Were Our Ancestors Violent or Peaceful?
Last night, doing some chores, I was listening to Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature:
Recent finds in anthropology and archaelogy, however, have proven beyond a shadow of the doubt that our ancestors (going back tens of thousands of years, well before civilization) engaged in warfare that was as murderous and brutal as anything in the present. They were hardly peaceful. — Robert Greene
Less than 20 minutes later, I was reading from John A. Cahman’s C.G. Jung and the Crisis in Western Civilization, in which he writes:
The archaeological evidence, the studies of hunter-gatherer societies existing in modern times, and the studies of the behavior of our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, suggest that early humans were egalitarian and relatively peaceful. — John A. Cahman
It’s rare for me to encounter two such diametrically opposed ideas in such a short period of time, especially when both claim the backing of the latest and best research and science.
It begs the question, which one of them is right?
And the answer of course, is neither, and both.
Both authors, erudite as they may be, are seeking to establish precedent to legitimize their world view.
Greene is arguing for the status quo. Cahman for some form of social evolution.
They’re both looking backwards in order to say, see, this is how we are.
Both are right, and both are wrong. There’s enough history, and pre-history, to build a case in either direction. And while I’m all in favor of learning as much about history as we can, our past does not define us.
I’m not convinced that humanity is going to survive the next 100 years. Our experiments with burning carbon for energy have brought us to the brink of disaster. But they’ve also given us the internet, huge libraries of salient information, and fast, cheap travel. And all of that has turned our species into something we’ve never been before. A species with perspective.
And because we now have the ability to get perspective on ourselves and our place in the cosmos, it doesn’t matter where we’ve been.
If we can survive the hardships ahead, we now have to wisdom and skills to become something even better than we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine.