Telling comments on the last post. I apologize for bringing you all into a conversation in the middle.
Here’s the deal: certain forms of violence hit humans, particularly men, at a very deep level. When Robert E. Lee says, “It is well that war is so terrible or we would grow to love it too much,” or a French survivor of the German occupation after WWII says that it was horrible and she never wants anything like that to happen again BUT she has never felt really alive since…
We need to look at that. Not pretend it doesn’t happen. Not arbitrarily decide that since it sounds icky to us, anyone who says that kind of thing must be crazy or deluded or wrong. It’s an important data point. If peace is important to you, you will never do anything about it by ignoring the aspects of violence that you want to disbelieve.
If humans are important to you, you do a great disservice to yourself by ignoring or denigrating things that don’t fit your worldview. No matter who you are, your experience with the world is very limited. Approaching disagreements with curiosity almost always works better than doing so defensively.
Do I love war? No idea. The time I spent in a war zone was pretty mild. I dislike the idea of war, but seen both good and bad results from it. I won’t pretend to have an opinion without a lot more input.
Now that that is out of the way-
Monkeys don’t hunt elephants. That’s important. Personally, I don’t see a lot that I like in chimp social dynamics, either. Those two thoughts are related.
It hasn’t been an exhaustive study for me, but almost everything negative in human society can be found in chimps- betrayal, punishing the different, bullies, even ritual murder. The chimp idea of altruism and self-sacrifice is to spend a few hours picking lice or share a bit of food. Monkeys don’t hunt elephants.
Humans do hunt elephants. With primitive stone tools we hunted a lot of big animals, some to extinction in North America. Canoes of men armed with stone tipped spears would go after whale in the Pacific Northwest, challenging some of the biggest animals alive in some of the cruelest conditions.
These are the things I see in humans that I don’t see in chimps and (don’t always see in humans, for that matter). But when I do see them, I see humans at their best.
Teamwork in dangerous conditions for the common good. Self-sacrifice up to and including death for people you are not even related to. The ability to set ego aside and follow someone else’s plan. Innovation towards a common goal. Team planning. Respect based on merit. Reward based on need (not all humans do this, but many do and did- children eat first from a hunt; potlatch; “Sergeants eat last.”)
There are other things too- the hunt and war drove technology, and tool use made human life what it is today. It is a straight line from the first obsidian or flint hide-scraper to the laptop I’m typing on now.
Hunting may have driven the development of language. Gathering doesn’t take a lot of words and farming only a little more and neither require speed and precision of information.
These are all very human things. These things we do better than chimps. These are things that got us to the moon and one day, hopefully, will take us to the stars.
Not many people hunt anymore and those that do have a huge technological advantage. It no longer requires the teamwork and careful planning of hunting a mastodon with spears. Few hunters are at risk except from each other.
Hunting is still important. You can talk all you want about the circle of life and man’s place in nature and ecology and Gaia but until and unless you have killed your own food (and wild food if you consider yourself a back-to-nature type) you’re just blowing smoke out your ass. It’s all platitudes. Hunting is still important for that, but it’s not like it used to be, far less a community necessity. It no longer drives technology.
People doing dangerous jobs in dangerous environments are the ones who still need and most often show these things that I consider hallmark human virtues.
I think this is part of the attraction of war- it’s certainly not the smells or the deafening noise or the terror. It’s not the snuffing out of irreplaceable individuals or the possibility of being snuffed out yourself. It is a place, one of the few places left, where the unique human traits of the hunt, the ones that have driven everything extraordinary that humans ever did, are valued over the monkey traits of maintaining the status quo and catering to feelings.
The best of humans comes out, but also the worst of monkey society: fear leading to acting out; violence used in ego or status defense instead of survival or to accomplish a mission; turf wars over information or credit that cost lives; ‘othering’- cultivating a racism or classism to make it easier for the monkey to kill*…
(Simultaneously, this is all bullshit to an extent. The people I hang out with are professionals, the ones who have made a conscious, experienced decision to deal with bad things. I don't spend time with the others, if I can avoid it. Hence there is a lot of sampling bias here. Were there professionals making what I cavalierly describe as human-level decisions in the Rwanda genocides?
Even if you don't spend time with people who are reacting like monkeys, even the best have chosen, or been born into, a side through social forces.)
* That’s another parallel, the high-end, most professional and effective soldiers and officers that I know work hard to understand the enemy culture and have profound respect for what they face, just as humans long ago often worshipped (that word is somewhat of an anachronism, maybe ‘reverenced’?) the animals that they hunted. Othering propaganda is necessary to get the monkey emotions involved.