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The Human Origins Of War Essay Research

The Human Origins Of War Essay, Research Paper

Human nature, and the extent to which it directly effects our behaviour, is a source of intense controversy. This is reflected in the debate regarding the aggressive nature of humans and the degree to which they are inherently aggressive. However, studies indicate that humans are inherently aggressive and that our behaviour is defined by genetic properties, and influenced by cultural and environmental factors. However, this does not suggest that aggression is our defining characteristic, or that it cannot be controlled by society. Our reaction to, and instigation of, war illustrates this. It is widely recognised that it is this inherent nature that has lead to war on major and minor scales, but it is not an inevitable result of human nature. Many leading intellectuals utilise the passive nature of women as a combative argument to our aggressive nature. However, this is a limited argument that can be systematically disproven once we recognise the social limitations that are used to curb the female aggressive nature. Aggressiveness is recognised by several prominent intellectuals. William James states that, combat and war seeded to satisfy deep-rooted needs of individuals and societies, needs that were presumed to be inherent in all humans , suggesting that our aggressiveness has inevitable conclusions. Freud also supported this argument and maintained that human overt aggression is a result of internal aggressive drives being redirected at others: man needs to satisfy his needs. Thomas Hobbes expands on this by stating that humans are self-seeking, greedy and selfish in regards to satisfying their needs. These perceptions of human nature indicate a rather bleak perspective of human aggression, however by exploring why this aggression occurs we understand that in itself it is not a purely destructive aspect of our nature. The controversial argument regarding the nature versus nurture debate contributes to our understanding of aggression. Those intellectuals who support the nature concept of aggression discuss both ethology and sociobiology. Simplistically, ethology states that man is the product of two million years of biological evolution, while sociobiology argues that although biological evolution has considerable influence, the importance must be placed on the interaction of genes with their cultural environment. Conversely, the nurture debate argues that aggression is purely determined by cultural influences and that biological considerations are not important. Unlike the nurture debate or ethology, sociobiology represents correctly the belief that aggression is an inherent aspect of our nature, but that it can be induced or controlled by our cultural and social environment. The theories of sociobiologists are supported by our expression of aggression in the pastoral stage of our development. Initially humans appeared to be a relatively peaceful society, however our progressions from the hunter-gatherer to the pastoral stage lead to an increase in aggression, supplying a trigger for our inherent aggression. As Richard Leaky wrote: as soon as people commit themselves to agricultural food production they commit themselves to defending the land they farm. To run away is to face certain loss . This demonstrates how our environment cultivates our inherent aggression, and illustrates that humans will behave in an aggressive manner when provoked. This may appear disheartening, because it seems to state that human aggression is inevitable. However, this aggression can be channeled into other practices that have less negative outcomes than violence and war. Sport is a good example of channeling aggression. Society frequently encourages its populace to enjoy, and participate in, activities where man can face an opponent and express his aggression. This aggressive drive is also significant as an evolutionary factor in human development. It is our struggle for survival, and later supremacy, that has lead to our cultural and technological advancements. Aggressiveness has added to mans genetic fitness; through preservation of the territorial balance, defense of the young, and survival of the fittest. Despite aggressions negative connotations it is a necessary aspect of our nature and is required to further human s evolution. Charles Darwin supported this theory and stated that, man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence , he also stated that; if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle . Clearly aggression has its positive uses in society, but we cannot forget that it also has had a destructive influence on our society, primarily in instigating war.

Human nature, and its expression of aggression, has a considerable impact on war. It cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor, although the extent to which it instigates war is controversial. Kenneth Waltz discussed the three images of war, and it is the first image that directly concerns itself with the application of human nature. Waltz maintains that war results from selfishness, and misdirected aggressive impulses. This supports the earlier contention that aggression can be negatively directed into warring situations. This theory suggests that human nature, and aggression, are a primary cause of war, although they have not blindly stated that it is the only factor. Waltz also illustrated however, that all other factors must be evaluated in light of understanding the impact of aggression. Niebuhr wrote simplistically that war has its origins in, dark, unconscious sources in the human nature , he appears to be contributing war as an inevitable act of human nature. However, this is a severe pronouncement and Niebuhr does not recognise that human nature is also the provider of peace. Waltz correctly highlighted human nature as the cause of war in 1914, but he also pointed out that it was the cause of peace in 1910. Human nature can be manipulated by circumstances to result in war; our inherent aggressive nature can unfortunately result in an aggressive response in times of stress, whether that stress is economic, political, or social. However, this inherent aggressiveness cannot be used as an excuse for making war; it is a powerful contributing factor, but it can be controlled and diverted into other manifestations. Despite the obvious use of our inherent aggression, women are often utilised as evidence supporting that aggression is a result of purely environmental factors. The apparent passive role of women in our society is proof that men are only aggressive because society expects them to behave in this manner, and encourages them to do so. However, this is a relatively limited argument. Both men and women are born with an inherent aggressiveness, but women have severe cultural limitations that restrict their expression of aggression. Women have traditionally not participated in whole scale war because they are perceived to be physically inferior to men, and this lack of participation has contributed to the perception that women are not aggressive by nature. However, an aggressive nature has been evident in the past; women have been significantly involved historically in resistance and terrorist groups. Even noncombative women have displayed an aggressive nature. A quote from J. Gray stated, many a combat soldier in World War Two was appalled to receive letters from his girlfriend, or wife, safe at home, demanding to know how many of the enemy he had personally accounted for and often requesting the death of several more as a personal favor for her . This illustrated that although women may be culturally restrained in expressing their aggression, it still exists and it is as inherent in their nature as it is in males. It is apparent that human nature has an inherently aggressive component. The controversial definitions of human nature, and the influence it has on humans behaviour, has been convincingly argued by many respected intellectuals. Ethology, sociobiology, and a scientific emphasis on environmental factors, all contribute to defining human nature and the presence, or lack of, inherent aggression. It is clear that sociobiology provides a scientific approach to understanding the inherent aggression of individuals, without allowing this to be an excuse for the expression of this aggression. Despite the existence of this inherent need, sociobiology allows that the environment places restrictions of humans that can enable our society to function without regressing to this need, and its expression in war. Both men, and women, are subject to inherent aggression and it is an inevitable result of our raw, undeveloped nature. But we must also recognise the ability of humans to think and behave rationally, and it is this factor that will prevent inherent aggressiveness from becoming a definitive aspect of human society, and provides us with an optimistic future without inescapable regression to warfare.