“When there is peace, the warlike man attacks himself” – that’s Nietzsche, and his point is that there really is no peace. There’s always some war, somewhere, with someone. And there are no winners or losers either… just those who are still around to fight another day.
The quote above comes from “Buffalo Soldiers” -a film starring Joaquin Phoenix, based on a 1994 novel by American author Robert O’Connor. The quote essentially explains a pragmatic view of humans as a belligerent species; but, a new book by John Horgan presents the scientific method as a way to determine that our biology does not lead us to peace or conflict either way.
The name of the book is The End of War. Mr. Horgan is a science journalist and former senior writer at Scientific American who currently writes regular columns for Scientific American online, the Chronicle of Higher Education and BBC Knowledge Magazine.
Speaking to Brad Jacobson for AlterNet, Mr. Horgan explained the rationale of his new book:
“I wrote the book basically to rebut this extremely pessimistic point of view, which is also held by people at the highest levels of power. I quote Barack Obama right at the beginning of my book. At the […] Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, he’s giving this incredibly pessimistic and wrong view of warfare as dating all the way back to the origin of humanity.”
Mr. Horgan is referring to the following quote from U.S. President Obama:
“[W]ar is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings.”
The author then explains his views on why we fight:
“[…] the fascinating thing about war that a lot of people fail to understand is that war can arise for almost an infinite variety of reasons. Wars happen because maybe you just got some charismatic sociopath who convinces people in his tribe to go and kick the asses of the tribe next door. And when that happens, you have this new behavior that emerges that rapidly spreads.”
“War really should be seen as a meme, as a self-perpetuating idea or behavior that becomes very persistent and deep-rooted once it emerges in a given region.”
Mr. Horgan then answers a question about the ability of mankind to turn away from war:
“One of my favorite examples is Costa Rica, which in the 1940s went through a terrible civil war in which the army turned against the people. After the war was over, the victors, who were very progressive, especially in retrospect, said, ‘We never want this to happen again. Armies in this country seem only to cause trouble. So let’s get rid of the standing army and invest those resources in education and infrastructure and tourism and so forth.’”
“Some people think that for war to end we have to first create a utopia. We have to first have complete social justice and economic equality and get rid of all poverty, have complete freedom and democracy and so forth. But actually I think things work the other way. First, you get rid of war and militarism, and then a lot of these other wonderful things can happen in part as a result of that. And I think that’s what Costa Rica has shown.”
The End of War is published by McSweeney’s Books
In the past, Mr. Horgan has also written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Discover, The London Times, The Times Literary Supplement, New Scientist, and other publications around the world.