Sunday, February 05, 2006

Speak on it son! Speak on it.

On the Origins of War
by John Zerzan
Green Anarchy

War is a staple of civilization. Its mass, rationalized, chronic presence has increased as civilization has spread and deepened. Among the specific reasons it doesn't go away is the desire to escape the horror of mass-industrial life. Mass society of course finds its reflection in mass soldiery and it has been this way from early civilization. In the age of hyper-developing technology, war is fed by new heights of dissociation and disembodiment. We are ever further from a grounding or leverage from which to oppose it (while too many accept paltry, symbolic "protest" gestures).

How did it come to be that war is "the proper work of man," in the words of Homer's Odysseus? We know that organized warfare advanced with early industry and complex social organization in general, but the question of origins predates even Homer's early Iron Age. The explicit archaeological/anthropological literature on the subject is surprisingly slight.

Civilization has always had a basic interest in holding its subjects captive by touting the necessity of official armed force. It is a prime ideological claim that without the state's monopoly on violence, we would be unprotected and insecure. After all, according to Hobbes, the human condition has been and will always be that of "a war of all against all." Modern voices, too, have argued that humans are innately aggressive and violent, and so need to be constrained by armed authority. Raymond Dart (e.g. Adventures with the Missing Link, 1959), Robert Ardrey (e.g. African Genesis, 1961), and Konrad Lorenz (e.g. On Aggression, 1966) are among the best known, but the evidence they put forth has been very largely discredited.

In the second half of the 20th century, this pessimistic view of human nature began to shift. Based on archaeological evidence, it is now a tenet of mainstream scholarship that pre-civilization humans lived in the absence of violence—more specifically, of organized violence.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt referred to the !Ko- Bushmen as not bellicose: "Their cultural ideal is peaceful coexistence, and they achieve this by avoiding conflict, that is by splitting up, and by emphasizing and encouraging the numerous patterns of bonding."1

An earlier judgment by W.J. Perry is generally accurate, if somewhat idealized: "Warfare, immorality, vice, polygyny, slavery, and the subjection of women seem to be absent among our gatherer-hunter ancestors."2

The current literature consistently reports that until the final stages of the Paleolithic Age—until just prior to the present 10,000-year era of domestication—there is no conclusive evidence that any tools or hunting weapons were used against humans at all.3 "Depictions of battle scenes, skirmishes and hand-to-hand combat are rare in hunter-gatherer art and when they do occur most often result from contact with agriculturalists or industrialized invaders," concludes Ta├žon and Chippindale's study of Australian rock art.4 When conflict began to emerge, encounters rarely lasted more than half an hour, and if a death occurred both parties would retire at once.5


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