Sid Tafler

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Is war inevitable? Is it a natural state of human affairs or an aberration, absent from our distant past and perhaps, our future as well?

Human history is splattered with blood. 160 million people died in dozens of wars in the 20th century alone.
Although armed conflict still dominates the headlines, fewer people are fighting and dying in wars. Apparently, there were fewer war deaths in the last decade than any other in the last 100 years.
Go way back to prehistory, and you see little if any evidence of war. The living sites of Stone Age people are remarkably free of mass graves, fortified sites and depictions of war on cave art. Also missing are images of shields, which always rise as defensive weapons when people are attacked with spears. We can't say for sure there was no warfare 20,000 or 50,000 years ago, just that there is little or no sign that there was.
So can we abolish war, just as we seek to abolish slavery or smallpox? Or will we still keep fighting each other to settle our differences, with ever-more sophisticated weapons and techniques?

  • Apr 10 2012: Heroism is central to the human condition. So is cowardice, so is war, so is fraternizing in the front ranks. But it's getting better. You're right, Sid (although are you sure about the pacifist "Stone Age"?) and so is Steven Pinker. Today is the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as we Canadians remember it. In that one battle, when Canada's population was less than a quarter of what it is today, 3,598 Canadian soldiers lost their lives. In one battle. Over the past ten years, the "war in Afghanistan" has claimed 158 Canadian soldiers' lives. Our hearts with their families, but hysteria is also central to the human condition.
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      Apr 10 2012: I saw SP on Colbert plugging the book. Good to hear that societies and nations are generally more peaceful now than ever.

      Tribalism, nationalism, religion, greed and old grievances still exist.

      Perhaps humans are moving in the right direction. But a long way to go.

      The tensions may increase as the global population grows and competition for oil, water, land, food, resources grow.

      Part of the more peaceful decades reflects the end of the cold war and peace due to US hegemony (except where they wanted a war or don't care). West Europe has grown tired of conflict and is more united.

      As China rises, perhaps tensions will increase as the US feels more challenged.
  • Apr 22 2012: Hubert - if you think of obvious simplistic “extraction” to the end of what is there” – of non-renewable resources -and still call that - "production” - there is no hope. Most people is in direct denial of a world "after oil" - only 1 or 2 human generations away – and if anyone want to burn oil and coal just to massing materialistic status junk – again there is no hope.

    Everywhere human have lived – in a micro-world – Vikings on Greenland, people on Easter Island etc – the base for life is always over-used all to destruction mainly for stupid status symbols – like Moai, castles, cathedrals and Pyramids. 300 years ago – the same destruction was imminent in Europe because land for food production was all used to capacity at the state of agriculture society as of then.

    Then exploration begun – opening up Americas, Australia and New Zeeland where the European overpopulation could move to avoid starvation. Europe turned industrial making tools needed for the immigrants. Now that period is past and all bankrupt. Americas and the whole world are now over-using and adding pollution to nature toward destruction in the name of “economics” simply meaning more money – disregarding that “being economic” actually mean “to use wisely – to preserve”. The fact is that any politician standing for “preserving nature” would be thrown out of office next day! Land – water and air pollution are destructive worldwide with CO2 as extra bonus. We know that melting out glaciers - now on way - will drown whole island countries - by raising ocean level. One month of 50 C in populated US and Canada - would take out every electric grid that can be constructed – then add the utter stupidity of the re-occurring “bubble financing” - not for high quality life - but status junk - and there is no hope. I will discontinue my time on TED – there is no hope for wisdom – only want.
  • Apr 12 2012: Everyone that thinks humans are basically peaceful and emphatic – should realize what would happen if police would disappear - or be routed out as in bullying hockey riots.

    War killings peaked in 2 world wars because of enormous number of soldiers and enormous size of battlefields. Today war combat is in limited areas, mechanized and with low number of soldiers. As result - war is now very ineffective and last double or triple times without closure one way or another. And - sadly - we cannot even stop bullying within families – bullying in schools - at work – within nations and between nations. We must realize that the human specie is programmed highly ego-centric; anybody and anything – incl. nature - “be damned” - to the bitter end. The only solution would be effective international law - valid inside every nation – and international police force and justice - powerful enough to enforce and deter against violations - worldwide. Killing 9,000 in Syria – or throwing acid in the face of a woman - is international crime against humanity – and so is the hysterical greed for materialistic status-junk now destroying the suitability for life on our planet Earth.

    CO2 on Earth was made low enough - for high forms of life - by being absorbed in primitive forms of life that now is out of circulation in oil and coal. Burning fossil fuel release CO2 as greenhouse gas that will increase Earth’s temperature toward that of - Venus 450C. "Drill Baby Drill" and we end up as on Venus - all life scorched to death. Is that what our greed are going to give our children and future generations? Homo Sapient? Sapience? Even a grand of wisdom in humans - we would learn from 3 disasters of overuse of limited resourses: Vikings on Greenland, Polynesians on Easter Island and Mutineers on Pitcarn Island. In those examples the means for live were used up in short time. We have now reached total limits of our planet - food, water and air - with increasing CO2 - the bitter end.
    • Apr 19 2012: Hi, May I introduce some doubt about your ideas of CO2.
      According to Wikipedia Venus has an atmosphere, consisting for almost 100% of CO2 and having a pressure of almost 100 bar at a 10% lower gravity than Earth. It means that on Venus a bit more than one million kilogram CO2 is resting on each square meter of its surface. Here on Earth we have only 4 kg/m2 CO2. Some century ago it was only some 2 kg/m2. This increase of 2 kg/m2 is blamed to have caused an increase of temperature of 0.5 °C.
      If CO2 has the greenhouse effect it is blamed for, then, taking in account that a) Venus is nearer to the Sun where the heat inflow from the Sun is twice the value here on Earth, b) the radiation outwards goes up with the fourth power of the absolute temperature, then the temperature on Venus should be far above 5,000 °C instead of some 500°C. And that means to me that CO2 is not the cause of global warming.
      I believe that the bottleneck is not food, water or air, but the price of fuel, that will disrupt the economy.
      • Apr 20 2012: Hi Hubert - all we need to know is that CO2 on Venus give 450 C atmosphere making life impossible there. Just question; “What rise in air temperature would destroy “life as we know it” on Earth. A raise of 5 Celsius would be total disaster for higher forms of life. Only a raise of 1 or 2 degree C would be severe. The size of arid deserts would increase to catastrophic level. Then - central USA and Canadian Prairies would be uninhabitable and large human migration to temperate land to live in would be as awful as Hitler’s “lebensraum” - east. In summer electric energy supply is over-strained worldwide from air conditioning that blackout is imminent – what would a slight increase in CO2 add in heat? Global warming is fact as known from the CO2 in air made life possible only in ocean until low life forms absorbed CO2 enough to lower air-temp that life on land becone possible. That same CO2 is now put back in air by burning fossil fuel - it is as clear cut as that. The ego-centric hysteria to gain wealth is using misnomers “Producing” and “Production” – when not 1 gram of oil or coal have been produced for millions of years! It is “extraction” – and extraction is not sustainable. Solution to CO2 can never be “to burn more” - with the now double whammy of overpopulation and hysterical conversion of natural recourses to quantity of status symbols – the same as Pyramids and putting up stone Moai on Easter Island - causing disaster - quality of real life "be damned". Our entire planet is now in “the Ester Island situation” with “hysteria for materialistic false quantity of life”. That is our stone Moai in disregard for quality of real life. Clean food, water and air is needed for life – deny that and what is left. Polluted and less food - polluted and less water - pollution and CO2 in air that is our problem. Lower price of fuel just steal life from future generations. Why not ask for real quality - not just dead quantity in human life? Questions for high quality life?
        • Apr 21 2012: Hi Sven
          In order to prevent misunderstanding, lets split the problem in separate parts.
          1. CO2 or carbon-dioxide. It may be difficult for you to believe, but the whole present CO2-hype is fake, bogus, lying, nonsense, cheating, or whatever word you want to use for spreading untruth. It is proven by Venus, twice influx of heat from the Sun as on Earth, over one million kg/m2 CO2 and a temperature of only 450 °C. On Earth they say that the increase of CO2 from 2 kg/m2 to 4 kg/m2 during the last century has caused an increase of temperature of 0.5 °C. If that would be true, then Venus should have a temperature well over 5,000 °C. Calculate it your self, look in Wikipedia for Stefan–Boltzmann law and “radiative power”.
          2. The global warming might be caused by a small but steady increase of the number of sunspots during the last 120 years. I'm not sure about that, I'm only sure that it is not caused by CO2, whatever All Gore and others may say. Nevertheless politicians continue to waste money on fighting the non-existing CO2 problem.
          3. You are completely right about the wasting of energy. I have worked long days at temperatures well over 50 °C and I never needed air conditioning. The same applies for our second house we use during the summers. The temperature there is usually well over 30°C and we have no airco nor need one.
          4. There real problem is the impossibility to increase the production of oil so it will keep up with the growth of the consumption. That did doubled the fuel prizes since 2010 and further prize increases will disable our economy. We should stop using nuclear power plants based on uranium-plutonium fuel because it is too expensive and too dangerous. Look for my comment on that at some other recent conversation.
          5. North America can produce more electric energy than needed without using any nuclear or fossil fuel, nor wind turbines or solar cells and without producing any pollution. Look for my post at a question from Khayam Arif
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    Apr 11 2012: Education is the key. Whenever there is conflict you have to ask who stands to benefit from the conflict. The person who benefits from the conflict is the one creating it. If everyone understood this the world would be calmer place as they would know right quick what to do before going off half cocked.

    As an example of this my brother was commenting that he quit listening to the news because whenever he would listen to the news he found himself getting angry. Who benefits from his anger? The Tv station as they sell more advertising when the sensationalistic crap goes out on the air waves. I might add I find myself feeling the same way when I listen to NPR.
  • Apr 10 2012: I'm reading Steven Pinker's 700 page book right now, and it's an incredible piece of work. His hypothesis that violence has declined dramatically is proven with countless lines of evidence, and every "kitchen table" truism about humans always being violent, wars will never end, etc, needs to be questioned and discarded.

    RH is completely right about war being choice. Pinker specifically contrast our defensive, aggressive nature with our "better angels" nature, and shows how a number of huge civilizational factors have steadily removed the need for us to choose the worse of our natures, and empower us to act form our better natures.

    The evidence is so compelling, I'd love it if his 700 pages could be condensed down to make it easy for everyone to understand the evidence.

    There's no "perhaps" that we are moving in the right direction - it's a trend that started 5,000 years go, when we started trading tribal life (where a third of all males die from an act of violence) for states and governance.

    (from wikipedia...) Peter Singer positively reviewed The Better Angels of Our Nature in The New York Times. Singer concludes: "[It] is a supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline."[6]
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      Apr 10 2012: Good points Guy. Perhaps in the future, historians will write
      that we had a few thousand aberrant years, with lots of war and killing,
      but many thousands of years before and after with very few wars.
      You can walk down the street or
      into a store in perhaps 99% of the villages, towns and neighbourhoods
      in the world and have nothing to fear.
      Some of us may be carnivores, most of us eat plants or animals, but I doubt it is in our
      nature to kill other humans. We are like wolves, efficient hunters and killers, but a wolf very rarely
      kills another wolf.
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    R H

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    Apr 10 2012: I personally feel war is a decision, and therefore a choice. Although we have an 'animal' nature and are prone to the same 'territorial' and 'survival' instincts of the rest of nature, we are above our basic drives because we have the intellectual capabilities of reason and consciousness. We can 'create' our world, not just react to it. This brings us to our 'other' nature, our societal connectedness, our regard for the benefits of love and collaberation and the synchronicities and synergies among the efforts of us all. Maybe someday, someday soon, we will as a group get to the mass realization that these aspects of our 'nature' are the ones best to dominate our actions for the benefit of each individual and each group. I don't think we can 'abolish' war from a rule or law or some other 'outside' control. People don't want to be 'controlled'. I think that only from the 'inside' of each individuall can we have that war is no longer a necessary, or desirable, option.
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    Apr 10 2012: War (or anything that is the cause of substantial human death and suffering), is a kind of Ctrl-Alt-Delete for humanity. When society crashes, war enables a restart.

    It is perhaps a sad reflection of our nature that we seem inclined only to respond positively to the aftermath of disaster, rather than responding positively beforehand via considered and enlightened politics and education.
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    Apr 10 2012: Like Ed said

    Troy was taken because of economics rather than Helens looks.I think in the future we will see more acts of seemingly mindless acts of sudden violence.Rage and lynch mobs with no real target like that of those two young white men who killed 5 black people in the states this week? I have seen the young men in our country go up for GBH,they get together on a friday or saturday and drink very fast then they cruise the streets looking for a lone person and attack him.

    This is a common practice that has no real reason behind it other than a person that has suffered a great loss and has gone out to drown there sorrows and without realizing it but not stopping it, is looking for rage release.I've seen this in our young and the figures for this type of crime is on the rise.
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    Apr 10 2012: So long as one person has something someone else wants there will be war. Someone will always want something someone else has. Thus,so long as there are people war is inevitable.
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    Apr 10 2012: I highly recommend Steven Pinker's "the better angels of our nature" on the subject. It makes a compelling argument that increasing globalization and interconnectedness has expanded the size of our respective tribe to the extent that we recognize ourselves and our common humanity in the 'other' and therefore increasingly abhor warfare. The fact that little evidence exists to support the existence of organized violence prior to civilization has more to do with the absence of organization than it does the absence of violence, I believe.
    Mankind has never had a greater capacity to destroy itself, but also has never had less large-scale violence in it's history. I profess no expertise in the subject, but let's all hope that it's war itself, and not mankind the bringer of war, that becomes extinct.