A science of peace is entirely possible and unquestionably necessary

"Today ending war is necessary for the survival of humanity, yet those who perpetuate war control the society, government, military, corporations, many universities, and most of the money. What do we have on ours side? The truth. Contrary to wide believed myths, it is not true that human beings are naturally violent. It is not true that war is inevitable. It is not true that war protects our way of life and makes us safe. ... We can talk about how tragic war is, but unless we question its underlying assumptions and challenge its prevailing myths, war will continue." (Paul K. Chappell, West Point graduate and ex U. S. Army Captain; from Peaceful Revolution: How We can Create the Future Needed for Humanity's Survival)

Cooperation is not "merely a thin moral veneer over an otherwise nasty biology" (Frans de Waal, 2013)

" ... I believe only we are capable of true calculated evil." (Jane Goodall, 2013)

I've written a number of essays about the importance of cooperation, fairness, compassion, and empathy in the evolution of social behavior in human and nonhuman animals (animals). Now, a new book edited by Douglas Fry titled War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views and an interdisciplinary meeting called "Obstacles and Catalysts of Peaceful Behavior" to be held next week at the Lorentz Center in Leiden, The Netherlands, show clearly that a science of peace is possible and that war is neither a human universal nor an ancient or an evolved adaptation.

This Leiden gathering is strongly international and the program can be found here. I'll be talking about social reciprocity, conflict resolution, and peacemaking in nonprimates and the importance of social play, following up on a book I wrote with my colleague and Psychology Today writer Jessica Pierce, called Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. Many animals work hard to cooperate to play fairly. And, the basic rules for fair play in animals (see also) also apply to humans, namely ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you're wrong. When the rules of play are violated, and when fairness breaks down, so does play and peace.

Professor Fry's wide ranging and encyclopedic book is truly a landmark compendium and a myth-buster, a must read, that deserves very close attention. The 27 chapters written by leading biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, geologists, and others are incorporated into six parts called Ecological and Evolutionary models, Lessons from Prehistory: War and Peace in the Past, Nomadic Foragers: Insights about Human Nature, The Primatological Context of Human Nature, Taking Restraint against Killing Seriously, and a Conclusion titled "Cooperation for Survival: Creating a Global Peace System. The amount of information and the documentation and references are staggering. The contributors and complete Table of Contents can be seen here

Cooperation is not "merely a thin moral veneer over an otherwise nasty biology"

In his Foreword to Professor Fry's book, renowned primatologist Frans de Waal writes: " ... the evidence that we have always waged war is rather thin." Professor de Waal goes on to discuss the importance of research on topics such as reconciliation, conflict resolution, empathy, and friendships in nonhuman animals. He also notes that while we do need to be concerned with human aggression, this concern "needs to be balanced with that other potential that we have, which is to make peace, get along, and develop societies based on cooperation. The idea that this is not part of human nature, that it is merely a thin moral veneer over an otherwise nasty biology, is massively contradicted by the contributions assembled here." Professor de Waal's new book that's also sitting on my desk called The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates covers some of the same material as War, Peace, and Human Nature including the biological origins of human fairness. He'll be speaking in Leiden on primate empathy and prosocial ("voluntary behavior intended to benefit another") tendencies. 

While it should be noted that other animals do indeed fight with one another and on occasion seriously harm and kill one another, their behavior is predominantly prosocial. They are not as evil as we are and we should not be blaming them for our destructive ways. Robert W. Sussman, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues Paul A. Garber and Jim Cheverud, reported in 2005 in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology that for many nonhuman primates, more than 90 percent of their social interactions are affiliative rather than competitive or divisive (see also Origins of Altruism and Cooperation and essays in Professor Fry's book).

In a recent interview in response to the question "How does chimp behavior help us better understand human behavior?" world renowned researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall answered, "Well, the part that always shocked me was the inter-community violence among the chimps: the patrols and the vicious attacks on strangers that lead to death. It’s an unfortunate parallel to human behavior—they have a dark side just as we do. We have less excuse, because we can deliberate, so I believe only we are capable of true calculated evil."

A few more teasers that you'll find in War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. In his chapter called "An Ethological Perspective on War and Peace", psychobiologist and co-organizer of the Leiden meeting Peter Verbeek who coined the term "peace ethology" notes, "... we go to war not because we are naturally driven to do so, but because we choose to do so. A choice for war is linked to overcoming fear and empathy, and it is critically important to understand what biological, social-learning, and cultural factors take us there." Richard Hughbank and Dave Grossman, both of whom are retired from the U. S. military, write about the challenge of getting men to kill. It's not easy to get people to kill other people. Recall also the quotation above from ex-U. S. Army Captain Paul Chappell's excellent book called Peaceful Revolution: How We can Create the Future Needed for Humanity's Survival.

Following Mr. Chappell's line of thinking about how ending war is necessary for the survival of humanity, in his concluding chapter called "Cooperation For Survival" Professor Fry writes, "Human survival requires that nation-states give up the institution of war and replace it with a cooperatively-functioning global peace system - for the well-being and security of all people everywhere." Amen.

I hope that Professor Fry's book, the discussions at the Leiden meeting, and Paul Chappell's words will truly make us deeply reflect on the new paradigm, the science of peace, that is sorely needed and entirely possible. Let's not ignore our kind and beneficent nature. 

What were wars?

"[The abolition of war] is no longer an ethical equation to be pondered solely by learned philosophers and ecclesiastics, but a hard-core one for the decision of the masses whose survival is the issue ... We must have sufficient imagination and courage to translate this universal wish for peace - which is rapidly becoming a universal necessity - into actuality!" (General Douglas MacArthur, 1961; quoted in Paul K. Chappell, 2012)

Let's give peace the attention and chance it truly deserves. Nothing will be lost and much will be gained. Cooperation, empathy, and peace will prevail if we allow them to. We do not have to choose to go to war. Let's hope that future generations will seriously ask, "What were wars?", and that we stop justifying them because war is inevitable, because "that's who we are".

We do not have to go to war. 

The teaser image can be seen here.  


Chappell, Paul K. 2012. Peaceful Revolution: How We can Create the Future Needed for Humanity's Survival. Easton Studio Press. Westport, Connecticut. 

Note: Just after posting this essay I saw a report of a very rare attack on an alpha male chimpanzee who was beaten to death by subordinate group members. 

Most Recent Posts from Animal Emotions

Lab Chimpanzees Headed to Sanctuary Despite Lobbying Efforts

A disturbing dispute over lab chimpanzees' retirement to Chimp Haven

For the Love of a Ball: Dogs as Conservation Biologists

Dogs have been a great benefit for answering many questions and they enjoy it

Homo Denialus: Mice Aren't Animals, Climate Change Is Real

Humans are incredibly adept at denying anything we choose to oppose