John Horgan is a longtime scientific American writer. He also teaches a course called “War and Human Nature” at the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology. He’s just published a book intended to challenge assumptions about the inevitability of war.
A “Visceral Response” To War
Horgan grew up in the Cold War era and was eligible to be drafted during the Vietnam War, but he received a high number. But by the time he received his number, he had already decided he wasn’t going to fight. “I’ve always had this kind of visceral, emotional response to war as something that was not only wrong morally, but also just really stupid, this really primitive behavior, this kind of relic of our past that we must find a way to get past,” Horgan said. He believes that war is a problem man created, but that some scientists thing it really only started emerging about 12,000 years ago. Others argue that there’s evidence of war from millions of years ago. Horgan is most concerned with why we fight now, and how we can stop.
The Origins Of War
Horgan argues that if war was really “biological” in the same sense that language is biological, it would be must more consistent in the historical record. But according to Horgan, war is actually very sporadic. There are some societies that become very materialistic, and stop fighting. There are others with long histories of fighting who then become more pacifistic. Horgan is most bothered by what he has observed as a sort of fatalistic point of view that war is inevitable. He believes that humans have much more power than some believe to plot the course of events
and resolve conflicts without violence.
Why Do We Fight?
A popular theory about reasons for fighting comes down to resource competition. But Horgan said that while some wars are fought over land or resources, there are many in which there is no clear motivation for the conflict. He also believes that the horror of the two World Wars have changed how many think about war – whereas leaders prior to WWI sometimes glorified war, our politicians don’t generally present war to the public in those terms any longer.
What If Women Were In Charge?
Diane wondered if things would be any different if women were in charge. Horgan said that the idea that women are pacifists doesn’t hold up any more than the idea that men are natural warriors. “We need to end war for the sake of ending war,” he said. “The culture of war perpetuates war.”
You can read the full transcript here.