Isn't "War Human Nature?

Capable of war, capable of peace. Human behavior is extraordinarily flexible, as is reflected in the extreme variation in societal rates of violence. Some indigenous cultures like the Waorani of Ecuador manifest levels of violence as much as a thousand times higher than others, such as the Semai of Malaysia. Or consider the contrast between England and Colombia, more than fifty times more violent. Some of us live in societies that more closely resemble England in levels of violence, others in societies that more closely resemble Colombia, and most of us live somewhere in between. The level of variation alone suggests that far more than human nature is at play. One does not find whole societies that eat or make love even ten times more often than others, let alone a thousand times.

The variation derives, in great measure, from how people choose to deal with their differences. Violence is not an autonomous phenomenon but one choice among many for handling disputes. People are constantly coping with conflicts, their own and those of others, making choices as to which procedures to use. Humans, in other words, are conflict managers.

Our common assumptions about human nature are mistaken. We are not by nature killer apes - one end of the continuum. This does not mean that we are naturally peaceful or harmonious either - the other end of the continuum. Rather, we are capable of both destructive and constructive responses to our differences. The answer to the assertion that "War is human nature!" is, "Yes and so is peace."

BACK |NEXT