Over the past century, violent images from World War II concentration camps, Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, and many other times and places have been seared into our collective consciousness. These images have led to a common belief that technology, centralized nation-states, and modern values have brought about unprecedented violence.
Our seemingly troubled times are routinely contrasted with idyllic images of hunter-gatherer societies, which allegedly lived in a state of harmony with nature and each other. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like, for example, Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, who argued that “war is not an instinct but an invention.”
But now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler. In fact, our ancestors were far more violent than we are today. Indeed, violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.
Ionian Enchantment links to a recent post by one of my favourite thinkers, David Sloan Wilson, in the Huffington Post. He helpfully quotes the best bits, reproduced here:
How did the blueprint offered by Cosmides and Tooby go wrong? Let me count the ways: 1) They portrayed the mind as a collection of hundreds of special-purpose modules that evolved to solve specific problems in the EEA. 2) Their conception of the EEA was limited to the range of environments occupied by humans during their evolution as a species, which they acknowledged to be diverse. However, it did not stretch back in time to include primate, mammalian and vertebrate adaptations; nor did it stretch forward to include rapid genetic evolution since our hunter-gatherer existence. 3) They emphasized a universal human nature, or rather separate male and female natures, while minimizing the importance of adaptive genetic variation that cuts across both sexes. 4) They dismissed open-ended, domain-general psychological processes as a theoretical impossibility, creating a polarized worldview with “Evolutionary Psychology” at the positive end and “The Standard Social Science Model (SSSM)” at the negative end; 5) Their blueprint had almost nothing to say about culture as an open-ended evolutionary process that can adapt human populations to their current environments. They did not deny the possibility of transmitted culture, but they had almost nothing to say about it. Their most important point was that what seems like transmitted culture can instead be an expression of genetically programmed individual behavioral flexibility (evoked culture).
…Evolution is here to stay as a theory that can help us understand the human condition, along with the rest of the living world. With understanding comes the capacity for improvement. This is not just an idle intellectual pursuit but has consequences for the solution of real-world problems, so the sooner we can advance our understanding the better. One reason that we are just starting is because the term “evolution” became stigmatized early in the 20th century, in the same way that terms such as “sociobiology” and “evolutionary psychology” tend to become stigmatized today. This problem can be avoided by distinguishing particular schools of thought from the more general theory, so that the former can be accepted or rejected on their own merits without questioning the merits of the latter.
David Steven and Alex Evans have a new article out in World Politics Review where they present “The Resilience Doctrine“. They argue that ” globalization is both unstable and inevitable, and that governments have little choice but to build collaborative platforms to manage risk…[and] conclude with a dozen guidelines for building an international system fit for the 21st century”.
Here are the guidelines summarised by the authors:
Develop a doctrine with resilience at its heart, using it to create a unified narrative about how to manage the risks the world will face between now and 2030.
Start with the ultimate objective of building and protecting global systems, cultivating a new constitution for the society of states.
Create incentives for connecting to the international system and increase penalties for exclusion. Avoid disrupting the global order for short-term gain.
Focus on function (what systems need to deliver in order to manage risk) over form (the organogram that devotees of international politics obsess over).
Build the global institutions (rules, norms, markets, organizations, etc.) needed to deliver these functions. Aim for a shared operating system capable of managing each key risk.
Invest in mechanisms that create, analyze and debate solutions, delivering the shared awareness that underpins successful reform.
Build shared platforms on which state and non-state actors can work together to re-engineer systems. Sustain them over the long periods needed to battle for systemic change.
Use open standards to foster interoperability, allowing networks of organizations to work together and achieve elevated rates of innovation and learning.
Develop a theory of influence tailored to the modern age and use it to bind together all the instruments of international relations (diplomacy, development, military).
Apply a rigorous principle of subsidiarity, devolving responsibilities to regional, national and local levels where possible, thus maximizing resilience throughout the system.
Use the opportunity to reform national governments, increasing their openness, while reducing the scope of their mission so that they do less, better.
Be accountable for outcomes, using shared metrics and external assessors to report publicly on whether resilience is increasing for those risks that will mean most to the future of our civilization.
If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is assault on women or children. Reading about and watching the horrible scenes from Xinjiang, when I see that mobs have attacked, beaten and in some cases murdered innocent people, any sympathy I have with their cause is extinguished.