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An Evolutionary Perspective on War

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Low, Bobbi S.
Date: 1992
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4433
Sector: Global Commons
Subject(s): conflict
Abstract: "Conflict is as old as life. In fact, if evolutionary and behavioral ecological theory are correct, conflicts of interest, if not open aggression, are universal among living things. While some authors (e.g. Ferrill 1985) suggest that the origins of war are simply prehistoric, an evolutionary or behavioral ecologist would argue that by any functional definition, war--lethal conflict-- is older than humanity itself. From an evolutionary perspective, two considerations have profound consequences: the reproductive impacts for individuals of fighting and killing (including formal war), and the potential conflicts of interest among different individuals involved in conflict. To examine the evolution of war, I will begin not with complex and formal international military conflicts, but with much simpler conflict in non-human species, asking: Over evolutionary time, what has been the ecological context of conflict and killing in hominids and other mammals? Under what ecological circumstances are these likely to occur, and what are the costs and benefits to the individuals involved? The functional nature of conflict may become clearer in these simpler cases; then more complex cases may be amenable to approach."

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