Earth: Peace Core, Surface Conflict
In the most important areas of our human selves and the animal ecological world there is a reality of striving for perpetual peace. Peace is the natural condition, as dictated by nature, physics and metaphysics. Conflict is the exception in the animal world. In humans conflict is an exception driven by reason, rage, revenge and self-defense. Seven to eight thousand years ago and far into our past there was no war in human society, no art or icons or celebrations of war. Discussed in this chapter are the history, biology and psychology of the weighing scales of peace and conflict.
Sitting in a darkened theatre with a barn-size screen on Geary Street in San Francisco, the audience was mesmerized, enthralled and unsettled by the opening scene. The film shows a ruddy dawn on an arid African rock escarpment. While the slow, majestic music of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra builds up with drums, strings and trumpets, a clan of hominid apes discovers a perfect 15-foot high obelisk—jet black in color—in the midst of their morning gathering area. It is a sudden overnight appearance. They are intelligently curious and vocally apprehensive, nervously lumbering around the artifact, sniffing at the air around it. With more daring, one runs up and touches the perfectly rectangular monolith and quickly retreats—a chorus of ape calls accompanying this daring-do. More scamper up to touch it, retreating away but with less hesitation. Soon, their fear dies away and deep curiosity drives them to closely examine and touch the monolith. In a continuation of this scene one of the ape men is near a pile of animal bones. His attention is drawn to a fairly thick femur bone, about the size and shape of a club. He picks it up, his mind puzzling out how this bone can be translated into a tool. His hand grips the low end of the bone as a handle; the round socket end is the tool end. With a dawn of realization, of knowledge, in his face and eyes, a few swings are taken with the club bone, crunching other bones on the dusty ground. The bone has become a tool. A particular type of tool in the mind of the ape man. It has become a weapon, an extension of his body and mind that can damage. This ape man, now walking in a more upright posture, leads his clan to a watering hole also used by another clan. There is a squabble that breaks out with bared teeth and escalating snarlings and body language threats. But no physical combat. It is posturing. Club tool in hand, the single ape man—whose brain now cognizes what the tool can do—walks with an intelligent, dangerous, purpose up to the other clan’s leader. And starts to hit him, bringing the new weapon tool down as hard as he can to the head and body. It is the first killing with a weapon, and possibly the first killing in combat. With cries of triumph and blood lust, the killing ape man flings the bone tool rotating into the air where the film scene artfully changes into starred space with a similarly tumbling space satellite.
The movie is Stanley Kubrick’s ground-breaking 2001: A Space Odyssey, written with the famed science fiction author and science visionary Arthur C. Clarke. The monolith/ape-men scene is now among the most famous scenes in film history. It vividly depicts two phenomenon: the use of reasoning observation and self-awareness for creating tools; and the reasoned harming/murdering of an individual in the same species. We really don’t yet understand fully where our god-like powers of reason came from. Kubrick and Clarke through 2001 entertain us with the possibility of reason being triggered via a beautiful obelisk beacon planted on Earth and on the moon by extraterrestrial civilizations. That gift of reason split, like a light beam through our brain prism, in two directions: a higher larger-than-self reason and a lower smallest-self reason.
That state of reason—which philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, biologists, neuro physiologists have puzzled over for dozens of centuries—would weigh largely in peace. But, as we shall see, there is another face of reason that weighs in conflict. And it weighs in at an observable quantity: fifteen to twenty percent of humans have the capacity to set aside all biological, sociological and psychological barriers within us and do harm. It also weighs in, in both the animal and human world, on the differences between masculine and feminine natures.
We don’t know when the first fight occurred in our human and proto-human history. Kubrick and Clarke’s science fiction places this event hundreds of thousands of years in our past. Archeology and anthropology have a bare cupboard in this dating. It is unknown when the first time a proto-human or a human acted out of reasoned calculation or unreasoning emotional rage to harm another human. And this fight did not have to use crude tools as in the Space Odyssey 2001 scene. It could have been the Cro-Magnan man equivalent of a Jean-Claude Van Dam kick-boxing match in Bangkok.
This first fight—even with bare knuckles—would have unimaginable consequences. It would mark a profound point in human history—a towering tidal wave of an event that is up there with the Manhattan-sized asteroid that is theorized to have rocketed in from space at thousands of miles an hour, burned through our atmosphere and slammed into Earth with enough energy-force to displace trillions of tons of dust into the global atmosphere, cutting out sunlight and shuttering photosynthesis. Large swaths of plant life collapsed, resulting in the global extinction of dinosaurs and other species tens of millions of years ago.
What compares to this? Researchers have scoured back through our recorded history, unearthing every speck of evidence of conflicts (minor to major wars). Their determination:
a total of 14,531 violent conflicts raged from 3600 BC to our present day with a calculated death total of 3 billion. That is deaths, not casualties nor displaced refugees. Three billion is about half our present human population of 6.6 billion. Calculating the number of casualties and displaced refugees, easily the staggering sum total of humans affected reaches six billion. Effectively, we have killed, maimed or displaced an equivalent to our present Earth population. Add in the number of people killed or wounded from murder or unnoted massacres throughout history, and the total increases to well over six billion.
If the stats for humanity were put up on a football field score board, it would show a rather dismal 267 years of complete peace over our past 5,600 years. Does this mean we are continually at war? No, it doesn’t. It means there is a local war(s) pretty much always going on someplace. Today, there are about 160 regional conflicts scattered from Iraq to Darfur.
The first time proto humans or humans banded together to fight another band is also unknown. It could have been a million years ago or as few as 10,000 years ago. What would it take for this first skirmish to occur? It is really not that easy. In fact, it is very, very hard. There would need to be advanced social interaction and communication skills. The group would have to sustain over a lengthy period of time the intention to actually physically hurt or kill another being—not for survival, as in killing an animal for food and raw materials—but for territory. Territory that was either being held to selfishly exclude others. Or territory being expanded to larger boundaries.
Each individual in this first combative group would have to arrive at a reasoned, perceptual understanding of what was intended by shedding another’s blood and taking a fellow human life. Even at the level of early proto-man, the ability to visualize a cause/effect chain (I club or strike or bite and there is damage done), to invoke memories directly relating to the outcome of violence, and to coordinate under a leader, would be necessary for this combat. And, very importantly, the ethical, spiritual and physiological hesitation to actually wound or kill another proto-man person would have to be overcome. This hesitation is hard-wired into us—part of the brain’s deeply intricate neural network and neuro-chemical response. The sight and smell of blood and exposed muscle, bone or organs of our own kind repels us at a very deep level. Literally, it sickens us. This brain neurology trait shuttles a gene train back to our most distant ancestors. To inflict harm to another’s body (with all the accompanying sounds and smells and tactile feelings) is akin to eating something so rotten its smell/taste brings us to our knees with nausea, shallow breathing, clammy skin. Witnessing body wounding is equally disturbing, but also includes an instantaneous waterfall of fear chemicals bubbling through our nerve system. Which is why people (who are not accustomed or numbed to bodily violence) are sickened at the carnage of accidents or violent crimes or combat killing fields. This includes soldiers, rescue and police personnel who still feel echoes of repulsion when witnessing death and wounding. The body/mind sickening response is always there, only damped down. Medical or medicine-related students facing bodies and body parts are conditioned through schooling (and their personal drive to succeed) to moderate this response.
Our remote ancestors, from the Australopiths (considered the immediate predecessor to our “homo” species) and further back, had to overcome this deep brain-centered reluctance to harm another person’s body. The first fight between proto-humans would not only be a conflict of muscle, agility, endurance and perhaps tools, but an internal struggle over whether this act is right or wrong. They would, as we would, weigh the act on balances of social, spiritual and psychological perceptions. Guilt and shame, two strong forces of conscience, would take the bench as mental judges. To harm someone takes a cold stopping of the normal physiological, social and spiritual bonding conditions between people.
There is a natural connection between species—a fraternity. Taking your dog out on a walk, or watching dogs on their daily walks, easily demonstrates this. A dog, of any breed, will recognize at a far distance another dog, no matter what breed. Dogs know dogs. A Golden Retriever will recognize a Dachshund as a fellow dog. A Poodle will know a Pekinese. It’s pretty amazing. Do they want to attack the other dog? In their natural state, no. They are excitedly curious and want to get to know the other dog through sniffing, body language, and eye contact. If the dogs have not been trained specifically to be aggressive there is usually some running around, a bit of barking and play activity. This is called “acceptance.” The dogs have accepted each other. In their world of intelligence and emotions, they are acquaintances now. If they needed to forage together to survive, they would form a pack. This is a socially advanced structure of “cooperation.” The dogs would be exhibiting acceptance and cooperation, two traits that are central to proto-human and human social evolution. If the dogs had to go to the same water bowl to drink out of, they would work it out with some dog talk so some kind of sharing occurred. If there is only a small amount of water, one dog may take it all, or perhaps not. It depends on the dog. Is it the same with food? To a degree. A little Cocker Spaniel who finds a nice steak lying on the road is going to wolf it down in a few bites. He won’t share it (although there are cases of sharing). But if the food source is enough, dogs will share. Dogs bond, and have their own form of Elks Clubs and Rotarian Clubs.
To kill or wound another individual means dropping the psychic weight of this bonding. What does it take to do this? Considering that human bonding is our number one drive, it is like a doctor walking away from a train wreck, offering no help—the complete opposite of his nature. To bring harm to another person is the opposite of our human bonding essence. Breaking the social bond takes a thinking process that is either extremely selfish (not fair, or accepting) or defensive (self-preservation), or a rage—which is basically broken reasoning. Social species ties and other inhibiting reasoning factors are burned away in the emotional force we call rage. Rage is anger amplified to super levels, the nuclear bomb equivalent of anger. While the publishing medical world long ago politely removed the term insanity from its writing (replacing it with mental disorders), almost all experts and observers conclude that rage is a state of extreme mental disorder. It literally short circuits reason (and common sense) and creates a Mr. Hyde transformation from our more calmed Dr. Jekyll selves. Rage takes all the physiological traits of anger—quick shallow breathing, flared nostrils, eyes narrowing, muscle tightening and spasming—and revs them up to a state where the person no longer seems human. People in rage lose their human face. They become unrecognizable. Even a beautiful woman in a withering gale of rage turns grotesquely ugly. Essentially, rage (from the Latin “rabia” and meaning madness and the source of our word “rabies”) bypasses the deep brain connections we feel to others. As a consequence, in rage, wounding or killing is a “doable” act. Normally it is an “undoable” act that we strongly resist.