To abolish war

Publication Date30 Sep 2010
AuthorJudith Hand
SubjectHealth & social care,Sociology
Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research • Volume 2 Issue 4 • October 2010 © Pier Professional Ltd44
Background – culture fosters war
Although traits that make us vulnerable to
building armies and making war are arguably
a part of our biology, war itself emerges as
a consequence of culture (Hand, 2003; 2005;
2006a). Factors responsible for the emergence of
war are, to be sure, complex, but if we change
our dominant cultures in appropriate ways, we
can eliminate war.
Originally, the most critical of these war-
fostering factors was probably the onset of
settled living around rich, stable resources that
could be hoarded, coveted, defended, stolen
or appropriated by force. The massive cultural
shift we made away from the nomadic hunter-
gatherer lifestyle that characterised our species
for hundreds of thousands of years began in
earnest with the Agricultural Revolution, roughly
10,000 years ago.
Anthropologist Douglas Fry (2006) points
out some major cultural shifts that accompanied
taking up a settled lifestyle. Among them
were the development of hierarchical social
structures; the disempowerment of women
that accompanies a loss of gender equality
characteristic of nomadic forager societies; and
the emergence of war.
The loss of status by women over time
resulted increasingly in the removal of female
input into decisions about how to resolve
conflicts, especially inter-group conflicts.
Consequently, in conflict situations for the past
ten millennia or so, male biological priorities
that favour obtaining high status and dominance
using force if necessary went unchecked by
female inclinations. Female inclinations at all
levels of social interaction generally favour
behaviour that is known to foster social stability
(Hand, 2003). For example, women, in general,
are more strongly inclined than are men to
resolve personal or inter-group conflicts using
nonviolent means such as negotiation and
compromise (Fisher, 1999). Women are not
without competitive and aggressive tendencies.
To establish their dominance hierarchies, they
may use not so ‘peaceful’ means, such as
gossip, backbiting and innuendo. But women,
much more than men, prefer to avoid physical
aggression and killing that might endanger
To abolish war
Judith L Hand
Founder and Director,
The thesis of this commentary is that the institution of war could be abolished through a
combination of constructive programmes and obstructive programmes. Good works alone
won’t end war. To transform dominator, warring cultures into egalitarian and nonwarring
ones, constructive programmes are needed to prepare the way, to establish the groundwork
for a new lifestyle. But, alone, they will not result in a paradigm shift on earth to a Gene
Roddenberry-style Star Trek future in which there is gender and racial equality, poverty has
been eliminated and conflicts are resolved by the rule of law instead of through military
force. Paradoxically, unless paired with the force of obstructive programmes, constructive
programmes can enable dominator cultures to remain firmly in place. Moreover, to bring
about a major social transformation, we will need leaders to unite men and women as full
partners in shaping a massive cultural shift to a more egalitarian, just and nonwarring future.
Can the people of Earth bring an end to the barbaric practice of war? Or is making war –
assembling armed groups that go forth to indiscriminately kill members of other groups –
something that evolution built into our biology, an inescapable, inevitable curse that at best
can only be managed and mitigated?
War; peace; civil disobedience; Gandhi; gender equality.

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