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Surprising Science

No, Humans Are Not Hardwired for War

Conflict avoidance, reconciliation and cooperative problem solving could also have been altogether "biological" and positively selected for.

What’s the Latest Development?


As war continues to dominate headlines more than a decade into the 21st century, some scientists have claimed that war is a feature of human nature. Some go so far to say war has exerted positive evolutionary pressure. “While it is plausible that Homo sapiens owed much of its rapid brain evolution to natural selection’s favoring individuals that were smart enough to defeat their human rivals in violent competition, it is also plausible that we became highly intelligent because selection favored those of our ancestors who were especially adroit at communicating and cooperating.”

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What’s the Big Idea?

David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, warns that talking of war as a permanent quality of the human character is dangerous moral ground. Indeed, the rise in popularity of the view that all humans are naturally warlike may have more to do with our desire to avoid moral culpability when we learn of bad news. “The problem with envisioning Homo sapiens as inherently and irrevocably warlike,” said Barash, “isn’t simply that it is wrong, but also that it threatens to constrain our sense of whether peacemaking is possible and, accordingly, worth trying.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at the New York Times


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