Bryan Caplan  

Hanson's Brief History of Warfare

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Roberts and Kling on the Crisi... Free Richter...
The latest from Robin Hanson's odyssey through anthropology:
Most confusion comes from seeking a one-way trend, as in "is there more or less war than in ancient times?" Problem is: overall, warfare increased, then decreased.

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Yes, most of the "tribal" societies that anthropologists study have high rates of war.  But most of these are intermediate forms between very distant ancestors and very modern societies, with many relatively modern features...

...War was hard for foragers, as hostile victims were far away, at unpredictable locations, and with few physical goods worth taking; women taken in war could easily escape... Increasing density made targets easier to reach and find, and marriage as property made wars to grab women more tempting.  Herding helped attacking armies to travel further and faster, while farming created more tempting and harder-to-defend targets to attack.

War is hell, not an especially modern hell, but also not an especially ancient hell.  War is most distinctly, a farmer's hell.

Still, my experience in K-12 education makes me suspect forager societies had plenty of internal violence.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
ZC writes:

Sure, forager societies had internal violence...but it was probably more along the lines of the domestic fights and the kind of 'angry drunk man stabs other drunk man' violence typical of local evening news stories or an episode of Cops as opposed to what we think of as war.

Paul writes:

LOL, I hadn't seen your jock/nerd theory of history before. I see a couple of potential problems with that theory though. When I look at the most rabid redistributionists in government, I see mainly uber nerds. Waxman, Frank, Reisch, Obama, Reid, etc. I'm not sure how to square that with your theory. Either your theory is wrong, or these guys are still doing the jocks' homework, so to speak.

Andrew T writes:
...War was hard for foragers, as hostile victims were far away, at unpredictable locations, and with few physical goods worth taking; women taken in war could easily escape... Increasing density made targets easier to reach and find.

Until relatively recently, the Huaorani were a relatively isolated people of the Amazonian Region of Ecuador. They were also hunter gatherers (I am guessing forager in the above quote is interchangeable with hunter gatherer.) As a hunter gatherer people, they were incredibly violent. This is anecdotal, but nonetheless seems to run counter to the theory.

...marriage as property made wars to grab women more tempting.

Trying to understand the logic ... After there was established an institution of marrige rendering women as property, then men are more inclined to commit war to take women so they could then marry the women (as their property). What enforces this property right? If it is their own violence that enforces the property right why do they need an institutional protection ... Who is the property right enforced against?

MernaMoose writes:

Yes, most of the "tribal" societies that anthropologists study have high rates of war. But most of these are intermediate forms between very distant ancestors and very modern societies, with many relatively modern features...

Can somebody make this statement mean something?


War is hell, not an especially modern hell, but also not an especially ancient hell. War is most distinctly, a farmer's hell.

That sure isn't what I've gotten from the anthropologists I've read. Men fought with great valor over watering holes long before the advent of stationary farming. There is no reason to believe that such valor was merely a rare or occasional thing. On contrare.

But the single biggest message I get from anthropologists and historians, is that anyone who thinks they're going to do away with war, might as well check out of Life right now. It's just not going to work that way.....

OTOH, I believe certain chapters of European and Chinese history serve evidence that great damage can be done by those who would like to pretend otherwise.

Denying reality never bought anyone good outcomes.

War is hell, it's risky, and it's sometimes absolutely necessary. Nothing has ever changed these basic facts, and so long as Man exists, nothing ever will.

James A. Donald writes:

Give war a chance.

Australian hunter gatherers were mostly peaceful, but they also managed some startlingly impressive genocides. Some were warlike, some were not, some were fratricidal, some were not.

Game theory tells us there will always be war, for those who beat their swords into plowshares, will plow for those who do not.

Stephen W. Stanton writes:

Chimps don't farm. They conduct violent raids in mini-wars all the time. Our ancestors were likely no different.

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