In a previous post – which can be found by clicking here – I had examined whether conflict was innate for humans after a lecture in University, which I concluded was true by analysing different theories but stressed that conflict only becomes active due to a stimulus. That stimulus could either be biological, seen in aggressive mating, or environmental, such as intraspecific/intrespecific competition. But a recent study, noticed by the BBC has put a spanner in the works, as the leading researcher – Patrik Soderberg – says that conflict isn’t actually innate.
Soderberg’s research based its findings by studying isolated tribes from numerous places around the world which had been studied over the last century. By using modern primitive isolated tribes they were able to have a sample which was cut off from the modern day life and utilising the wild plants and animals that inhibit their environment, surviving like the much older hunter-gatherers.
Using these modern day tribes as an analogy for the earlier societies that ruled the lands, they assessed and analysed any violent deaths. They found that in their sample populations there were 148 violent deaths, but very few were caused by widespread war. Most of the violent deaths were caused by personal motives ranging from family feuds or adultery.
Soderberg has admitted that these modern tribes were not a ‘perfect model’ for the ancient civilisations but said that due to vast significant similarities they did allow for an insight into the past. From this study he concluded that war may have developed later as the hunter gathers became more agriculture orientated and territorial with a complex social structure. “As humans settled down, then war becomes more dominant and present. For these primitive societies, war has not yet entered the picture,”.
BBC. 2013. Primitive human society ‘not driven by war’. BBC News. Available here.
Soderberg, P., Fry, D. 2013. Latest Skirmish Over Ancestral Violence Strikes Blow for Peace. Science. 341, 6143. P224. Here is a link to view the .pdf of this very interesting article.
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This report made me incredibly happy. In your face Jared Diamond and Steve Pinker, I thought to myself – even though I do tend to enjoy reading their work.
I was so relieved that there is finally some supporting evidence for conflict to not be innate. I found it very depressing researching for my previous blog post and coming to the conclusion that it was innate, but now Soderberg & Fry have totally changed that fact! Plus I feel their study made amazing use of our current hunter-gatherer tribes.
Yes, all in all it does give us a little hope that we aren’t violent and brutal by nature. There is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel!
Thank you for this. The implications are really dark if conflict IS innate and this at least gives us hope in humanity. I did find, in one of my fieldworks, an ethnolinguistic group that does not have a memory of war — much like what Soderberg and Fry described.
I was amazed when I saw Soderberg and Fry’s research, made my other post seem a lot less depressing! I really do love how they used modern day tribes to demonstrate their point.
Wow, that sounds like a really interesting piece of fieldwork. Is there anything published I could take a look at? – Rosie
I’m not sure if there’s a published work describing cause of deaths in the area. The latest publication I can think of about them is by Manolete Mora’s Myth, Mimesis and Magic. But he mostly looked at musicality and culture in the area. There is scarce published material about the group. It’s called T’boli and most of the ones I found are in a $100 paywall, which I cannot afford at the moment. But regarding the violence, I wasn’t even looking for that particular data. I was looking for disaster and apparently the biggest disaster for them is war. When asked what they do during those circumstances, their response is “We hide”. They have no memory of ever engaging in a war. Murder exists but only as retaliation for a wrong done.
Wow that sounds like it was a very interesting study. Great hope that conflict is in fact not innate. I will have to look into this more in my spare time. Hopefully in the next few weeks I can expand on this post to more research papers who have come to the same conclusion as Soderberg. – Rosie