Blog Four- Chimpanzees and Warfare

The intergroup, violent conflict present in chimpanzees was covered in its own assigned article, and touched upon in several of the other assigned learning materials. The assigned article attempted to extrapolate observed behavior surrounding, occurring in, and leading up to, chimpanzee violent conflict to humans. The article, What Is War Good for? Ask a Chimpanzee, attempts to explain the root of the reason for the existence of conflict as the result of fission-fusion society organization; but this explanation is far too small in scale, and attempts to paint a social organization structure as the cause of conflict, rather than considering the patterns of nature itself.

Many of the oldest texts mankind has in its possession reference or entail warfare. It is clear, both from textual and archeological evidence, that war has been a major part of mankind’s’ history. This is unsurprising when one considers the real aim of warfare: defense or attainment of resources. To blame social fission-fusion societies, while acknowledging the gain in resources, and benefits attributed to said resources, as the Slate article does, is an attempt to shift explanation from a biological imperative, to a social factor. This is, yet again, a political motive, used to justify social reorganization and artificial social construction through an attempted socially-focused casual explanation of all negatively-perceived components of human civilization. The reality is, humans have warfare because it is highly beneficial to the victor. Just as in chimpanzees. As long as there is competition over resources, and the benefits justifiably outweigh the perceived costs, there will be warfare.

To causally explain violent, organized conflict in primates primarily through their social structure, is to ignore the, much more human-like, conflict in another species. Ants will exterminate competing ant colonies in massive wars, that are the closest behavior resembling human warfare on earth. They do this to either defend their own territorial resources, or to gain access to the resources the other colony is exploiting. Is fission-fusion social organization the cause of ant warfare? Clearly not. Yet, ants in their social organization are seemingly much more like modern people than chimps; the massive size of the group, the task distribution, and the hierarchy are all much more akin to human civilization than chimpanzee foraging groups are. But, even when considering ancient human hunter-gatherer groups that more resembled chimpanzee groups, the evidence demonstrates that regular, violent conflict over resource access still was the rule. According to archeologist, professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, and author, Lawrence H. Keeley, 90 to 95 percent of known human societies engaged in war, and those that did not were either very isolated, or, protected by a larger state.

To propose a different cause than resource access for modern wars is to be ignorant of their roots and realities. The wars fought today are fought for the exact same purpose. The difference is that the populations must be lied to through propaganda to justify the war, and the manner in which the wars are fought, along with their supposed causes, may be much more convoluted. For example, The Congo has been utilized as a sort of resource-buffet for powerful nations since Africa was colonized. The Belgians became very rich from the resources found there. Today, however, it is the United States and Canada that primarily benefit from the cheap metal obtained in the Congo. Mining cobalt, copper, tantalum, gold and tin, is vastly cheaper than in Canada, where many of these same metals also exist in abundance. It would seem cheaper to mine in one’s own country, rather than set up an operation on another continent, however, because of the violent conflicts that have raged in the Congo since its independence, there are very few regulations, let alone enforced regulations, to speak of. This makes mining there cost a miniscule amount compared to somewhere there are strict, enforced regulations. Extracting these metals for such a vastly lowered cost then allows them to be sold for a much lower cost, this, in turn, allows the products they are used in to be sold very inexpensively in comparison to what they would cost, were the cheap, conflict enabled, metals not available.

The main products these metals are used in are consumer electronics. The affordable laptop you are reading this on, the free iPhone you got with an upgrade, these things only exist at the price they do because of the exploitation of conflicts in countries like the Congo. American citizens’ desire and demand to purchase and use such electronics, among many other goods, but only at a certain price, justifies our government’s polices that enable, sustain, and prolong the small scale wars occurring all over the less developed world. The prices you are willing to, and do, pay, are the result of a conflict somewhere else in the world, because without such resource access, the prices would be “too high”. The United States may not “openly” fight wars to gain access to resources any longer, but, be most assured, we do regularly and systematically create and enable wars, which are then fought by other groups, that we then utilize to gain access to resources.

Chimps would be amazed if they could comprehend the complexity, and obscurity, our warfare has attained. But the chimps, as they are, do understand and value the same end: access to, and the benefits from accessing, resources. This is the cause of conflict between microbes, ants, monkeys, lions, alligators, humans, and all biological organisms. War, is nothing more than the result of larger numbers of individuals, and their cooperative organization, being utilized in the conflict of resource access.

3 thoughts on “Blog Four- Chimpanzees and Warfare

  1. Hey Michael!
    I really liked your blog post, it was very insightful. I too wrote my blog post about warfare, because it is very interesting to think about where war came from. I think war is a good example of how our social structures are similar to those of chimps. I liked how you mention that war for chimps then and war for us now are both about attaining resources. I thought it was spot on when you said wars are still for that purpose even if people do not think so. I think that war is always for a selfish reason, because every group feels entitled to the most and the best resources. The United States is of no exception to this, and I like how you brought that in as an example. Overall, I think that warfare is a great example of how similar we really are to chimps. Anyway, great blog post!

  2. I see your point that warfare can not only be explained through fission-fusion societal organization. If that was the only case then there should be less warfare in a sense. However the point you made that there was more and this more was the possibility of attaining resources makes sense. If a group of humans, primates or even ants are attempting to attain a resource that is of value to them. This valuable resource whether it be more territory, or access to minerals while certainly outweigh any possible losses that could happen while attempting to attain that resource of interest. I can see how this would be a greater motive for any species to push them into warfare with other competing groups. The idea of having more will outweigh the current situation of having less.

  3. Hi Michael,
    Thank you for your well thought out and written blog in response to the ways in which non-human primates provide information about human evolution. You made several excellent points and observations throughout your blog. I was also intrigued by the article What Is War Good for? Ask a Chimpanzee. I would agree with your assertion that organized violence exists within human and chimp social groups due to the risk/reward that it offers. You made excellent use of examples including the information about ants, the research of Lawrence Keeley and the exploitation of Congo. Once again, this was an excellent blog post.

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