"Is War Our Biological Destiny?" That is the question posed in a recent New York Times article by Natalie Angier.
"In these days of hidebound militarism and round-robin carnage . . . it's fair to ask: Is humanity doomed? Are we born for the battlefield -- congenitally, hormonally incapable of putting war behind us? Is there no alternative to the bullet-riddled trapdoor, short of mass sedation or a Marshall Plan for our DNA?
After all, says Angier, our biological ancestors were also prone to war. I know, it probably shocks you that this person implies we evolved from apes and were not brought into being by a Divine Creator. She wrote, "Nor are humans the only great apes to indulge in the elixir." "Common chimpanzees," she says, engage in war and share 98 percent of their genes with humans. The other two percent they share with liberals.
Just kidding . . .
Not to worry! There are researchers studying "warfare, aggression and the evolutionary roots of conflict," who believe our inclination toward war is "by no means innate." These researchers believe that you don't need to be a Pollyanna to conceive of a future "in which war is rare and universally condemned."
And upon what do these enlightened researchers base their conclusions? Well, they have the results of "game theory experiments." It appears that human subjects, "in laboratories around the world," respond by compromising when faced with a risk of everyone losing. Instead of adopting a "cheating strategy" where there is a risk of everyone losing, they cooperate and earn a "smaller but more reliable reward." These "cooperative networks" rapidly reach a point of "fixation."
For those of us unschooled in psychobabble, I think this means that once the participants experience the benefits of cooperation, the process becomes "fixed" or relatively permanent. But that's just a guess.
What can we extrapolate from these findings? That "it's easy to get cooperation to evolve to fixation, for it to be the successful strategy." And what's more, according to these geniuses, "There is no such quantifiable evidence or theoretical underpinning in favor of Man the Warrior."
Oh? How about thousands of years of recorded history, for starters? Or does our actual human experience not compare to these controlled laboratory experiments? In other words, if the neighborhood bully has harassed your kid every day for the last year, you should disregard that as an illusion if some erudite group of professors conducts an experiment showing that bullies are prone to cooperation that eventually evolves to fixation. Yes, and I'm sure the professors will tell us that terrorists are interested in negotiation and cooperation as well -- as opposed to a fixation on WMD.