More on "Human Nature" - War & Peace
Posted: 01 March 2007 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]
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"Humans have the potential to be violent, but also the potential to be peaceful. Potentially, any of us might commit murder, but in reality, most of us never do. [i:bd8b48ee1a]Beyond War[/i:bd8b48ee1a] makes the point that we tend to take our human potential for peace—our ability to deal with most conflict without violence—for granted. It has come as a surprise to some people that [i:bd8b48ee1a]Beyond War[/i:bd8b48ee1a] acknowledges the role of evolution in human aggression. I guess they are accustomed to hearing an anthropological mantra about the importance of learning and culture. Learning and culture do have huge impacts on human behavior, of course. What I attempt to do in [i:bd8b48ee1a]Beyond War [/i:bd8b48ee1a] is to develop an evolutionary perspective on human aggression that is consistent with the evidence—and avoid an ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to the facts, in other words. The new angle is to focus on what nomadic hunter-gatherer societies can teach us, by analogy, about conflict management in the human past. The key finding is that this simplest and oldest form of human society tends not to be warlike. This is yet another line of evidence against the presumption of a warlike human nature. The disputes that do arise in nomadic hunter-gatherer societies tend to be personal and rarely resemble anything akin to warfare." - Doug Fry

From this interview - http://blog.oup.com/oupblog/2007/02/a_few_questions_1.html

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Posted: 01 March 2007 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Re: More on "Human Nature" - War & Peace

[quote author=“Doug Fry”]Potentially, any of us might commit murder, but in reality, most of us never do.

Of course, in reality we have the police and jail.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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George:

Of course, in reality we have the police and jail.

The first institution being one of dubious moral authority and the second being immoral.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 06:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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With over 6 billion of us on this tiny planet and hardly a day of peace since recorded time you have to wonder if warfare has done anything to impede human expansion. In fact, as terrible as it may sound, I have come to the sad conclusion that warfare has greatly enhanced the progress of human kind and may be a necessary part of our evolution.
With few if any species to compete with who better a competitor than our own kind.

If you believe in memetics (not sure if do completely) then what better arena for the struggle of human ideas and social structures than the battlefield itself.

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Posted: 02 March 2007 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Counting the hits

Doubter:

With over 6 billion of us on this tiny planet and hardly a day of peace since recorded time you have to wonder if warfare has done anything to impede human expansion.

Like with psychics or John Edwards, you are counting the hits… counting the times of warfare rather than the times of relative or real peace… which far outnumber times of warfare in human history from nomadic hunter gatherers (99% of our history) ‘till today.

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Posted: 02 March 2007 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I won’t try to argue that war or peace take up more of our time. Sure, violence probably occupies a small fraction of most of our lives, though a much larger piece for some than others. I think it is evident, and more important, that warfare and violence are pervasive and significant factors in human interactions in a wide variety of cultures and forms of social organization. Did hunter gatherers practices war as we currently conceive it? Probably not, though I think extrapolating from a few imperfectly-isolated example groups in the last couple hundred years to all of humanity before recorded history in order to make a point about human tendancies in the “natural” state is pretty shaky ground, and not convincing.

What matters is does organized, or unorganized, violence stem from our modern forms of social and economic organization, or is it likely to exist, and have a significant impact on a significant proportion of the population, in all kinds of societies because it is something we have a propensity to do? I think the latter is a far more likely interpretation of history, but as I’ve said before the only “proof” would be to organize a society along the lines you favor and see what happens, which seems unlikely to occur anytime soon, though I don’t fault you for trying.

Either way, you really have a pretty weak argument when you say that because hunter gatheres may have been on the whole less violent than modern societies, that violence can be largely done away with by reverting to something like a minimally hierarchical hunter gatherer society. Clearly the number of us, the complex technolgies that require intricate support systems, and the example of history suggest we aren’t likely to revert to smaller, ethnically and ideologically homogeneous bands living materially simple, subsistence lives. So even if you could convince me this would make us all more peacful (which is unlikely), it ain’t going to happen. The models you refer us to talk a lot about vague concepts of distributed, communitarian organization, but they don’t answer many of the hard questions, like how you support high tech medicne or an interstate highway system with only local forms of organization.

I fall into the category you always write off as futilely struggling to make representative democracy and capitalism more humanistic, which is doomed to fail because the systems are incompatible with the goals of humanism. I disagree. I think working with what we have to improve it, and working on the level of individuals and small groups to improve quality of life, is likely to get us a lot farther than grandiose schemes for completely dismantling the accretions of history that have led us to where we are. Will we change fast enough to sruvive? Maybe not. I am a bit of a cynic about our ability to make the changes in our behavior necessary to control our population, avoid destroying ourselves and most of the planet, and establishing social and economic justice. I do think theses are things we have to work for, and whether they are achievable or not only time will tell. But I believe more is done to achieve them by sticking with what can be done rather than holding out for a complete rewrite of everything.

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Posted: 02 March 2007 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: Counting the hits

[quote author=“Barry”]
Like with psychics or John Edwards, you are counting the hits… counting the times of warfare rather than the times of relative or real peace… which far outnumber times of warfare in human history from nomadic hunter gatherers (99% of our history) ‘till today.

What have psychics got to do with the history of warfare and who is John Edwards :?

The notion that the closer humans live to nature the more peaceful they are comes straight from Romanticism. It is quite untrue IMO and is a denial of our true nature.

In virtually every human grouping from small tribal bands to advanced civilisations the warrior ethos exists.

Where are all the other hominid species? I find it strange that unlike most other creatures on plant we just happen to be the only ones of our kind.

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Posted: 02 March 2007 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: Counting the hits

This stuff has been posted before, in substantially the same form as we see in this thread, and we’ve already discussed it ad nauseam. IIRC, we even had Fry himself here to get the nuances right.

[quote author=“Doubter”]The notion that the closer humans live to nature the more peaceful they are comes straight from Romanticism. It is quite untrue IMO and is a denial of our true nature.

Quite so. I would only add that our nature is multifaceted—we have both aggressive and altruistic motives. Note the final sentence of the Fry quote: that in hunter-gatherer societies, the murders are “personal”, and “rarely resemble warfare”. This is true almost by definition, since wars are large-scale human aggressions that can’t take place very easily in sparse societies. So instead of getting killed in a war, you are likely (more likely, in fact) to be killed by murder.

And jails will always be needed to protect society against its most vicious members.

Beware of political romanticism.

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Posted: 03 March 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Brennen

Did hunter gatherers practices war as we currently conceive it? Probably not, though I think extrapolating from a few imperfectly-isolated example groups in the last couple hundred years to all of humanity before recorded history in order to make a point about human tendancies in the “natural” state is pretty shaky ground, and not convincing.

As Doug has said, these details have been talked about in other threads; I just thought this new thread might inspire a bit more critical thinking…. 
Neither Fry nor I (nor anyone else in this area I have referenced) ever said anything about humanity’s “natural state.”  This is Brennen’s term, not mine or my references’, and so Doubter and Doug are attacking a straw man; Brennen’s representation of my arguments are therfore false. 

Also, neither Fry nor I have been talking about isolated groups living only today, but also in 99.9% of human history - before chiefdoms, centralized agriculturists and, certainly, before Kingdoms or Nation-States.

Brennen, please read Fry’s work before you misjudge his arguments any further.

Brennen:

What matters is does organized, or unorganized, violence stem from our modern forms of social and economic organization, or is it likely to exist, and have a significant impact on a significant proportion of the population, in all kinds of societies because it is something we have a propensity to do? I think the latter is a far more likely interpretation of history, but as I’ve said before the only “proof” would be to organize a society along the lines you favor and see what happens, which seems unlikely to occur anytime soon, though I don’t fault you for trying.

1) A society like what I have advocated for is not any more unlikely than the societies we now have would have been seen by societies 3,000 years ago ... and since our progress increases exponentially, I do not think it will take anywhere near 3,000 years - or even 300 years - to achieve a humanistic society ... provided more people wake up to the reality of the disaster we now have.

2) And I think most of the evidence (if you leave out the pseudoscientific “Evolutionary Psychologists’”) shows that while humans are certainly capable of peace and violence, it is the environment in which we live which should be understood as demanding certain behaviors from us in order to survive, and then to thrive.  Change our greedy, selfish, uber-competitive, severely hierarchal social and economic organization and watch us change.  smile


Brennen:

Either way, you really have a pretty weak argument when you say that because hunter gatherers may have been on the whole less violent than modern societies, that violence can be largely done away with by reverting to something like a minimally hierarchical hunter gatherer society.

Another strawman.  I said nothing about us reverting to a hunter-gatherer society.

Brennen:

The models you refer us to talk a lot about vague concepts of distributed, communitarian organization, but they don’t answer many of the hard questions, like how you support high tech medicne or an interstate highway system with only local forms of organization.

I have not answered all of this, but then again, this is only a blog!  It’s not a book!  The folks I have referenced DO talk about this (Hahnel, Albert and Fotopoulous in great detail, others less so), but one may have to actually read these folks to get this information.  If only many humanists would read the Doug Frys, Judith Hands, Harold Barclays, David Bullers, Robin Hahnels, and Takis Fotopoulos’ of the world at least as “religiously” as they read the Dawkins, Pinkers, EO Wilsons and others, they may find they’ve been duped by Hobbesians who happen to be atheists.

Brennen:

I fall into the category you always write off as futilely struggling to make representative democracy and capitalism more humanistic, which is doomed to fail because the systems are incompatible with the goals of humanism. I disagree. I think working with what we have to improve it, and working on the level of individuals and small groups to improve quality of life, is likely to get us a lot farther than grandiose schemes for completely dismantling the accretions of history that have led us to where we are.

1) If every visionary in the past thought this way, nothing would have ever progressed very far at all!  There is no reason we can’t work for the type of reforms some social democrats (like you, for instance) have argued for while within a representative democracy and a capitalistic economy (which is an easier task than working within other societies such as Stalins, Hitlers, Maos or the like toward reforms).. ALL WHILE still understanding that the reforms cannot END with Rep. Democracy (which is not real democracy) or a fully inequitable economic system such as capitalism!  These changes must instead BEGIN our journey toward economic and political and socialized democracy.

2) Rep Democracy and Capitalism are relatively new structures in human history and thus certainly cannot be seen as the penultimate destination from which our political or economic trajectory toward a humanistic society has landed us!  We now are only one short stop along the way.

 
Doubter:

virtually every human grouping from small tribal bands to advanced civilisations the warrior ethos exists.

False.  Read Fry et al.
Doug:

And jails will always be needed to protect society against its most vicious members.

Society’s sociopaths - which are a small percentage of the people imprisoned in the US today (of which most whom are do not belong there in the first place) - will need to be kept safe from society and vice versa, but “jails” as we know them - and the criminal justice system as we know it - are/is barbarian, lazy, immoral and purely retributive-based.  hardly humanistic.

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Posted: 04 March 2007 03:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The new angle is to focus on what nomadic hunter-gatherer societies can teach us, by analogy, about conflict management in the human past. The key finding is that this simplest and oldest form of human society tends not to be warlike. This is yet another line of evidence against the presumption of a warlike human nature.

Barry,

I’m not setting up a strawman. This quote states quite clearly that the example of hunter-gatherer societies is given in order to argue against a particular vision of human nature, and by implication in favor of a different vision.  You even titles the thread “More on ‘Human Nature’”... Maybe this is not all Fry says about human nature, but I am responding to what you present of the argument, so if you select a portion that quite clearly is making a point about human nature (the point being that the roots of violent behavior are not primarily found in human nature but in social institutions), then I can hardly be blamed for misrepresenting his position.

neither Fry nor I have been talking about isolated groups living only today, but also in 99.9% of human history - before chiefdoms, centralized agriculturists and, certainly, before Kingdoms or Nation-States

My point was that you don’t know anything about what life was like for 99.9% of human history, except from very limited archaeological evidence and the examples of modern hunter-gatherer groups. The notion that humans were less violent until kingdoms and nation-states developed is based on assumptions and extrapolations from studies of modern hunter-gatherer groups (especially the San peoples such as teh Kung!). Unless you have a time machine you’re not telling us about ?  smile

Another strawman. I said nothing about us reverting to a hunter-gatherer society.


What you said was that hunter-gatherer societies are less violent because they are less hierarchical than modern societies, and that sure seems to imply (and you’ve said it outright elsewhere) that we should seek to make societies “like” these, in that they are non-hierarchical, so we can eliminate violence. All I added was the idea that these hunter-gatherer groups may be less hierarchical and less violent, if they are, because they are smaller and more homogeneous than modern societies, so if you want to return to a non-hierarchical form of social organization you may not be able to achieve this without the elements of small communiities in which everyone knows everyone else and in which there is near uniformity of culture and belief.


I seem to see a pattern where you present a statement to generate discussion, and then anyone who points out flaws in the statement is accused of misunderstanding it and referred to the author’s complete works elsewhere to really get it. All I can respond to is what you give me. I do try to read some of the links you provide, and when I argued they were vague I wasn’t just talking about your statements but the more detailed expositions of them you cite. If you want to convince, you’ll have to do it here, not just expect everyone you’re debating to read everything you’ve read with the assumption that this must lead them to the same conclusions.

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Posted: 04 March 2007 06:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Brennen:

I’m not setting up a strawman. This quote states quite clearly that the example of hunter-gatherer societies is given in order to argue against a particular vision of human nature, and by implication in favor of a different vision. You even titles the thread “More on ‘Human Nature’”...

I put quotes around “human nature” in my title because we all know we are talking about human behaviors and we sometimes have called this “human nature.”  My position is that there is no such human nature in the way most of us mean it, or Pinker means it (as per Buller’s argument), and Fry’s quote is not proving this (or following from this) in Buller’s sense.  Instead, he is probably of the mindset I am, but makes his arguments in order to show that the traditional notion of human nature (a la by Pinker, et al., and first articulated as greedy, selfish and brutish by Hobbes) is wrong.  He goes about doing this by showing that we not only have cooperative and peaceful elements in our overall behavior, but those elements seem to be even more dominant than the Hobbesian ones. 

You were claiming Fry and I were setting up the ‘noble savage’ argument about human “nature” which Pinker spends much effort debunking in Blank Slate.  However, neither Fry nor I were making that argument.


Brennen:

... if you select a portion that quite clearly is making a point about human nature (the point being that the roots of violent behavior are not primarily found in human nature but in social institutions), then I can hardly be blamed for misrepresenting his position.

Lots of things can lead to violent behavior or war - those characteristics are of course part of the many which we see in humans as we are a very plastic species whom demonstrate a wide range of behaviors.  It is my argument that most of what we demonstrate is in response (or reaction) to our environment (much of that being our social environment nowadays since we have learned to work out some of our natural environmental obstacles and dangers)... So it is clear that if our social environment is one of greed, fear, selfishness, cut throat competition, economic, racial and political dominance by the few and full of gross inequalities… then our plastic “natures” will adapt to survive in such a violent and unhealthy environment.  I do not think this is in much dispute.  But we will not survive long as a species if we stick to these adabtations in the nuclear age.

Brennen:

My point was that you don’t know anything about what life was like for 99.9% of human history, except from very limited archaeological evidence and the examples of modern hunter-gatherer groups.

There is much to be gained by what we DO know, and by the study of modern day, like societies .. and then comparing and contrasting them to the past socities.  This is the meat of anthropology and sociology!  Besides, this is what Pinker (whom you all like so much) claims he is doing by defining “human nature” based on extrapolating adapted behaviors from on our Pleistocene past lives!  I just happen to think Pinker claims he knows more than he can possibly know and that his ideology gets in the way of his science. Fry, by the way, is not making his arguments based ONLY on the past.  And we can learn from modern societes.. why not?

Brennen:

The notion that humans were less violent until kingdoms and nation-states developed is based on assumptions and extrapolations from studies of modern hunter-gatherer groups (especially the San peoples such as teh Kung!).

Fry admits that the over 80 peaceful societies he has studied are where he gathers much of his opinions… but he connects them to what we do know from the past.  His arguments are very thorough if you care to read them.  And in case you are thinking that these 80 societies are as they are because they are isolated from one another, most human societies during our nomadic hunter gatherer days were as well!  It is the centralization and organization of humans into larger static groups (which grew - eventually - to state size) which provided the ingredients for real violence and war.  But I do not think that it’s the size of human groups which lead to the problems (though if we are too cramped together with little resources, that can lead to real problems - although I’d argue that the resources are there but just not divided up correctly), but instead, I think it is the nature of most of these groups which lead to the problems. This is why biologist Judith Hand speaks of the Keftian society.

Brennen:

What you said was that hunter-gatherer societies are less violent because they are less hierarchical than modern societies, and that sure seems to imply (and you’ve said it outright elsewhere) that we should seek to make societies “like” these, in that they are non-hierarchical, so we can eliminate violence.

That much I said, sort of.  I did say we should seek to create less- or non-hierarchal societies, but not to revert to NHG’s; that would be absurd to say.  The thing is, we CAN have such large societes without governments (states) because what I have written about is full of structure and order ... just no “bosses.” It is about real democracy and an economic/political environment which is cooperative.  It’s not quite like ‘Indians with no Chiefs,’ but that ‘ALL Indians ARE the chiefs.’

Brennen:

I seem to see a pattern where you present a statement to generate discussion, and then anyone who points out flaws in the statement is accused of misunderstanding it and referred to the author’s complete works elsewhere to really get it.

I do not think I did (or do) that.  I admit that using quotes from books or writing short versions of my own beliefs on this blog can lead to a less than full understanding of what I am meaning to articulate, but that is why we ask questions and work to further explain our thoughts on these forums.  These ideas are complicated ones, and not everyone will understand everyone right off.  But think of this, when I speak to “regular folks” about these things (family, acquaintances, some friends), they roll their eyes and think I am speaking Klingonise!  At least most of you “horses” on these forums are out of the starting gate!  Qapla’!

As for reading essays I link to… well, we do have to do our homework.  How else do you think I learned what I did… from blogs?  raspberry

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Posted: 05 March 2007 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]...Pinker (whom you all like so much)...

Well, his hair is kinda cool, isn’t it? LOL

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Posted: 05 March 2007 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Well, his hair is kinda cool, isn’t it?

LOL  LOL  LOL  LOL  LOL

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Posted: 05 March 2007 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I just happen to think Pinker claims he knows more than he can possibly know and that his ideology gets in the way of his science

This is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think, Barry? You clearly, vehemently reject any scientific hypothesis that does not conform to your established idea that the bad in human behavior is caused by our culture and that there is no such thing as “human nature.” Not all the details of Pinker or Dawkins or Hauser are likely correct, but you dismiss any suggestion that neurobiological or evolutionary evidence can be used to support any notion not consistent with your political prejudices. You do the same thing with humanism, defining to suit what you already believe and rejecting as a humanist anyone who doesn’t share the total package of sociopolitical beliefs. If DeWaal says we are naturally cooperative because bonobos are and we’re like them, that’s good behavioral biology. If Fry says hunter-gatherer societis aren’t warlike because they don’t have hierarchy, that’s good anthropology. But if Pinker says we might have an evolutionary pre-disposition to competitive violence, he’s an idiot or has an axe to grind. I’m not convinced you judge these arguments on merits any more but on the criteria of whther they conform to you program.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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But if Pinker says we might have an evolutionary pre-disposition to competitive violence, he’s an idiot or has an axe to grind.

No, this is not what I have been saying, either.  Pinker does not only say we might have a genetic bases to our “competitive violence.”  If he did, we’d all be in agreement (we meaning the folks whom I cite and myself).  It is clear that humans have such.  We also have the genetics to be cooperative and peaceful. 

What determines which way we are in any given situation is our environment (natural or man-made).  This is what I am arguing. 

Pinker goes far futher than this.  And his “science” does not have the credibillity that de Waal’s or Fry’s have.  Recall David Buller’s critique is not of evolutionary psychology but of Pinker’s, Cosmida’s (etc.,) Evolutionary Psychology (caps intended).  And Buller is clearly correct that we do not have a human nature in the way these EP’s say we do. 

That does not make Pinker an idiot (I never said it did), or even politically motivated.. just wrong.  But yes, I do think Pinker has an idea about humans that is misanthropic in some ways, and this comes out when he mocks what he feels is politically dubious (like the sentiments in Lennon’s song, ‘Imagine’).  The problem is that he says, when he does this, he is doing science when he is really doing politics.  He claims his science backs his ideology in this way, but his science is dubious (according to many evolutionary BIOLOGISTS and folks like Fry, Hand, and Buller). 

You choose to believe Pinker and I the others. 

As far as my sociopolitical bias, it has not been formed blindly or by ignoring the Pinkers of the world.  It’s been formed by a combination of my humanism and all that I have read (Pinker et al).

Check this out:  

Re Buller’s book:
Unfortunately, but not suprisingly, it hasn’t captured the public’s imagination the way many of the works of the Evolutionary Psychologists (Buller capitalizes the term) have, but then that’s always the advantage EP had - telling the public, in simplified “scientific” terms what it already believes about the true natures of men and women.

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