“Does war bring out the bestial side of human nature or the best?” That’s the question that Canadian historian Margaret Macmillan asks at the beginning of her book titled War: How Conflict Shaped Us. Macmillan has synthesized a vast body of literature about war, and she has seen how new technologies and weapons have changed the course of history, and the dynamics of war.
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Steven Paulson asked her if we humans are inherently violent. This is her answer:
I come down on the side that we’re not inherently violent but we may have violent tendencies that evolution has left us. When we’re afraid, we have a tendency to lash out, but I don’t think that means we are necessarily violent. We often see examples of altruism and people living together. What is more important is why people fight—and I’m thinking of war, not just random one-on-one fighting. People fight wars because of organization, ideas, and cultural values. The more organized we are, unfortunately, the better we seem to get at fighting. War is very organized. It’s not the brawl you get outside a bar or the random violence you might get when someone feels frightened.
It is certainly a paradox that the more organized and nicer we become, the better we become at waging wars.
More about this over at Nautilus.
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