Are we fated to fight?

Xavier Symons
5 Oct 2013
Reproduced with Permission

With the increasing impact of evolutionary biology, deterministic explanations for human behavior are gaining more traction among scientists and in the media. One claim is that we are hardwired for violent conflict. As two academics argued earlier this year in the journal National Interest, "we evolved in conditions of resource competition where fear of others, aggression and violence offered adaptive solutions to protect and provide for ourselves and our kin." In other words, war is in our genes.

However, in a recent New York Times article, a well-known evolutionary biologist has challenged this claim. David P. Barash of the University of Washington believes the science is less certain than some make out. Barash asserts that Homo Sapiens may have been selected for its ability to co-operate and communicate, not its ability to fight.

Barash disputes the thesis that we have the same violent genes as chimpanzees. Rather, we may have received peaceful genes which our equally close relative, the bonobo, possesses. Furthermore, the anthropological accounts of primitive human communities is conflicting - some were warlike, some pacific.

The claim Barash and others make is that we may not be warlike by nature. In any case, he says, the belief may have horrible effects on public policy: "it threatens to constrain our sense of whether peacemaking is possible and, accordingly, worth trying."