Of Course, War Is Evil!



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Thank you, Joe and all people who left comments. It has been an extremely thought-provoking discussion, so I thought it’s worth a separate blog to address the issues that most resonated with me.

Let me start by repeating that the title, “War! What is It Good For?” was not mine, but Ian Morris’s. It’s not how I would choose to frame the issue. However, I admit that when I saw it first, I thought it was very clever, because it plays on the tension between ‘war’ and ‘good’, which was clearly designed to catch people’s attention and sell books. In retrospect, and especially after reading Joe’s article, I believe the title misfired. The ideas in Ian’s book are good, but they probably needed to be framed in a different way to make an impact on the broad audience, instead of a narrow circle of those who have trained themselves to step outside the imposed frames.

Also in retrospect, juxtaposing war (tacit or outright approval of violence that causes deaths) and Things-That-Are-Good (to follow Joe’s excellent analysis) is especially dangerous in the American context. Both Ian and I are not native Americans, so we may have missed this important point. In America there is an influential intellectual strand that glorifies war and actively promotes a ‘muscular’ foreign agenda. In the last decade or so, the most prominent group that is identified with this strand is the so-called neocons. However, Anatol Lieven in his America Right or Wrong traces this strand deep into American history (think Andrew Jackson).


Andrew Jackson and his ragtag band of Americans repel the British at the Battle of New Orleans, Jan 8, 1815. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Let’s not forget that we spend as much on what is euphemistically called defense as the rest of the world put together. Also, since World War II the United States started more foreign wars than any other nation on earth, the Soviet Union included. As William Blum writes in Rogue State:

From 1945 to the end of the century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.

One may quibble with Blum’s numbers, but clearly there is a gulf between the US and such European countries as Germany or Denmark that, to my knowledge, did not start any wars since 1945 (although the gulf becomes more shallow if we add UK and France to the comparison).

In my personal politics I am very much in tune with the American officer-turned-scholar Andrew Bacevich; see in particular his New American Militarism.

I believe that war can never be good. It is evil.

Having said that, I also believe that there can be even greater evils than war. I’ll give a personal example. We know what was to happen, had the Nazi Germany won its war against the Soviet Union. The Germans had a detailed plan, which they actually started implementing even before they won the war. All Jews, Communists, and any potential leaders were to be executed. The Russian culture was to be destroyed and the Russian population moved from the cities to the countryside, where they would be put to work on plantations under the supervision of the German masters. So had the Germans won, either my parents would be killed, or at best I would grow up as an illiterate agricultural slave.

I think most of my readers would agree that a war can be a lesser evil, given such an alternative. But now I want to enter a more perilous area.

I am currently working on a book that tries to answer the question of how we came to live in huge, complex, wealthy, cooperative—and peaceful societies. My answer is: competition between societies. And during most of human history, this competition took the form of warfare (this logic is explained in this post).

My analysis shares some common ground with that of Ian’s, and differs significantly in other ways. But I agree with him that it was war that created large cooperative societies. So when we abolish war, as I believe we must, we also need to be careful not to be hit by unintended consequences.

Suppose that Alpha Centaurians arrive in the Earth’s orbit, and effectively stop all interstate wars. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Yes, for a while. But if the Centaurians do not implement an effective alternative mechanism for peaceful intersocietal competition, the utopia will gradually evolve into a dystopia.

Without intersocietal competition that eliminates dysfunctional states, they will start losing their capacity for internal cooperation. This will, most likely take the form of power elites becoming more selfish and making arrangements that would enrich them at the expense of the common people (does this sound familiar?). Eventually, the population will stop cooperating with the elites, while the elites will fission and stop cooperating among themselves. Eventually, if this process will be allowed to go unchecked, the society will implode and descend into war of small bands against each other.



The economy will crumble, homicide rates will spike, and the human life will become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Sounds fanciful? You tell me.

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Chris Kavanagh

Peter just wanted to check if you were aware that the phrase ‘War? What is it good for’ is also a famous lyric for a popular anti-war song by Edwinn Starr from 1970 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpWmlRNfLck). I actually assumed that invoking this famous lyric was the original choice for the title- as the answer given in the song is ‘Absolutely Nothing’ and Ian is providing an alternative answer.

Peter Turchin

That’s precisely right. You should read Ian’s book, you’ll find it very interesting!

“Without intersocietal competition that eliminates dysfunctional states, they will start losing their capacity for internal cooperation. ”

But there exists alternatives to competition based on war – at least to some degree. Competition between companies in the market place for example. The companies which are incapable of co-operation, collapse. Those companies which invent new mechanisms for enchancing co-operation, flourish.

Ofcourse companies as countries may fail because of other reasons too – say because of too complex business models. In a Tainterian way:


Peter Turchin

That’s the point. We do not need war, but we need non-lethal intersocietal competition. When companies fail, it’s hard on their employees, but they can join other companies. If you are killed, that’s it.


Can u give me your definition of war? Do you only mean organized conflict between states for political purposes, or do you mean “violence” in general?

Peter Turchin

War is a lethal conflict (causing deaths) between groups.


War usually eliminate dysfunctional states where there is a lack of cooperation: the leaders have completely disengaged from themselves, the people, and the people from each other. If we don’t want war we need to stop states becoming dysfunctional; so we need to understand what causes state breakdown – such as secular cycles.

I think Ukara Island is interesting. It is a society of 16,000 crammed onto a small island in Lake Victoria that has a relatively advanced agricultural system, no hierarchical layers and apparently no history of warfare or social breakdown.

I believe this is because Ukara Island breaks the secular cycle. It is so easy for aggressive leader types to leave the island for the mainland, so they don’t stay, pile up, get rich, go mad and cause trouble.

Can Earth become “Ukara Island” if we colonize space? Of course this might imply the problem of war and competition is shifted out into space, such as onto Mars. This may depend on technology. If technology exists to expand colonize further than Mars, build living space cities, there could be so many outlets for leadership and creativity for the human population that war might be considered a ridiculous thing.


I would put it like this. War is hell. I think William T. Sherman said that. Sometimes war is necessary. The German plan for Russia was truly horrific and the invading German troops telegraphed that as did Hitler’s propaganda. The USSR had to fight. Likewise, the Palestinians cannot help but fight Israel by any poor means at their command. Most wars of choice are counter-productive like every US war since 1945.

The good comes from peacemaking. When the combatants are exhausted wiser folk can sometimes create reforms that prevent future wars. In anticipation of wars, institutional innovators can sometimes create new social arrangements that reduce or deter war. Or create the social wherewithal to win wars imposed by predatory outsiders, often by uniting smaller scale societies. Peter T’s paper on the world religions helping build empires strong enough to resist pastoral nomad confederations is an example. Of course, organizing societies to resist predators often makes it possible for a newly powerful society to become predatory in it turn. The Muslim conquests resulted from Mohammed’s peacemaking. Britain’s organization to resist Napoleon created a navy that could support a binge of empire building.


Are we talking about morality here and how to score a war on a scale of morality? I am sure each side would have their own take on that. Can I be controversial and ask for a reductionist breakdown of war – is there such a thing, are there intrinsic rules of war and drivers that cause wars? Can we look at the Gombe chimpanzee war in the 70s and make a comparison, or are our cultural overlays just too thick and complex to make that idea laughable?

Inter company competition may be a place to have a comparative study though, as a board member of a company (the only female one) I am struck by the alpha male, chest beating that goes on and the political machinations involved in sidling up to potential clients whilst at the same time denigrating the competition. However, I often see co-operation in business, but it’s usually to overthrow a larger more agile competitor. I’ve even seen quite aggressive competitive behaviour in social entrepreneur based organisations where you’d think they’d be less confined by the need to make massive profits for share holders. Could this mode of operation be replaced by an alternative way of doing business (aka waging war)? I’m not sure it could easily within the confines of capitalism – and as competition for earth resources increases as population grows, how can we possibly avoid competition based aggression?


Well, are you saying you want a world without competition? Because I’m not sure that is possible, feasible, or even wanted. Communism did not get rid of competition. It just made humans compete in other (twisted, uglier, IMHO) ways & was a structure where psychopaths flourished. Can you think of a sustainable model of human society that existed without competition (that we would actually want to live in)?

Obviously, lessening violence and brutality is good, but what allows that to happen? Civilization? The state? The very organization that comes about through waging war, no?


Of course not Richard! The question was rhetorical and I said in fact that as competition for resources increases then the likelihood of being able to contain competition is reduced – the comment about capitalism was to reference the fact that it is a social construct that actively encourages (often quite aggressive) competition and is there a sustainable alternative to capitalism, well people are trying and I hope to bloody god they find one, but as competition can be healthy and is part of normal animal behaviour, I doubt it will be one with no competition! Oh and BTW just because I said something negative about capitalism, doesn’t mean to say I’m promoting communism!


Well, I didn’t accuse you of promoting communism.
In any case, you’d have to find a workable alternative first. Do any spring to mind?
Even the Nordics are capitalist (though they have a kinder form of capitalism . . . which unfortunately has very little chance of succeeding in the US).


How about anarcho-syndicalism? I think we’d have to reduce the population by several billion first though. To be honest I haven’t a clue how to sustain any political system in a world where beings are rapidly (or pretty much already in fact) outnumbering resources and the elite have a powerful grip on the status quo (although I believe Peter wrote an article that revolution happens from the top down, so maybe it’s already afoot. For the short term that’d be a horrendous time to live through of course. I don’t live in North America but I have a number of friends who do and I daren’t mention the socialism word to them as it tends to elicit a scary response (I write this from a NHS hospital in the UK a wonderful wonderful institution). 😉


In the long-term, anarcho-syndicalism sounds horrendous as well. Not to mention that I don’t believe that that will be a stable equilibirum since power abhors a vacuum and indeed, power corrupts.


Have you heard about the Swiss research into alternative societies? I read it in New Scientist a few months ago but can’t find the reference now. Apparently they have spent a billion euros looking into this.
p.s. I looked into anarcho-syndichalism a while back and its really not applicable to our current world order, who knows what could work with 7 billion+ mouths to feed

Lee Doran

Hi Richard,

In answer to your last para’s query, Steven Pinker (In: Better Angels…) said:
1) The state
2) Commerce
3) Feminization
4) The widening circle of (human) empathy
5) Increased (rational) understanding

Not a bad list. I would add:
6) Sport — real, imaginary, virtual — whatever — so that there is one more ‘legitimate’ outlet for the male tendency to aggress.

Actually, the sport was added by Norbert Elias way back when he started his serious study of civilizing forces. He was amazing … and still so readable and applicable, today.

Cheers from here,


Lee Doran

Many thanks, Peter, for this post — and for hosting us.

My apologies for the length of this but there are a lot of things to link in…

A Tale of Two Sexes: One fighting, the other not

For Homo sapiens, the core unit of physical violence is the human male. He comes by his propensity to aggress naturally. The Y chromosome that he received from his father (down the long line of males only, since the beginning) carries the Sry gene. It kick-started his testes and their testosterone (T) production 7 months before he was born. All his intrauterine development subsequently, including his brain, received the T soak.

The female of the species had no such exposure and as a result shows a greatly reduced tendency to physical violence by comparison. She does it only under extreme conditions; the context is usually a threat to or from a person in an intense relationship with her, such as a child, spouse or close relative.

Human physical violence ‘out in the world’ against other humans for other than personal reasons, then, is a guy thing. This has been widely noted, though its implications are seldom widely shared. It likely emerged over hundreds of thousands of years of increasingly sophisticated hunting of ‘wild’ animals for food. The species was primarily gatherer-hunters then. The context included the benefits from concentrated food sources (protein) to aid in the growth of his large and growing brain.

Under the settled conditions beginning perhaps 10 millennia ago, the male of the species was pre-adapted for (if not already practicing) physical violence against other humans. The Earth was getting human full-ish then. Moving on was less of an option and settling down meant accumulating stuff that others could covet and might well strive to get. Warriors emerged to gain the resources – land, food, women, minerals, you-name-it – that they desired from their neighbours. (Physically he was prepared, too: over-sized upper body with limbs ‘designed’ to throw, club and punch; eyes fixated on acute visual tracking, etc.)

Both hunter and warrior worked best – were most successful — through coalitions of their peers. Mammoths and neighbours were best attacked or fought by small coalitions (‘sympathy’ groups) of 10 – 15 men. This is a foundational and fundamental human grouping – even to this day and even for the physical violence of our own time where it is directly personal.

As civilization ‘progressed,’ larger and larger groupings emerged both for the promulgation and for the control of the human (male) violent tendencies. One original grouping was thought to be the ‘Dunbar group’ of about 150 people; it is said to exist and operate, still, as well.

Until at present, we have, arguably, a globalized or at least globalizing civilization from which very few can claim exemption. Thousands or even millions of peoples’ behaviors are manipulated/coordinated through the hierarchies of civilization. And of course, those hierarchies are themselves integrated/coordinated at certain levels and nodes, as well.

The hierarchies do business, government, manufacturing, religion, education, health, selling, finance … the list is endless. And they also do violence, either explicitly (military) or as a proxy for the real thing (economy) or as something else altogether (charitable or altruistic: NGOs +). And many individual people belong to more than one of these groupings so the whole situation gets quite complex.

In some Earth societies, individuals have a wide latitude to choose among which and/or what kind of hierarchy they will join, spend their lives in. Those who ‘need’, crave, enjoy explicit physical aggression will choose the more aggressive hierarchies; others will choose differently. Some will choose none, go their own way, wing it out on the margins of society’s hierarchies.

The whole situation is complicated further, now, because in those same societies the female of the species has started to be admitted to membership. Immediately we have problems. She, without the significant T priming of her brother, doesn’t relate in the same way to her peers. In fact, she would rather cooperate than compete. We/they are struggling through the early learning stages of this development, most everywhere that she has been admitted. It promises to be a long – though ultimately fruitful if completed successfully – journey. The world of hierarchy will certainly – is certainly – changing.

The question for him, her brother, though is where and how he can find the T surge his body is designed to seek. Does he need ‘intersocietal competition’ to be complete, to get his multiple-daily-ideally surges? Based on the conditions of his coalitional legacy, one might guess not. Any coalition of males that’s doing something it believes worthy in competition with (an)other male coalition(s) should suffice, wouldn’t you think?

Well, it probably depends upon the level or intensity of his T addiction, which in itself probably has genetic and age-related and who knows what other components. But surely things like modern-day professional competitive sports qualify. As does leadership in business or government or … well, you get the picture… any status and power achievement will likely work for him.

One of his problems, however, is that the highly complex civilization of the modern world is best managed within-group by sensitive awareness and understanding of other peoples’ feelings and needs. And the female of the species with her ‘tend and befriend’ orientation is the prime candidate for the task. (He, by contrast is primed to ‘fight or flight’ which, as we have seen, he has been doing through his civilizations for quite a long time. He even designed his institutions to do it, do even more of it – sometimes violently, more often these days, not). She also doesn’t have the emotional commitment to fighting it out that he does.

Fear not. Sport at the professional level is exempt from her intrusions. She will never have – barring technological invasions — the upper body strength to punch and throw and club in direct competition with him. He has other avenues, too – man dens where male coalitions compete exclusively. Things like the mafia and street gangs which tend to be designed and to operate in the primeval ways.

As for intersocietal competition, I guess it depends on the definitions of who is competing against whom for what and against which other? Or does one or a few types of competition trump (an)other(s)? Who knows?

And what about Europe? How did it go from warring lords to warring nation states to integrated-across- the-continent-regional economic power, at least, without an army? Surely it’s a long and complicated story. But surely, too, there is an answer at one level that is quite simple: They made up their minds. They achieved enough of a consensus to agree: “Never again.” And then set out on the long challenging unexplored road to get there.
Violence has its alternatives — antidotes, even — too. Surely the species can advance peacefully without violence if it actually decides in sufficient numbers that it should, or must?

For a longer take on this question from about a month ago but with more of the details, go here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzQ Yv_kS-cXKLU5Ib0dQVEhZNlU/edit?usp=sharing

Cheers from here,



So basically it’s all mens fault? (I’m smiling as I write, but I can relate to all of the above you mention).

Lee Doran

OMW Susie … I guess it depends upon what ‘it’ is that is being faulted?! If men’s antics brought us ‘civilization’ while women kept the species alive (literally) back in the day… hmmmm … where does that take us? Which was more important? Obviously rhetorical…

In the end, of course, people work best when they work with other people — and by analogy with how couples work best in couples (!) I believe civilization will work best when there is a balanced sex/gender ratio of people running the show. But it is hard to bring forward case studies of situations/places/times when there were or have been a balanced gender/sex ratio of people in charge.

However, we do have some clues or hints out at the margins:

The Iroquois did it, I’ve read, by having a Women’s Council which had the final, binding say on the men’s decision to go to war. Now that’s interesting.

Kerala demonstrates something a bit different, but still on topic. It has/had (?) a high ‘development/well being’ rating while having at the same time one of the highest ‘poverty’ rates in the world. Now what does that do to those who believe that economic development is an essential component of ‘development’ (in general or overall) or of well-being? Turns out the two are not linked as many believe.

How did Kerala achieve this ‘impossible’ state? I believe in the starkest terms (you will love this Susie) that it was a communist matriarchy.

I’m wondering if EdwardT’s island in Lake Victoria is another interesting case of how to constrain/curate the sex and violence in society? Sounds like it might be.

Overall, we’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go. But we will be greatly aided on the journey if we understand clearly ‘the problem’ we’re setting out to solve. And realize that what brought us is not necessarily what will take us forward to survivance as a species.

In many ways, Susie, it was all men’s fault … in many other ways it was men in certain places and certain times that moved things forward (had to be by definition because the women weren’t allowed in!)

But it got us here, we’re still here … and we’re glimpsing what we need to save ourselves from ourselves going forward. That’s not all that bad, is it?

Especially if we all keep smiling, along with you Susie, along the way…

Cheers from here,



I think you spotted me being purposely facetious Lee 😉

It would be an interesting experiment (whether mind or otherwise) to see how women would run the world, I’m not sure we’d do any better a job, might be different though, thinking of bonobo and chimpanzee worlds and how different they are. I don’t know a great deal about socio-cultural anthropology but has anyone done any relevant studies within the few matriarchal societies we do have?

I don’t think aggression is something missing from the female sex, but violence out of aggression seems to be where we draw the line. I do like the idea of a counter balance like the one you mention where the women made the final decision on going to war – the question is, can you really see western men allowing women to have so much power – it’s hard enough getting the bloody remote control out of the hands of a man!

This blog is really great for collating the multitude of cultural approaches to society, be nice to see it compiled in a relational manner with some sort of mapping capability to find patterns (I suppose that’s what you’re doing manually)

p.s. I’m not a communist, I don’t really have any political affiliations, I’m still waiting for one that fits with my mind set (might be a long time waiting!)
p.p.s. I couldn’t agree more that balancing gender within any given context, commercial or political and so on is a much healthier way to proceed. In the area I work in (software development) it is highly male dominated (very irritating actually). However, I have seen that as technology becomes more consumer centric and communication orientated, the input of female designers has a very positive effect (I gave a panel speech on this in fact a coupe of years ago to an all male audience and it actually went down better than I thought, apart from the odd comment that I was being sexist, sigh)


It’s interesting that the Iroquois are mentioned and their matriarchal society is approved of, since the Iroquois were extremely bloody-minded and the number of tribes that they wiped out totaled to be several times the number of tribes that are in the Iroquois League.

Lee Doran

I don’t know Richard. I’ve been trying to learn more about this whole Iroquois thing..

But we do have to distinguish the in-group’s internal behavior from its actions with respect to its out-group in all these cases. What I had read was that the Women’s Council was routinely consulted and had the right of veto over men’s decisions to go to war. That doesn’t really speak at all (to me at least) to their vehemence or effectiveness once they had decided to go.

I suppose you could make an argument (purely hypothetical on my part) that when the decision was made it had the full support across the whole society which might provide increased motivation to the warriors to do their thing better (?)

Cheers from here,



Well, the Iroquois benefitted from being united. Native American alliances between nations shifted all the time, but while some Iroquois nations may decide not to go on the warpath during a war with some other tribes/confederacies, they never fought against each other (at least until the American Revolutionary War, when they picked sides). Also benefitted from being allies/trade partners with the Brit/American colonies (for the most part, though they also fought the Europeans on occasion), which gave them a weapons advantage with which they could exterminate other Native American tribes (the French had Native American allies as well among the various Algonquin tribes, but for the most part, for whatever reason, the Iroquois tended to fare better in war).

Lee Doran

Hi again Susie,

I keep reading that there has never been a ‘truly’ matriarchal society. I’m not expert enough to judge but that tends to be my belief. That;s why something like Kerala is so interesting.

I’m pretty sure there have been some recent studies showing that women get just as angry as men, but they don’t respond with physical violence — whereas in men it is virtually the default reaction (if not automatic) for some at least.

It’s interesting you mention mapping as I’m trying to do a ‘paper’ for an upcoming conference (it’s really more like a presentation) that would use a mind map to map in a very general (qualitative) way different social schema on two axes: 1) masculine –> feminine and 2) individual –> collective. I’ve sketched it out by hand and its quite interesting. Now trying to learn enough of some mind mapping program to make it ‘presentable.’

I think there’s a lot of sympathy for trying/discussing or at least thinking about different ways of running the world. And besides there are lots of sympathetic men (not to mention men with feminine-ish minds) who get it. The 4 decades of feminism have laid he groundwork for serious talk — and even experimentation across the sex/gender divide. And the younger folks (raised by the 70’s feminists) really don’t see sex/gender in many cases– amazingly, perhaps — just like the civil rights survivors in the US don’t/didn’t see race…

There are some positive things brewing. The question of the hour, though, is whether they are happening fast enough to save ourselves from ourselves!

Cheers from here,



I’d be very surprised if there was a truly matriarchal society – isn’t it dependent on resources and control, biological drivers and life histories?

Maps are great tools. I’m a fan. I use them a lot in my job, to me, it’s the only way to pull related items together and see the bigger picture. Do you use a mapping tool? You don’t have to use a specific tool, if you can write it out on paper you can use something like Visio (even powerpoint) to create a digital version of it. If not get a 30 day trial of one of the mind mapping tools out there. It’d be interesting to see – will you make it publicly available?

As for saving ourselves, from ourselves, Im a bit pessimistic about it. Although it’s been shown that we have a lot lower incidence of violent deaths in current times compared to our neolithic ancestors, it really doesn’t feel like it. We should be further ahead than we are, I’m hoping cliodynamics will give us the tools to really learn from our past mistakes.
p.s. women most certainly get as angry as men (you should see me in full flight) but you’re right, it is less common for us to resort to violence, however, some ‘folk anthropology’ observations – I’ve noticed in working class areas (I’m a rare person who spends time across the class divide in ol’ blighty) that violence amongst women is not as rare as I once thought it was…generally, we’re not as strong as men though, so maybe the outcomes aren’t as noticeable.

Lee Doran

Thanks so much Susie.

I’ll be experimenting with how to present the map in the next while. I’m optimistic it will work out despite my rudimentary (at best!) graphics capabilities.

Oh sure, it will be available for anyone who’s interested.

Yes, I do think women have more latitude to express themselves these days …. except in the view of the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey who said they shouldn’t laugh in public the other day!

And then he put the other foot in his mouth by saying something about talking on cell phones all day about recipes!

It is truly hilarious sometimes…then I think I read people started laughing back at him on social media. He certainly had me laughing!

Best, L.


When I read something like this you’ve written here re the Turkish deputy PM, I am very worried. There seems to also be a backlash against feminism these days – it seems (and I include women in this attitude) that feminism is seen as a dirty word, when really all it is about is wanting to have equality, why on earth can anyone think that’s a bad thing? Beats me (well I have my theories about that actually).

There are some horrifying anti-female practises going on in many parts of the world, I just thank my lucky stars I live in the UK where it’s not too bad (has its moments though, I could tell you some things that have happened to me that would make any intelligent, empathetic man mortified).

There’s an excellent site called ‘everyday sexism’ you should take a look at some of the comments.

Anyway, I don’t want to take over forum discussion by bleating on about stuff like this, it’s a bit stereotyped of me 🙂

I’d very much like to see your map once it’s done, do post a link


Lee Doran

Thanks Susie.

I understand your concern but I’d like to be optimistic that we (the species) are passing through this patch when the diversity of views and opinions on these issues is probably larger than ever before and that out of this will emerge a kind of majority consensus that shows the best of humanity for humanity going forward… let’s hope.

Yes, I’ve seen that site previously, and yes, I’ll post something on the mapping outcomes — but probably not until October-November timeframe, after the conference.

Cheers from here,



OMG…I hope you’re right. Hope the conference goes well and I’ll look forward to seeing your mapping exercise 🙂

Lee Doran

Hi Susie,

I saw this in the Guardian today and thought of you … how women are changing the world of comedy:





Thanks for this Lee – a Guardian reader eh! (me too)

Yes, it’s always perplexed me why there’s a lack of female comedians, especially stand ups – most women I know have fantastic sense of humours and some are extremely naturally funny. There was a comedy festival recently in the UK, a major one and the organisers didn’t invite a single female comedian even though we have some excellent and well known ones.


Some critical points which are most often missed, in my opinion:

First, it is simply false that only competition between groups in the form of war can lead to the cooperation we see in humans. A broadly ignored Dugatkin paper notes that any sufficiently hostile environment will suffice. Think about a human alone in Africa…he cannot outrun the predators. He is not stronger, not heavily armored, not poisonous, has no claws or fangs…any pack hunter like lions or hyenas will find him or her incredibly easy prey. l find it obvious that for humans Africa during our evolution was plenty hostile enough to force us to cooperate without considering war. In fact, it is the cooperation which makes war possible, not the other way around.

Second, when we look at competition in the natural world around us we have a bad, and evolved, tendency to see it in a dualistic manner. Cooperative or selfish, predator or prey, mutualist or parasite. In fact there is a continuum from predator to parasite to mutualist, and often one organism can be several depending on the circumstance and/or it can be hard to determine if it is a symbiotic mutualist or a parasite, what the final tally is. There is also, I argue, a similar continuum when it comes to governments, corporations, even NGOs and how they compete and interact with society. Often people of various political views compare either government or corporations, or both, to parasites and infer that they should be eliminated. No, they are necessary for the health of the societal superorganism just as our gut bacteria are for us. And just as our gut bacteria can turn on us, so can our government and our corporations. The question then, in my view, is what conditions promote lower virulence and more mutualism in our government and corporate societal symbionts. I have just started this journey and it will be a long one. My first very rough effort is here – http://theroadtopeace.blogspot.ca/ – along with another paper seeking to understand the role of altruism in war, and attempting for what I believe is the first time to detail the process psychologically that takes us from joining a group to being willing to kill for it.


“After the end of the Cold War, when the apostles of globalization argued that trade would soon eclipse warfare, the military strategist Edward Luttwak predicted that they would soon be proved wrong. Although capital would replace firepower as a weapon of choice, and market penetration would play the role that bases and garrisons had in earlier generations, the driving force of international relations would be conflict rather than trade. As he put it, we would have “the grammar of commerce but the logic of war.” Luttwak’s prediction seemed misplaced at a time when countries such as Russia, China, India and Brazil were rushing to join the global economy.”



It’s a very glum hypothesis, but there’s a lot to be said for it. However, unlike original post and some of the other commentors, I don’t think competition is the key. It’s fear.

War is one of the few thing that’s elites fear, and therefore the only thing that stops them from taking the whole pie from the common people. Common people in both Greek and Roman took full advantage of war to increase the “market share” of democracy in their society. Other forms of intersocietal competitions don’t engender this fear, and can easily be dealt with from meta strategies like M&A, and so do not replace war.

On the other hand, like another poster is saying (tribalydisposed), I think a sufficiently hostile environment will also suffice, because it also creates existential angst among the elite. Thus it’s no surprise to me that liberals tend to like to promote environment apocalypse.

At least I believe that to be the traditional mechanism of social balance. Hopefully, we’ll evolve past that and come up with some new mechanisms. It’ll be pretty sad, if that were the final answer.

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