What is our species’ history with conflict?
Humans are always looking for a fight. How many times have you heard that before? The idea that humans have always been in conflict and that war is one of our intrinsic values is an idea that is shared by many people. And who could blame them? Looking back on historical events, conflict between individuals, communities, or cultures always seems to be at the forefront. To an onlooker, it very much seems like we, as a species, are drawn to conflict, like a harmful addiction. Instead of solving issues between us peacefully, making compromises and attempting to understand one another, we love to jump at the opportunity to go to war and sacrifice innumerable lives for change that will likely be undone later down the line. Even though we are living in the most peaceful time in history, conflicts like the recent invasion of Ukraine still occur with frightening regularity . Instead of helping his people and helping his nation thrive, the tyrant president of Russia lied to his people and ordered his military into a war that was completely unnecessary. But has it always been like this? Have humans always rushed into conflict when they felt the first signs of tension seep through the cracks? When was the first example of this happening?
When humans first went to war is a hotly debated topic in historical circles and is incredibly difficult to pin down, as it likely occurred far before humans kept historical reports. The most agreed-upon order of events began in Europe around forty thousand years ago. When our species, the homo sapien, arrived in the region, they realized that other “humans” were already living there. These were our ancestors, the Neanderthals, who, despite our modern opinion of them, were relatively intelligent and sophisticated. As we all likely know, this species began to die out and within a few thousand years, they ceased to exist. While we don’t know for sure whether or not these ancient homo sapiens and neanderthals went to war, research has suggested that the struggle over raw materials and prey could have led the two species to large-scale conflict . However, data does point towards this theory, as widespread violence-related trauma was and continues to be discovered as we study these long-dead life forms.
On top of this, researchers have discovered evidence of mass-killings during the Neolithic period (approximately six thousand to twelve thousand years ago). These findings demonstrated yet another example of humans going to battle amongst themselves, as the development of agriculture had given way to a dramatic increase in population and groups that were willing to fight others . However, whether or not this can be considered “warfare” is difficult to say, as what we define as war nowadays includes not only violence but also the social context that surrounds it. A war isn’t deemed a war until it has a reasoning behind it, a death of someone important, the disrespect of a symbol or figure of faith, an invasion of land. Not just any battle is a war, and that’s what makes it so difficult to pinpoint exact timelines .
This idea of us VS them has dominated human history for as long as we can remember. When we connect with one another and create “ingroups”, a sense of loyalty is created, and sometimes, a sense of superiority. We identify with the individuals within our group, but because we cannot do the same with others, we fail to empathize with them and end up dehumanizing them , and this is what I will be touching on in my next research round. Knowing the likely origins of war concerning our species, you will hopefully be more informed and therefore more ready to learn about the most important topic of this inquiry project, the psychology behind human warfare. See you soon!