Why does everyone hate poor Ian Morris, all of a sudden? They did nothing but crow and give awards to the Stanford archaeologist and historian’s last book, Why The West Rules – for Now. His newest book, War! What is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots, seems to be making all sorts of unpleasant hoopla.
He wrote a short explanation of his thesis in the Washington Post over the weekend, in an article titled “In the Long Run, Wars Make Us Safer and Richer.” An excerpt:
“Take the long view. The world of the Stone Age, for instance, was a rough place; 10,000 years ago, if someone used force to settle an argument, he or she faced few constraints. Killing was normally on a small scale, in homicides, vendettas and raids, but because populations were tiny, the steady drip of low-level killing took an appalling toll. By many estimates, 10 to 20 percent of all Stone Age humans died at the hands of other people.
“This puts the past 100 years in perspective. Since 1914, we have endured world wars, genocides and government-sponsored famines, not to mention civil strife, riots and murders. Altogether, we have killed a staggering 100 million to 200 million of our own kind. But over the century, about 10 billion lives were lived — which means that just 1 to 2 percent of the world’s population died violently. Those lucky enough to be born in the 20th century were on average 10 times less likely to come to a grisly end than those born in the Stone Age. And since 2000, the United Nations tells us, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.
“As this process unfolded, humanity prospered. Ten thousand years ago, when the planet’s population was 6 million or so, people lived about 30 years on average and supported themselves on the equivalent income of about $2 per day. Now, more than 7 billion people are on Earth, living more than twice as long (an average of 67 years), and with an average income of $25 per day.
“This happened because about 10,000 years ago, the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies. The victors found that the only way to make these larger societies work was by developing stronger governments; and one of the first things these governments had to do, if they wanted to stay in power, was suppress violence among their subjects.
“The men who ran these governments were no saints. They cracked down on killing not out of the goodness of their hearts but because well-behaved subjects were easier to govern and tax than angry, murderous ones. The unintended consequence, though, was that they kick-started the process through which rates of violent death plummeted between the Stone Age and the 20th century.
“This process was brutal. Whether it was the Romans in Britain or the British in India, pacification could be just as bloody as the savagery it stamped out. Yet despite the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos, over 10,000 years, war made states, and states made peace.”
Now, on Tuesday, the article is still the Number #1 Heavy-Hitter at the Washington Post. Typical of the comments: Jose Benitez writes: ”No doubt, you are Republican and love to watch Patriot Games with Harrison Ford. You also probably supported George W. Bush when cheating the Americans about the weapons of mass destruction supposedly had Iraq and sent thousand young fellows to die. You are an Iceman.” I very much doubt Ian knows Harrison Ford at all, let alone watches DVDs with him. Cheryl Ann writes: “what is that? joke of the day for societal disconnects? Ian Morris, you are an unevolved, tribalist monkey.” Joel R. Stegner wrote: “This is undoubtedly the most insane idea I have ever seen in any newspaper, ever. Only a person who doesn’t value life can advocate this perspective. What next? A column from a serial killer on how to achieve notoriety? Let us hope that no aspiring Hitler buys into this quality of thinking.”
Reussere obviously thought a moment, and wrote:
I am one of those that hate war in every possible way. War in my mind is the epitome of evil.
To say I was put off by the title is putting it mildly. In fact, the first time I saw it, I refused to even read it.
Having read it however, and having the overall facts presented in the proper historical light, it is clear that the author has a very valid point. No matter how evil wars and their brutal aftermath is, the truth is that what emerges afterword are often larger, more cohesive and peaceful societies with lower homicide rates. This is certainly not always true, but it is the growth of large societies and the protections that afford their citizens has grown inexorably since the stone ages and the result has been a reasonably steady decline in one on one or few on few homicides.
Please read the article and analyze what the author is actually saying instead of reacting childishly and walk away with an entirely false distortion of what is being said.