If we take a step or two 12,000-16,000 years back, Homo-sapiens-sapiens lived in small groups branching all over Eurasia, but originated in what is now called ‘Africa’. A number of these respective African hunter-gatherer communities lived peacefully and saw no need for violence against one another (Gat, 5). No doubt, their lives were tough and hardworking, yet they intuitively saw no need to raise conflict. That is until power began to integrate into, what we now refer to as, society. More specifically: organized power, which stratified one over one another (Ferguson).
This theory, of-course rests on the assumption that, as humans we are more empathetic creatures than angry or violent in our most fundamental state (de Waal, 347). It is because this switch from Nomadic living to agricultural communes, the development of social stratification, and hence, the idea of inequality, that made the words “violence” and “war” as normal as they are to hear today. The development of agriculture and society lead to new stratification in social structure, producing inequality. This hierarchical structure is the cause of war as opposed to war being innate in humans themselves.
As nomadic groups of Hunter-Gatherers migrated out of Africa they settled in different areas, such as the “Fertile Crescent” for example. They developed farming and construction techniques, along with many others, enabling them to become more and more stationary over time leading to the development of civilizations. Like ink spilled over canvas, this new structure worked its way into every thread of human life at an exponential rate, making huge changes in social roles, agricultural techniques, and economic ideas (to name just a few).
Individuals found themselves serving different purposes within these growing societies. Eventually, these groups became so efficient with their techniques that harvests reaped not just abundance in resources, but also extraneous crop and/or product. This surplus opened the door to either bartering with neighboring communities or merely militarily conquering them. Agriculture provided a constant source of food, firstly enabling the possibility, and then the demand, for specialized labor (i. e. Blacksmithing, tailoring, and military/political structuring).
In accordance with Rousseau’s general theory, within this variety however, life’s purpose became more of a race towards higher stature, a fatter pocketbook, and unfortunately–knocking aside the social empathy and cooperation of the earlier small communities, for any chance of gaining an edge over the masses. The origin of human existence is widely approximated to have begun twenty-thousand years ago. Science however can claim a truly factual history of our species only, from twelve to ten-thousand years ago, up to the 21st Century.
Therefore, one cannot claim the presence of violence amongst Homo-sapiens, nor its absence before then; as there is simply very, very little qualitative evidence to support either view (Wagner, 6). Although there are a few scattered archeological findings of probable human-on-human violence, pre-dating the rise of civilization, they each exist as individual (or duple) remains. However these discoveries do not signify war to any near definite degree.
In his essay, “The Birth of War” Brian Ferguson states, “But nothing like tribal warfare could be going on without leaving some signs in a good collection of skeletons. If the collection comprises multiple examples of such evidence, it pretty conclusively demonstrates war” (30). Following this idea, the earliest true proof of war discovered in the 1960s by an American archeologist named Fred Wendorf. Site 117, located along the Nile River in Sudan. 117 consisted of fifty-nine skeletons that were uncovered in well preserved condition, and almost half of them lay within very short distance of arrowheads.
Ecologists determined that at the time of the conflict, the river had flooded so much that the catfish, which multiple groups depended on for food, had floated out of the main river causing a severe lack of this needed food resource. (Ferguson, 31) Given the number of skeletons, it’s safe to assume that these two warring groups were solitary societies, not nomadic hunter-gatherers. These people were risking their lives in order to support their society, by gaining power over what resources were left over.
According to Jonathan Haidt’s, Five Fundamental Categories of Intuitive Moral Values, people tend to be loyal to their society (#3) even if it involves self-sacrifice (Wagner, 10). If these peoples had remained in smaller groups and not stratified occupations among the whole civilization, they would have been more likely to adhere to their peaceful inherent nature, instead of feeling pressured by group loyalty or authority. Christianity in theory versus its historical context illustrates the danger of hierarchy quite clearly.
Jesus, as seen as just a historical moral figure for our purposes, in his most truly natural, moral state, is representative of someone who did not adhere to the draw of power and self-interest, although it surrounded him. As a religious person, following in his footsteps could reverse our downward spiral into violence. But certain interpretations of the Bible have led Christianity down a very violent path throughout history…especially within the Catholic Church. Throughout the Christian Crusades for example, when arms were taken up, there seems to be no longer any respect for law, divine or human.
It’s as if, in accordance with a, Divine Instruction, no adherence to Christian values on the part of another should be returned with violence…which is the opposite of what Jesus himself taught. When plugged into a hierarchical system, even the most pure of teachings can constitute some of the most horrific actions on the part of its respective followers. I contrast to my arguments so far, some may rebuttal that man is inherently both violent and self-interested at heart. Azur Gat, for instance, says that the survival of the toughest and fittest wins, and we are hard wired to beat each other.
Those most able to survive and reproduce, increase their numbers in the general population, together with the qualities that make them good at survival and reproduction” (Gat, 42). From a more legalistic perspective, Thomas Hobbs says we need a government too rule us, or else we’ll erupt into anarchy and self-consideration only. However, allow me to ask the simplest of questions. If this were true, that is if humans were innately evil, or full of violence… why are we still “fighting for peace” to this day? Similarly, if one is allergic to peanuts, that person would not continue to eat them until he/she magically ceased to get a reaction.
Social Structure is not evil by intention, but the larger a group, the less peaceful it is. Stratification causes conflict because of the way it affects peoples’ psyche differently. For some of the more powerful, it causes the ego to blind human empathy, and for others of lesser fortune it may cause envy, and therefore compromise natural understanding and sympathy. But this is an effect of civilized society. As Sarah Hrdy argues, a primatologist presented in Wagner’s article, it is our, “Our extraordinary tendency toward tolerance and cooperation… that separates us profoundly from chimpanzees and most other non-human primates” (Wagner, 8).