Is war human nature?

In any debate about war, the question of human nature usually arises. I will just say briefly here some thoughts that I have.

First, if war is natural human nature; then why have a draft and force people off? Even if people would dodge this, they are faced with punishments of fines and prison. This despite the fact that billions is spent making war attractive through the use of films and TV. When was the last time you saw a film in which war was portrayed in a negative light? There maybe one or two, but the overwhelming majority of hollywood and mainstream movies and TV are pro war. Showing war as something that you do with your buddies and have fun at the same time.

It is quite the opposite. In many cases the people of a nation are against the war and the rulers are for it. The rulers change the minds of the people through advertisements, films and TV. Generally creating a sense of fear of that group of people. It happens to other people too, single moms, foreigners etc… From a psychological point of view, fear is a great way to control a persons thought process.

From a war point of view, people are lead into it. The USA leading up to WW1 is a text book example. It took only six months to turn a pacifist nation into a war hungry one. Peoples perceptions are changed by the world they perceive, if the world is shown through the tinted eyes of the media which is controlled by the rulers it is not hard to see how it works. So why all of this pro war propaganda if people would naturally be for this?

I don’t think that the journalists writing the stories or films are lying, they firmly believe what they say and write. If they did not they would have never been hired or promoted to that job. They would have not made enough money for the company or been good enough for that post. Would a communist be promoted to a position of importance at the Financial Times? I guess not, the media and society has created its own self-censorship. Every paper, TV station has a brand that it wants to maintain.

War is not human nature but man can become war like, depending on fear and other external factors. Even animals are not as aggressive as some people think - unless the term “aggression” includes killing to eat. Organized group aggression is rare in other species, and the aggression that does exist is typically a function of the environment in which animals find themselves. So why not in humans?

Scientists have discovered that altering animals’ environment, or the way they are reared, can have a profound impact on the level of aggression found in virtually all species. Furthermore, animals cooperate both within and among species far more than many of us may assume on the basis of watching nature documentaries.

When we turn to human history, we find an alarming number of aggressive behaviors, but we do not find reason to believe the problem is innate. Here are some of the points made by critics of biological determinism:

Even if a given behavior is universal, we cannot automatically conclude that it is part of our biological nature. All known cultures may produce pottery, but that does not mean that there is a gene for pottery-making.
Aggression is no where near universal. Many hunter-gatherer societies in particular are entirely peaceful. And the cultures that are “closer to nature” would be expected to be the most warlike if the proclivity for war were really part of that nature. Just the reverse seems to be true.

While it is indisputable that wars have been fought, the fact that they seem to dominate our history may say more about how history is presented than about what actually happened.

Many people have claimed that human nature is aggressive after having lumped together a wide range of emotions and behavior under the label of aggression. While cannibalism, for example, is sometimes perceived as aggression, it might represent a religious ritual rather than an expression of hostility.

It is true that the presence of some hormones or the stimulation of certain sections of the brain has been experimentally linked with aggression. But after describing these mechanisms in some detail, K.E. Moyer, a physiologist at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, emphasizes that “aggressive behavior is stimulus-bound. That is, even though the neural system specific to a particular kind of aggression is well activated, the behavior does not occur unless an appropriate target is available (and even then) it can be inhibited.”

Regardless of the evolutionary or neurological factors said to underlie aggression, “biological” simply does not mean “unavoidable.” The fact that people voluntarily fast or remain celibate shows that even hunger and sex drives can be overridden.

All this concerns the matter of aggressiveness in general. The idea that war in particular is biologically determined is even more far-fetched.

War is as universal as any human characteristic usually is, most first recorded words of ancient civilizations are of military exploits/histories in a diverse range of cultures from egypt to the rome.

Anyway, war is part of human nature because its largely universal, it happens in certain circumstances, almost universally by males, it rides on all kinds adaptations, its often adaptive.

War is human nature and if you look at hunter-gatherer and other nonstate groups where humans evolved you’ll see they’re almost constantly at war, this is where humans spent 99.9% of human history.

I don’t think war is necessarily unavoidable because its part of human nature but it certainly makes it one of those things which will endure with humans, even peaceful societies (which aren’t shattered or isolated from war) usually attain that status from selling arms, natural defensive habitat or a big standing army.

War is avoidable in the same way religion or sex is, not very what avoidance we can get is going to be based on

admitting that war is ingrained in human nature, that it can be plesant for people and whatever other ways its connected to biology. The very adaptations that make war possible also make people hate it and killing can induce psychological damage, invariably does, regardless war doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

War could be understood as an extension of ego and at times, preservation of society. In this way it is human nature but has roots in survival of the fittest.

When I say war is universal and innate I mean true warfare, in the sense of sickening mass slaughter.
a quote I’ve written on my wall puts things into focus nicely:

  • Lawerence H. Keeley

War isn’t an extension of ego or preservation of society, thats wrong on a million levels.


Many hunter gatherers aren’t peaceful, like 95% can be called warlike in ANY large survety or meta analysis of these societies. I can think of ONE group OUT of HUNDREDS that were peaceful outside of being shattered by war, they were so far into an icy waste-land they thought no other humans existed, and like everyone else probably fought amongst themselves.

Raiding for women is common practice, even in prehistory, explain that outside of “innate”

Don’t mischaracterize hunter-gatherers to suggest war isn’t innate. War is about as preventable as religion. Its either innate or a byproduct of adaptations which are.

Humans engage in warfare for the same reasons chimps ocassionally raid each other, we’re biologically predisposed because it benefited our ancestors and because circumstancially its beneficial, or ingroup/outgroup dynamics come into play, like viewing other people as nonhuman and dangerous spirits.

The “ego” is a simplistic mental construction which doesn’t objectively exist, what does exist is a diverse set of specific sometimes overlapping domain specific neuromachinery, functionally complex and specialized to solve adaptive problems.

preservertion of society is preservertion of ingroup which is preservertion or better propagation of genes, or thats what it evolved for.

When someone proposes that some attribute is part of human nature, the way to test it is by coming up with instances of people who do not have this attribute. If both these conditions (human + lacks attribute) are met, then it can be said that this trait is not inherent in the nature of humanity. This conclusion is based on the assumption that for y to be considered a part of the nature of X, then y must present in all instances of X.

So, is the desire to war a part of human nature? It is certainly common in human history, but this commonality is not sufficient to say that it is part of human nature. I can easily think of people who qualify as human by anyone’s standards, and who also lack the desire for war. Hence, I don’t think a case can be made about the desire for war being a part of human nature, unless we start saying of these people who serve as counter examples that they aren’t human.

I understand the ego as a type of id pacifier that drives us to obtain what we desire especially at a subconscious level. Yes, chimps exhibit the more primitive reasons that humans do for warring. Because it is beneficial to the society which indirectly means what? Preservation of the society through it’s survival. Eliminate competition.

Conflict is natural. Animals have conflicts with other animals of their species. Usually it is one on one, but I think some animals will fight in packs against another pack.

I think as long as someone believes they can be successful in improving their situation they’ll try to do it. If they think war will make things better then why wouldn’t they do it?

Traits DON’T need to be universal to be innate, not all adaptations set up in all environments/circumstances. Fight/flight response is innate yet only occurs in a small subset of circumstances. Besides that NOT ALL HUMANS have a proper fight/flight response.

Don’t create strawman arguments to suggest war isn’t innate or a byproduct of adaptations which are.

Richard G. Sipes observed that if aggression is a quantity in the brain that builds up and is released, then it can take the form of either war or substitues for war such as combative sports, video games etc… Consequently, active engagement in warfare should result in a reduction of lesser war substitutes.

On the other hand, if violent aggression is the realization of a potential that is enhanced by learning, an increase in warfare should be correlated with an increase in the substitutes as well. Sipes compared 10 warlike societies with 10 pacifistic societies and found that the practice of war is associated greater development of combative sports and other aggressive activities. His findings support the conclusion that aggression follows a cultural pattern.

Sipes, Richard G. “War, Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories.” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 75, No. 1. (Feb., 1973), pp. 64-86.

Whats that even mean? Aggression in warfare often has little to do with culture, secondly violent societies have violent sports because of necessity and environment. War obviously is influenced by environmental factors, but that doesn’t make it a cultural force.

I’m not remotely sure how Sipes conclusion follows from the data he presents. Violent sports in war torn societies is one of the safest competitions for mates, which could simply be a byproduct not a cause of war.

Anyway theres examples of peoples and societies who from being peaceful switch over to bloodthirsty killing machines.

“We did not think of watches or looting. We thought only of killing. We killed and killed until we were drunk with blood”

Thats not an exact quote, but thats how “peaceful” people from “peaceful” societies talk when they’re threatened with war. I can look up the example and exact quote, these traditionally peaceful people thought looting corpses silly, or rather they just didn’t even THINK about it.

Liberals are doubtful and unwilling to accept the innateness of human warfare.

Conservatives are much more understand, intelligent, and realistic in this sense.

Warfare and its history interests me vastly, so does evolution/adaptation, cognitive and neurosciences, psychology and evolutionary biology and ethology. Taking results from all these fields and many others like the mass cross cultural studies from anthropology or hunter gatherer studies, endless horrifying evidence from archaeology, there is an impressive and ever growing body of evidence, a conceptually integrated framework supporting the idea that warfare is innate or at least rests on innate faculties.

Theres more evidence that warfare is innate to humans then there is to say that chimps innately engage in intergroup raiding. Or, they are predisposed to such.

Form and Void-- If you don’t accept empirical evidence, what do you go by?

Cyrene-- Sypes study shows that human aggression is not drive which can be reduced by acting it out. If it were than acting aggressive in one sphere e.g. sports would dissipate the need to act agressively in another e.g. a real battle. Sypes’ study suggests that enculturation into aggressive activites increases the tendency to act out aggeressively. His study does not demonstrate that humans do not have the potential for violence. On the other hand, technology aside, there are more violent species on the planet than humans.

Violent video games will not dispel an aggressive drive in kids. It will train up their potential for violence and desensitize and motivate the next generation of soldiers for the next war of choice our leaders decide to send them to.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that there is a long term historical trend toward decreasing violence. While the world is far from a peaceful place, we are probably living in the most peaceful time in the history of our species.

Why draft? Well if war was viewed as negative by the draftees, then they would’nt care to fight unless drafted to do so, its a simple lace of war like motivation that forces governments to draft its citizens. Another factor concerning motivation would be the need for its appeal through television. Brainwashing is highly motivational I have to say and you cant even blame the government because its the producers making the films, and whether its a pro war film or not the producers still want it to be popular, thus war lust is born. Without it however, no war means no conflict and that would mean people would just need something else to fight about, see you just cant remove conflict it betters all. War might not be human nature but humans might just be wrong to hide from it. I think it would be a foul idea to give up and let Iraq beat us we’d go back to the Stone Age. And winning would definitely be in there best interest so really war is good for everyone. Maybe this false idea about peace that seems to be stuck in people’s heads happens as a result of not enough conflict. Maybe if that doesn’t change the gay population might start to increase but wait a minute it already has.

But pottery is also universal but that is not human nature, do you think there’s a difference? Actually, I looked at some hunter gather societies and not all of them were war like. Some, from my limited knowledge, seemed quite peaceful tribes. But have we spent 99.9% of our time at war or is that just the way history is presented? I admit there have been a lot of wars and a lot of violent tribes.

I understood that psychology is about the situation. Putting a person is a war like situation will cause 90% of the population to do mutilations rape etc… I think that is true, but how do we get to war in the first place? In modern society it seems that the population are against it until, some leaders, using nationalism etc… encourage the people off for their benefit.

What I’m really trying to say is that people are what they are depending on their situation.