||Enemy images: cultural or biological?||5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state|
The History of the Culture of War
Although the Seville Statement on Violence has shown, through the scientific evidence, that warfare is a cultural and not a biological behavior, there remains another persistent and related question: are enemy images cultural or biological in origin.
This is an important question because we have seen that even the most "primitive" warfare known, the feuding of Australian aborigines, is justified in terms of the vengeance necessary against an enemy. To quote again from the description above: "Some few months earlier an Alice Springs native had died, and his death was attributed by the medicine men to the fact that he had been killed by the evil magic of a man living some 130 miles away to the north-west . . It will not be very long before a return atninga will be organized to visit the Alice Springs group, and then probably the old man's death will be avenged. In this way, year after year, an endless vendetta is maintained among these tribes . . "
This question is also important because vengeance remains an essential aspect of the culture of war in the contemporary world. Just to cite two recent examples, President George W. Bush invented the excuse that Iraq was preparing nuclear weapons to be used against the United States in order to justify his 2003 invasion of Iraq, and President Lyndon Johnson invented an attack on U.S. naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin in order to justify his 1965 invasion of Vietnam.
Do other mammals have "enemies" and, if so, are they cultural or biological. This is a question that I have dealt with in my reviews of the brain mechanisms of aggressive behavior (Adams 1979, 2006). It turns out that in most mammals the brain mechanism of offense (angry attack) is triggered principally, although not exclusively by olfactory stimuli. One mammal sniffs another and if the odors are of the same sex and unfamiliar, the attack mechanism is triggered. This mechanism is probably still intact in the human brain and may explain some cases of human fighting related to very intimate behaviors, but that is not the subject of the present book, and it certainly has nothing to do with human warfare.
Long ago, humans abandoned sniffing each other as a means of initiating behavior, and thereby abandoned biological motivations for sexual and aggressive behavior, replacing them with cultural customs and behaviors. Perhaps the most colorful description of this cultural evolution is that of Sigmund Freud (1930) in a footnote to his book Civilization and Its Discontents:
"The organic periodicity of the sexual process has persisted, it is true, but its effect on psychical sexual excitation has rather been reversed. This change seems most likely to be connected with the diminution of the olfactory stimuli . . The diminution of the olfactory stimuli seems itself to be a consequence of man's raising himself from the ground, of his assumption of an upright gait . . The fateful process of civilization would thus have set in with man's adoption of an erect posture . ."
Freud based his argument about the process of civilization on the diminished role of olfactory stimuli as a stimulus for sexual behavior, but the argument is equally valid for the diminished role of olfactory stimuli as a stimulus for aggressive behavior.
Non-human primates continue to sniff each other and to engage in sexual and aggressive behavior that is triggered by the perceived odors, but already at a point of evolution millions of years ago, non-human primates began to involve engage cultural as well as biological factors in their aggressive behavior. In particular, non-human primates as well as humans engage in the behavior of punishment, in which the biological behaviors of attack are triggered by cultural phenomena (Adams 1986):
"The best evidence I know was gathered by Japanese investigators (Imanishi 1957; Kawamara, 1959) of macaque cultural behavior back in the 1950's . .
Ironically, in the paper cited above, I was trying to explain not warfare but the righteous indignation of peace activists. Hence the title of the paper was The Role of Anger in the Consciousness Development of Peace Activists: Where Physiology and History Intersect. The paper goes on to consider the origin of the superego which is one of the basic mechanisms for the elaboration of cultural behaviors and which, it turns out, originates from the internalization of aggressive behavior.
For those who wish to find the evolutionary precursors of enemy images in our biological ancestors, I recommend that they begin looking at the origins of cultural rather than biological motivational stimuli, and a good place to begin would be the cultural phenomenon of punishment. To this day when political and military leaders call upon their people to "punish the enemy", they are drawing upon cultural behavior that is known by almost every human being from experience in their own family.
World Peace through the Town Hall