, 100-107. Eisler, R. (2007) The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler. English, J. J. (2007) The Collapse of the War System. Development in the Philosophy of Peace in the Twentieth Century, Dublin, Ireland, Saor-Ollscoil Press with Choice Press. Ferguson, R. B. (2013a) Pinker’s List. Exaggerating Prehistoric War Mortality. In: Fry, D. P. (Ed.) War, Peace and Human Nature, 112-131, New York: Oxford University Press. Ferguson, R. B. (2013b) The Prehistory of War and Peace in Europe and the Near East. In: Fry, D. P. (Ed.) War, Peace and Human Nature, 191-240, New York: Oxford University Press. Hand J. (2005) A Future Without War.org. Available as the entire website: www.afww.org (accessed August 2010). Hand, J. (2010) “To Abolish War,” Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research (2), 244-56. Hand, J. (2014) Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War. San Diego, CA: Questpath Publishing. Hind, R. & Rotblat J. (2003) War No More. Eliminating Conflict in the Nuclear Age. Stirling, VA: Pluto Books. Horgan, J. (2014) The End of War. San Francisco, McSweeney’s Books. Irwin, R. A. (1988) Building a Pace System: Exploratory Project on the Conditions of Peace. Washington, D.C.: Expo Press. Myers, W. (2009). Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide. NY: Orbis Books. NASA. (2017) Journey to Mars overview. https://www.nasa.gov/content/journey-to-mars-overview. (accessed 24 November 2017). Panksepp, J. (2010) Affective neuroscience and the emotional BrainMind: evolutionary perspectives and implications for understanding depression. Dialogues Clinical Neuroscience, 12 (4), 533-545. Sapolsky, R. (2017) Behave. The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, New York, Penguin. Shifferd, K. (2011) From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. SpaceX. (2017) Making life multiplanitary. http://www.spacex.com/mars. (accessed 24 November 2017). Wall, M. (2017) “Elon Musk publishes plans for colonizing Mars.” (SPACE.com, June 16) (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/elon-musk-publishes-plans-for-colonizing-mars/) (accessed Aug 12, 2017). World Beyond War. (2017) A Global Security System. An Alternative to War, 2017 Edition, World Beyond War.org.