An End to War?

By | March 18, 2011
Spoke again at Thinking Digital in Newcastle U...


Over at I Look Forward To, Christian asks Matt Ridley and some dude with an extremely elongated head claiming to be me whether super-abundance might bring an end to war as we know it.

Plus: Matt gives his views on why the pessimistic outlook is so cherished.

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[Link is fixed. Thanks, Sally!]

  • sallymorem

    Hi Phil

    I tried your link to I Look Forward To and it was broken. There might be a typo lurking somewhere in the URL.

    I found the site and here’s the URL to the page on warfare:

  • sallymorem

    I posted the following on I Look Forward To:

    Fighting is certainly hard-wired into human beings. We know that chimps from different bands will kill each other, even engage in systematic killing of members of the other band if their band has superior strength. Chimp genocide does indeed occur. This means that when our distant ancestors were much more closely related to the chimps, they likely engaged in similar activity.

    But warfare, organized warfare, is a much more recent cultural innovation. This shouldn’t surprise us, since it takes a certain bare minimum of people, well equipped and supported by a larger group of people, trained and led by experienced commanders, to engage in genuine warfare, as opposed to the small skirmishes that their hunter-gatherer ancestors engaged in, skirmishes that were deadly, but very limited in scope.

    I believe that organized warfare is an adaptation made by human beings in response to events taking place in the great central Eurasian plains. I was really impressed by John Keegan’s description of how tribes in those plains gradually bred horses for the hunt, the style of hunting on the plains is very well described here, techniques those people used against their enemies. Hunting and warfare became almost identical. These horses gradually became the war horses we are familiar with in cavalry charges.

    With these fearsome beasts, the nomadic peoples raided settled areas in the east and west, terrorizing those peoples into organizing much stiffer resistance and fortifications, and thus, unintentionally but very powerfully, triggering the development of genuine civilizations, complete with warrior castes and classes.

    In short, warfare became a habit, a habit borne of desperation. Do or die. Defense transformed into potent offense.

    Every war until the modern era was a war for resources, treasure, slaves, and territory, including women. Remember, every tribe was utterly dependent upon securing a certain number of fertile women, lest the tribe die out. More recently, warfare has also been caused by deep-seated religious and indeological differences between peoples.

    Considering the nature of this history, I would presume that a genuine society of plenty, based on accelerating technology, will further the recent trend of fewer wars. When you can trade for whatever you want, or even “grow it yourself,” you are much less likely to court loss of life and limb to get want you want through war.

    Also, abundance may very well lessen the strains of human conflict that aggravate life, making religious and ideological wars much less likely. The hard-core True Believers may want to make war, but may also have a tougher time attracting/coercing followers into doing their bidding.

    Organized sports, especially full-contact sports, have sopped up a lot of young men’s fighting energy and spirit. So, sports may well continue to bleed off any excess of our biologically inherited propensity to fight, while abundance handles the historical propensity to fight in highly organized ways.

    Human conflict may never end, but we may be able to evolve new cultural practices that will make it much less likely or necessary for people to turn to violent methods to settle conflicts, in addition to those practices we have adopted long ago.

    Here’s a link to a lengthy review of Keegan’s book:

  • dcwhatthe

    Aside from the issue of abundance -

    The movie Limitless was discussed on FastForward Radio a few weeks back. There were a few silly, irrational circumstances thrown in there, for entertainment value. (I loved, absolutely loved, the movie itself, in spite of these minor shortcomings.)

    One of these was the fact that Eddie’s first priority was NOT a pill manufacturing process. With that kind of brainpower, you could figure out how the pill works in short order; rent a lab or befriend someone who has adequate resources; remove the side effects; and free yourself from leeching off an ex brother-in-law that you don’t even like very much.

    The second silliness was the presumption that super-intelligent beings will be in conflict. Puhleeeease! Mental giants will understand the value that multiple super brains have, and they will make use of those resources by either merging, or by exchanging information.

    Having more than one super-intelligent point of focus in the universe, which communicate occasionally or frequently, more than doubles what they can learn and create.

    At least 3 super brains, coming at problems from their own angles & experience & unique points of focus, allows the solution of problems with complexity levels unimaginable even to the individual super brains.

    Ordinary human beings might still have wars, while they remain anchored to their biological grey matter. But super intelligent beings will classify war as a waste of resources, and therefore a waste of their time.