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Is War in Our Genes?

Coen van Wyk

Posted on April 13, 2018 15:27

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War is not an exclusively human activity, but why do we spend such vast resources on killing each other? Is it in the genes of primates?

The sun was setting over a branch of the Rift Valley. A cool breeze provided welcome relief from the tropical heat. Our host insisted on gin and tonic: “The Empire was built on G&T, my boy. Keeps the malaria away, keeps the waterworks going. Long on the tonic, now, Ahmed.”
 
The silent servants were another colonial touch. On a tea plantation in Central Africa time stands still. I had gone to observe a refugee situation, caused by some upheaval in the neighborhood, and was fortunate to be offered lodgings here. We talked of war, both in the troubled ‘Dark Heart of Africa’ and in the Middle East. A fellow guest, a priest from a nearby mission station, opined that the Middle East has been at war in some form or another for the last 4000 years. “I would venture to say that this has been going on since the fall of Adam and Eve. The wages of sin, the fall of man. There was a scientist, Dart, I recall, who suggested that man’s propensity to war was what brought about his rise in the evolutionary sense, if you prefer to believe that side of things.”
 
Our host asked the other guest, a young girl, a researcher on a nearby primate research project for her opinion: “You have been rather quiet, dear. At least your customers are still living in the garden of Eden, aren’t they? Peaceful creatures.”
 
She shook her head. Perhaps the male talk of war, the overload of testosterone was to blame for her sharp tone. “It is not so. Several wars, savage conflicts, murders have been recorded among chimpanzees. Jane Goodall described in horrible detail how males would begin to group together, groom each other more than before, then set off and ambush males from neighboring troops. They would beat them to death, bite chunks out of them, rip their testicles off. War is not an exclusively human activity at all.”
 
We contemplated this news in silence. The new moon was following the sun, shedding a pale glow over the vast valley. The sounds of unknown birds enhanced the silence. Silent servants hovered at my shoulder, refreshing my drink, proffering a damp towel to wipe my face.
 
The vision of destitute refugees, huddling in makeshift shelters, seeking for lost relatives, resurfaced in my memory. But also the image of the strutting, bemedalled soldiers protecting them. Some animal cried, a forlorn sound in the distance.
 
Our host sighed. “Goodall also showed that they use tools, now we learn that they make war. Should they expect to be admitted to the United Nations soon?”
 
I smiled in the dark. “It might be a problem arranging accreditation. But how are we going to change our definition of mankind?”
 
As our hostess announced dinner the priest remarked. “Perhaps I shall have to say a prayer for their souls.”

Shahnaz with rescued lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo. They too have territorial battles, but are said to be more peaceful.

 

 

Coen van Wyk

Posted on April 13, 2018 15:27

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Source: Daily Mail

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