by Marc Bekoff (Psychology Today)
Human’s long-time and rampant obsession with making war is well-known, as is some people’s claims that because we are animals it’s natural to behave in these violently destructive ways. John Horgan’s recent book, The End of War, is a worthy read, in which it’s made clear that war is a choice that some people make and is not part of who we (or other animals) are – it is not innate. Horgan argues, “I believe war will end for scientific reasons; I believe war will must end for moral reasons” (p. 19). Others agree with his general message (see also and).
Regardless of mounting scientific evidence that non-humans are predominantly cooperative, peaceful, and fair and on occasion display social justice (see also and), media hype portrays other animals as being far more violent and war-like than they really are. This includes a recent movie called “The Grey.” Why is it that blood, rather than peace, sells?
I concluded an earlier essay as follows: “People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong. So, when they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil, and warlike behavior, they’re not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. Numerous species display wild justice and carefully negotiate their social relationships so that fairness, cooperation, compassion, and empathy are quite common.
In another essay called “Quitting the hominid fight club Horgan concluded, “All told, since Jane Goodall began observing chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park in 1960, researchers have directly observed 31 intergroup killings, of which 17 were infants…. researchers at a typical site directly observe one killing every seven years … my criticism – and that of other critics I’ve cited – stems from science, not ideology.” (the italics are mine)
Warlike animals are the rare exception, not the rule, and this must be factored into our own rationalizations and justifications for our seeming obsession with making war. War is a choice and non-human animals should not be blamed for our destructive inclinations.
When we say to someone, “Oh, you’re behaving like an animal” it’s actually a complement rather than an insult. We need to work for a science of peace and build a culture of empathy, and emphasize the postiive, prosocial (voluntary behavior to benefit another), side of the character of other animals and ourselves. It’s truly who we and other animals are.
The quotation in the title of this essay, taken from Horgan’s book (p. 182), should give us all hope for the future. Imagine the day when a child asks “What were wars?” This thought makes me sit back and smile, and it is indeed a possibility.