The most dangerous animal: Human nature and the origins of war
There have always been wars, and there are
those who conclude from this that there always will be wars. Wars are an inevitable result of human
nature. The problem with this too-complacent
acceptance is, of course, that we can no longer afford wars, for reasons we
don’t need to go into for readers of
Social psychologists have shown that people can be persuaded to do things in groups they would never do when acting alone, especially if a stranger group differs in some real or imagined way from our own gang. The Balkans conflict and the Rwandan genocide are examples of how leaders can persuade groups to act in the most vicious way. The essential point is that the various tried and tested ways of persuasion to kill, the demonising of the enemy, group bonding, and so on, allow ordinary people to kill against their true nature, which makes them reluctant murderers. The high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder amongst soldiers indicates than we tend to suffer later from remorse at our killing frenzy.
This review has been taken from an excellent review of the book by Michael Bond in New Scientist, 1st September this year. Bond notes that the author, having identified the problem, does not expand on how we might protect ourselves from ‘this delusional state’ into which we have been manipulated, by learning to become more critical and mistrustful of generals, or political or gang leaders. Bond concludes: ‘Perhaps what’s needed is for such techniques to be taught in schools. If everyone was more aware of how vulnerable we are to social influence and how liable to self-deception, challenging the wisdom of conflict might be the norm instead of the exception.’
Sounds like the cue for a further book.