The Roots of War
From Marin LeFevre in California
A large band of male chimpanzees gathers in a clearing in a reserve in
Uganda. They have a common goal, and groom each other with great
intensity, communicating through touch the desire of their group mind.
Suddenly, on some inscrutable cue, they silently head off toward the
trees to isolate and murder a member of an adjoining troop.
Here we see the beginnings of war, the most highly cooperative human
activity, wherein one group commits premeditated murder on the members
of another group. The depth of war’s depravity in our evolutionary
history does not attest to its immutability however. Insight into its
roots within us dissolves its roots within oneself.
Man is nature’s mistake for the human being to correct. But what was
(and is) the mistake, and how can we correct it?
Without implying teleology of target, linearity of lineage, or hierarchy
of humans, it took billions of years for nature to evolve brains capable
of separating and manipulating nature at will.
There is a rough direction in nature with regard to the increasing
complexity and sophistication of adaptations, especially with regard to
the size and complexity of the brain’s development. From single cells to
neurons to notochords to spinal chords to the human brain, neural nets
have grown in size and complexity though an essentially random process
At some point very early on, the predator-prey arrangement in nature
emerged. Aggression has certainly been central to the predator’s drive
to kill, but the idea that nature is predicated on the bloodthirsty
principle of ‘tooth and claw’ is simplistic. Prey animals are in a
delicate balance with predator species in the wild; if one or the other
population increases beyond a certain point, the larger order in nature
intervenes to restore equilibrium.
Seven billion humans have no competitors left except microbes on this
planet however. The ‘natural order’ has obviously been overtaken by the
emergence of a quantum adaptive leap.
That adaptive leap is the ability to mentally separate and manipulate;
to postpone immediate drives for food and sex and make plans; and to
recombine the elements of nature into ever more sophisticated
technology. We call the mental foundation on which all these traits rest
Chimps have all the traits of ‘higher thought’ to a rudimentary degree.
They can use arbitrary symbols when taught (though they don’t appear to
do so in the wild); they cooperate and plan; and they make simple tools.
Apparently, they even have a sense of self.
In one very telling experiment, a chimp, a baboon, and a gorilla were
each introduced to a mirror. They all studied themselves in the mirror.
After they become accustomed to it, the mirror was removed, and a big
red dot was painted on their faces. When the mirror was reintroduced,
only the chimp touched the dot, thereby demonstrating that chimps have
an image of themselves, a memory of ‘me’ that is a simplified version of
the complex and emotionally held idea of self that we humans have.
It is this image of self, combined with an ability to plan, and the
identification with others of a given group (or troop) that is the
underpinning for war. All told, this is why chimpanzees are capable of
premeditated murder and organized warfare.
Nature’s ‘mistake’ is therefore this: When the brain reached sufficient
complexity to enable separation and manipulation of nature, there was an
overwhelming tendency for the creature (‘man’), to put the ability ahead
of the actuality. In short, because we can separate, we couldn’t help
but see things (and people, including ourselves) as separate.
The childish notion of ‘original sin’ misses the mark by a mile, since
nature (and in a sense, God) shares in the mistake. By in engaging in
behaviors like murder and war, chimps are inadvertently holding a mirror
up to humans, and pointing toward the way out of the original and
ongoing ‘sin’ of division.
Life is a whole and unbroken movement. Man, misapplying and overusing
the useful trick of separation (which is the cornerstone of ‘higher
thought’), is generating unsustainable levels of division and
fragmentation, and ripping the earth, and himself, apart.
Passive observation of the movement of thought allows insight into the
illusion of separation, and alleviates the deep error of division, which
is the root of all evil.
Then one sees that ‘nature’s mistake’ of conferring the Promethean fire
of conscious separation on man, has always been the bar that human
beings have to clear.