Conflict and Destruction
History records the tedious and repetitious details of human competition,
conflict, destruction and killing. Students of world affairs will have little
difficulty identifying recurrent problems in the conduct of business and
governments and the interaction of countries. Human conflicts and killings are
deeply troubling but at the same time, much has been accomplished in reaching
for a sustainable, good life for some privileged humans. The rapid development
of science, communications and culture exchange is unprecedented in the history
of the planet. A smart, kind-hearted subtype of humans flourished despite the
persistent presence of crude-thinkers and killers. The smart kind-hearts
developed powerful tools of communication to shape the future in a constructive
Since 1946 there have been an estimated 145 armed conflicts, and a "cold war"
consisting of a competition between the USA and Soviet Union (Russia)who
accumulated massive military organizations and enough nuclear weapons to destroy
each other in a matter of minutes. The right to employ and train killers is
assumed by police, military and other government organizations. In the 20th
century the scale of war escalated to involve most countries of the world and
millions of combatants. The destructive scale of world war two has left
surviving humans with a legacy of doubt and fear that will not be easily
overcome. While in Canada we remember and thank soldiers who fought and died in
World War 2 (WW2), there is a curious dissociation between the celebration of
victory and the horrors of mass destruction and killing. Every country wants its
citizens to view soldiers favorably in case they are needed to fight another war
to “defend freedom”, but at the same time we celebrate peace and distain people
who kill close to home. The aggressions of Germany and Japan in WW2 were so
manifestly evil that other implicated nations were motivated to fight against
We are developing an understanding how humans have moved from a primordial
existence, living in small groups to a social existence that involves living in
enlarging cities that are part of larger economic and political organizations.
The tendency in most academic and media discussion is to relate current events
and then explain the causes of events in terms of local conditions. News
reports attempt to emulate scholarly discourse, but only gather a few casual
opinions which vary from trivial gossip to somewhat informative but brief
explanations out of context. You can argue that none of the best academic
systems of commentary on current events such as history, economics, sociology,
anthropology, and political science really explain what is going on.
Human nature is the substrate for all events and human action tends be
monotonously recurrent. The innate rules of association built into our brain
pertain to small groups and tend to become dysfunctional when individuals try to
relate as members of large and anonymous groups. Groups less than 150 members
strong can often self-regulate using innate behaviors that have evolved over
tens of millions of years.
As groups grow larger, humans require regulation using a system of rules
and physical constraints that are an external form of behavior coding. The
external behavioral coding requires systems of enforcement, capture, judgment
and punishment of individuals who break the rules. The external system is
ephemeral and must be renewed continuously. The external system grows in scope
and complexity as populations increase in size and density. No single human can
know let alone obey all the rules of a modern society.
One confusion arises when we believe an idealistic proposition that
progress is being made toward a more rational and consistent world. The
evidence for a more rational world is limited to specific places for limited
periods of time. I live in a rational and consistent community that I consider
to be almost utopian. I assume that the privilege of living so well is limited
in time and space. My privileges could be suspended at any moment by any number
of events natural and manmade.
A realistic appraisal of human events must consider that enlarging
populations may lose self-regulation and may become ungovernable at specific
times and places. The history of civilization is characterized by recurrent
cycles featuring the growth of cities and empires and their dissolution
thorough natural disasters, draught, famine, war, disease and the excesses of
tyranny. These cycles are also manifest in individual lives and have similar
patterns on a miniature scale.
The idealist may fantasize egalitarian societies that coexist peacefully
and honor universal rules of human rights. However, humans have a deep tendency
to form groups, to develop and defend boundaries and to treat outsiders as
enemies. This tendency is expressed in every aspect of human life and dominates
the modern world despite concerted attempts to modify this tendency and create
just societies. All groups have interests, privileges and costs of membership.
All groups have hierarchies and competition for privilege and prestige. The
effort to create tolerance and an ideal, egalitarian state counters these deep
tendencies and probably will never be stable and enduring
Social organization appears to be basic to animal life. Coherent social
organization is achieved by a metabrain- thousands of individual brains
coordinated in a network of interacting individuals. One of the functions of
social organization is the distribution of individuals in spacetime and the
regulation of the interactions. Humans are used to social regulation through
speech and written rules and tend to overlook the more basic and pervasive
social controllers that operate from innate properties in the brain.
The view that the good and the bad are products of a society is now
yielding to the deeper insight that the dialectical nature of the human mind is
built it; this dialectic generates culture not the other way around. A
well-meaning coalition of humans in Vancouver, for example, held a rally to
“eliminate racial discrimination”. Their premise was that racial discrimination
is a learned behavior and can be eliminated by social policy and education.
Human history overwhelmingly contradicts this idealistic notion. Discrimination
is an essential feature of the human mind and is not going to disappear.
A more realistic philosophy of human life emerges as we recognize that it
is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means,
by education, persuasion, coercion and law. The practical question that
continues to face policy makers is how much external regulation and what kind
is required. As the numbers of humans increase and larger numbers live
oppressed, in poverty with little hope, the need for external regulation will
increase, but no-one knows how to manage such large numbers of unhappy and
We can argue that a good civilization is based on some form of democracy,
full employment, affluence, tolerance for diversity, education, health care,
and support for the needy. An educated, participating middle class is essential
for democracy to work. The society must seek people with advanced education,
highly developed skills and the ability to apply current knowledge.