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Free «Human Nature and War Problem» Essay Sample


Psychologists, philosophers and sociologists alike have engaged in many debates as to whether there exist vicious “war-like” impulses as something that naturally is a part of human nature. There are always many questions arising concerning war. For example, is there something natural, innate and irritating in man’s genetic composition waiting for the opportune moment to be unleashed in devastating and destructive manner? Are humans “hard-wired” with the urge to obliterate others prior to any sort of aggravation? Seeking answers to the above questions calls for a critical analysis of various theories presented to explain the cause of violent behavior. There are various ways in which war is defined, but simply put it is a conflict involving two or more parties such as nations, schools and ideologies. Alternatively, human nature is the “summation of characteristics and qualities common to all humans” and it entails all things that are natural and do not rely on manmade limitations. Establishing what causes war largely depends on philosophical views on free will and determinism. In essence, if war is due to human choice, then there are three combinations of causation: cultural, biological and reason (Moseley, 2010). On the other hand, if human conducts are beyond their control, then what causes war is inescapable and irrelevant. There are two distinctive international relations theorists who have differed over two fundamental premises concerning violence. The nature theorists argue that violence or war is inherent to human nature while the cognitive theorists are of the opinion that human violence is a learned behavior.



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This essay will analyze, in details, the views of both the human nature and the cognitive theorists while drawing examples from particular individuals on either side of the debate. After establishing the parallels between these two opposing sides concerning war and human nature, I will draw the line to express my support for the human nature theorists because I strongly believe that “violence and aggression are basic human traits” (Moseley, 2010).

The Human Nature Theorists

The human nature theorists believe that violence is inherent to humans and the state, which is made up of particular geographic group of people, which becomes a vessel for which those violent impulses are directed. An appropriate framework to explore the link between human nature and war is offered by Thomas Hobbes. He presents a comprehensive explanation concerning the state of nature where the “underlying” or “true” nature of people is likely to take the lead within our attention. Hobbes states that without the external authority to enforce regulations, the state of nature would be one of looming conflict (Moseley, 2010). It means that, “during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man (Leviathan, 1.13)” as quoted by Moseley (2010).

Hobbes’s opinion is a very important point of origin for debates on man’s natural tendencies and many of the renowned philosophers such as Kant, Rousseau and Locke, who followed him, and agreed in one way or another with illustrations. Even though Locke rejects the idea of “complete warlike state and total anarchic state”, he agrees that there will always be groups who will take advantage of the lack of enforcement and regulations. On the other hand, Rousseau thinks that man is naturally peaceful, but in addition, he adds that within internationals politics nations must be aggressive to avoid war. This further justifies the violent human nature. Finally, Kant illustrates that the innate conflict involving men and later between nations forces humanity to seek partnership and peace.

Steven Pinker is a research and cognitive psychologist who believes that conflict is inherent to human nature. However, he adds that man has no inherent temperaments and talents due to the fact that his or her mind is totally shaped by the environment, culture, society and parenting. This is entailed in his doctrine “The Blank Slate” where he adds that environment is not everything that shape behavior (Smith, 2002). Pinker bases his arguments on the important role of genetics in human actions in line with researchers’ indications that different cultures share many behavioral characteristics ranging from vowel contrasts to violence, affection to aesthetics and verbs to anthropomorphization (Smith, 2002).

Pinker explains that there are other factors such as brain development, culture and genetics that have a greater influence than parenting as opposed to the belief of many people. In his theory of “The Noble Savage”, he points how people respect natural and distrust man-made things. For instance, the value they place on natural medicine and natural child birth is a good indicator that violence is natural among people (Pinker, 2011). As a cognitive specialist, Pinker argues that some brain systems could incline us towards aggression, however “other parts of the brain like the frontal lobe executive systems can aid restrain to such disposition. Pinker gives an example of a study that established that up to 60 % of women and 80% of men have considered killing someone, but only a very small percentage carries out the act (Pinker, 2011).

In the book, “Crime and Human Nature”, James Q. Wilson gives his thoughts on the possible causes of war and crime. Even though the book was controversial at the time of its release, it has proved a vital text in explaining the causes of crime and violent behavior especially in America. First of all, Wilson with his co-author Herrnstein think that constitutional (biological) factors, aggravated by poor parenting play a major role in criminal and violent behavior. Mesomorph body type, which is expressed as heavily built, fat or muscular and especially shorter than usual is inclined to crime. Indeed criminals and violent people are tremendously mesomorphs with a small prominence towards roundness (endomorphism) as opposed to lean build (ectomorphism) (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985). Stereotypes of crime support this claim and the examples they give are convincing, for instance, Tony Soprano and John Gotti (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985).

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Age is another factor that determines crime. According to Wilson, criminals are primarily young people. He explains that crime starts from 16-25 years and commences to diminish from thereon; moreover, violent crime starts from 24-28 years of age. The reason of this is young people have little finances, and they are more concerned with immediate satisfaction and have “shorter time horizons” (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985). On the other hand, sex is a major determinant and one will not deny that more men engage in criminal activities than women. Since, men are more belligerent than women.

Wilson argues that intelligence also affects crime and violent behavior. People with low levels of intelligence, especially the verbal component, are more inclined to criminal activities. Low intelligence people perceive the future as a far way destination, hence it will take them longer time to achieve some things and they take a long time to grasp moral ideologies. In the end they decide to live for the moment (Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985).

Lastly, Wilson points out that personality is a major determinant of crime, likewise many studies that have been carried out show that criminals vary in personality. They tend to be unafraid, extroverted, impulsive, aggressive and assertive than others. On the other hand, their socialization ability is poor and they show little respect for others feelings.

Wilson and Herrnstein conclude by stating that these constitutional factors are also a result of pitiable pre-natal care other than being purely hereditary. They appreciate that genes incline an individual towards violence and reinforcing the traits by some environmental factors could also lead to criminal behavior.

John G. Stoessinger is an expert in global diplomacy and has a deep understanding of international politics and conflicts. In his book, “Why Nations Go to War”, he explores the reasons behind conflicts among nations in modern times, citing examples of modern wars and their causes. He uses ten case studies from World War I to the current times and insists that the main cause is the personality of respective leaders who lead their nations into war. This shows a clear indication that war is inherent in man because the personality is a part of the constitutional factors as discussed by Wilson. Stoessinger describes war as “sickness” and believes that it might stay with mankind till death. Surprisingly, there is no country that started a major war in this century and has claimed victory. The outbreak of conflict is due to the characters of leaders in such country, for instance, Saddam Hussein was an aggressive man, leading to war in Iraq.  

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Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz also adds his understanding of this debate concerning war and human nature. He says, “The destructive intensity of the aggressive drive that propels us to war is mankind’s hereditary evil, and its evolutionary origins can be sought in tribal conflict” (Heneghan, 2012). Most importantly, we should not employ the strong terms used by Lorenz in order to describe the origin of war. He terms war as hereditary; endorsing the fact that violent is inherent to mankind. In the Early Stone Age period, Intra-tribal clashes came at a cost, disbanding populations and  selecting   the powerful ones, particularly with the aim to defend the family. However, in the current times, man has overcome most of his environmental hindrances, however, not for the better part serving as prey items or starving. The society is now armed with dangerous weapons, putting communities at a greater risk. Natural behavior earlier was referred to as “militant enthusiasm” which has now changed to pathological (Heneghan, 2012).

The analysis of Lorenz concerning war and human nature was based on studying a various species of animals. Lorenz makes various significant hypotheses such as: “behaviors come in constellations of instinctive activities called fixed action patterns; these get released by specific stimuli; the behaviors should be regarded as adaptive response shaped evolutionary forces; the adoption of certain behaviors can be phase specific occurring at certain life stages – for instance, imprinting where young Graylag goslings instinctively mimic their parents, even if the parent is substituted by Lorenz himself” (Heneghan, 2012).

Michael Ghiglieri is a great anthropologist that insists that war is inherent to human nature. He considers that war rivals sex for merit of being the most important progression in human evolution. Ghiglieri argues that not wars have shaped geopolitical borders and stretched ideologies and currently a third of the world’s nations are engaged in conflicts, almost twice as much as during the Cold War Era (Ghiglieri & Bilmes, 2000).

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Ghiglieri has spent a lot of time studying the causes of male violence in the society. In his book, “In the Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence”, he discusses male violence using statistical evidence and the core of his argument is that violence is a deeply-rooted behavioral approach, particularly among men, that basically emerges when other approaches fail. On the other hand, he appreciates that socialization and culture play significant parts in promoting violence but maintains that evolutionary and powerful biological forces are the key factors, therefore, ignoring them is “the single most useless--and dangerous--approach one could take in trying to explain human violence” (Ghiglieri & Bilmes, 2000).

Cognitive/Peace Studies Theory

A theory is a set of consistent statements that provide a clarification for a set of trials. Cognitive theory is a field of psychology that tries to explain the behavior of human beings by understanding the thinking processes. The main idea is that human beings are logical and make decisions that make most sense to them individually, thus it is a learning theory and process. People learn by observing others and in most cases they would follow behaviors of those they know. This learning leads to modification of behavior.  Therefore, this theory looks at how thoughts have or will influence the way human beings interact and understand the world. This theory was developed by Jean Piaget who was a Swiss psychologist, who said that humans learn concepts through their cognitive abilities and compares it to the development stages of a child. Beliefs and values affect people’s thinking and how they tackle problems. This can alter the way one views reality and interacts with other people in everyday life. Human violence according to this theory can be either learned or unlearned, therefore not instinctual in any way thus cognitive clash can play a major part in elimination and start of conflict, as discussed by various theorists.

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Humans are equally inclined to commit an offence owing to ties to the society and others that posses the said criminal behavior. Punishment for this violence is in most cases insignificant thus providing an incentive for one to commit crime just because it is pleasurable. Men find it beneficial and enhance relationship as compared to women views on committing the same sin. According to Floyd, a robber makes a lot of decisions before committing the act and none of these thoughts are associated with the robbery and he or she has an option to continue robbing or stop. It shows that crime can be reversed by simply unlearning the act.

According to Zinn, crime and violence does not come from our own nature to commit the wrong, neither by the urge to commit the felony or murder, but crime is learned simply because we are taught to commit the offence in question. He goes on to say that if it was by nature to do wrong then there would be no need to draft and prepare for war. A person to commit violence has to be convinced about his actions. Before the World Wars leaders would hold talks around the states in order to bring up the mood of war by telling that it is a noble thing to do and youths should join the movements, however if it was human nature to do an offence then there would be no need to go through all this hustle for people in preparation for war. Therefore, war does not begin because the people demand it but the leaders, who in turn prepare the masses for warfare. Lack of evidence does not allow to conclude that the crime happens because of human nature, it is like telling to the poor that they are poor because of their own faults but not because they live in a society that has in adequate distribution of wealth (dsandeford,  2006).

Every species has a built mechanism of resisting killing its own kind, like piranha will show teeth to any other thing but when two piranhas fight they flick their tails, mankind has a similar resistance but we are also efficient in overcoming this resistance, says Grossman. When a man kills another man the quilt tears them apart unless they are told that it was the right thing to do , if not so the trauma builds up to dangerous stages. Grossman gives an example about the soldiers, most of them who go to battle do not do what they do in the field for medals but for their friends, family, country and when they come back home and receive medals, participate in parades and feel warm acceptance that indicate that what they did was right, and everybody honors the actions - this is just a way to deal with the post traumatic stress of killing (AllanGregg, 2012). After the World War II, it was realized that most of the veterans at war did not shoot in order to kill because it was difficult to shoot a fellow human being in cold blood, thus there was a need in strategies to help to teach a man to kill. One has to learn how to kill a fellow man by making it a condition response with mechanisms like demonizing the enemy. Slogans like “what makes the grass go greener” soldiers would answer “blood - blood,” eventually it helps to resist that killing is bad and to start associating it with pleasure.

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 Studies have shown that chimpanzees are extremely aggressive to mean that their closest relative human being is also violent by nature, but if this was remotely true then there would be a rise in bullying, warfare and domestic abuse, argues Fry. If violence is a major part of our nature then this hostility needs to be shaped by evolution and there is need for evidence that man constantly relies on violence as compared to other behaviors to socially succeed. Archeological records show no conclusive evidence of aggression until very recent, and this change of stand is closely associated with settlement patterns, social structure and politics among others. Therefore, aggression is not our primary behavior as successful being and there is no evidence to show that man has evolved aggression traits and that we can tackle social problems without violence.

Interaction plays a big part in cognitive learning. Unlawful conduct is learned through interaction with others. Crime as a behavior is learned through norms and sanctions. Through this social interaction one tries to imitate others. The process of learning is influenced by specific stimulus and through positive and negative reinforcements. This behavior is maintained by the immediate environment and social sanctions within that society, for that reason reward and punishment depends with the behavior of the perpetrator. One takes some time to learn to commit an offense, and it is therefore, not a difficult task to unlearn (Bruner 1966).

According to Kahan, crimes occur when one learns certain cognitions from others in social group and eventually consider criminal offenses as constructive compared to the noncriminal. A number of people take up stealing just because of the motivation; a way to  get hold of goods without  working for them, moreover, the penalties are often  lenient unless it was theft with violence. In light of this, it is easy to argue that one would steal just because he or she learned it from his or her immediate environment, including the benefits that in most cases overweigh the punishments.

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Breaking the law is normally controlled by the consequences. The situation when a person is caught and punished almost every time does not occur too often, but the immediate reward is making crime too attractive for one to commit (Kanazawa, 2002). 

Findings from the film, “Soldiers of Conscience

The movie “Soldiers of Conscience” is a theatrical window of the dilemma of American soldiers during the war in Iraq. The movie demonstrates the behavior of the soldiers when their fingers are on the trigger and another person is within their shooting range. The movie makes a good profile of eight soldiers in the battle field. Four among them chose not to kill turning themselves into conscientious objectors and the remaining four soldiers believed in their obligation to kill if it is obligatory. The movie demonstrates the entire group fighting with morality of killing in the battle field, not as with a philosophical dilemma, but at the moment the soldiers encounter it. This happens within a split-second and the decision is unforgettable and irreversible (Witham, 2009).

The film is not meant to explain to the audience the right decision to make; neither has it serves as an indicator of the real situation in Iraq, but it illustrates a bigger picture of war and human nature. The beginning of the film is the story about the events after the World War II, the study conducted by the army itself is revealing that approximately 75 % of the soldiers failed to shoot the enemy even though they had a chance to do so. Studies indicated that soldiers, regardless of social sanction, propaganda and training, maintained a surprising reticence towards killing someone. This statistics shocked and worried the General officers to a point of devising training techniques to conquer the unwillingness to kill. Even if the military find the answer to this problem, the soldiers’ moral contradiction will remain the same (Witham, 2009). The families and communities of soldiers who kill their enemies in every war still bear the emotional and mental burdens.

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This film demonstrates that war is not in human nature even in times when one is trained to kill. Indeed each soldier is inevitably a “soldier of conscience”. The film demonstrates that a majority of soldiers decide not to kill more than we anticipate. Even there are some soldiers who are forced to kill, quite a number regret this act. The film is therefore in support of the cognitive/peace theory that suggests that violence is a learned behavior as opposed to being innate to human nature (Witham, 2009).


Based on the evidence gathered, the human nature theorists present a more logical and competing explanation for the human conflicts which lead to war. Just as Hobbes maintains, without the external authority to enforce regulations, the state of nature would be one of looming conflict because violence is inherent to human nature. Pinker explains that there are other factors such as brain development, culture and genetics that have a greater influence than parenting as opposed to the belief of many people. On the other hand, Wilson is very categorical that constitutional factors are the major causes of crime and violence. He points out that age, personality, sex, mesomorph body type and levels of intelligent are the key factors to violent behavior. This is very true and indeed violence is deeply rooted in man’s genes as Ghiglieri puts it.

Aggression and violence are essential human characteristics. Arguably, these traits have facilitated the human race to prosper due to the desire for power and prosperity. Without some violent inclinations, humans would have been an easy victim for predators as Lorenz explains. Nevertheless, social gatherings must work together for war to happen because one person, either aggressive or angry cannot engage in war. Aggression and violence exist among humans in the same way as war is innate to human nature. War is undoubtedly not a biological attribute but rather a socially constructed idea of conflict resolution as evident by the existence of many “peaceful” individuals across the globe. Many of these non-warring communities have also devised exciting ways of dealing with personal hostility. 


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