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Is War Inevitable?

Famed biologist EO Wilson argues that war is an unfortunate inheritance left to us by our ancestors. Science writer John Horgan replies that culture can help us overcome violence.

War Is Inevitable

“At the present time,” said famous biologist EO Wilson, “we are still fundamentally the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but with more food and larger territories.” According to Wilson, that explains why wars have persisted, albeit at less frequent intervals and on smaller scales. Food and territory are limiting factors on how large a population can grow, so when one tribe was pitted against another in a competition for these resources, violent conflict became the definitive solution and, given nature’s single-minded goal of reproduction, one that was selected for by evolution. 

War Is Not Inevitable

John Horgan, director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology and author of the book “The End of the War,” argues that Wilson and other biologists have their figures wrong. Evidence of tribal aggression does not date back to prehistory but rather to just 13,000 years ago to a mass grave found in Sudan. Likewise, the supposed violence among our genetic ancestors, chimps, is greatly exaggerated. “In short,” said Horgan, “war is not a primordial biological ‘curse.’ It is a cultural innovation, an especially vicious, persistent meme, which culture can help us transcend.”

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