[extropy-chat] Back to Causes of War

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Apr 28 13:28:21 UTC 2007

Keith writes

>> >>How is the point made that modern European nations any time in the 20th
>> >>century faced economic deprivation?
>> >
>> > It's not absolute deprivation but *relative* that trips the detectors.
>> Okay, then you have to make the case that the *relative* deprivation was
>> greater around 1940 (or 1914 or June, 1950), and so on, than at other
>> times.
> Relative to immediately *previous* times.

You mean to assert that Germany was either economically worse off in 1939,
or that the prospects of the people (or, hell, even the leaders) was more grim,
than, say it had been in 1936, 1932, 1928, etc.?  Sorry---I cannot fathom 
that Germany was bad off at all in 1939. As BillK pointed out, they didn't
suffer the depression to the same degree that America did, and they were
all quite hopeful of the future with their new Autobahns etc. than at immediately
previous times.  No?

> The theory says nothing about inequity... It was probably not much of a
> factor in hunter gatherer bands.

The potlatch cultures and "big man" solutions seem to be the way that the
EEA types would have addressed the issue. Envy is a powerful force that
retards economic development severely. Religion is very good at 
countering envy.

> What is the effect of the GNP going up but a substantial fraction 
> of the middle class dropping into the lower class?

According to Peter Turchin ("War and Peace and War"), the effect
is that rising inequality destabilizes a society, reduces its asabiya,
and---in pre-modern times, e.g. before 1700---tends to reintroduce
the beginning "war" phase of the entire cycle.  "Warre brings peace, 
and peace brings warre" as a 16th century observer acutely saw.

> That's been the developing situation as the US becomes more like a third 
> world country in terms of income distribution.  Does this make the country 
> as a whole more likely to support a war?  Any thoughts?

My guess:  rising inequality now has the opposite effect: there is more
alienation between the higher and lower classes, and less identification
with the "entire nation". Thus we as Americans feel less insulted that
our power is being challenged somewhere (e.g. Iraq) than would the
U.S. of 1907.

But a crucial fact I really need:  In absolute terms, are the poor worse
off than 50 years ago?  The answer has to be nuanced, because, for
example, an influx of poor people from Mexico will lower the average
wealth, even though it may be that *all* the poor people are better 
off today than 50 years ago when you go individual by individual
(including their parents).  What do you suppose?

>>In an earlier post, you said that the Hitler invasion of the
>>Soviet Union did not go against your scheme for the
>>reason that a war was already in progress.  But there
>>was *utterly* no reason whatsoever that made any
>>sense to invade Russia; not militarily, not economically,
> That was my point.  It *was* irrational.  Leaders in "war mode" do things 
> like that and their followers don't stop them.  Consider the current 
> situation in Iraq if you want another example.

Okay;  I think that some of us were interpreting you to mean that it
was the entire culture or nation that was in "war mode".  Yes, 
throughout history one prince will invade another's kingdom either
because it's spring time and he's feeling his oats (typical American
Indian fashion), or because he himself will profit from it, or to avenge
a wrong, international prestige, etc. 

The current situation in Iraq, which began in 2002, may have been
a reaction to 9-11.  After all, the Congress fully supported the Iraq
invasion, although I don't want to get into an argument over whether
or not they were responsible (since intelligence agencies around the
world and the Bush administration misinformed them).  But clearly the
Americans were still smarting from 9-11.

>>That's how he came to power, yes.  But the cause of the European WWII
>>is pretty simple (as compared to WWI):  one small German party sought the
>>total conquest of Europe or perhaps the world.  When Hitler and Stalin took
>>Poland, they didn't really think that England and France would declare war---
> That is correct, and yet another example of people in "war mode" having 
> their rationality impaired.

How is it that going into war mode seems to afflict a small ruling class
or even one king, but not a whole people?  All the examples that usually
come to mind---the ones above like Hitler---seem to be exceptional.
In the EEA, surely it was an entire group. Different situations.

>> all this is much more particular than generalizations about
>> relative privation, birth rates, and so on.  And it is particulars
>> like these afford the true, actual explanations.
> I disagree.  There are proximal and ultimate explanations.
> It is one thing  to say "Hitler was a madman," and quite
> another to ask why a madman came to power.  I am
> looking for the deep causes, things rooted in human biology.

Let's make sure---for my benefit---that we don't overuse one example.
And what is the focus here, anyway?  Is it modern times, e.g. post 1700,
or is it civilization (1500 B.C. - 1700 A.D.), or is it the EEA (1.8 M -
100K B.C.)?  I'm doubtful that the same explanations work in all cases.

In 1870 the French Emperor traded insults with the German Emperor
(who, himself, was actually pretty innocent), and the newspapers 
exaggerated the insults. People got mad, and there was a war.

What happened in 1905?  In 1812?  In 1066?  When Caesar conquered
Gaul?  I only throw these out at random, and am making no point;  I just
want more examples. Any will do, but we should avoid cherry-picking.

You seem to contend sometimes that it's war fever among a small ruling
elite, at other times that an entire tribe or nation has "grim prospects",
and at other times that it's current deprivation of an entire band, and so on.
Can you summarize?


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