Monday, 24 January 2011

Reason: enough to stop war?

In the excellent publication BBC Wildlife  (   I read a fascinating article called ‘Of Ants and War’ by Dr Rob Dunn (Dec 2010 issue, p.66 – 71).  This reports on the competition for limited resources between cooperative groups of ants, as observed by Bert Holldebler. It  involves violent death and mutual posturing to assess the enemy. Dr Dunn reports Hollberger as saying

‘Wherever you find highly cooperative societies, whether slime moulds, insects or primates (including humans) you will inevitably encounter discrimination and aggression against members of neighbouring societies.’

Then Dr Dunn goes on to say that in ants the tendency to often ferocious competition and wars is balanced by ritual dances etc. He concludes that we humans must use reason to hold back from conflict.  Given the ever growing evidence for intelligence in animals, together with the fact that reason is as likely to make us launch into war as to refrain from it (e.g. when we perceive we have a strategic advantage), what uniquely human attributes might make us freely choose peace even when we feel sure we would win?

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