What we do in life echoes in eternity” From Ridley Scott classic film, The Gladiator (2002). Spoken by the film’s hero, Maximus who plays the Gladiator.
Warrior tribes are traditionally egalitarian with no political hierarchy and no social pecking order; individuals as a result of a coup or a personal challenge form them where they have forcibly taken control of several groups that are organised together. In contrast, a state has a political hierarchy with a subordinate political group and power is transferred or taken by coercive strategies, any power obtained by a political group usually has a limited period of time that it can be held for, unlike a dictatorship that has no set time limit. A tribal leader that takes control usually has to fight or use deception to unseat the current ruler. In general, conflict between tribes or states are conducted for one very basic reason “predation” The act of predation involves plundering and marauding known today as ‘war’ in order to hunt, kill or gain resources, that in turn gave the victor an evolutionary advantage in being able to spread their genes into a wider population.
To some individuals today, the idea of war in any form is repugnant. However, evolutionary psychologists would argue that war is a necessary process to single out and eradicate weak genes in favour of the strongest gene. Warrior traits like those within the women warriors of Dahomey discussed above, would have been passed from generation to generation and in doing so ensured the survival of the gene.
In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976) clearly creates a difference between the gene and the human organism, his main theme is that the organisms are designed by genes for the sole purpose of enabling the genes to reproduce themselves. By creating this divide, between the human organism and the gene, he allows for an understanding that the gene is the dominant part of this relationship and has a ruthless selfishness that underpins the physical and psychological processes of homeo-sapiens and to this end, war is a clear and definitive way of ensuring natural selection.
Humans are, along with all animals on the planet, survival machines and when one individual comes upon another in competition over resources, one may well hit back. An idea to keep in mind while considering if human behaviour or some mental trait is an evolutionary adaptation that is being driven by genes and evolution, is a simple question, is it in the genetic interest of the human organism? For example, is it in the genetic interest of an individual to band together with another individual, creating a tribe, to make war on another tribe of individuals? It matters not if the tribes are the aggressors intending to expand their territory and resources or protect their resources.
On the question of rape, is it again in the genetic interest of a man to rape a women and spread his genetic blueprint? I am not for a second supporting this behaviour, however there is a clear difference between what we now know as evolutional behaviour and a moral code by which the majority of humans live. There is an argument that has been put forward by evolutional psychologist that this behaviour supports human existence.
Local groups banding together make up tribes. In the past, any small group that came together for the purposes of warfare would have been classified as a tribe and villages, settlements or large families could all have created this type of unit. A region that was being threatened by an aggressive tribe would have had good reason to form a tribe, based on mutual associations for the benefit of everyone. They would have been better aligned to protect their women, children, livestock, buildings, homes and farming produce, all of which supports their survival and reproduction. In some cases, a tribe may have consisted of a very large village that had a lot to protect. Tribes were a more effective way for a large population to be successful in warfare, with warriors within the group being escalated to high levels of status. The status of a warrior within a tribe gave them more access to resources, which would include women, food and shelter.
A warrior, although genetically predisposed for violence, would not engage another warrior just for the sake of it. As humans living within a social environment, all individuals have the capacity for violence. They have evolved in the same manner and warriors are not, as common belief would have it, blood thirsty or have a death wish. They do not go around indiscriminately attacking members of their own species for glory. How would any survival machine know that the survival machine that they are attacking is not as strong and mentally equipped as they are.
They have the same chances as any other individual, they may have the same weapons and be skilled in their use. This potential likelihood of injury or death by randomly attacking another member of your own species is a very strong natural selective process, which predisposes an individual to be careful and weigh heavily on the thought of combat and if the potential benefits are worth the risk and outweigh the expected cost. As a species, humans are among the most intelligent to walk the earth and therefore have the capacity to consider if their genetic inheritance will be enhanced by the use of violence, with the warrior who is at the sharp end of the stick taking all the risk.
In a remarkable book by Hobbs The Leviathan (1660) in the chapter “Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery” he talks about men being equal in faculties of body and mind, that on occasion some men can be stronger and quicker in mind. However, in general when taken together any man can claim what another has, the weakest of men has strength enough to kill a stronger man, this can be achieved by deception and entrapment or by association with others that may also be at risk of threat from the stronger man or tribe.
Hobbs goes on to also consider the strength of mind, which arguably is the more potent of traits when it comes to domination and war stating “I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share” Men therefore seem to have a trait that allows for violence and war, one which is inherited and shows itself when two men or an opposing tribe want the same thing, when this situation arises they become mortal enemies, locking onto a path that eventually leads to either one destroying or subduing another.
Tribes are the vehicles that allow men to obtain dominance and resources over other men and within tribes warriors arise; they step up to the challenge and grow in stature and character. Hobbs goes on to identify three causes of conflict between men and the effects of such a cause “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name” From these words we can gain a sense of the motivations, traits and character that define a warrior and the reasons that drive them into action, for competition, diffidence and glory.
Competition between humans has always been a part of the genetic blueprint and is also found in the majority of other animal species. Men compete for the right to take a women, to own land which is better than the next man, to obtain food, water or fuel from the earth, all of which enables the individual that owns these to out-produce his competitors, produce more healthy children and pass these traits onto future generations. Diffidence is not so well known, why would a warrior pit himself against something that he has a fear of or is unfamiliar with? According to Hobbs it’s safety! Defending one’s own family or others that help support your family against an unknown assailant is as natural as going to war to increase your resources, the survival machine has this defense automatically built into its genetic blueprint.
The idea that humans are genetically encoded for violence and war to some, will seem like some science fiction film depicting the invasion of earth by aliens, the logic is plain when viewed from the genes point of view, having only one aim for millions of years, replicate, replicate, replicate, at all cost replicate.
The behaviour of humans throughout history has supported the action of war and the development of the warrior spirit, it can be found in the architecture of our structures, the development of our technology, the words and language used to communicate with. One of the great wonders of the world today is the Great Wall of China, built to protect a people from invading warriors with no aim other than to conquer and dominate the lands and the people therein. Although this structure is vast, it is no different from the forts and castles of old or the doors we lock when sleeping for the night, left over behaviours from our ancient past.
Today it’s not the tribal band or warring village that invade our fears, although terrorism carried out by a few fanatical individuals has created an indulgence in the act of protection and the lengths that some will go to protect their borders in order to feel safe. No, today it’s states and countries, especially those ran by individual dictators who seem bent on gaining as much power as they can that we fear, what has been done to protect us from these countries? Humans have used their intelligence to develop technologies that can build weapons of mass destruction, satellites that orbit the earth to spy on their neighbours, a far cry away from the days of our past, but still this behaviour is imbedded in the way mankind has evolved and the mechanism that helped drive this evolution.
The ancient past of humans is a far cry away from where we are now, back then, nature had set in motion a behaviour that was to forever mould the future of mankind. In our ancient history men were wired for aggression and violence and to all intent and purposes were living in a perpetual state of anarchy, it is from this historical majeure that warriors were born.
Becoming a Warrior
War has been the ultimate mechanism in which a warrior learnt their path, the journey and the methods used to create warriors differed depending on the culture. The Maasai people of Eastern Africa are a Nilotic group that migrated from the Nile region, they are pastoralists, which is a social and economic system based on the herding and trading of livestock. Great value is placed on cattle that are used as a currency to settle most issues that arise in the community. They are also well known for their warrior men, who are raised with the sole intention of becoming a warrior. They live for the majority of their lives outside the main tribe and are not permitted to marry until they are older and have become an elder of the group.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Publishers, Oxford University Press.
Hobbes, T. (1660) Chapter – Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery. The Leviathan. Accessed on 10-12-13 @ http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html