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July 12, 2018

The Insight show notes: episode 28, Violence & Warfare

Filed under: History,violence,War — Razib Khan @ 12:28 am
Scottish cavalry charging during the Battle of Waterloo

This week Razib and Spencer discussed violence and warfare on The Insight (iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play).

Spencer’s book, Pandora’s Seed, was mentioned. As was John Horgan’s The End of War and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Both Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes were presented as giving opposite views of human nature and its relationship to conflict: the peaceful noble savage and the brute engaged in a war of all-against-all. Spencer expressed a sympathy with Rousseau’s views due to his earlier research as well as field work with indigenous people.

Transitions between various cultural stages were extensively discussed. From the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, to the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Karl Jaspers’ idea of an Axial Age was introduced in the context for the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, and the fall of Mycenaean Greece and the rise of the Classical World.

The difference between the brutal warlike Bronze Age, defined by a charioteer, and the more genteel Iron Age, with the rise of ethical and religious prophets, was presented in the context of cultural evolution. The theorist Peter Turchin argues that rising violence due to more effective weapons may have resulted in the emergence of countervailing ideologies. In short, ideologies which favored peace evolved as social stabilizers in the face of war and inequality, which had been ramping up since the adoption of farming.

Spencer and Razib also talk about the biological corollaries and causes of war. Men are much more violent and warlike than women, especially young men. Some aspect of this is likely “hard-wired.”

But classical Malthusian theory familiar to anyone who has studied ecological carrying capacity was suggested to be the primary driver of war, as opposed to reflexive instinct or ideology. In Pandora’s Seed Spencer presented the thesis that increased conflict during the Neolithic was a consequence of Malthusian sedentarism, and the rapid rise of extremely of non-egalitarian societies (which today may include sex-biased societies with “bare branches”).

Finally, in the modern era was presented as one which has been defined by the decline of violence, mortality, and the development of a more peaceful lifestyle, and what that tells us about the potentialities of human nature.

Interested in learning where your ancestors came from? Check out Regional Ancestry by Insitome to discover various regional migration stories and more!


The Insight show notes: episode 28, Violence & Warfare was originally published in Insitome on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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