War, a basic instinct?

Paul Weaver (pweaver@ECHIDNA.COWAN.EDU.AU)
Wed, 2 Nov 1994 16:01:37 -0800

On the question of whether or not hunter-gatherers make war. similar
assertions have occasionally been made that Australian Aboriginal people
in the past did not engage in war, and if one considers it in contrast to
what "civilised races" have experienced there is no comparison. However
there is no doubt conditions periodically existed when people of one group
were at serious risk of predation by another. Aboriginal groups in the
past could certainly be described as ethnocentric towards eachother and to
a lesser extent this still occurs. The image of noble hunter-gatherers
being a homogeneous peoples nurturing and caring for the landscape and
everything in it, including eachother is of course a myth, albeit still a
popular one. Nevertheless the war-like activities of Aborigines for the
most part appear to have had built in cultural limitations. For example
in the southwest of Western Australia seasonal divisions determined when
it was time to shelve very violent intergroup hostilities until the
following year. Within "traditional" Aboriginal mythology there are some
very violent accounts of war-like scirmishes between Aboriginal groups.
These are not necessarily based on actual events, but their existence
tells us that war-like activities are not alien concepts to so called
hunter-gatherers. Berndt, R. & Berndt, C. "The world of the first
Australians." have quite a lot of material on war-like activities amongst
Australian Aborigines. My edition is 1964 but there are many others.
Any definition of war in my opinion is culturally centred. What is war
to one culture can be a game to another. Similarly within a culture,
especially one which is big and contains a great diversity of opinions, we
find many personal definitions of war. Those who plan and make war seem
to enjoy it as a game. Those who are forced to participate, not so much,
or not at all. This may include those under attack, who especially if
they do not win, can become quite sulky. Generally always safer to be an
attacker than a defender. (Hawk v dove.) The best way to make war is to
start one that you are pretty sure you can win. We see this all the time
emerging in US policy. "Got to minimise that friendly collateral damage."
The differences with US wars now to those in the past is that domestic
policy tends to put the brakes on the war mongers maximising their fun.
No longer is it politic to be caught raping and plundering. I got drafted
into the Vietnam war in 1966 with the Australian Army and seem to be one
of the few who has no bitter regrets. For me it was fun, mind you I was
not called on to do anything nasty. I avoided the bars and brothels and
like a good anthropolgist mixed it with the common people. I like to think
my IQ enabled me not to get cought up in the general booze swilling, black
marketeering, debauching, gun shooting scenario. (Maybe this is the
measure of a very high IQ?) Curiously American Armed Forces Radio taught
me to love and appreciate classical music. Don't believe all that Robin
Williams "Good morning Vietnam" stuff. I was able to turn what was a
negative experience for so many others, into a very positive one for
myself. There was a "type" of person whom I frequently came across in both
the Australian and American military. They were the rednecks, a bit short
on IQ in my opinion. They hated "noggies, gooks and slopeheads" with a
passion which I still do not fully understand. These types are still being
assembled by Uncle Sam but now it is the Iraqis and Sadam who are the
focus of their hatred. (Did you know that there used to be more than
20,000 schools in Iraq? How easy it is to forget all those kids in this
BC age of smart bombs). The wars modern Western soldiers engage in on
behalf of their masters are directed by policy, based upon pragmatic
issues. The good old ethnocentric reasons may manifest in the propaganda
side of things but they are to convince the masses, and of course the
troops. I do not think an army comprised of people with a high IQ would
do very well. Better to have it composed of people and especially men who
accept what they are told as being gospel. You can easily tell who has
the low and high IQ in an invading army. The former plunder the
supermarkets while the latter plunder rare books and paintings from the
libraries and museums. It raises the interesting question of whether or
not war heroes who carry out extordinary acts of bravery can be identified
by their IQ. I understand American marines enroute to the Iraq war with
Sadam were shown porno films in order raise their testosterone levels and
supposedly their willingness to get in there and give those A-rabs what
for. Could it be that sex is at the root of the war instict, maybe this
is why so many women in invaded lands get raped by home-grown boys raised
on mum's apple pie? There has been a bit of discussion in these traps
about who has and who has not got a high IQ. Of course you need high IQ
people amongst the pragmatists of war. As we saw with the Iraq war they
can be black or white. In a sense they fight their wars by proxy. When the
low IQ people make key decisions about war then you have trouble and might
lose. I suspect that within most humans lies the mechanism for making war.
It is a spinoff from being intelligent. Do unintelligent creatures make
war? If as a group you can wipe out another and not get killed, you get to
enjoy all the resources that they thought they had secured. Perhaps there
is some sort of population desity figure which can be correlated to the
scale of the war. Half a dozen hunter-gathers killed in an intergroup
skirmish may not seem much on the scale of US wars but in its cultural
context could be catastrophic if the key players were zapped. Notions of
what is "primitive" or not run the risk of being labeled ethnocentric.
There are lots of people in all cultures who just love a good war. Ask CNN
or a Hollywood mogul. Their audiences also fight their war by proxy but
this is not probably linked to a high IQ. While some of this is I believe
instinctive, there is also the cultural factor. Clearly many people are
able to overide those primordial urges to compete by killing one's
neighbour before they kill them. Similarly people can be persuaded to
participate in atrocities which they later regret. Ten years ago few
Americans would have heard of Iraq, now a great many hate them with a
blind passion. Never mind those abuses of human rights in Kuwait. This
attitude is a culturally acquired trait, but it is I suspect built upon a
basic instinct which lies locked up within us all and is so ably exploited
by the propagandists. Their effectiveness is possibly dependent on
calculating certain prevailing cultural mores being existent in a society.
I leave you to figure out the most important ones in the US at present. I
just heard on the news that BC has had his B52s drop a bundle of bombs in
the "no fly zone" of the Arabian desert. I know it is not an original
idea but if BC parachuted a few hundred thousand Macs and Nintendos into
Bagdad his troubles with Sadam might just fade away. It would be a lot
cheaper than a single day of war, but saving money is not what wars are
about, is it???

A final word on porography and war. Research amongst central desert
Aborigines in Australia suggests there is a direct correlation between
pornographic video tapes and community violence and sex crimes against
women and children in those communities. There is probably a lesson in
this for wider society, but we are apparently too blind to see it.

Regards, Paul R. Weaver Perth Western Australia.