War! What WAS it Good For?


I just finished reading War! What is It Good For?  by Ian Morris.

It is well worth reading.

Morris’ thesis is this:

  1. Government is the primary source of the reduction of violence in societies.
  2. Wars caused societies to merge, thereby increasing the scope, scale, and efficacy of government.
  3. It would have been great if societies had figured out a way to merge without war, but this, unfortunately, has rarely happened.
  4. So, like it or not, war has been the driver of government innovation.
  5. Therefore, wars have been the primary cause of our long-term decline of violence.

Or more fully:

  1. There was a lot of violence in the Stone Age.
  2. Back then, “wars” were just a bunch of back and forth raids that resulted in a lot of violence and not much productivity.
  3. However, then farming came along, which added territorial capture to what had previously been a plundering game.
  4. Once you capture territory, you have to figure out how to govern it in order to extract its resources.
  5. This requires you to figure out how to govern.
  6. When people govern better, violence goes down.
  7. So while wars cause a spike a violence, their long-term impact results in a net reduction of violence.
  8. However, with the advent of nuclear weapons, wars will likely soon become “unproductive” – in the sense that they might destroy humanity rather than lead to better governance. WWI and WWII gave us a taste of where modern war might be heading.
  9. Generally, massive war breaks out when a superpower declines.
  10. The USA will likely decline by 2040-2050. And global warming might also really start causing country collapses by then.
  11. This might cause humanity to destroy itself in a world war.
  12. The best way to avoid this is either to create world government or to turn into robots.
  13. The odds of turning into robots are higher than creating an effective world government during a time of superpower decline.
  14. Or perhaps we’ll muddle through another superpower decline even without a world government or turning into robots. We have survived this long, after all.

Depending on your viewpoints, you might find this historical analysis to be crazy. Or you might find these future predictions to be crazy.

Read the book and judge for yourself.

Personally, I find this historical analysis fairly convincing. As much as I wish it would have been otherwise, war has been the primary vehicle for scaling government, and government has been a boon for humanity.

But I’m surely not an expert so I could be very wrong.

As for the future, who really knows.

But I think we should heed Morris’ cautionary tale.

This Time Might Not Be Different.

The next time a superpower falls, history could well repeat itself, and we could be thrust into global warfare.

All of which surely puts education reform into perspective.

The sound and the furry of over testing will be nothing compared to the sound and the fury of humanity ending.

One last thought: given the above, would it be better or worse for USA to announce that it would never use nuclear weapons?

If you believe that the answer to our problems is maintaining USA dominance until we reach the singularity or create a world government, then you probably want the USA to maintain a credible threat of nuclear war.

If you believe that the USA will decline before we have a world government or reach the singularity, then you might actually view the USA never going to war as the only a way to avoid destroying humanity; as such, you might prefer USA to renounce warfare and simply be peacefully conquered by the world’s next superpower.

2 thoughts on “War! What WAS it Good For?

  1. Joseph Hertzlinger

    I thought major wars broke out when enough time has elapsed since the last major war that people forgot why it was important to keep the peace.

    Life extension may moderate this … but don’t count on it.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on War | askblog

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