War or Peace: Are Humans Naturally Prone to Conflict?

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War or Peace: Are Humans Naturally Prone to Conflict?

Even the skeletal remains of the first men revealed that wars were nearly nonexistent / Photo by Getty Images


There have been several major wars within the past millennia that have reminded us of the cruelty that man is capable of. Because of this, many people believe that it is simply human nature to be aggressive and to engage in conflict.

However, is it truly the case that humans are designed for war?


Human Nature

It would seem to all who look closely enough at human history that war and conflict are an innate part of human nature, or at least they are a natural result of the rise of human civilizations. In fact, evolutionary psychologists, such as Steven Pinker and E. O. Wilson, have issued statements saying that humanity is cursed by their heredity to engage in warfare and that feuds and raids are simply part of being a human.

However, much evidence has since risen to the contrary. According to PsychologyToday.com, a book by Steve Taylor argues that prehistoric human civilizations were harmonious, a view which many archaeologists and anthropologists were in agreement with. It was only about six thousand years ago in humankind’s history that the emergence of social classes, religious sects, and territorial dominance began to create a sense of separation and individuality.

Evidence of War

In order to find any evidence of major widespread conflicts in prehistoric people, archaeologists looked to the relics they left behind. They first investigated the cave paintings that date back to the Paleolithic period, depicting humans and what seemed to be spears in their hands as they were attacking another group. However, others argued that there were tails on the seemingly opposing group, and the bent and wavy lines found around the “spears” were indicative of shamanic power rather than being weapons, as stated by Scientific American.

They also tried to look at weapons, which seemed to be the best indicators of war. But these were not highly conclusive, especially considering that wars did not need to be fought with weapons. Some objects that seemed like weapons, such as stone maces, were actually symbols of authority and were so flimsy that they could not have possibly been used in conflict.

Even the skeletal remains of these first men revealed that wars were nearly nonexistent. While many of the mortal wounds seemed to be from homicides in several ancient burial sites, this did not mean that there were organized groups bent on violence. Many of the wounds were not lethal at all and findings suggest that many domestic and personal disputes were solved through fights with clubs and other nonlethal objects.

Hunter-Gatherers’ and Apes’ Behavior

Extensive research from different teams of anthropologists revealed that hunter-gatherer groups had little inter-group conflict between them. In the eras between 3,500 BCE, places such as Neolithic Europe, the Near East, and the regions in the Levant, which consist of modern-day Israel, Palestine, and other nearby countries, had no signs of conflict. Most of these areas were even densely populated. If there were skeletons that showed signs of violence, there were only a handful, and these were not from war conflict but had signs consistent with homicide.

Even findings found in modern-day hunter-gatherer groups showed a vastly different picture than the one of tribes viciously antagonizing each other to conquer territory and resources. In fact, they did not blatantly attack anyone who came near them, even if they came into areas that they frequented. Rather than being at war with other tribes, they actually interacted frequently, made marriage pacts, and members even switched alliances whenever they wanted.

Even observations made on our closest species relatives, chimpanzees, have turned away from the narrative of conflict in our DNA. While previous research made it seem that chimpanzees had internal conflicts, evidence has come forward that they had become hostile due to the interference of man. In nature, chimpanzees and bonobos (also known as pygmy chimpanzees) have been found to be highly peaceful creatures.

Evidence has come forward that chimpanzees had become hostile due to the interference of man / Photo by Getty Images


Conditions for War

So what had prompted that extreme change in the human disposition that has been recorded in the annals of history? Many sociologists have suggested that many factors, such as the spread of agriculture, the building of large settlements, and the increase in population, have played a part in changing human behavior in group settings. The establishment of social hierarchy and territorial boundaries, and the personal ownership of commodities, such as livestock and goods, may have also influenced humans at a certain point to fight others in order to gain what they did not have or to protect what they did. 

Despite this, these so-called preconditions for war did not often lead to one, and it was when they became more commonplace did wars begin to break out more frequently, especially when considering that wars tend to spread when one is started.

Many psychologists have stated that war is not ingrained into us through our DNA, but that human nature is often dictated by their own view of themselves. If people believe they are meant to be war-like, then that is likely how they end up.



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