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  #1  
Old 10-08-2011, 01:47 AM
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Default Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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  #2  
Old 10-08-2011, 09:12 AM
sugarkang sugarkang is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Ahh, Steven Pinker. Can a man simultaneously be bad to the bone and optimistic about world peace?

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Old 10-08-2011, 09:57 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Great interview, John. I predict this will drive a lot of traffic to the site due to Steven Pinker's popularity and cogency of thought.
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Old 10-08-2011, 09:13 PM
Hume's Bastard Hume's Bastard is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
Great interview, John. I predict this will drive a lot of traffic to the site due to Steven Pinker's popularity and cogency of thought.
I agree, that bh.tv will benefit from Pinker's appearance. I diagree, that Horgan offered a great interview. I've read other reviews of Pinker's book, which I've not read yet, and watched him do a TED Talk. I'm excited about the book, but skeptical.

First of all, if Pinker is doing a interdisciplinary stud of war, he needs to be a bit more respectful of the traditions. At least in this interview, he offers a horrible melange of sociobiological, sociological, economic, and political theories. He never defined "war", and both he and Horgan flipped back annoyingly between civil war, interstate war, violence, terrorism, etc.

Pinker also is clearly making a liberal argument. Not only did he identify with the liberal enlightenment tradition from Hobbes through Kant explicitly, but his argument seems to be related to Kant's "On the Perpetual Peace", where Kant argued that republican government, a pacific federation of states, and freedom of immigration would ensure peace, but not necessarily any time soon or in a consistent pattern.

But, aside from a few lines about honor and fear, Pinker never discusses Thucydides or the the realist tradition in political science that starts with Thucydides as honorary realist, but traditionally with Hans J. Morgenthau and E.H. Carr. rcocean's comment about nuclear weapons recalls Mearsheimer's comments about bipolarity and nukes as reasons for why the post-WW2 system was "peaceful". Generally, though, Pinker never talks about structure, as Kenneth Waltz did, and about the role power, or threats (Walt), or alliance structure, or polarity could play. The few other names he drops seem to be alternative theorists in political science, of whom I'm unaware, but it's customary to start with realism and liberalism before pointing out how non-traditional theories like Marxism, constructivism, or gender theories provide what the first two can't.

As for resource wars, again, Pinker made a trifle of a complex debate that's been going on for decades. Again, he never defines his terms. There's a great database for war, the Correlates of War (COW) that compiles lists of various military events from 1806 to 2007. It has useful definitions for all military events from two border guards throwing rocks to nuclear war. I disagree, that resource extraction is causing less conflict, based on this database. perhaps states have negotiated treaties, but that doesn't mean they haven't clashed. There is a continuum of ordinary words most people use when talking about military events, like clashes, or war, or incidents. Two examples: China hasn't started wars lately, but it has been involved in more clashes in the same period; and, some people argue that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fundamentally a contest over water. These are empirical claims based on real events and the definition of those events are important. Pinker made a huge muddle of it.

On apes and violence, Pinker again dips his toes very lightly in the water. Generally, I think it's simplistic to talk just about competition or cooperation in apes, because complex military behavior requires both behaviors. I also would point out the Rousseauian argument, that it was society and the resulting organization it provided that allowed groups of disinterested humans to join together to make war and also gave them interests to justify that behavior. I was listening to Mark Lynas talk about how homo sapiens might have interacted with Neanderthals, which provides a speculative argument about how two different species might have co-existed with war, and yet one species became extinct.

Don't get me wrong: I really want to read this book and I really enjoyed the talk - technical glitches aside. But, it really sounds like Pinker cherry-picked his arguments. Thank you, John Horgan for a provocative talk!
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Old 10-09-2011, 06:20 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Good post, HB. Let me just add to your judicious criticisms:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hume's Bastard View Post
I agree, that bh.tv will benefit from Pinker's appearance. I diagree, that Pinker also is clearly making a liberal argument. Not only did he identify with the liberal enlightenment tradition from Hobbes through Kant explicitly, but his argument seems to be related to Kant's "On the Perpetual Peace", where Kant argued that republican government, a pacific federation of states, and freedom of immigration would ensure peace, but not necessarily any time soon or in a consistent pattern.
Exactly. In fact, Kant thought that a federation of states would only come about as a result of war, in the same way as the state--according to Hobbes---comes about as an inevitable result of "war" between men in the "state of nature." Pinker knows this. He clearly understands the connection between pacification and the existence of the "sovereign" (Leviathan), so it is a bit puzzling to hear him adopting the liberal "enlightenment" vision of peace emerging through trade-- the so-called "doux commerce" theory of Montesquieu, Adam Smith and Condorcet e tutti quanti.

This is one of the most persistent delusions of a certain kind of liberal. In 1913, on the eve of one of the worst wars in history, the English liberal Norman Angell predicted that war was obsolete because unprofitable and destructive. The title of his book? The Great Illusion!

Quote:
Generally, though, Pinker never talks about structure, as Kenneth Waltz did, and about the role power, or threats (Walt), or alliance structure, or polarity could play. The few other names he drops seem to be alternative theorists in political science, of whom I'm unaware, but it's customary to start with realism and liberalism before pointing out how non-traditional theories like Marxism, constructivism, or gender theories provide what the first two can't.
Pinker has been shadow-boxing with Marxism, cultural constructivism, gender theories (SSSM = standard social science model) for years. He seems to think that either you are a good Darwinian, like him, or you are an idiot. Well, there are other possibilities.

Finally, let me say that it is odd to hear Pinker talking about World War II as if it were nothing but an aberration, an accident--- summed up by the name of Adolf Hitler. Leaving aside the "final solution", which was indeed the obsession of one man, the military objectives of the leaders of the Third Reich on the Eastern Front were exactly those of their barbarian forefathers one thousand years earlier: the settlement of new territories and the extermination and enslavement of native populations.

Last edited by Florian; 10-09-2011 at 06:31 AM..
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  #6  
Old 10-14-2011, 01:18 AM
Hume's Bastard Hume's Bastard is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

I think Pinker - or Horgan - mentioned Rudolph Rummel once. This could all be a function of using a diavlog as a book ad and mere teaser, and not as a standalone discussion, too. Perhaps Pinker doesn't take the viewers serously enough to give them a full argument.
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  #7  
Old 10-14-2011, 12:36 AM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

@Hume's Bastard - I am not offering this to try to offend you, but the likely reason that Pinker did not approach the topic from, or even engage with, the "realist" or Political Science/International Relations paradigms is because they are basically irrelevant to a discussion of what actual humans do when they engage in group level violence. Rousseau was a great guy, but he lived well before Darwin. Basing, as the above fields do, a study of human nature/behavior on the views of Rousseau and Hobbes is simply unacceptable given the much more advanced understanding of the human species we currently have. Pinker is on the cutting edge of all of that, and your question here is like asking a person headed to Paris why they do not take a clipper ship when they own a private jet company.
As for the conventional divisions between civil war, interstate war, terrorism and so on that you suggest Pinker follow in his examination, nothing could be more counter-productive. The issue is why humans harm each other based on group membership. All of the above are the same phenomenon, the same evolved psychological process. Studying them seperately is like studying an elephant by establishing sub-disciplines to examine front legs, hind legs, trunk, tail, etc.
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Old 10-14-2011, 01:24 AM
Hume's Bastard Hume's Bastard is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Written like a true Pinker fan!

You won't convince me of anything, if you insist on calling centuries of speculation and experience on war "irrelevant". That's optimism and arrogance run amok, and the epitome of hubris. At this point in human society- whether you think humans have advanced or retrogressed - no one could devise an argument from full cloth. I think you seriously ignore how word games are recycled over the generations, to your peril! All you have done here is accept one academic discipline against another, and elevated Pinker's arguments into a cult manifesto, both of which are an insult to Pinker.

Last edited by Hume's Bastard; 10-14-2011 at 01:28 AM..
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  #9  
Old 10-14-2011, 04:59 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Originally Posted by Hume's Bastard View Post
Written like a true Pinker fan!

You won't convince me of anything, if you insist on calling centuries of speculation and experience on war "irrelevant". That's optimism and arrogance run amok, and the epitome of hubris. At this point in human society- whether you think humans have advanced or retrogressed - no one could devise an argument from full cloth. I think you seriously ignore how word games are recycled over the generations, to your peril! All you have done here is accept one academic discipline against another, and elevated Pinker's arguments into a cult manifesto, both of which are an insult to Pinker.
Well, I was not trying to convince you, in fact. I was explaining. I agree with your term for Political Science and I.R.: "speculation," and that is precisely the point. Evolutionary Psychology is a tool-kit for trying to find answers to important questions about human behavior in as scientific a way as possible, which is to say that speculation is specifically avoided, by the better practitioners at least.

I am not a Pinker "fan." He can be rather full of himself at times and given to rash statements. I have read only portions of his book so far, and it seems mostly promising. Listening to the interview though, I see that there are still some things that he has not thought about very much or very carefully, and as usual I am disappointed with how casually the important topic of war is treated by academics.

Several years ago I was invited to provide a paper to an International Relations journal for publication, applying my views about the evolved components of the psychology of war to their discipline. I was given ten pages in which to accomplish this. I failed to produce this paper as I could find no reasonable points of convergence, there was nothing I could reference that would be familiar to the audience. Without any common terminology, methodology, or references it proved impossible to communicate what I needed to in such a short paper. Of the people who have examined in depth the behavior of war from an evolutionary perspective, I believe I am easily the most conversant in the traditions you subscribe to. And there is nothing there that I would feel worthwhile to include in any of my academic work.
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Old 10-14-2011, 04:41 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Originally Posted by tribalypredisposed View Post
As for the conventional divisions between civil war, interstate war, terrorism and so on that you suggest Pinker follow in his examination, nothing could be more counter-productive. The issue is why humans harm each other based on group membership. All of the above are the same phenomenon, the same evolved psychological process. Studying them separately is like studying an elephant by establishing sub-disciplines to examine front legs, hind legs, trunk, tail, etc.
No, that is not the issue, or at least it was not the issue of this diavlog. Pinker wants to argue that there is a tendency in human history away from war and progress towards peace, which he naively thinks can be established scientifically. Evolutionary biology has ABSOLUTELY nothing to say about this for the simple reason that war is not a biological phenomenon. Neither is peace. Animals do not wage wars and they do not make progress---towards peace or anything else.

Last edited by Florian; 10-14-2011 at 04:45 AM..
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  #11  
Old 10-14-2011, 05:21 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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No, that is not the issue, or at least it was not the issue of this diavlog. Pinker wants to argue that there is a tendency in human history away from war and progress towards peace, which he naively thinks can be established scientifically. Evolutionary biology has ABSOLUTELY nothing to say about this for the simple reason that war is not a biological phenomenon. Neither is peace. Animals do not wage wars and they do not make progress---towards peace or anything else.
First, humans are animals. And we are animals who wage war. Second, there is violent group level conflict found in all group social territorial species. This includes hyenas, chimps, ants, meerkats, wild dogs, lions, etc. Territory is a fitness limiting resource, and the Theory of Evolution tells us that competition for such resources is a given. Just as in species where individuals hold territory as individuals they are always found to engage in contests over it, so too groups compete where territory is held by groups. Even fish fight over territory as individuals. So the evolutionary biology of war may literally go back to before our ancestors left the oceans.

I can give you a long list of behaviors that humans are predisposed to by evolution which help push us towards war. Here is one I wrote elsewhere a few weeks ago - In my view, the list for war is a long one and includes at least the following:
Group sociality, altruism, culturally defined groups, language, conformity, altruistic punishment, overconfidence, male/male status competition, group polarization, the process of establishing group boundaries psychologically, automatic positive bias towards in-group, patriotic feelings, tendency towards negative bias towards specifically excluded out-groups, tendency towards dualistic world views, tendency to see patterns which may not exist, and of course territoriality. I am sure I am missing some, this is just off the top of my head as I sit here.

Now, if you can go through that list and convince me that none of those behaviors either contribute to our going to war or are biological then you will win this debate. Have at it.
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Old 10-15-2011, 02:36 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Originally Posted by tribalypredisposed View Post
First, humans are animals. And we are animals who wage war. Second, there is violent group level conflict found in all group social territorial species. This includes hyenas, chimps, ants, meerkats, wild dogs, lions, etc. Territory is a fitness limiting resource, and the Theory of Evolution tells us that competition for such resources is a given. Just as in species where individuals hold territory as individuals they are always found to engage in contests over it, so too groups compete where territory is held by groups. Even fish fight over territory as individuals. So the evolutionary biology of war may literally go back to before our ancestors left the oceans.

I can give you a long list of behaviors that humans are predisposed to by evolution which help push us towards war. Here is one I wrote elsewhere a few weeks ago - In my view, the list for war is a long one and includes at least the following:
Group sociality, altruism, culturally defined groups, language, conformity, altruistic punishment, overconfidence, male/male status competition, group polarization, the process of establishing group boundaries psychologically, automatic positive bias towards in-group, patriotic feelings, tendency towards negative bias towards specifically excluded out-groups, tendency towards dualistic world views, tendency to see patterns which may not exist, and of course territoriality. I am sure I am missing some, this is just off the top of my head as I sit here.

Now, if you can go through that list and convince me that none of those behaviors either contribute to our going to war or are biological then you will win this debate. Have at it.
Apparently you didn't listen to the diavlog. Pinker didn't discuss the biological (anthropological) determinants of war. He and Horgan discussed whether human history demonstrates progress towards peace. As far as I know, only the most stupid biologists---admittedly they are legion---have ever claimed that evolutionary biology can replace the study of history or that war is a biological phenomenon.

Your list of the the "biological determinants" of war is a hodgepodge. Most of the factors you mention have nothing to do with biology, or, to be more precise, biology, evolutionary biology, has nothing of interest to say about them. That includes: culturally defined groups, language, group polarization, ingroup loyalty, conformity, patriotic feelings, dualistic world views. Aggression, male bonding, certainly have their roots in pre-hominid and even in animal behavior, but aggression is not the same thing as war.

Last edited by Florian; 10-15-2011 at 02:56 AM..
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Old 10-15-2011, 12:27 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

>>Florian, you said "Apparently you didn't listen to the diavlog. Pinker didn't discuss the biological (anthropological) determinants of war. He and Horgan discussed whether human history demonstrates progress towards peace. As far as I know, only the most stupid biologists---admittedly they are legion---have ever claimed that evolutionary biology can replace the study of history or that war is a biological phenomenon.

Your list of the the "biological determinants" of war is a hodgepodge. Most of the factors you mention have nothing to do with biology, or, to be more precise, biology, evolutionary biology, has nothing of interest to say about them. That includes: culturally defined groups, language, group polarization, ingroup loyalty, conformity, patriotic feelings, dualistic world views. Aggression, male bonding, certainly have their roots in pre-hominid and even in animal behavior, but aggression is not the same thing as war."<<

Please listen to the diavlog again. You seem to have missed about half of it. Especially listen at this part - Are we killer apes? (09:58) - and this part - The origins of war (03:54). As for your other point, I am sorry that you do not understand what biology and evolution are. I am not here to repair the failed efforts of your grade school teachers. But, please take the time to educate yourself. There are fields that examine the evolved biological bases for behavior, and they are Ethology, Zoology, and Evolutionary Psychology. There are other fields that also often participate in that examination, and these include economics, philosophy, anthropology, primatology, neuroscience, psychology, especially social psychology, and evolutionary biology. Pinker is identified with Evolutionary Psychology, and what that field does is look for what are known as "human universals," behaviors that exist in all human societies to some extent and which seem to be constrained by selection in their expression. We then look for similar behavior patterns in our extent close relatives and in less closely related species to see if their origin predates the split between us and them. If we see similar behavior patterns in other species, there is a good chance the behavior is an evolved predisposition with a biological basis within our brains. If not, it still may be an evolved predisposition but it is one specific to humans. Let me briefly give an example of one of my assertions which you contest.

Our ability to define groups using culture allows us to form larger groups than can be formed with kinship. Beyond forty individuals we are no longer closely related enough to our average in-group member to favor them in evolutionary terms, and the time required to bond by grooming becomes prohibitive. Returns of added safety from predation for increased numbers declines to close to zero above this number as well, while costs of diminished returns from foraging and hunting increases with larger group sizes. Absent warfare between groups, no suggestions have been made which might explain the adaptive benefit of larger group sizes. Groups larger than those allowed for by kinship bonding appear to be maladaptive unless there is significant conflict at the group level. Yet we seem to have evolved unique abilities to allow us to exist in much larger groups. The obvious advantage of larger groups in conflict between groups is that the larger group wins the conflict most of the time. The groups that could bond using culture into numbers of 150 easily beat the groups that numbered up to 40 based on kinship. This is what allowed us to wipe out, for example, the larger, stronger, and just as smart Neanderthals, in my opinion.

Additionally, HOW we form groups using culture primes us for conflict. We do not simply define our in-group as being the people with the list X of various cultural behaviors or beliefs, we also define it as NOT being group Y (and sometimes also group D, G, etc). We not only define certain people as being included, but we also define other people as being excluded. Positive bias towards our in-group is both automatic and subconscious. This is our evolved biology doing that, it happens even in groups defined explicitly as being the "group of people who do not like each other." Negative bias towards the out-group is not automatic, but it is very easily triggered in any conflict as we excuse our own actions (due to our positive bias towards our group) and therefore "naturally" blame them for the problem.

Believe what you like, but please realize that it is very unlikely that hundreds of professors have formed an academic group called the Human Behavior and Evolution Society because there is nothing of interest to say on the topic.
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Old 10-15-2011, 01:40 PM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Believe what you like, but please realize that it is very unlikely that hundreds of professors have formed an academic group called the Human Behavior and Evolution Society because there is nothing of interest to say on the topic.
If there is anything of interest that evolutionay biology has to say on the topic of war in human history, you have not said it. But then I am afraid your elementary teachers failed in teaching you the ability to write intelligible English. You seem to have some difficulty understanding English as well. The topic of the diavlog was human history, and whether there is progress in history towards peace. Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about human history because human history---recorded history---is too short a space of time, at most 10,000 years, to matter in evolutionary terms.

I know more about war as a political and psychological phenomenon from reading Homer, Plato and Thucydides than from reading your remarks. The "human universals" you refer to are banalities. For example, I do not need evolutionary biology to tell me that:

Quote:
The obvious advantage of larger groups in conflict between groups is that the larger group wins the conflict most of the time. The groups that could bond using culture into numbers of 150 easily beat the groups that numbered up to 40 based on kinship. This is what allowed us to wipe out, for example, the larger, stronger, and just as smart Neanderthals, in my opinion...
What do you mean by "culture" anyway? Is culture "selected" because it allows larger groups to subdue, exterminate smaller groups? Why? Does natural selection prefer larger groups to smaller groups? This is just unscientific garbage, like most of the stuff propagated by dumb Darwinians.

When you and your fellow clueless "hundreds" of professors--do you really have a PH.D?---can explain a complex historical event like WW I or WW II, let me know.

Last edited by Florian; 10-15-2011 at 04:19 PM..
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Old 10-15-2011, 05:48 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about human history because human history---recorded history---is too short a space of time, at most 10,000 years, to matter in evolutionary terms.
It's amazing how the strong emotions of conflict can shut down the capacity to reason. (Which is a major clue to how evolution has shaped the human brain.) Thanks for the vivid illustration.
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Old 10-15-2011, 06:00 PM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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It's amazing how the strong emotions of conflict can shut down the capacity to reason. (Which is a major clue to how evolution has shaped the human brain.) Thanks for the vivid illustration.
What strong emotions of conflict, Ray? And what exactly have I said with which you disagree? Careful.... Ray, you have shown yourself in the past to be a pitiful reasoner.
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Old 10-15-2011, 07:02 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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What strong emotions of conflict, Ray? And what exactly have I said with which you disagree? Careful.... Ray, you have shown yourself in the past to be a pitiful reasoner.
The part I disagreed with is that part which was quoted. The strong emotions of conflict are revealed by the artillery that you fire at your targets - i.e. insults. You have shown your emotions in this way many times when any of your ideological beliefs are challenged. In such cases you characteristically impugn the intelligence, reasoning ability, etc. of your challenger.

This reveals a misunderstanding of human nature. Based on your comments you seem to hold an emotional belief that those who challenge your beliefs are stupid - and I assume those who agree with you are smart. History, for which you claim to be a sort of expert, is largely a record of monumentally bad decisions made by fairly intelligent persons, blinded by their emotional beliefs and fueled by their need to protect them.

In fact, more intelligent persons are generally better at creating credible justifications for their bad behavior decisions and so can develop an emotional belief in their own righteousness - which further insulates them from reality.
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Old 10-15-2011, 08:28 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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Originally Posted by Ray in Seattle View Post
The part I disagreed with is that part which was quoted. The strong emotions of conflict are revealed by the artillery that you fire at your targets - i.e. insults. You have shown your emotions in this way many times when any of your ideological beliefs are challenged. In such cases you characteristically impugn the intelligence, reasoning ability, etc. of your challenger.

This reveals a misunderstanding of human nature. Based on your comments you seem to hold an emotional belief that those who challenge your beliefs are stupid - and I assume those who agree with you are smart. History, for which you claim to be a sort of expert, is largely a record of monumentally bad decisions made by fairly intelligent persons, blinded by their emotional beliefs and fueled by their need to protect them.

In fact, more intelligent persons are generally better at creating credible justifications for their bad behavior decisions and so can develop an emotional belief in their own righteousness - which further insulates them from reality.
Nice response, though of course we are both wasting our time. I do wonder about your last assertion. Seems to me intuitively that there is little correlation between intelligence and ability to create justifications which help us to believe in our own righteousness. At the very least, less intelligent are equally likely to buy the justifications offered by others. But I readily admit to not knowing this with any certainty; do you have any sources on this or is this just a view of yours? I am waiting for the new Trivers book to arrive in the mail, likely it will have something on this one. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deceit-Self-.../ref=pd_sim_b1
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:00 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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I do wonder about your last assertion. Seems to me intuitively that there is little correlation between intelligence and ability to create justifications which help us to believe in our own righteousness.
Where did I come across this notion? I'm sure it was more than one source or context but I think my primary and earliest source is . .

Michael Shermer . .
Quote:
Smart people, because they are more intelligent and better educated, are better able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for non-intellectual reasons. Yet smart people, like everyone else, recognize that emotional needs and being raised to believe something are how most of us most of the time come to our beliefs. The intellectual attribution bias then kicks in, especially in smart people, to justify those beliefs, no matter how weird they may be.
Here's the full essay which I suspect you'll enjoy reading. It's actually the preface to the Second Edition of his book: Why Smart People Believe Weird Things. This is one of the first books that I read - in 1997 - that got me seriously interested in brains and behavior and belief. Since I own the first edition I'd never read this essay before. Thanks for making me find it.

http://www.michaelshermer.com/weird-things/excerpt/

The part about being better able to believe in their own righteousness is my own observation that I added. It seems to me that those who are good at justifying their irrational beliefs (smart people) interpret repeated success at that as an indication of their being a person who is more often "right" about things than wrong. It becomes part of their personality to believe that those who disagree with them are stupid. I doubt I could defend it scientifically but I suspect that almost every person who comments in this forum possesses above average intelligence - even if they think I'm an idiot.
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Old 10-15-2011, 11:19 PM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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The part about being better able to believe in their own righteousness is my own observation that I added. It seems to me that those who are good at justifying their irrational beliefs (smart people) interpret repeated success at that as an indication of their being a person who is more often "right" about things than wrong. It becomes part of their personality to believe that those who disagree with them are stupid. I doubt I could defend it scientifically.
I will be most grateful if you will point out exactly what my irrational beliefs are in the above exchange with tribal.

I remember only one past exchange with you---on Israel. I did not think you stupid because you disagreed with me. On that occasion, I disagreed with you because your arguments were stupid.
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Old 10-16-2011, 12:44 AM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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I will be most grateful if you will point out exactly what my irrational beliefs are in the above exchange with tribal.
First, let me explain that a belief can be objectively true even if it is not rational - that is, even if it is not derived from evidence and reason but came to one from a source such as the bible. Also, a belief that is derived from evidence and reason - can be objectively wrong such as any scientific theory that is eventually falsified.

So, I was not and am not discussing the rationality of your beliefs - which in this case is irrelevant. What I said was - motivated by a state of conflict between you and tribalypredisposed - you had failed to use sufficient reason in interpreting his comment. You said,

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Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about human history because human history---recorded history---is too short a space of time, at most 10,000 years, to matter in evolutionary terms.
EP is about psychology which is about human behavior - as seen through the lens of evolutionary pressures that shaped the human brain (and closely connected body). Human brains and bodies and therefore the behaviors humans are capable of and those we are not capable of - and those we are predisposed to and those we are not - are certainly the result of evolution. The only way EP could have nothing to say about history is if human history had nothing to do with instances of human behavior - which is of course, an absurd proposition.

In conflict, it is a common reaction to believe one's opponent is stupid and has the basest motivations for their behavior (comments in this case). And also in a social setting to convince others of that - seeking allies and affirmation for one's beliefs. The problem is that you non-consciously risk missing the intended and reasonable meaning of your opponent's words in hopes of convincing your self and others of their "poor reasoning ability".

EP is a valid tool for analyzing and explaining human behavior - whether during the period when recordings were kept (history), over millenia prior to that time or discussing possibilities for human behavior in the future. You may disagree with that but your comment about 10,000 years being too short to observe evolutionary change has nothing to do with that question.
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Old 10-16-2011, 01:25 AM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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EP is a valid tool for analyzing and explaining human behavior - whether during the period when recordings were kept (history), over millenia prior to that time or discussing possibilities for human behavior in the future. You may disagree with that but your comment about 10,000 years being too short to observe evolutionary change has nothing to do with that question.
I did not "miss the meaning" of tribalydisposed's words. I know enough about evolutionary psychology to know that it is of little or no relevance to a discussion of whether history is moving in some direction---towards greater peace, a world state, or whatever. I have read Pinker and find most of his ideas about human nature trivial and obvious. Moreover, evolutionary psychology, like all other forms of psychology, is far from being a science.

The question is not whether human behavior has biological roots. Of course it has. The question of this diavlog was whether HISTORY has a direction. That is a question that evolutionary psychology cannot answer. Only history, i.e. a philosophy of history, can.
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Old 10-15-2011, 08:47 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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It's amazing how the strong emotions of conflict can shut down the capacity to reason. (Which is a major clue to how evolution has shaped the human brain.) Thanks for the vivid illustration.
Yes, astute observation. Because we define group membership culturally, including our beliefs, threats to our beliefs can be responded to psychologically as threats to the cohesion, and therefore the existence, of the in-group. Empirical study shows that people who are given articles challenging their views on a topic react by having an even firmer belief in their position after they read the article. One does not wish to be seen as a traitor or an out-group member, so one responds to the cues of threat to the in-group with more vigorous affirmation of belonging to the in-group defined as those who believe X. Obviously those who believe X are the good, the wise, the ones who have a wonderful grasp of English far superior to those whom they cannot understand.

No matter what we or anyone says to Florian, he/she will simply believe all the more in whatever it is that he is saying. If God came from the heavens, still no dice. But, amusingly, if Florian were to hear our views from someone he sees as high status within his in-group (whatever that is) he would have about a 75% chance of changing his mind on the topic and, if he did, about a 60% chance of asserting afterwards (to himself and to others) that his new position had always been what he believed. We have always been at war with Easturasia....
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Old 10-15-2011, 08:14 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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If there is anything of interest that evolutionay biology has to say on the topic of war in human history, you have not said it. But then I am afraid your elementary teachers failed in teaching you the ability to write intelligible English. You seem to have some difficulty understanding English as well. The topic of the diavlog was human history, and whether there is progress in history towards peace. Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about human history because human history---recorded history---is too short a space of time, at most 10,000 years, to matter in evolutionary terms.

I know more about war as a political and psychological phenomenon from reading Homer, Plato and Thucydides than from reading your remarks. The "human universals" you refer to are banalities. For example, I do not need evolutionary biology to tell me that:



What do you mean by "culture" anyway? Is culture "selected" because it allows larger groups to subdue, exterminate smaller groups? Why? Does natural selection prefer larger groups to smaller groups? This is just unscientific garbage, like most of the stuff propagated by dumb Darwinians.

When you and your fellow clueless "hundreds" of professors--do you really have a PH.D?---can explain a complex historical event like WW I or WW II, let me know.
Okay, once again we see that one cannot "reason someone out of a position they never reasoned themselves into." I would continue to discuss this if there was a discussion to continue. But, as you state your inability to follow my very plain English and offer no suggestions for other languages that would suit you better, I can only shrug. This does, however, help explain how you listened to an hour-long discussion featuring a professor who focuses on biological and evolution informed views of human behavior and decided it was all about history. Steven Pinker is a member of HBES, and I have presented at an HBES international conference and been a member as well. Between the two of us, which one would you figure to be more likely to understand what Pinker is talking about?

If you have no clue what is going on, trying to "correct" others is usually not advisable.
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Old 10-15-2011, 10:56 PM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

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If you have no clue what is going on, trying to "correct" others is usually not advisable.
If you have no clue what you are talking about, it is not advisable to go on talking as if you did. The issue of the diavlog was not "why humans harm each other" (your original statement). It was, as I said:

Quote:
Pinker wants to argue that there is a tendency in human history away from war and progress towards peace, which he naively thinks can be established scientifically. Evolutionary biology has nothing to say about this for the simple reason that war is not a biological phenomenon. Neither is peace. Animals do not wage wars and they do not make progress---towards peace or anything else.
You still have said nothing in reply to this. Nor did you answer me when I said that evolutionary biology has nothing to say about:

Quote:
Your list of the the "biological determinants" of war is a hodgepodge. Most of the factors you mention have nothing to do with biology, or, to be more precise, biology, evolutionary biology, has nothing of interest to say about them. That includes: culturally defined groups, language, group polarization, ingroup loyalty, conformity, patriotic feelings, dualistic world views. Aggression, male bonding, certainly have their roots in pre-hominid and even in animal behavior, but aggression is not the same thing as war..
Historians, cultural anthropologists, linguists, even international relations experts will always have more to say on these subjects than evolutionary biologists because they study them in their concrete particularity. Unlike you and your ilk they actually have something to say about them.

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Old 10-16-2011, 09:56 AM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

If I may, gentlemen, it seems like each of you is in a corner talking about slightly different things. Or at least so it seems to me.

Let's say that we all agree about evolutionary psychology goals and findings. As related to the topic of war, EP studies how various aggressive tendencies and behaviors have carried over to us even from other animal species, while others are unique to our species. All good. Pinker made some reference to EP in passing, and I'm sure that in an extensive discussion of the topic he would go back to EP and address findings of antecedents of group aggression, tribal behaviors, in group bonding and the like.

But once we're settled with the EP piece, and we have a general idea of how intergroup aggression came about and perhaps what other contributing or mitigating factors interplay, we still want to know what has been going on, in actuality, since prehistoric times until now. And that's the piece that belongs to history. So, the main aspect of this discussion, it seems, was about how these evolved predispositions have played out and whether there is a trend to decreased violent conflict resolution by large groups as organized in nations and states. As Pinker said towards the beginning of the diavlog, there are biological predispositions but there's also reason. This concept taken to a group level means that historically we may be learning new ways of dealing with conflict between nations.

My comment isn't intended to re-ignite the discussion but rather to offer the view that indeed, EP is mostly relevant to the discussion to understand the basic predispositions that we are dealing with, but that the main aspect of the discussion is about how we as a species have played out those predispositions historically and whether there is a tendency to diminished use of violence to settle inter group or international conflicts.

I'm repeating myself, so I'll end it here. I hope it helps.
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Old 10-16-2011, 12:09 PM
Florian Florian is offline
 
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But once we're settled with the EP piece, and we have a general idea of how intergroup aggression came about and perhaps what other contributing or mitigating factors interplay, we still want to know what has been going on, in actuality, since prehistoric times until now. And that's the piece that belongs to history. So, the main aspect of this discussion, it seems, was about how these evolved predispositions have played out and whether there is a trend to decreased violent conflict resolution by large groups as organized in nations and states. As Pinker said towards the beginning of the diavlog, there are biological predispositions but there's also reason. This concept taken to a group level means that historically we may be learning new ways of dealing with conflict between nations

My comment isn't intended to re-ignite the discussion but rather to offer the view that indeed, EP is mostly relevant to the discussion to understand the basic predispositions that we are dealing with, but that the main aspect of the discussion is about how we as a species have played out those predispositions historically and whether there is a tendency to diminished use of violence to settle inter group or international conflicts.
That is a fair summary of the diavlog. Thank you for taking the time to intervene. I have no desire to re-ignite the discussion either. I certainly have no desire to engage in a discussion with someone who either misunderstood the diavlog or never listened to it, and then had the nerve to give me an irrelevant (and rather inane) lecture on evolutionary psychology.

But I would like to end by quoting a passage from the book, which both illustrates my main contention (that Pinker's argument depends on a philosophy of history) and corroborates what Hume's Bastard and I said at the beginning of this thread, that it is a rather incoherent philosophy of history (besides being difficult to reconcile with his Darwinism):

Quote:
“The reason so many violent institutions succumbed within so short a span of time was that the arguments that slew them belong to a coherent philosophy that emerged during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The ideas of thinkers like Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, David Hume, Mary Astell, Kant, Beccaria, Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and John Stuart Mill coalesced into a worldview that we can call Enlightenment humanism.”
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Old 10-16-2011, 12:54 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Yes, our species through what we call civilization has created a new set of rules. The natural selection process has been modified. We have changed the rules for ourselves and for our environment. Sometimes for the better and many times for the worse.
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Old 10-16-2011, 02:14 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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As I said, great topic. A question that seems to be not yet considered in this dicussion is whether a peaceful existence is universaly desired - as opposed to life in a more warlike society. If it was innate in human genes to prefer peace and be repelled by war and violence then I could be more open to Pinker's theory. But, there have been many cultures where war - and the glory of violently dominating other (inferior) peoples militarily has been gladly accepted as the natural order of things and elevated to the highest cultural "good" - such as the Vikings, the medieval Japanese, many Native American tribes, the Mayas, the Third Reich, Europe during the Hundred Years War, etc. Some would inlclude several ME peoples in that category today.

The problem for "enlightened" societies that prefer peace, for whatever reasons, is that warlike societies naturally (and correctly IMO) see that as a weakness that can be exploited and are therefore encouraged to attack if the opportunity arises or can be created.

Although I believe that life in an enlightened society where the probability of me or my family dying a violent death is relatively low, is better for me, maybe that's just my cultural beliefs speaking. In the grand scheme of things I suspect that a warlike society that had sufficient resources and the ability to organize themselves effectively could place the enlightened west and most of the rest of the world under it's domination. Hitler came pretty close and required a tremendously expenive effort on our part to stop him. If Hitler had succeeded there's little doubt that blond and blue-eyed Aryan genes would be more represented in the human genome today than they are - and at the expense of non-Aryan genes such as Jewish, Roma, etc. which might be non-existent today. And is that not the grand prize in all of this - from an evolutionary perspective?

Indeed, if we had decided not to fight and accept some type of German / Japanese hegemony - then except for the deaths and/or enslavement of a few more million Jews and Chinese we probably could have had our peace - under German domination. The fact that we chose otherwise suggests to me that Pinker's theory of some type of progress towards a more peaceful human existence is not correct and that what we are experiencing is a lull while the forces of evil (from my enlightened western perspective) gather their weapons, probe our defenses and wait for their next chance at our territorial space on the planet and ultimately, at our genetic space in the genome.

I do agree that violent deaths as a percent of population have decresed globally for the last few centuries. I'd guess that's only (or mostly) because enlightend societies are so damned productive. So far, we've been able to produce better weapons and deliver more destruction on target and faster than the more warlike societies that appear to be constrained by their cultural beliefs to economic inefficiency. (Germany was efficient but as I understand it Hitler made a huge mistake opening up the Eastern front.) And also, our goal in war has been primarily defensive. If we can stop the aggression of our warlike enemy we stop fighting now and impose (or pretend to impose) a truce - believing incorrectly that all people would prefer peace if we only give them a chance to experience it. (Unlike in WWII where we imposed a strict military rule on Japan and Germany for many years and still maintain a sizable military presence there.) So it has generally taken fewer deaths than in earlier periods when both sides - not just the warrior societies among us - saw their goal as the total destruction and/or domination of the enemy before conflicts could end.

BTW - I'm no expert on any of this and could be wrong on most of what I say. I'm just sharing some ideas that came to me from re-reading the comments to this point - many of which were very interesting.
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Old 10-16-2011, 02:36 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

Peace, as a lasting way of living, may be achieved only when it is globally accepted. Before that we can only hope for ever less frequent use of violent means, continue to develop institutions that can mediate international conflicts, increase internal national stability, and an overall awareness of peace as a higher moral standard.

But peace can only come after the greatest ills are conquered: gross injustices and exploitation.

I can't think of any society that would choose to live in a state of war, except for the narrow minded self interest of military industries or power greedy world domination dreamers. War is a high price to pay for any cause even the most revered one.

In your comment you go back to evolutionary ideas, such as our predispositions to domination and wars. I believe that the deep seated predisposition is domination. War is just a means. Think about how happily empires would be if they are able to dominate without using war. Needless to say that economic and cultural domination are good examples. Of course the resistance to this domination will often come in the way of wars when everything else fails.

But, yes, an interesting topic if we could organize it in smaller pieces for discussion. We can't keep going back an forth between our evolutionary/biological predispositions, our historical precedents, and the current trends with projections into the future. If we were allowed to regress, removed from our culture, we would most certainly go back to our instinctive primitive ways. Our DNA hasn't changed so dramatically I would guess.
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Old 10-16-2011, 03:13 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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We can't keep going back an forth between our evolutionary/biological predispositions, our historical precedents, and the current trends with projections into the future.
Why not? Nature does not give us obstacles to our survival that can be placed in neat (human created) categories for our efficient analysis using our capacity for reason. Understanding an existential problem and solving it is not always possible. We all are going to die after all. But if a problem is soluble, or its effects can be minimized, then it will probably take many brains looking at the problem through as many different windows as possible while considering each view and how it affects the others. Reason is far less potent than we (in our enlightened societies) believe. It's not an easy job making life better than it is but I think we both agree that it's worth the effort.
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Old 10-16-2011, 03:43 PM
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Why not? Nature does not give us obstacles to our survival that can be placed in neat (human created) categories for our efficient analysis using our capacity for reason. Understanding an existential problem and solving it is not always possible. We all are going to die after all. But if a problem is soluble, or its effects can be minimized, then it will probably take many brains looking at the problem through as many different windows as possible while considering each view and how it affects the others. Reason is far less potent than we (in our enlightened societies) believe. It's not an easy job making life better than it is but I think we both agree that it's worth the effort.
I was only suggesting to discuss one piece at a time before putting them all together in order to avoid misunderstandings.
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Old 10-16-2011, 02:38 PM
Sulla the Dictator Sulla the Dictator is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: War and Peace (John Horgan & Steven Pinker)

I think it is probably telling that the "enlightened" societies also seem to be swimming in opulent wealth (comparatively). There was obviously no biological leap forward in Imperial Japan from 1945 to 2011. There was simply a material leap forward.

And if the lights went out, and water stopped coming from the tap, I think we'd see people mounting heads on pikes everywhere from San Francisco to Paris.
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Old 10-16-2011, 02:46 PM
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I think it is probably telling that the "enlightened" societies also seem to be swimming in opulent wealth (comparatively). There was obviously no biological leap forward in Imperial Japan from 1945 to 2011. There was simply a material leap forward.

And if the lights went out, and water stopped coming from the tap, I think we'd see people mounting heads on pikes everywhere from San Francisco to Paris.
Hey, we seem to agree on this one. At least in a very general way. I'm still hopeful that some residual solidarity would survive.
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Old 10-16-2011, 07:32 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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As I said, great topic. A question that seems to be not yet considered in this dicussion is whether a peaceful existence is universaly desired - as opposed to life in a more warlike society. If it was innate in human genes to prefer peace and be repelled by war and violence then I could be more open to Pinker's theory. But, there have been many cultures where war - and the glory of violently dominating other (inferior) peoples militarily has been gladly accepted as the natural order of things and elevated to the highest cultural "good" - such as the Vikings, the medieval Japanese, many Native American tribes, the Mayas, the Third Reich, Europe during the Hundred Years War, etc. Some would inlclude several ME peoples in that category today.

The problem for "enlightened" societies that prefer peace, for whatever reasons, is that warlike societies naturally (and correctly IMO) see that as a weakness that can be exploited and are therefore encouraged to attack if the opportunity arises or can be created.

Although I believe that life in an enlightened society where the probability of me or my family dying a violent death is relatively low, is better for me, maybe that's just my cultural beliefs speaking. In the grand scheme of things I suspect that a warlike society that had sufficient resources and the ability to organize themselves effectively could place the enlightened west and most of the rest of the world under it's domination. Hitler came pretty close and required a tremendously expenive effort on our part to stop him. If Hitler had succeeded there's little doubt that blond and blue-eyed Aryan genes would be more represented in the human genome today than they are - and at the expense of non-Aryan genes such as Jewish, Roma, etc. which might be non-existent today. And is that not the grand prize in all of this - from an evolutionary perspective?

Indeed, if we had decided not to fight and accept some type of German / Japanese hegemony - then except for the deaths and/or enslavement of a few more million Jews and Chinese we probably could have had our peace - under German domination. The fact that we chose otherwise suggests to me that Pinker's theory of some type of progress towards a more peaceful human existence is not correct and that what we are experiencing is a lull while the forces of evil (from my enlightened western perspective) gather their weapons, probe our defenses and wait for their next chance at our territorial space on the planet and ultimately, at our genetic space in the genome.

I do agree that violent deaths as a percent of population have decresed globally for the last few centuries. I'd guess that's only (or mostly) because enlightend societies are so damned productive. So far, we've been able to produce better weapons and deliver more destruction on target and faster than the more warlike societies that appear to be constrained by their cultural beliefs to economic inefficiency. (Germany was efficient but as I understand it Hitler made a huge mistake opening up the Eastern front.) And also, our goal in war has been primarily defensive. If we can stop the aggression of our warlike enemy we stop fighting now and impose (or pretend to impose) a truce - believing incorrectly that all people would prefer peace if we only give them a chance to experience it. (Unlike in WWII where we imposed a strict military rule on Japan and Germany for many years and still maintain a sizable military presence there.) So it has generally taken fewer deaths than in earlier periods when both sides - not just the warrior societies among us - saw their goal as the total destruction and/or domination of the enemy before conflicts could end.

BTW - I'm no expert on any of this and could be wrong on most of what I say. I'm just sharing some ideas that came to me from re-reading the comments to this point - many of which were very interesting.
I have not read the whole Pinker book yet, so do not know if he mentions this. But to me, one very important factor in reducing deaths caused by war as a percentage of population is increased technology and costs of fielding an army. Once we got past stone weapons, cost per-combatant became a significant issue. This reduces the percentage of the population actively engaged in combat, from all fit adult males down to percentage X whom we can afford to arm. When we get to professional armies, such as in Rome, it was not just arming but also training and feeding and so on. By the time of the Enlightenment the great distances armies were traveling were prohibitively expensive, and ships, cannons, etc. would often drive nations to take out large loans.

If we look at the situation today, often war is waged between one wealthy and technologically advanced country and another nations which can only fight back using guerrilla tactics and relatively crude technology. It has been estimated that American casualties in Iraq would have been equal to Vietnam except for the advances in body armor and in medical treatment of wounds. It is incredibly expensive for the wealthy nations. Iraq and Afghanistan have been calculated to have cost $4 Trillion so far when long-term care of the injured is added in. Even as wealthy as America is, the size of our military is significantly constrained by our ability to pay for it.

I do have to disagree that America, for one, is an enlightened society that prefers peace. I think our long history of marching off here and there all the time and the fact that we spend as much on our military as the rest of the world, combined, argues strongly against that view.
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Old 10-16-2011, 11:19 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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I have not read the whole Pinker book yet, so do not know if he mentions this. But to me, one very important factor in reducing deaths caused by war as a percentage of population is increased technology and costs of fielding an army.
That's an interesting and reasonable point. I suspect it would have a greater effect on an aggressive society that could choose to go to war or not and when to do it. A society under threat of attack from an aggressor has little choice - they must spend whatever it takes or die.

Quote:
I do have to disagree that America, for one, is an enlightened society that prefers peace. I think our long history of marching off here and there all the time and the fact that we spend as much on our military as the rest of the world, combined, argues strongly against that view.
As one who marched in many demonstrations against the Viet Nam War I'm inclined to agree with you - as I did for many years. Then one day I met a guy on an internet forum (it was new thing then) who took the time to explain to me about the domino theory of communist aggression.

I was a month shy of eight when N. Korean forces backed by Communist China and the Soviets invaded S. Korea in June of 1950. That war resulted in some 38,000 US military deaths.

Sputnik 1 was launched in October of 1957. I spent much of the fifties learning to duck and cover under my desk if the air raid siren went off signalling a nuclear attack. Kennedy was elected in 1960 - the year I graduated from high school - with a mandate to deal with those growing threats and put the US and NATO in a superior position to the Soviets militarily.

In 1961 Nikita Kruschev stood up in the UN and promised to "bury" us - in the context of the world proletariat, led by the USSR, destroying our democracy and way of life. Communist sponsored terrorists and guerrilla armies were attempting to take over the governments of several small and newly democratic nations all over the world. I list this evidence to show that the US had good reason in those days to take communist threats to dominate the world and destroy our society very seriously. There's plenty more evidence I left out.

We can second guess the decisions made and the emotions of fear of nuclear Armageddon that we Americans lived with every day - but I think there is no evidence to support the idea that in those years the US ever elected or supported a government with the mission of dominating another people militarily who were no threat to us - or that the government took on such a mission in secret. You can argue that we took the communist threat more seriously than necessary but that would not be so easy as a case can also be made for the opposite.

In any case, based on my recollections from those times and from reading quite a bit of the history, I'm convinced the American voters in the early and mid sixties largely supported drawing a line in the jungles of SE Asia for complex and possibly ill-founded defensive reasons - but not for colonialism or military adventure.

I'd say that essentially defensive posture has held true to the present.
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Old 10-17-2011, 11:03 PM
tribalypredisposed tribalypredisposed is offline
 
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In any case, based on my recollections from those times and from reading quite a bit of the history, I'm convinced the American voters in the early and mid sixties largely supported drawing a line in the jungles of SE Asia for complex and possibly ill-founded defensive reasons - but not for colonialism or military adventure.

I'd say that essentially defensive posture has held true to the present.
Ray, this may be truethy. The fact is that one can hardly find an example of a war where there was not a claim made that the purpose was defensive. Even Hitler concocted cover stories about the defensive reasons why Germany had to go into Poland and so on. The one example in a post-agricultural society that I have found where this was not done, interestingly, was Athens. I forget the specific city they were attacking, but the people of that city protested that they had done nothing to provoke or deserve attack, so why was Athens attacking them? The Athenians, according to the account I saw, replied that they were strong and their victims were weak and this was ever the way of the world.

In the forty five years I have been alive, American military forces have killed or been killed in Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Lybia (twice), Pakistan, Yemen, Granada, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Serbia, Panama, Iran...and have directly trained, supplied, and directed non-American military or armed irregular forces in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Afghanistan, Kurdistan...and likely others I never heard about.

You belong to the in-group of America, so your natural tendency is to excuse this pattern. But it just simply is not a pattern that indicates a population which is peace-loving or enlightened.
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Old 10-17-2011, 11:16 PM
TwinSwords TwinSwords is offline
 
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Ray, this may be truethy. The fact is that one can hardly find an example of a war where there was not a claim made that the purpose was defensive. Even Hitler concocted cover stories about the defensive reasons why Germany had to go into Poland and so on. The one example in a post-agricultural society that I have found where this was not done, interestingly, was Athens. I forget the specific city they were attacking, but the people of that city protested that they had done nothing to provoke or deserve attack, so why was Athens attacking them? The Athenians, according to the account I saw, replied that they were strong and their victims were weak and this was ever the way of the world.

In the forty five years I have been alive, American military forces have killed or been killed in Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Lybia (twice), Pakistan, Yemen, Granada, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Serbia, Panama, Iran...and have directly trained, supplied, and directed non-American military or armed irregular forces in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Afghanistan, Kurdistan...and likely others I never heard about.

You belong to the in-group of America, so your natural tendency is to excuse this pattern. But it just simply is not a pattern that indicates a population which is peace-loving or enlightened.
Good points.

I noticed when you study history, wars are always explained in terms of the underlying economic or territorial motive. It's only the current wars in which we are involved that this whole layer of moral justification is applied to obscure what I believe are probably still the underlying economic motives.

In Vietnam, I believe the US was aiming to "defend" the economic sphere of the United States and the West generally.

According to Chomsky, there is actually a plausible explanation for the domino theory: it's called "the threat of a good example." If a country in a region escapes the brutally exploitative control of Western economic imperialism, other countries in the region will be tempted to do the same.

For example, according to some accounts I have read, when the Sandinistas controlled Nicaragua in the early 1980s, quality of life for the population of Nicaragua rose dramatically, creating a dangerous example for the rest of the region that had to be smashed. The threat was so dangerous that the US State Department stopped listing Nicaragua in its annual report on demographic conditions in Latin America; it was embarrassing how much better Nicaragua was doing than all the countries still under the US sphere of influence.

I can't personally vouch for the accuracy of these claims, but they are what I have heard.
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Old 10-18-2011, 01:15 AM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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According to Chomsky, there is actually a plausible explanation for the domino theory: it's called "the threat of a good example." If a country in a region escapes the brutally exploitative control of Western economic imperialism, other countries in the region will be tempted to do the same.
Poor Chomsky. I see he still has not managed to escape living under brutal Western economic imperialism himself. ;-) But, the prosperous and healthy peasants of North Korea have somehow managed to do it. Maybe Chomsky should move there.
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Old 10-18-2011, 09:31 AM
TwinSwords TwinSwords is offline
 
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Poor Chomsky. I see he still has not managed to escape living under brutal Western economic imperialism himself. ;-) But, the prosperous and healthy peasants of North Korea have somehow managed to do it. Maybe Chomsky should move there.
To be sure, Western economic imperialism is experienced quite differently by residents of the US and those living in the regions we have historically dominated. American citizens are never exposed to the kind of direct brutality that, say, the people of Central and South America experienced during much of the 20th Century.

Indeed, Americans -- wittingly or not -- have long been the beneficiaries of the systematic exploitation of large parts of the world, gaining access to low cost labor, resources, and agricultural goods.

Indeed, one of the big reasons given for why we should be okay with trade with China is because it means poor Americans can buy inexpensive goods at Wal Mart, so you can see how capitalizing on exploitative arrangements is openly sold to the public as in its interest.
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