War is Only an Invention

Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Creativity, Ingredients | 2 comments

Some argue there can not be peace without war because one defines the other; how can we experience peace without measuring it against its extreme opposite? So at this point, it makes sense to devote some time to discussing war, if only to highlight its engagement and interplay with peace.

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead considered war’s place in this world and raised the question: Is war a biological necessity, a sociological inevitability, or just a bad invention?

“…I wish to urge another point of view, less defeatist perhaps than the first and third, and more accurate than the second: that is that warfare, by which I mean recognized conflict between two groups as groups, in which each group puts an army…into the field to fight and kill, if possible, some members of the army of the other group – that warfare of this sort is an invention like any other of the inventions in terms of which we order our lives, such as writing, marriage, cooking our food instead of eating it raw, trial by jury or burial of the dead, and so on.”

– Margaret Mead

This position offers an alternative to the argument that war is an attribute of humanity rather than only a bad invention just waiting for another better one to render it obsolete, as is what typically happens with most poorly conceptualized inventions.

However, to know human nature is to accept that “once an invention is known and accepted, men do not easily relinquish it.” Knowing this, how can we begin to challenge the invention of war and bring something new to the table? Margaret Mead advises us, “For this, two conditions at least are necessary. The people must recognize the defects of the old invention, and someone must make a new one…There is further needed a belief that social invention is possible and the invention of new methods which will render warfare as out of date as the tractor is making the plow, or the motor car the horse and buggy.”

Everyone has heard the old saying, attributed to Plato, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this context, we must insist on “inventing,” or even “reinventing,” peace, on necessitating its revival while giving it relevance for our time. This is what will lead us away from the anachronistic, destructive forces of war and towards more peaceful methods of solving conflicts. These methods are arguably more difficult to fathom and practice simply because they are not already in our frame of reference, but critical nonetheless.

War as a biological necessity and/or sociological inevitability assumes it must and will happen for a variety of reasons, regardless of human interference or choice, whereas the alternative concept of “invention” leaves room for more human participation, engagement, and the freedom to decide, to choose a different, more progressive invention. It leaves room for creativity. Humans are not slave to one path, to one method of solving conflict. In fact, the reality is just the opposite, we are capable of much more, especially when we least expect it, but this requires a choice. Who do you want to be and where do you want to go?

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2 Comments

  1. I am interested to hear more of your thoughts on the biological aspect to war. One could argue that competition, at least based on Darwin’s theories, is inherent in all living things. The competition to survive, and outrun, or out-battle your attacker to spread your seed another day. This translates directly into power of survival.

    In humans, and arguably in all other animals (since we are all animals anyway), the spreading of “ideas” or similar consciousness can also be seen in socialization and tradition, and can also increase one’s power; as seen by Hitler or the hunting tendencies/teamwork of specific prides of lions. (Yes I did just compare the two)

    As humans, with such an abundant level/potential of brain power, we have increased the multilateral effects of our individual, familial and national competition. The results of this can be seen in virtually every aspect of the world from the degradation of our environment for resources, to control by media to enslave the naive to fight for a unjustified causes. If it’s roots are about outdoing our competitors, then isn’t it the same as two animals fighting over a carcass, just on a larger and more devastating scale?

    Additionally, as humans, we have steered away from the animalistic instinct to be in the moment, and have begun to listen to the “invention” called ego. I would argue that THAT is why we wage wars. It is the people who are at peace through and through, who recognize that it is the ego that tells us to be defensive and shut instead of open and full of Love and compassion.

    I realize this is getting more philosophical than tangible or practical, and that that is not your aim here. A “new” ego-less perspective seems like a healthier solution to war, yet less feasible than a global conflict that afflicts every person on the planet yet inspires change.

    Finally, I believe that it is a certain (large) population of men who hold the power of planet Earth’s populous. It is wonderful to continue to recognize the women who have fought longer and harder than most men could even imagine to create change and progress. I am thankful that you have created this space for more of this type of progress.

  2. Thank you! I’m glad my post inspired thought, philosophical or otherwise. My concern is more with the word necessity than biological. Yes, conflict is inevitable,it may even be a biological necessity, but no, war is not. The former does not assume the latter and that’s what Mead points out in her article. Not all human societies wage war, demonstrating its irrelevance in certain groups.

    Also, you point out that we are just animals, which may be true, but you also highlight that we have increased brain power/potential,which is definitely true. This biological aspect gives us the opportunity to not act on instinct like animals and be more creative in our approach to threats to survival. Also, there have been examples of animal behavior that go against theories of survival and competition and even demonstrate compassion. The story of the hippo Owen and tortoise Mzee comes to mind. If you don’t know it, search for it on youtube. Good way to start the day!

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