(2002): Myths are dangerous, and we are better off without them. Myth, due to its very nature, is not grounded in reality, so is susceptible to manipulation. Once we accept a myth as truth without any consideration of its reality, how do we question its implications or manipulation on objective grounds?
My purpose here is to clarify some of the most prevalent myths the general public have about human history.
Since the beginning of time, humans have been unable to live in ecological balance. No matter where we happen to live on Earth, we eventually outstrip the environment. This has always led to competition as a means of survival, and warfare has been the inevitable consequence of our ecological demographic propensities. And while realizing this the question that came up is whether humans are genetically programmed to be this way. Or do we have the ability to change the fundamental human-environmental relationship that not only has been with us for millions of years but in many ways has made us who we are today.
In fact though our history has been far less peaceful and pleasant than most of us are comfortable hearing about, our past does not doom our future. This may come as cold comfort to a world filled with warfare and plagued by ecological disasters, but I believe that a careful reading of human history our real and very long history-shows that the opportunity for positive change is there.
As I pointed out a few months ago a lingering desire to sanitize and ignore warfare still exists. Naturally as shown further down this website, the public absorbs this scholarly bias, and the myth of a peaceful past continues.
In tackling these issues, trying to begin at the beginning is not so easy. Humans have not always been human; we have a prehuman past as well. Even fully modern humans-that is, people who were every bit as intelligent as and behaviorally complex as people today-lived and functioned in many different ways. Humans have not always lived in societies that were organized the same way. While anthropologists have constructed a number of schemes to deal with these differences, the most useful is a four-type taxonomy: forager bands, tribal farmers, chiefdoms, and states. Forager bands and tribal farmers are roughly egalitarian societies, in contrast to chiefdoms and states, which have important status differences incorporated into them and are much more socially complex.
The ability to react and to alter their environmental constraints-to change the carrying capacity, is one of the important ways humans are different from most animals. With other animals, when the numbers of a particular species go up, their predators' numbers increase also. As predators kill more of the overpopulated species, the animal population stops rising. Humans have not had significant predators for a million years or more. We do have another kind of predator: other humans. And this is where warfare enters the equation.
Much of noncomplex society human warfare is similar to chimpanzee attacks. Massacres among humans at that social level are, in fact, rare occurrences.
In the late 1800s, the people of the Hopi town of Oralbi got into a serious dispute, in large part instigated by the behavior of the U.S. government, and the community split into two factions. There was a great deal of tension, people were extremely upset, and it was decided that one faction would have to leave the village permanently. Deciding which group should go and which should stay was a terrible dilemma. Leaving their mother village is probably one of the hardest things a Hopi would ever willingly do, because the ancestral home of each lineage and clan has strong religious and emotional ties.
If there was a time of violence among the community of Hopi’s that in modern history where some of the most peaceful tribes in the America’s, this was certainly it. The decision was made-not as the result of a bloody brawl but by a tug-of-war.
However this peaceful resolution to a very contentious situation occurred relatively recently, not in ancient times. Many of the scenes in the prehistoric Hopi murals at Awatovi for example, depict weapons, warriors, and the resultant dead. The same Hopi who explains the word Hopi means peace also tells of violent episodes in the past when entire villages were destroyed. According to their vivid oral traditions, many generations ago massacres and raids were launched on the neighboring Navajo-and even on the Hopis now close friends, the Zuni. In fact, Hopi oral history recounts how the Hopi town of Awatovi was destroyed in the winter of 1700.
This raises thn for example the question of why the Hopi changed from a society With warfare to one so peaceful. The transformation occurred in an impacted environment. From the mid-1800s on, the United States Army enforced peace in the Southwest. From that time, the Hopi were not allowed to, nor did they need to, engage in intense warfare to survive. By the late 1800s, this was the case over all of North America.
Other especially intriguing examples- of peaceful societies have been identified from various parts of the world. Like Diogenes looked for an honest man, and it has been questioned whether some types of social organizations or certain kinds of resource bases lead to peacefulness.
But despite the effort that has been devoted to the search, the number of what can be considered classic cases of peaceful societies is quite small, including the Copper Eskimo, the closely related Ingalik Eskimo, the Gebusi of lowland New Guinea, the African !Kung Bushmen, the Mbuti Pygmies of Central Africa, the Semang of peninsular Malaysia, the South American Sirione of
An interesting group of peaceful societies that became that way only because the traditional human-resource balance had abruptly changed is found in the Plateau region of North America. The anthropological literature considers this area-centered on present-day eastern Washington and Oregon, and parts of Idaho and British Columbia-to be a good example of a region without warfare in the past. Scholars have considerable detail about the history and prehistory of societies in the Plateau and in particular several adjacent groups that occupied the Southern Columbia River-Frazer Plateau. There are accounts dating to the early 1800s and careful, detailed ethnographies of the related but politically independent groups the Sanpoil, Okanogan, Wenatchee, and Chelan. These accounts describe people without war or enemies, with ample food, living a life marred only by the coming of the European settlers: "The Sanpoil, at the geographic center of the Plateau, emphasize no other value in life more than pacifism.... Warfare is virtually unknown to them and has been since Amazonia, the Yahgan of Tierra del Fuego, the Warrau (Warao) of the Orinoco Delta of eastern Venezuela, and the Aborigines who lived along the west coast of Tasmania.
Actually, some of these same "peaceful" societies have extremely high homicide rates. Among the Copper Eskimo and the New Guinea Gebusi, for example, a third of all adult deaths were from homicide. This might be explained by the fact that among small societies almost everyone is a relative, albeit a distant one. Naturally, this raises some perplexing questions: Who IS a member of the group and who is an outsider~. Which killing is considered a homicide and which killing is an act of warfare?
Such questions and answers become somewhat fuzzy. So some of this so-called peacefulness is more dependent on the definition of homicide and warfare than on reality. In fact, some of these societies did have warfare, but it has usually been considered to be minor and insignificant.
At one level, the particular examples of peaceful societies on this list and their subtleties are irrelevant. Anthropologists have studied more than a thousand societies throughout the world. Even if every one of this handful of groups was actually peaceful, the numbers would not be very encouraging. However, the reasons these groups might be considered peaceful can reveal a great deal about why societies in general are-and are not-peaceful.
The Siriono are a good example of a social group whose numbers were so decimated by the time they were studied in 1940 that they were living well below the carrying capacity of their Amazon environment. They were so peaceful, anthropologists noted, that when threatened, the Siriono moved away from their enemies. Yet this extraordinary coping mechanism must be examined more closely. First, a group has to have a lot of land at its disposal to be able to isolate itself in this way. Evidence shows that many people in the Amazon were decimated initially in the 1600s and 1700s by European disease, and then again in the 1900s by intertribal warfare when some groups in the area obtained shotguns while others could not. The fact that the Siriono group studied by anthropologist Allan Homberg numbered only a few hundred people in 1940 points to such a situation: Their own reduced numbers were at that pointing in a depopulated area, free of most human competitors, because all the neighboring social groups' populations had also been depleted. The Siriono existed well below the carrying capacity, and I would expect to see little conflict in their recent past, which is exactly what was found by the anthropologists.
An interesting group of peaceful societies that became that way only because the traditional human-resource balance had abruptly changed is found in the Plateau region of North America. The anthropological literature considers this area-centered on present-day eastern Washington and Oregon, and parts of Idaho and British Columbia-to be a good example of a region without warfare in the past. Scholars have considerable detail about the history and prehistory of societies in the Plateau and in particular several adjacent groups that occupied the Southern Columbia River-Frazer Plateau. There are accounts dating to the early 1800s and careful, detailed ethnographies of the related but politically independent groups the Sanpoil, Okanogan, Wenatchee, and Chelan. These accounts describe people without war or enemies, with ample food, living a life marred only by the coming of the European settlers: "The Sanpoil, at the geographic center of the Plateau, emphasize no other value in life more than pacifism.... Warfare is virtually unknown to them and has been since ong before the accounts of the I800s were written. The new tools and means of obtaining food eventually reached the declining Plateau people, effectively increasing their productivity and the land's carrying capacity.
When all the evidence is examined, it shows an initial prehistoric pattern of warfare extending from the Pacific coast to the interior desert, incorporating the vast Plateau region. When the population in the Plateau declined in the early historic period, and carrying capacity increased due to the introduction of horses and metal, warfare declined. This occurred so early on that by the time ethnographic accounts of the Plateau people were recorded in the I 800s, there was little if any memory of the true aboriginal situation.
The sequence of events on the Plateau illustrates how the lack of evidence for warfare in the ethnographic record is not necessarily an indicator that intergroup conflict was insignificant in the past. More important, it I s easy to see how a region that had experienced considerable warfare in the past could quickly turn peaceful. The area's inhabitants, like the Hopi, would perceive themselves as having "always" been peaceful. Among the Plateau people, once the survival needs of warfare had disappeared, there was no inherent desire to kill outsiders, and no religious beliefs or social institutions existed that caused them to be perpetually warlike. Warfare was necessary for survival early on, but when conflict was no longer needed for survival, it ended.
More evidence that conflict can end among people who have had a long history of intense warfare comes from social groups that have had peace imposed on them by an outside force. In New Guinea, for example, the transition from intense endemic warfare to enforced peace was extremely rapid. The young boy in the 1960 anthropological documentary film Dead Birds lived in the highlands where warfare was deadly and a daily way of life.
In fact his young playmate was killed in an ambush while the film was being made. As a grown man today, he is probably living in the same region but driving a four-wheel-drive Toyota and raising coffee for the world market.
Right after peace was forced on them by colonial governments in the 1960s, the New Guinean people were very happy. Ethnographic studies showed how much they had been terrified by their conflict-riddled way of life and hated the constant, endemic war that had surrounded them. With new technology, new crops, and the like, the carrying capacity was raised, the need for war was eliminated in most places, and the people of New Guinea were able to be peaceful. The groups' previous need to kill for revenge and to appease the ancestors was quickly replaced by the recognized overwhelming benefits of peace.
But maybe these "peaceful" societies did not get that way because of new social organizations, new social rules, or new ideas about the goodness or value of peace, or even because of newly devised abilities to live in ecological balance. In all known cases in which ecological balance was rapidly attained, this balance came about from external factors, not from the society's developing mechanisms to adjust the balance.
Changes in population have all been due to declines from disease or deadly exploitation by outsiders. Changes in carrying capacity have been the result of new foods, tools, or technology brought in by another soclety. Even changes in climate have altered carrying capacity. Changes in social behaviors worked out by the societies themselves never seem to be the reasons for the transition to peacefulness.
Many people intuitively assume that some societies are warlike, some individuals like war, and humans or some humans may be predisposed to warfare, and that it is these and not survival needs that are the real motivations behind most human warfare. If this were true, then most of what I have said is irrelevant. If warfare is not caused by competition over scarce resources, then whether or not humans have always been confronted by such scarcity, they would have had warfare anyway. I believe the evidence refutes such ideas. First, if warfare was automatic, conflict would not stop so quickly when factors of population and ecology change. When social complexity increased, warfare would not change in nature. Second, ingrained social behaviors that promote warfare are better seen as the consequences of warfare, not its ultimate cause.
Examining some other possible reasons for warfare helps to clarify the cause-and-effect connection. When social groups have been studied by anthropologists or described in historical accounts, resource competition is rarely the reason given for much warfare-either today or in the recent past. A classic common explanation for warfare is that in forager and farmer social groups, the conflict involved men fighting over women. Closer inspection reveals that this type of warfare actually has a food basis as well. When food is in short supply, as it has been for most of human history, female infanticide is common and usually soon results in a shortage of adult women. Men fight for access to women, raiding and capturing them from an adjacent group being common among foragers and farmers. Fighting over women is easily seen as a consequence of an overall food shortage, when the shortage of food translates into a shortage of women. Though such fighting might appear to be a consequence of males inherently fighting over females, such fighting is related to how plentiful women are. In reality the fighting for women is a consequence of food shortages, for it is then that there are shortages of women.
Other explanations as to why social groups fight often involve revenge, hatred, and the need for men to gain status from warfare. Most people accept these as the common reasons for intergroup conflict-they are reasons often cited by anthropologists, historians, and even reporters. I believe that these explanations are actually societies' responses to needing a will and ability to fight, and should be seen in a larger context, namely, as the consequence of warfare. When warfare becomes endemic, societies that reward and encourage good fighters are more likely to survive than those that do not have some sort of reward mechanism in place. Revenge, hatred of the enemy, rewarding good fighters with prestige or women, and other such behaviors can become institutionalized. The better they are institutionalized, the more effective the society's war potential becomes, along with the group's survival. Social institutions cannot be turned off in an instantthat's the whole point of social institutions in the first place. Even if they could be dropped quickly, it would be dangerous to do so. just because people have ample food today does not mean they will tomorrow. Whether it's a foraging band or state, dismantling the group's warfare capability because no one happens to be hungry at the moment is obviously a dangerous long-term approach.
Several generations of any new situation might go by before such social mechanisms would be gradually and fully dismantled. Since turning off the mechanisms of warfare when they are no longer needed takes time, warfare should continue to happen even if it is no longer rational" for several generations. Such warfare is perceived-correctly~as 'tsenseless." Its costs to the society are high and the benefits minimal or even nonexistent. Yet the warfare that set up the social and cultural behaviors that cause this "senseless" fighting need not have been senseless in the past.
Such issues have come to a head in the Middle East. Agriculture actually began in the area that is today part of Israel, Jordan, and Syria and the region has been farmed continuously for more than ten thousand years. The invention of horticulture has also been accompanied by thousands of years of competition over land that has become less and less productive. Even today, when agriculture is less important economically than in the past, the population in the Middle East exceeds the long-term availability of water, and there may be an economic component to this ongoing conflict that is not openly acknowledged. Resources have long been inadequate in the region, and stiff are. Looking at it from a purely resource-population growth standpoint, a long tradition of conflict in the area would be expected and for that reason makes sense.
Yet today the level of hatred and fear on both sides exceeds anything that can be considered rational from a resource competition perspective. The economic value of the land being fought over is minimal compared with the economic cost of the conflict, much less the lives lost. Moreover, these are societies noted for their business acumen and willingness to work hard. If peace prevailed, in today's global economy the entire Middle East could become an economic powerhouse. The fact that the hills are overgrazed and the land incapable of supporting the population is irrelevant. A conflict that may have been deeply rooted in the need to compete for and hold what land one could has now become one based on ideology, not resources. But most of the world is emotionally very involved in the Middle East, so it becomes hard hard to put that conflict in perspective.
Turning back to history, there are other cases of warfare that started out resource driven and evolved into ideologically driven warfare.
See for example the 1857 battle between the Yumans of the Lower Colorado River and the Maricopas, who were living some 150 miles away, not far from present-day Phoenix. An analysis of this encounter begins with the fact that the Mancopas and Yumans lived too far apart to be in legitimate conflict over anything. The Yumans risked, and actually lost, a large portion of the men of their entire community over a fight with "traditional enemies." Oral histories and linguistic analysis show that for the preceding hundred or two hundred years, the Yumans; had been engaged in a process of taking over more and more of the Lower Colorado River Valley at the expense of their neighbors.
By the early 1800s, they had become militarily dominant in the region, and not long before they had driven the Maricopas from the valley and pushed other groups away from prime farming areas. The Yumans had successfully competed over scarce farmland. By the 1850s, new technology and population decline had probably eliminated the need for such territorial expansion, just as observed for other Native American societies affected by westward expansion.
As an aside, this example points out the importance of no-man's-lands as a means of survival. Though the empty spaces between politics were relatively unproductive, the separation did allow societies to avoid being constantly in conflict. Today, such buffer zones are almost impossible to maintain. In the Middle East or the Balkans, given the military technology, rockets, mortars, and other long-distance weapons, no-man's-lands would need to be far wider than the twenty miles or so typically found for non complex societies, or the more than one hundred miles found between the Yumans and Maricopas. Instead, modern adversaries are, at best, only a few miles apart. On a global scale, with today's rapid transportation you can fly across a country in less time than a tribal farmer would need to transit a prehistoric buffer zone. Without workable buffer zones, conflict can become so continuous that the fabric of daily life disintegrates, a situation that cannot long continue.
The important lesson to be learned from this episode between the Yumans and the Maricopas is that it can be understood only in historical context. The Yumans could not have been expected to extinguish all their long-held, highly successful social mechanisms that encouraged and rewarded warfare just because things had recently changed. They embarked upon what appears, in hindsight, to have been a "senseless" military campaign. Surely, many other cases of warfare that do not seem to have logical explanations probably took place before there was enough time for one or the other social group or groups involved to have dismantled such internal social institutions. Apparently "senseless" warfare can have an underlying cause related to past disputes over scarce resources.
There is plenty of resource-competition warfare today, especially in Africa, but other areas of the world have wars that we presume to be driven by ideology rather than a lack of resources. Yet many of these places have very long histories of degraded or depleted natural resources. Ideologies that promote a "them versus us" attitude are much more likely to take hold in regions where there has been a long history of ecological stress and degradation. The Balkans have had agriculture longer than any other area of Europe, and the Middle East has been farming longer than anywhere else in the world. Chiapas, Mexico, the scene of antigovernment conflict by the Indian population, is an area of early domestication in the Americas. The Shining Light terrorists in Peru have been able to find supporters in a landscape that had also been the scene of very early agriculture.
That warfare in the past may have ultimately been driven by a rational response to diminishing resources does not mean that such conflict did not-and does not now-have an emotional component. Even chimpanzees observed in the wild get very excited during an attack and also show clear sorrow when their own are killed. Since killing and dying bring out some of the strongest human emotions, warfare would be expected to be emotionally charged. There is plenty of evidence that in less complex societies emotions over warfare were tempered by reality. Accounts of war councils from people as diverse -as those from the mountains of Montenegro to highland New Guinea show that members of these smaller-scale societies assess their chances of success and try to fight only when they think they will win." just because warfare is emotional does not mean past conflict was not also rational.
In considering the wars of the last few centuries, one might wonder if those conflicts could possibly be driven by ecological imbalance, or be based upon a careful assessment of potential gain versus the consequences of losing. First, many of the "modern" wars around the world are clearly fought over resources and occur in and between the poorest nations, not the richest. The richest nations surely have had horrific wars too. This warfare between modern state-level societies is perhaps the most difficult to and of the long-term natural alliances and shared interests that actually existed around the world at the time. If not the major reasons for these modern wars, such faulty judgments were certainly big contributors.
Assessing the social factors relating to warfare turns out to be increasingly difficult as societies become more complex-and as they do, serious misjudgments become more likely to arise. Since warfare among foragers and farmers was more frequent, those social groups were actually able to assess the overall situation almost continuously. As states began to have less warfare and as the clashes became more intense, the information levels declined and the consequences of judgmental error increased. As groups grow larger and more complexly organized, it becomes progressively easier for warfare to be considered "irrational" based on flawed Judgments at the leadership level.
This disarticulation of the populace from the war leadership is probably the greatest structural difference between state war and forager, farmer, or even chiefdom war. Today, not only do a small number of people make the decision to go to war (although in some states there does need to be popular acceptance), but a small number of people can manage the war in almost total isolation from reality. In the past, any chief, or especially any tribal war leader, was an active participant in battle and carefully judged his men for their willingness to participate. There were no mechanisms to coerce participation. Failure to be sensitive to the limitations of your authority was likely to get you deposed, if not killed by your own side.
Also, front-rank fighting leaders existed in many ancient states. Alexander the Great fought at the head of his army and as a consequence had men who were willing to follow him, literally, to what appeared to be, at the time, the ends of the earth. Even in the American Civil War, generals were at the front and often got killed or wounded in battle. These leaders understood the attitudes of their men, -and when they made tactical mistakes in battle they died like their men. Over time, war has become much pore complex. By the time of the First World War, generals stayed far behind the front and ignored reality, while tens of thousands were killed because of poor leadership. This probably culminated with Stalin and his senior generals and their ruthless and almost total disregard for casualties. This aspect of modern state warfare is hard to comprehend, and it is not a characteristic of most human warfare. In the past, not only did you try hard not to be killed, but you also tried hard not to have anyone on your side killed. The warriors fighting next to you were your relatives and neighbors. Past warfare was not impersonal; it did not appear irrational. It was necessary for survival.
Among foragers and tribal farmers, everyone in a group has access to the same information about the group's strength-and that of the enemy~ and this information is assessed collectively. Certainly, errors in these assessments are made, as the Yumans' disastrous attack on the Mancopas shows, but most of the time the frequency of contentious encounters ensures that information about one's enemies and the group's own capabilities was reasonably accurate. And leaders were frequently tested; bad leaders were soon eliminated. In most forager and tribal societies, if the men did not have confidence in the leader, they simply did not participate. Poor leaders were quickly relegated back to the ranks. This changes with statelevel warfare.
Contrast tribal warfare with formerly Saddam Hussein, the master of miscalculation. Saddam had no ability to assess U.S. and world response to his invasion of Kuwait. There was no consensus building among his army: A handful of men made a phenomenally bad assessment. Invading Kuwait was his second mistake. Saddam had not been weeded out for his earlier, equally disastrous invasion of Iran. No foragers or tribal farmers would have let their leaders behave that way. This disengagement of the decision making from the people who actually do the fighting is what makes modern warfare so terrifying. At the same time that the proportional number of deaths and frequency of clashes have diminished, the ability to act "rationally" has also declined.
The societies that compete are now so complex that it is almost impossible to predict their political reactions to acts of aggression. Political uncertainty, coupled with an inability of the leadership to grasp the technical changes that swirl around us at a faster pace, makes this all even more unpredictable. For example, if Adolf Hitler had waited to wage war until after 1939 and been able to grasp the revolution in physics, the rest of the world might have faced the Nazis with atomic bombs. Now, it is true that both Hitler and Saddam Hussein were and are not sane in some fundamental way, but that only emphasizes the point that the selective process for military leadership has become badly distorted by the nature of modern societies.
Sometimes the failure to comprehend the opposition's political will and new technology works against modern adversaries. Although Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda may have been a small group of fanatics for whom personal survival held little meaning, that was not true for the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
The willingness of that Islamic fundamentalist regime to aid and abet bin Laden was a phenomenal miscalculation. "We defeated the Russians, we don't need to fear the United States," was probably the Taliban’s mantra of the day, but they were very wrong. The U.S. led allies had a political will the Taliban never anticipated-plus new, sophisticated war technology, and its use was devastatingly effective. The leaders of the Taliban were using the warmaking tactics of tribal farmers and chiefdoms without the traditionally rational and careful decision making accompanied by knowledge of their enemies or the potential consequences of their own acts. Based on these few, sketchy examples of "modern" warfare, one might say that we humans have not lost an inherent peacefulness, but rather have lost, to a considerable degree, a societal-based ability to assess warfare rationally.
Miscalculation is certainly an important component of modern war and why we perceive it to be so irrational, but we are also faced with a hybrid world, a world those of us living in industrial states do not fully understand. Though the current world order appears to be a collection of nationstates, it is not. All parts of the globe have been put into one nation-state or another, but this is a recent and artificial construct in many places. Millions of people are still living in chiefdoms and even tribes, and there is much modern warfare that does make sense when examined from the context of tribes and chiefdoms. These social groups may not look like the chiefdoms or tribes of old, yet they still function much like them. In the past, chiefdoms were organized around strong leaders whose important role was defense against other chiefdoms, and that is what we find today.
Most of the chiefs are referred to as "warlords" in the media, which misses the point. These social units invariably translate into segments of society that have little allegiance to a central government. Instead, these segments focus around a regional or ethnic group that has existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Such societies within societies are led by a group of hierarchically structured, "chiefs," the top chief being the "warlord".
The warlords do not just conduct war-that is simply the role an outsider sees. They are "the government": In their regions, they settle land disputes, organize public works, and collect taxes or tribute. In Afghanistan, for example, there were media reports that food packets dropped by American airplanes to feed the "starving peasants" were not consumed by the finders but gathered up and turned in to their local warlords. In Somalia, the warlords essentially taxed the distribution of humanitarian relief food in their territories. Everything-all transactions and exchanges-is very personal; there are no bureaucrats. Usually relatives help carry out the orders of the chiefs (warlords). In such "nation-states" the central government usually controls only the large cities and leaves these warlords alone. Lacking any kind of strong central authority out in the hinterlands, these local chiefs embedded in weakly organized nation-states- Afghanistan, Somalia, or China a hundred years ago-are warlords by necessity. All chiefs compete, they always have, and there is no reason we should expect this to change.
So warlords are really chiefdoni-level social organizations embedded in quasi states. Almost always the state was set up by outside powers and is not a fully functional state. The result is a hybrid mess, because such states contain some aspects of more complex social organizations, including bureaucrats and courts of law-but these institutions don't always apply to all parts of the quasi state. The chiefs can ignore the laws and restrict the reach of the bureaucrats. It's no wonder that chiefdoms, and even some tribally organized peoples, that have been arbitrarily lumped into nation-states do not work very well. The buffer zones are removed between competing groups by setting up national governments that presumably provide security, which encourages the buffer zones to become occupied. Sometimes this works and a viable state emerges: India is a state formed from a series of independent polities. Sometimes it almost works: Indonesia is a recently formed state where there are strong separatist movements and regional conflicts, East Timor being the best-known example. For the most part Indonesia is a coherent nation-state. Sometimes, these arbitrary nation-states do not work at all: Yugoslavia and Rwanda had preexisting polities that were incapable of forming viable states. In Yugoslavia, the original political units were strong enough that more realistic states could be structured, resulting in its disintegration and reconstitution into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Serbia, and probably Kosovo and Montenegro. Over time, one can predict that the incorporation of these new states into the European economic sphere will change the centuries of conflict over resources into peaceful interactions in spite of the long-held animosities.
It is not surprising that imposed nation-states work best when the chiefdoms were very complex and when there were already some state functions in place, as in India. In places like Africa, where the organizations were tribal or not very complex chiefdoms, the nation-state has often been unable to provide the security necessary to occupy the buffer zones. When warfare breaks out, it can be severe, as seen in much of Central Africa.
Another aspect of modern conflict is the fact that the basic perceptions of what's valuable and worth fighting over have changed over time. As land recedes as the critical resource and economic interaction becomes vital, conflict will not provide the needed resources-it will diminish them, because much of the present "economic resource" is political stability, rule of law, social infrastructure, and the like. War harms all these. In some parts of the world where poverty is greater and the previous social organization was much less statelike, what is valuable has not changed and the critical resource remains productive land. We should expect warfare in such areas to continue as it has for millennia.
When the industrial world gets tangled up in these quasi nation-states, trouble usually follows. Outsiders tend to want the flimsy central government to take control of the hinterlands, but it cannot, and the rural, more traditional societies are not able to be organized into the state. Control over the hinterlands in such cases has been successful only in places like Pacific Islands, where colonial administrators have let the chiefdoms continue to function. This is how Samoa worked when I was living there, and it was working well. There was no state government in the sense we think of it. The hwhest-ranked chief was the prime minister, and the "bureaucracy" was the lesser chiefs. New names, traditional system, but it worked fine. In nearby Fiji, the traditional social structure did not remain intact, and the recent political instability is the consequence.
If we look at today's "hot spots," whether Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, or even parts of the Balkans, we find chiefdoms, and in some cases even tribal farmers, scooped up into a state but not really part of it. In such regions, traditional, often long-running conflicts already exist, and these disputes are exacerbated by outside influences, often in the form of money and weapons flowing to one chiefdom to the detriment of another, which upsets the old balances of power that have existed for centuries. Any good chief will take advantage of such a situation; that is his job. We doiA think it is a nice job-killing your enemies if you can-but if your enemies will kill you as soon as they get the chance, it is rational behavior for the chiefs and their followers. This does not mean that the members of these societies like these situations. They no more like war than the Yanomama do-or we do, for that matter. Yet under the circumstances, when the central government is weak, the safest thing for them to do is to be part of a strong chiefdom. People will fully participate in a true state only when they become convinced it is safe.
Also, remember that tribal and chiefdom societies are not geared for rapid change. When international politics and economics-often oil and drug money~suddenly show up, traditions get out of whack and chaos begins. If the causes of the warfare between the traditional societies still exist, then the ensuing "modern" chaos is an opportunity to begin conflict again.
What can the industrialized states do in these situations? Not much, I'M afraid. Getting rid of the underlying causes-poverty, distrust, and longterm animosity-is a slow process at best. It is probably realistic to accept the social systems for what they are-and that does not mean they are nice or fair-and try and maintain the traditional balances and leadership structure while trying to keep one side from getting an advantage.
This simplified analysis of quasi nation-states does not imply that all third world states are tribes and chiefdoms embedded in weak central governments. Many areas of the world, including China, India, Mexico, and Peru, have had social systems that were states for a very long time. Though these countries may have internal conflicts, they are of the kind many states have had, in which the marginalized peasants are dose to starving and react with riots or attempts to take resources from other peasants. The conflicts do not arise from local warlords, chiefdom-level leaders, competing with each other. Though true wars between states do happen today, and certainly are a real threat, much of today's violence is actually conflict between warlords, or is a case of peasants fighting peasants in regions where the states cannot control the conflict. These encounters are often described in terms of religious or ideological differences. Those social differences need not be the cause of the warfare, but can be the consequence of centuries of conflict that have polarized the people who define themselves by religion or religious ideology.
Yet ideology is certainly a component of warfare, and in many ways ideological warfare is even harder for us to understand, much less reconcile as rational, than war that results from miscalculation or that derives from social systems that are foreign to modern industrial societies. Ideological warfare is pervasive, and most warfare, regardless of the antagonists, has involved some component of ideological difference. When ideology becomes so intense and dominant, we often fear that nothing can ever restrain or eliminate such feelings and consequent behavior.
The beliefs under dispute, whether -religious or other attitudes, can be so strong that resources, rationality, and even long-term survival seem to become irrelevant. There is no question of the force such beliefs can hAve on all sides involved. The question here is whether such passionate reactions evolve from external circumstances or from some deep-seated needs within all of us. These incredibly angry ideologies could have developed as a means to cope with real problems of survival, or they could have developed because humans have become programmed to want to hate and kill.
Considering the length of time humans have been warring and the intensity of this conflict again and again, one has to consider the possibility that humans might be genetically predisposed to warfare. If warfare has been part of the human condition for more than a million years (or six million years, depending on the start date), we just might be selected for behaviors that make us warlike. Six million years of intergroup conflict might result in a human genetic predisposition for love of war. This is a classic "nature versus nurture" problem: How much of our behavior is learned and how much has a genetic basis? Just as an increased understanding of the pastand of our closest ape relatives-can help in grappling with this issue, so does the accelerating unraveling of the human genome sequence. Ultimately, the combination of these lines of evidence will make short work of this question. Since science is not there yet, I will go out on a limb to address it.
But I suspect that there must have been selection among humans for aggressive behavior during the last million years or so. A genetic selection for making war or for killing people, or a genetic selection for more generalized aggressive behavior. This is the argument that primatologist Richard Wrangharn has made for chimpanzees.
The behavior is the killing of males from other chimp groups, but this chimp "warfare" is carried out by clear and calculated thinking, not by instinct.
So maybe we can assume that males have been selected for aggressive behavior-but genetic selection does not work that way. The issue is not nearly this simple. Genes for aggression might not an be male-specific; both human sexes may have been somewhat selected for aggressive behavior. Such selection would be for many different genes, some perhaps male-specific and some not. In this case males might have been selected for aggression more than females.
Humans have been selected for many different things, and we have instinctive behaviors that may or may not be useful or appropriate in today's world. On the biological side, for example, males have blood chemistry that differs from that of females. Males seem to be adapted to great spurts of excited effort, adrenaline-like behavior, while female blood chemistry is adapted to much more efficient use of energy and more conservation of iron. Since women of childbearing age lose some iron regularly during menstruation, this seems logical.
After all, men do not get into fights with cave bears anymore, or engage in hand-to-hand combat too often. Maybe a blood chemistry adapted to moments of great physical effort is, in large part, why men have more heart attacks than women. This does not mean that men are doomed by their heritage. By taking aspirin each day, a man can mitigate most of the blood chemistry differences between the sexes. Once understood, the maladaptive blood chemistry can be dealt with by behavior and chemistry. Understanding the differences in blood between men and women and finding a way to deal with them is better than pretending that such differences do not exist.
The same approach holds true for potential genetic aggressive behavior. All humans, especially males, must learn to deal with genetic predispositions that may derive, in part, from millennia of warfare or other causes. For example, humans are probably genetically conditioned to be uncomfortable around strangers, who in the past were very likely enemies and would probably try to kill us, but we learn to deal with this behavior. We are probably genetically conditioned to be afraid of snakes, an important predator of primates, yet there are lots of snake lovers among us. And many of us (especially males) are certainly genetically predisposed to want sex. Yet the overwhelming majority of us are able to deal with this instinct in a socially acceptable manner.
In addition, there appears to have been selection for many other human traits that seem to "cancel out" or blunt overly aggressive behavior. Concern for children or those less fortunate, for example, is quite strong in humans. Hearing a baby crying upsets us. In fact, crying itself has been selected for. Chimpanzees dorA cry. Crying and a response to it are intertwined in our genetic makeup. Other uniquely human behaviors are sharing and altruism. Sharing of food-bringing edibles back to the band, especially males bringing meat-was a critical human trait and another that separates us from chimpanzees.
There must have been as much genetic selection for sharing, and the ability to cooperate it implies, as there was for aggression. Altruistic behavior in general can be seen as a strong human trait. Impulsively jumping into a body of water to save another-even a total stranger-is a strong human response. Think of firefighters who rush into burning buildings every day. This powerful urge to help or save others must be as inherently human as aggressive behavior. Aggressive human t~ndencies are often mitigated by other human tendencies.
In any given situation there is no reason to believe that aggressive behavior will be the only response elicited. Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that a learned response cannot override such a possible genetically induced behavioral response. A scantily clad young woman entering a room does not trigger a response from all nearby males to tear off their clothes (or hers). It may cross their minds, but they stay dressed in most instances. Similarly, an undesirable action by a neighbor usually doesn't cause us to rush next door and set his house afire, or commit murder, although such thoughts might dominate more rational solutions when a loud party continues at two A.M. I see no reason to believe that selection for aggressive behavior has made modern humans unable to function in nonaggressive ways. The very fact that warfare was so patterned in the past strongly argues against this. If humans were innately programmed to fight all the time, we would fight all the time. But humans do not do this. When there is no reason to fight, we are capable of ending the conflict. Repeatedly in the past, when populations declined or new tools and technologies made acquiring food easier, scholars see a decline in or cessation of warfare.
There were "peaceful Pueblo people" in A.D. 1900 living right where archaeologists find evidence of warfare dating to 1300. The Hopi really do perceive themselves as inherently peaceful people. I do not believe they are any more inherently peaceful than any others on Earth, but they certainly are peaceful. The Vikings were once the scourge of Europe, but not today. Those same Polynesian Islands that were sites of so much warfare in the past are now tranquil tourist spots. Kung are so peaceful today that the anthropologists who studied them forty years ago were unable to see that their past was hardly peaceful. If warfare was genetically built into humans and not outweighed by other inherent huniqn tendencies, none of this could be true.
Intergroup conflict-warfare-is far more likely to be controlled than individual acts of aggression. It is one thing to get angry and pick a fight, to melt down in a case of "road rage," or to lash out at a spouse, but it is quite another to start a war. Wars are group activities. The uncontrolled aggression of one or a few individuals will not result in warfare-maybe a barroom brawl, but not war. The larger group must sanction aggression in the case of war." Warfare, of all human aggressive behavior, is probably the least likely to be driven by genetically induced behaviors unmodified or uncontrolled by cultural behaviors. Chimpanzee males are aggressive on an unregulated basis in their own groups. Undoubtedly some of this behavior involves unplanned knee-jerk aggressive reactions to random events. Chimp warfare, on the other hand, is carefully calculated. Aggressive groups retreat when the odds are not overwhelmingly in their favor. No "hothead" rushes forth and attacks when the odds of success are poor. Among chimps, as well as humans, warfare is the least impetuous aggressive behavior, one act that is most moderated by group decision making and cold, hard calculation of the risks involved.
Among humans, animosities can linger for a long time, and it may indeed take generations for true peace to come to the Balkans or the Middle East or large portions of Africa. Just because humans cannot make peace does not mean they have genes that preclude being peaceful. A his tion of the world's people go to bed hungry, and many starve. As long as resource scarcities continue in many parts of the world, I expect conflict based on competition over resources to continue, even if it is sometimes disguised as ideological. This does not doom us to a future of war any more than our past dooms us to a future of heart attacks.
A careful reading of the past shows that humans are not programmed for war. Perhaps even more surprising, the real history of warfare shows that it has declined over time, further evidence that warfare is not an inherently human behavior. As societies have become more and more complex, a decline in the proportion of the population involved in war, along with a concomitant increase in professional soldiers, can be observed. Among foragers and farmers, all adult males were expected to participate in warfare not every man in every fight, but at some point in their lives all men would have been participants. As social complexity increased, specialists were trained for warfare and conflict became their full-time occupation, while far less of the population was directly involved.
There has been a decline in actual war deaths, on a per capita basis, as societies become complexly organized. In 1294 B.C., Ramses 11 was able to field twenty thousand men at the battle of Kadesh in present-day Syria. With a population in the multimillions, this army represented only 2 percent of the able-bodied men of Egypt, and armies did not increase in size until the last two centuries. Only a small portion of the men in states ever were in battle. 16 Warfare in complex societies has increasingly had less of an impact on the population as a whole and has become less of a daily fact of life.
This has been true for people living in states for some time. While many societies engaged in psychological warfare in the past, it is more likely to work with states. Tribes may have hung up enemy skulls to unnerve their competitors, but states do it on massive scales. The early states of Mexico, Peru, and the Middle East all created public imagery of victorious armies and enemies being killed, sacrificed, and dismembered. The skull racks of the Aztecs, the largest holding one-hundred thousand human heads, were the culmination of a long tradition of psychological warfare.
It sometimes works well in states because so much of the population is buffered from war. Terror loses its impact when it is commonplace. For example, if you fight with the neighboring groups constantly and know that you kill about as many of them as they do of you, the act of placing a skull on a post is likely to generate little fear on either side. However, in a society where there have been no battles on the home soil for six generations, the destruction of a structure like the World Trade Center can bring forth feelings of vulnerability that reach far beyond the probability of any individual within that society being killed by a terrorist.
Today's threat of terrorism, and especially suicide bombings, has the potential of reverting us-at least psychologically, to what life was like in less complex societies. People living in those times and social groupings did worry every day about themselves and their loved ones being killed in attacks, often in ambush. For many of us living today, this type of fear has returned, and the potential for such psychological warfare can be far-reaching.
Over time, as social groupings became more and more complex, there has been a shift from constant battles to more infrequent major clashes. Intergroup conflict evolved from the multiple battles, raids, and massacres that were more than annual events for foragers and farmers, to the great militaristic encounters that last several years once a generation-or even once in a lifetime-of modern nation-states. The dashes of the complex societies are horrific and long remembered, but the constant battles of the past were every bit as feared by those who participated in them. The impact of the more frequent, constant warfare on the people involved-both demographically and on their daily lives-was far greater.
This evolution of conflict becomes clear when today's warfare IS placed in perspective. It is estimated that one thousand people are killed daily in localized conflicts around the globe. Whether in the Balkans, Central Africa, Timor, or Sri Lanka, there is still a good deal of conflict in the mod-ern world. With more than six billion people on the planet, a third of a mil-lion deaths per year (1,000 a day for 365 days)-as horrible as that is-is much less than the number of fatalities that occurred on a per capita basis in a highland New Guinea village forty years ago. As observed ethnographically in New Guinea, typically 25 percent of the men died from warfare in farmer and forager societies. If all six billion people on Earth today were involved in warfare like that experienced by most egalitarian farmers in the past, the fatality rate would be more than eight thousand deaths per day, or more than eight times what actually occurs.4
With this in mind, let's examine the myths of a peaceful past and of humans living in ecological balance and contrast them with a careful assessment of reality that turns the more traditional view on its head. These myths assume that for long periods of time the earliest humans were simple foragers who lived in harmony with nature, had few wants, and were able to control their populations. When agriculture was developed, populations grew, but these farmers managed to remain inherent environmentalists and continued to avoid stressing the environment. Then finally, but not until the rise of complex societies, we humans lost our ability to live in ecological balance. At that point, the appealing story of millions of years of peaceful coexistence with nature turns ugly, and violent, environmentally threatened societies-in particular Western European society-command a starring role. As Western society spread or affected much of the planet, the myth continues, warfare and environinental degradation spread like an infectious disease, engulfing most of the world-except where vestigial remains of this peaceful, ecologically balanced existence survived among such groups as the !Kung, Australian Aborigines, Eskimos, Siriono, and the like. In other words, noble Cro-Magnon humans were replaced by warlike, modern imperialists.
Reality paints a different picture, one with many opportunities for peace and ecological harmony, but it is a portrait of opportunities lost. Looking back through history, several radical changes in human societies occurred, and each change provided, in theory, an opportunity to improve the population-ecological balance and usher in a new era of peace. Each time one of these dramatic changes took place, peace and ecological balance remained elusive.
The first of these transformations was becoming human. As protohumans became fully human beings and gained superior intelligence, language, and cultural norms, these initial human foragers were hardly peaceful. Greater intelligence did not result in greater peacefulness. Although some ecologically benign behaviors did develop, they were never effective enough to regulate population growth and to establish a peaceful, stable system. Except in the harshest environments, forager populations grew, reached the carrying-capacity limit, and then competed for resources. For more than a million years, humans lived in a precarious balance between population growth and the limitations and variability of the environment. Periodic population increases. that could not be sustained by an ever-changing resource base led to chronic starvation, infanticide, and warfare. These early people modified the environment by such means as fire and were no more "environmentalists" than their short-term goals dictated. Since their numbers were, by necessity, low, and their technology limited, 'the impact of the first foragers was relatively minor.
Beginning around ten thousand to twelve thousand years ago, people began to farm in the Middle East, China, and later in Africa and Central and South America. This new situation might have resulted in a peaceful world. Farmers were able to get far more food from an acre of land than had ever before been possible, and there was the potential for plenty for all-but the balance was not maintained. Farmers could reproduce at rates far beyond those of foragers, and they spread quickly over much of Earth. In spite of its potential, farming itself solved no problems. The benefits of every new plant domesticated, every new animal tamed, and every new technology invented were quickly consumed by the growing number of people such advances could additionally support. Horticulture and domestic animals caused environmental degradation that went way beyond the effects of just the higher population numbers. More people translated into more degradation. In any given region, in spite of efforts to control growth or to develop new foods and technologies, the population soon grew to stress the resources once again. Malnutrition, if not starvation, and even more intense and chronic warfare were common among the early farmers.
Once again, a major social transformation occurred. Complex societies developed. The leadership in these societies had the mechanisms and potential ability to control population growth and to force people to be more ecologically sensitive. Along with more complex societies came more complex technologies. The chiefdoms and early states had developed enough technology to harm the world's environment at levels and rates not seen before. The result was even more degradation of the environment. Although some efforts were made to control population growth, such mechanisms were always far from fully successful, and resource stress was as common as ever.
In chiefdoms especially, the elite were constantly competin, resulting in 9 chronic warfare. When the large bureaucratic organizations-statesdeveloped, the average person could be forced to starve, because the centralized government might not allow the lower classes to fight for survival. As societies became more complex, the level of human suffering did not diminish. In fact, the average person in a preindustrial state was malnourished, had a short life span, practiced infanticide, suffered from the highly communicable diseases that went-along with living in urban areas, and engaged in feuds and peasant revolts-and sometimes got caught up in wars that killed millions of people. Despite the fact that the number of people killed in state-level warfare actually declined, the diet and healX of the state's overall population also declined.
In spite of several dramatic changes in human social systems that might have led to very different human-ecological balances over the course of time, no such enduring balance was ever found. But the story is yet to be completed. One more dramatic change in the human social order took place, one that, again, provided the opportunity for ecological balance and peace. We live in this period today, and seeing it in its long-term perspective is especially important.
With the rise of complex societies, the increasing pace of new technological developments began to change the nature of human-ecological relationships. These changes ultimately produced a unique human condition. At first, these new technologies made things worse. Technology enabled humans to despoil the environment much more intensely than farmers and foragers ever could. Specialists developed new knowledge and technologies. At first, the positive impact of these trends was slow and probably outweighed the negatives. Then the world changed again. The Industrial Revolution altered the rate of technological change in a dramatic way. Beginning around 1800, change began to accelerate at a pace humans had never experienced, and this quickening had two particularly important impacts on population growth and ecological balance. The Industrial Revolution dramatically slowed growth rates and increased the world's carrying capacity.
Great suffering accompanied the Industrial Revolution as it changed societies rapidly and dramatically. It increased our ability to degrade the environment in unprecedented ways. At the same time, it laid the foundation for breaking the relationship between population growth and carrying capacity stress, because industrialization enabled us to increase the world's carrying capacity immensely. SIX thousand years ago, a Neolithic farmer was lucky to achieve yields of eight bushels of wheat per acre. In Kansas today, farmers get almost eighty bushels per acre.
The Industrial Revolution also caused the world's population to become more urban. Well over 90 percent of the U.S. population lives in a nonfarm situation. The cost-benefit of having children changed, as it did for earlier cities. Very large farm families have been replaced by a typical urban family with one or two children. The difference now is that in industrialized states, almost everyone lives in a city, so the number of children desired has declined measurably. It is staggering to discover that 160,000 people a day move to an urban environment around the world." This, of course, has created its own problems, especially the rise of megacities such as Sao Paulo (18 million), Mexico City (18 million-plus), and Karachi and New Delhi (12 million each). Though the low birth rate found in urban environments is a pattern that has existed since the time of the earliest cities, as a greater and greater portion of the world's population lives in cities, the impact of low urban birth rates is ever more pronounced. Technology and science have provided effective birth control so that the desire for fewer children can actually be met. In combination, these changes are resulting in some societies around the world, including much of Europe, reaching stable population levels. Already, about 2S percent of the world's population on a country-by-country basis is either stable or slightly declinin , and the rates 1 9 of most of the high-growth areas like China, India, and South America are also declining. Such a transformation in demography has affected hundreds of millions of people. Though many more hundreds of millions have remained unaffected.
Today, just about two hundred years after the start of the Industrial Revolution, modern states have incredibly severe ecological problems, yet at the same time the greatest awareness and technological ability humans have ever had to amend or soften their impact on the world's environment exist. In spite of the pronounced impact industrialized states make on the environment, their technology and slow growth rates enable them to live well below the carrying capacity~ The decline in warfare among those countries with stable or declining growth rates is incredibly strong. This is especially promising for the future and provides additional confirmation of the relationship between resource stress and warfare. Remove the one, and the other soon disappears.
The great irony is that we humans have not lost our ability to live healthily and peacefully within a pristine environment as a result of advancing industrialization. On the contrary, we never had any such ability. The Industrial Revolution is not another major sea change that denied us our ancestors' capabilities to live properly and prosperously in a warfare-free environment. Modern humans car;t be denied an ecological balance nobody on Earth has ever enjoyed, nor be denied a peaceful way of life that has never existed. As difficult as the adjustment to the Industrial Revolution was-and continues to be for many of the world's societies-it did not cause an increase in warfare.
This transformation has not been as complete as the agricultural revolution that preceded it. We live in a world where the impact of the Industrial Revolution is spotty. Highly urban, low-growth regions, like Europe, have low levels of warfare and little malnutrition. Yet other parts of the world South and Southeast Asia, much of Africa-are rural, high-growth regions and have great food shortages and internal strife not often considered warfare, which kill millions directly or indirectly. In addition, environmental degradation continues unabated everywhere.
There is no guarantee that the current low growth and resource abundance among the industrialized, or urbanized, states will continue over the long term. just because the situation seems stabilized does not mean that a long-term balance has been developed. Remember Europe in the I I 00s, when for a couple of hundred years resources were plentiful due to the good climate-but then the Little Ice Age hit. As the world becomes more connected, the continued population growth of the underdeveloped countries may well result in even more accelerated migration to the industrialized countries, leading to significant population increases again. The use rate of resources among the industrialized states does not appear to be sustainable for the world as a whole. If everyone on Earth used energy, seafood, trees, and a long list of other resources at the rate Americans do, resources would be depleted far faster than they could regenerate.
The Industrial Revolution has presented modern humans with an opportunity to live healthily and peacefully within a pristine environment-an opportunity we do not recognize for what it is. Humans can now actually monitor how we are affecting the environment and do something about it. The detection of the depletion of the ozone layer and the abandonment of production and use of fluorocarbons, its cause, is a milestone in our understanding of the complex ecology of the planet and a willingness to correct past behaviors. We are succeeding in monitoring and controlling overfishing in some places in the world while we continue to deplete the ocean in others. Modern humans are far from being able to stop degrading the planet, but we have shown we can sometimes succeed. In the past, humans did not succeed in this regard. Their failures simply resulted in less dramatic impacts.
The problems of the modern world are certainly bigger, but so are our capabilities. And these problems get solved only by big efforts. The war on cancer is a big effort and should pay off in our lifetimes. There is no comparable big effort to eliminate the underlying causes of warfare in most of the world-certainly nothing on the scale the problem demands. This is not an appeal for more foreign aid, or more lecturing from the haves to the have-nots about what to do. It is an appeal to accepting the true nature of the human condition and the real nature of the problem. With this realization, some new ideas will be taken seriously by the leadership of the developed world. We are on the right trajectory for world peace. We are moving in the right direction, but this process will not produce instant success any more than the war on cancer has.
The inability to evolve a worldwide ecological balance would not reflect a breach from the "noble savages" of the past. We have never had that heritage, or the opportunities we have today. For the first time in history, technology and science enable us to understand Earth's ecology and our impact on it, to control population growth, and to increase the carrying capacity in ways never before imagined. The opportunity for humans to live in longterm balance with nature is within our grasp if we do it right. It is a chance to break a million-year-old cycle of conflict and crisis.
Taking the long view of human history points to our controlling warfare Just as medical science has made great strides to conquer heart disease. Everything in the past points to the reduction of warfare. In spite of the wars of the last century, in spite of the numerous wars taking place today, many characterized as civil wars, and the many victims of these wars, we are still making progress. Twenty-five percent of all the men alive today will not die from warfare, as men did for most of human history. Entire societies will not be swept away as they frequently were in the past. From a centurieslong perspective, we are making great improvement. A greater proportion of the world is at peace today than any time in the past.
Undoubtedly, humankind has a long way to go toward bringing peace on Earth and living in ecological balance. There are more people today who understand the impact the human race is having on the world's environments, and are prepared to take the steps needed to achieve ecological balance, than has ever been the case in the past. To think we have lost our "roots" or are somehow out of touch with our ancient ancestors-and have lost the ability to live in peace and in ecological balance-is a myth and a dangerous one. The myth implies that if we can just relearn how to think about nature and remember our ancient abilities to be one with the natural environment, warfare will stop and ecological balance will be regained.
Maybe for the first time in history, we have a real ability to provide adequate resources for everyone living on the planet. If we have reached a point at which we can live within Earth's carrying capacity, we can eliminate warfare in the same way we can eliminate infectious disease: not perfectly, not immediately, but slowly and surely.
The intentional character and symbolic significance of burials prior to 30,000 years ago, especially those of Neanderthals, remain the subject of intense debate. But there is enough evidence to believe that both anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals began burying their dead 100,000 years ago -- and probably before.
Engraved ochre from
Archaeologists discovered shell beads at Blombos Cave, 300 kilometers east of Cape Town, South Africa, on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The beads were found in a layer of artifacts dating back 75,000 years.