[extropy-chat] Back to Causes of War

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Fri Apr 27 04:59:22 UTC 2007

At 08:33 PM 4/26/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>Keith writes


> > As Azar Gat points out (in the paper I keep citing and nobody seems to
> > read) population density has little to do with the willingness of 
> people to
> > go into war.  Why?  What is important?
>I understand you to mean that population density and high birth rate
>sometimes tend to lead to war because they so often lead to desperate
>circumstances in a population, or, as you put it "grim prospects".

"In extreme cases like the mid-Canadian arctic, where resources are highly 
diffused and human population density is very low, resource competition and 
resource conflict may barely exist.

"In arid and semi-arid environments, like those of Central Australia, where 
human population density was also very low, water holes were often the main 
cause of resource competition and conflict. They were obviously critical in 
times of drought, when whole groups of Aborigines are recorded to have 

"For this reason, however, there was a tendency to control them even when 
stress was less pressing. For example, as Meggitt recorded (1962: 42), 
between the Walbiri and Waringari hunter-gatherers of the mid-Australian 
Desert, whose population density was as low as one person per 35 square 
mile, relatively large-scale fighting, to the order of 'pitched battles' 
with a 'score or more dead', took place, among other reasons, in order to 
'occupy' and monopolize wells.

"In well-watered environments, food often became the chief cause of 
resource competition and conflict, especially at times of stress, but also 
in expectation of and preparation for stress."

>this sense, it is the circumstances and prospects that are merely
>*mediated* by high birth rates and density.

"population density was as low as one person per 35 square mile."

"Like aggression, territoriality is not a blind instinct. It is subservient 
to the evolutionary calculus, especially in humans, whose habitats are so 
diverse. Among hunter-gatherers, territories vary dramatically in size - 
territorial behaviour itself can gain or lose in significance - in direct 
relation to the resources and resource competition.

"The same applies to population density, another popular explanation in the 
1960s for violence. In other than the most extreme cases, it is mainly in 
relation to resource scarcity and hence as a factor in resource competition 
that population density would function as a trigger for fighting. 
Otherwise, Tokyo and the Netherlands would have been among the most violent 
places on earth."

>Of course, your quote below applies far more readily to the EEA than
>to now.

I don't think so.


> > I feel it is an incomplete theory. Perhaps a much better approach to
> > "going to war" is simply to "migrate".  Find a place where the resources
> > are more abundant than they are in the current location and simply move
> > there.
> >
> > "The benefits of fighting must also be matched against possible
> > alternatives (other than starvation). One of them was to break contact and
> > move elsewhere. This, of course, often happened, especially if one's enemy
> > was much stronger, but this strategy had clear limitations.
> >
> > "As we have already noted, by and large, there were no "empty spaces" for
> > people to move to. In the first place, space is not even, and the best,
> > most productive habitats were normally already taken.
> >
> > "One could be forced out to less hospitable environments, which may also
> > had been earlier populated by other less fortunate people. Indeed, finding
> > empty niches required exploration, which again might involve violent
> > encounters with other human groups.
> >
> > "Furthermore, a move meant leaving the group's own habitat, with whose
> > resources and dangers the group's members were intimately familiar, and
> > travelling into uncharted environments. Such a change could involve heavy
> > penalties.

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