Category: Human Nature

Man, the great paradox…

…capable of incredible beauty and massive destruction, unselfish kindness and unspeakable cruelty.  With a brain the size of a melon and couple of opposable thumbs, we conceive of and build the World Trade Center and the transistor, produce art from the  Sistine Chapel to street graffiti,  create the music of Mozart and the Sex Pistols.  We’ve produced Einstein and da Vinci, but also Hitler and Idi Amin.  We create artificial kidneys and hearts to save lives, but also napalm and nuclear weapons to destroy them.  We develop complex civilizations like Egypt and Greece and Rome, or those of the Aztecs and Mayans and Incas…then destroy them to build others and ultimately destroy those, too.   Who are we?  What are we?  Why are we?  Where are we going?  I know, of course, the academic answers…and maybe some of proposed by the existentialists.  But that’s not what I’m asking.  These are just thoughts that occur to me after walking through Florence and Rome over the last couple of weeks…and yes, admittedly, reflecting on Tuesday’s election....

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War in Human Civilization, by Azar Gat

This is the last of a trilogy of posts on death and destruction.  Then we can move on to something serious… So, I spent the time since my last post reading War in Human Civilization, by Azar Gat. Gat is Ezer Weitzman Professor of National Security in the Department of Political Sciences, Tel Aviv University. I wanted closure on this theme before moving on, so I pulled this title (purchased long ago) from my digital bookshelf and dove into it. What I found was not only closure, but also validation.  Gat offers a rare multi-disciplary perspective on this topic, combining a history of intrahuman fighting at every scale with insights from anthropology, archeology, psychology, ethology, economics, history and political science, and a dash of genetics…an undertaking of some 10 years. He spans prehistoric aboriginal fighting to 21st century nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in the end, his conclusions are forthright. Simplest is to quote directly from his concluding chapter: “…there is nothing special about deadly human violence and war. Fundamentally, the solution to the ‘enigma of war’ is that no such enigma exists. Violent competion, alias conflict–including intraspecific conflict–is the rule throughout nature, as organisms vie among themselves to survive and reproduce under ever-present conditions of acute scarcity, conditions accentuated by their own process of propagation.” Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization, Oxford University Press 2006. In essence, his...

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