Is conflict hardwired in human nature?
We’re finally here, the blog post that will help us answer the essential question we’ve been building to throughout this inquiry process. In my previous two research rounds, I looked into the history that our species had with conflict and the reasons for which we started those wars. Those topics provided us with some background information on how our ancestors experienced conflict, helped us learn for how long humans have been in conflict, and allowed us to learn and understand what plants the seed that blossoms into human conflict. This background knowledge is very useful for our understanding of this topic, so I recommend you also take a read through those if you get the chance. So is conflict a part of human nature? Well, it’s not that simple so let’s go deeper.
Because most of my research has been based on large-scale conflict, I will be focusing on that front. As many of us likely already know war and other types of violent conflict are not the same. Killing another person is not the type of conflict I am referring to in my research, as the conflicts I have looked into deal with large quantities of people, commonly known as war. War is a social conflict, as it includes a certain group(s) of people committing violent acts on another group(s) of people. When we look at this type of conflict, researchers have come up with two main theories. One considers that war is a habit that stems from evolution and that ancient humans, as well as our ancestors, the chimpanzees, have always made war. The other position believes that the creation and expansion of recent social systems, like villages, states, and countries caused social divides, giving people the “motivation and organization to collectively kill” [1, 2].
If we go by my research alone, it would make sense to align yourself with the second point of view, and this way of thinking has definitely been more popular in the mainstream scientific forum. When humans lived in smaller communities, with hunting and gathering as their principal source for, well, everything, war was rare, arguably non-existent. While scientists have found evidence of violent death caused by other humans, just like I mentioned in my previous posts, we cannot know for sure whether or not these injuries were caused by collective violence or the rare, sporadic altercation . Based on patterns in our behaviour, researchers have found that due to our more sedentary “modern” lifestyle and our inclusion in societies defined by social hierarchies, with boundaries that “risk limiting our resources”, we choose to cause collective violence. Combine that with severe environmental changes and you have the perfect melting pot for large-scale conflict .
Well, that information was great and all, but what’s the true answer then? Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, we don’t yet have a certain answer to this complex question. However, you can take comfort in knowing that conflict, and more specifically war, being a part of our genes is not scientifically supported [4, 5]. As we have seen explained in this blog post and the previous one, as well as demonstrated with historical examples in my first research round, warfare only exists when conditions and communities necessitate it . War is simply an invention that we use to get what we want, albeit a very violent and horrid way to do so. All in all, I will leave you with this magnificent quote from UNESCO that I couldn’t help but share; hopefully, it’ll give you a little hope for our future and truly wrap this inquiry up neatly and comprehensibly!
“Violence is not inscribed in our genes. Its appearance has historical and social causes – the concept of “primordial (original) violence” is a myth. War is therefore not inseparable from the human condition, but is the product of societies, and the cultures it generates. As the studies of early human societies show, when faced with crises, a community is more resilient if it is based on co-operation and mutual support, rather than on individualism and competition.”