Compassion and Cooperation are Part of the Human Condition

(This is section 12 of the World Beyond War white paper A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Continue to preceding | following section.)

Scientists have discovered that cooperation is a powerful force in nature. (Shown here: Japanese macaques grooming – source: wiki commons.)

The War System is based on the false belief that competition and violence are the result of evolutionary adaptations, a misunderstanding of a popularization of Darwin in the nineteenth century which pictured nature as “red in tooth and claw” and human society as a competitive, zero sum game where “success” went to the most aggressive and violent. But advances in behavioral research and evolutionary science show that we are not doomed to violence by our genes, that sharing and empathy also have a solid evolutionary basis. Since the Seville Statement on Violence was released in 1986, which refuted the notion of innate and inescapable aggression as the core of human nature, there has been a revolution in behavioral science research which overwhelmingly confirms that earlier declaration.note2 Humans have a powerful capacity for empathy and cooperation which military indoctrination attempts to blunt with less than perfect success as the many cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome and suicides among returning soldiers testify.

While it is true that humans have a capacity for aggression as well as cooperation, modern war does not arise out of individual aggression—it is a highly organized, and structured form of learned behavior that requires governments to plan for it ahead of time and to mobilize the whole society in order to carry it out. The bottom line is that cooperation and compassion are as much a part of the human condition as violence. We have the capacity for both and the ability to choose either, but while making this choice on an individual, psychological basis is important, it must lead to a change in social structures.

“War does not go forever backwards in time. It had a beginning. We are not wired for war. We learn it.”

Brian Ferguson (Professor of Anthropology)

(Continue to preceding | following section.)

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2. The Seville Statement on Violence was designed by a group of leading behavioral scientists to refute “the notion that organized human violence is biologically determined”. The entire statement can be read here: (return to main article)

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