Where Does War Come From?

Evolution of Coalitionary Killing,” by Richard Wrangham, Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1999, http://www.unl.edu/rhames/courses/war/Wrangham-coalitionaryx.pdf#search=%22Evolution%20of%20Coalitionary%20Killing%22.

More Things in Heaven and Earth,” by Stephen Gould, in Alas, Poor Darwin, 2000, http://www.amazon.com/Alas-Poor-Darwin-Evolutionary-Psychology/dp/customer-reviews/0609605135 (read a review by Robert Kurzban).

Three mammals form armies. Or, more precisely, three mammalian species form coalitions that engage in cooperative killing and maiming of other groups

  • Canis lupus (Wolves)
  • Pan troglodytes (Chimps)
  • Homo sapiens (Men)

Thus, the question of whether war is in part biologically driven is the question of is it a coincidence that two of the three known mammals that engage in coalitionary violence are very closely related? There is no species more closely related to Man than Chimp, and there is only one (the bonobo) that is more closely related to Chimp than Man. If the brain is a general-purpose, domain-neutral computer, and wolves and chimps are creatures driven by complex instincts, then the common descent of man and chimp is just an oddity of nature.


Photo from Eve Anderson‘s Website

Determine the probability of that as you may.


“Does the force that makes a functional eye also eplain why the world houses more than 500,000 species of beetles and fewer than fifty species of priapulid worms?” (Gould 105)

“Population genetics has worked out in theory, and validated in practice, an elegant, mathematical account of the large role that neutral, and therefore nonadaptive, changes play in the evolution of nucleotides, or individual units of DNA programs.” (Gould 106)

“The extended stability of most species, and the brainching off of new species in geological moments (however slow by the irreleveant scale of human life) — the pattern known as punctuated equilibrium — require that long-term evolutionary trends be explained as the distinctive succes of some species versus others, and not as a gradual accumulation of adaptions generated by organisms within a continuously evolving population.” (Gould 107)

“The second holds that species generally do not change in any substantial or directional way during their geological lifetimes — usually a long period averaging five to ten million years for fossil invertebrate species.” (Gould 113)

“Reading and writing are now highly adaptive for humans, but the mental machinery for these crucial capacities must have originated as spandrels that were coopeted later, for the brain reached its current size and conformation tends of thousands of years before any human invented reading or writing.” (Gould 114) (not true)

“Dennet, following Dawkins, tries to identify human thoughts and actions as ‘memes,’ thus viewing them as units that are subject to a form of selection analogous to natural selection of genes.” (Gould 115)

“Evolutionists have long understood that Darwinism cannot operate effectively in systems of Lamarckian inheritance — for Lamarckian change has such a clear direction and permits evolution to proceed so rapidly that the much slower process of natural selection shrinks to insigificance before the Lamarckian juggernaut.” (Gould 116)

“We can scarecely argue that the brain got large so that we would know we must die.” (Gould 125)

Mounting evidence suggests, however, that coalitional killing of adults in neighboring groups also occurs regularly in other species, including wolves and chimpanzees. This implies that selection can favor components of intergroup aggression important to human warfare, including lethal raiding. (Wrangham 1)

Under these conditions, it is suggested, selection favors the tendency to hunt and kill rivals when the costs are sufficiently low. (Wrangham 1)

“At the time of these ideas [the Killer Ape Theory], intraspecific killing was considered to be absent in other wild mammals (including chimpanzees Pan troglodytes) (Lorenz, 1996). (Wrangham 2)

The CVH [Chimpanzee Violence Hypothesis] proposes that selection has favored a tendency among adult males to assess the costs and benefits of violence, and to attack rivals when the probable net benefits are sufficiently high. (Wrangham 2)

As a result, various authors raised the possibility of functional parallels and/or evolutionary continuities linking chimpanzee violence and human warfare (Trudeau et al., 1981; Otterbein, 1985, 1997; Goodall, 1986;Alexander, 1987, 1989;Wrangham, 1987, 1999b; Ghiglieri, 1988; van Hooff, 1990; Hamburg, 1991; Knauft, 1991; Manson andWrangham, 1991; Boehm, 1992; van der Dennen, 1995;Wrangham and Peterson, 1996; Boesch and Boesch, 1999). (Wrangham 3)

This is the imbalanceof- power hypothesis, which states that coalitionary kills occur because of two factors: intergroup hostility, and large power asymmetries between rival parties. (Wrangham 3)

Among humans most killing occurs in warfare, where the predominant style of violence is coalitionary. In most animals, by contrast, even where aggression occurs at high rates, lethal violence is dyadic (one versus one) rather than coalitionary (many vs. one, or many vs. many). (Wrangham 4)

Indeed, the only nonprimate mammal for which coalitionary violence is known to be commonly responsible for adult deaths is the wolf Canis lupus. (Wrangham 4)

These data suggest that animals can be divided into three major categories. First are species in which intraspecific killing of adults is rare (e.g., less than 1% of all adult deaths). Most species fall into this category. Second are those where killing occurs more frequently [often 10% of more of deaths (Enquist and Leimar 1990)], but entirely in dyadic interactions. In these species, fatal fighting is dangerous. In the third category, killing is also frequent, but differs by being polyadic (coalitionary). (Wrangham 4-5)

Participation in raids among pre-state societies, however, is normally voluntary (Keeley, 1996). Thus, reluctance of soldiers under orders does not undermine the more widespread phenomenon of male eagerness for fighting. (Wrangham 5)

How lethal raiding escapes the free-rider problem is not understood. One possibility is that intercommunity conflict has been so intense that selection has occurred at the between-group level (Boehm, 1999). However, this is unlikely because it would require very frequent group extinctions with few survivors. (Wrangham 14)

Sometimes, admittedly, the expectation that higher dominance leads to higher fitness is not met. Thus, in around half of the studies between dominance and reproductive success within primate groups, there was no relationship. However, in the other half, dominants had higher fitness than subordinates (Harcourt, 1987; de Ruiter and van Hooff, 1993; Ellis, 1995). This means that even though increased dominance does not always lead to higher fitness, it pays on average. (Wrangham 15)

Among chimpanzees, males have to date been the only observed killers and aggressors in intergroup interactions, and males are also more likely than females to be victims (Table 4). Among humans, warriors are also overwhelming male (Adams, 1983). (Wrangham 16)

Peace is the normal human condition, in the sense that most human groups, for most of the time, are not at war (Ferguson, 1989; Sponsel, 1996). Nevertheless, ethnographic and historical records clearly show that warfare is a frequent practice (Keeley, 1996; Manson andWrangham, 1991; van der Dennen, 1995). Increasingly, archaeological data suggest that violence has often been a statistically important source of death, and it is sometimes possible to infer that the violence was coalitionary (Keeley, 1996; Larsen, 1997). In small-scale societies, the commonest form of war interaction is a raid (e.g., Turney-High, 1949; Keeley, 1996; Maschner and Reedy-Maschner, 1998). Even if humans are routinely peaceful, therefore, war needs to be explained. (Wrangham 18-19)

However, with the exception of brain size, human morphology has changed relatively little duringthe last 1.9 million years (Wolpoff, 1998), suggesting that the essential ecology of human prehistory may been rather stable prior to agriculture. The essence of theories about fission-fusion grouping in chimpanzees is that fission is a response to high costs of scramble competition (Chapman et al., 1995); scramble competition is expected to be more intense in species that depend on rare, highquality foods (Janson and Goldsmith, 1995), and humans appear adapted to high-quality foods (Milton, 1987; Leonard and Robertson, 1997). (Wrangham 19)

What leads individuals to classify others as ‘‘opponents’’? How do social and ideological pressures affect the ease with which men, or women, respond to incitements to violence? (Wrangham 22)

The implication is that there has been selection for a male psyche that, in certain circumstances, seeks opportunities to carry out low-cost attacks on unsuspecting neighbors. The psychological mechanisms that would make such a complex function possible have not been studied, but a partial list might include: the experience of a victory thrill, an enjoyment of the chase, a tendency for easy dehumanization [or ‘‘dechimpization,’’ (Goodall, 1986), i.e., treating nongroup members as equivalent to prey], and deindividuation (subordination of own goals to the group), ready coalition formation, and sophisticated assessment of power differentials. (Wrangham 22)

A sharp alternative to the CVH is the standard social science model (SSSM), that human males have no inherent propensity to take advantage of power differentials. Instead, according to the SSSM, humans merely have a capacity for violence, and since ‘‘the range of possible cultural results is not explicable by natural selection’’ (Bock, 1980; p. 76; cf. Gould, 1996), evolutionary history is claimed to be irrelevant. This line of thinking has several problems. (Wrangham 22-23)

Aggressiveness can be augmented by a greater asymmetry of power, or reduced by a probability of punishment. (Wrangham 23)

In modern nation-states, the military-industrial-scientific complex tends to precipitate and maintain war, e.g., by producing increasingly sophisticated weaponry. War as an institution can in theory be maintained by the inertia of subinstitutions, such as the belief that capitalism needs militarism for its continued growth (Hinde, 1993). (Wrangham 23)

It also suggests the importance of systems that reduce power asymmetry, such as intergroup alliances through trade, marriage or treaty. (Wrangham 24)

In contrast, the behaviors shown by specialized carnivores toward their prey are not like those directed toward conspecifics. For example, social carnivores do not show signs of excitement when killing prey, and tend to use a killing bite (van der Dennen, 1995). (Wrangham 24)

The killer ape hypothesis suggested that intraspecific violence evolved from hunting, whereas Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1975), Goodall (1986), and van Hooff (1990) proposed that hunting evolved from intraspecific violence. (Wrangham 24)

On three occasions, they have even kidnapped young monkeys during play, but not eaten them (reviewed byWrangham and Peterson, 1996). (Wrangham 25)

If this conclusion has merit, anthropology has given inadequate consideration to coalitionary violence as a force in human evolution. (Wrangham 26)

The Central Truth: The Bush Administration Tried to Appease Anti-Democracy Terrorists in Iraq (and Friedman Still Wants To)

The Central Truth,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 8 September 2006, http://select.nytimes.com/2006/09/08/opinion/08friedman.html (full text at Boca Guy, donkey o.d., Free Democracy, and Peking Duck).

Tom Friedman, who I generally like except for a reflexive social liberalism, has an almost perfect editorial

The short history of the Iraq war is that the Sunnis in Iraq, and in the nearby Arab states, refused to accept one man, one vote, because it meant bringing the Shiite majority to power in Iraq for the first time. The Sunni mainstream, not the minority, believes Shiites are lesser Muslims and must never be allowed to rule Sunnis. Early in the Iraq war a prominent Sunni Arab leader said to me privately, ‘Thomas, these Shiites, they are not real Muslims.’

For two years, the Shiite center in Iraq put up with the barbaric Sunni violence directed against its mosques and markets – violence the U.S. couldn’t stop because it didn’t have enough troops, and because the Sunni center inside and outside Iraq tacitly supported it.

Friedman makes to claims that are almost right

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs oppose democracy. This is a central realization that the Bush Administration has denied. The Sunni Arabs demand a centralized Iraq, because they hope for a return of their 15% minority government over the whole State. The Sunni Arabs reject democracy by supporting anti-democratic forces such as al Qaeda in Iraq and the Baath Party. However, he is wrong that this means Sunni Arabs in neighboring states oppose democracy, too. The Muslim Brothers, for instance, supported the Iraqi elections because they want to build momentum for elections in Egypt and Syria.

The Multinational Force in Iraq has not protected the Shia majority. Or rather, MFI has attempted to appease the Sunni Arabs by subverting democracy. The Bush Administration has calculated that, by stabbing Iraqi democrats in the back, we can stop Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists from attacking civilians, policemen, infrastructure, and soldiers. Friedman is wrong that we “couldn’t” stop this — we often came close, such as putting the Fallujis in protective custody. We could achieve military victory. However, Bush does not have the spine to win.

Unfortunately, Friedman’s anti-dementia medicine wrote off while he was writing the last paragraph

Just staying the course will not contain it. But before we throw up our hands on Iraq, why not make one more big push to produce a more stable accord between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds over how to share power and oil revenues and demobilize militias. We still don’t have such an understanding at the center of Iraqi politics. It may not be possible, but without it, neither is a self-sustaining, unified Iraqi democracy.

Translation: Why not try to appease one more time, but this time, in a BIG way.

Neville Chamberlain, the Great Appeaser, originally chose Lord Halifax as the next Prime Minister of Britain. Halifax’s plan would have been to continue the policy of appeasement against Germany, accepting German domination of Europe in the wake of her invasion of Poland. Fortunately for history Halifax knew he was spineless and demurred, allowing Winston Churchill to lead the United Kingdom. Halifax knew his own policy would be disastrous.

Let’s hope Bush comes to the same realization, and leaves Iraq now. Let’s hope Friedman comes to the realization or, at least, lays off the crazy pills.

Update: Barnett sound like he agrees.

Return-Props to Larry Dunbar and other blog friends

Larry Dunbar has been a long-time tdaxp commentator, and now that he is a blogger I am humbled that three (yes, three!) posts in a row on his blog feature my posts

I’ve also been recently featured on Phatic Communion, South Dakota Politics, and Zen Pundit.

Thanks!