As usual, war is in the air. From the terrorist attacks of 2001 to the recent crisis in Syria, it seems that the 21st century has been nothing short of hostile. As members of Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, most of us can barely remember a time when we were cognitively aware enough to know that peace existed.
For many young people today, it seems that war is something that always has been, and always will be, part of our lives. Society has evolved in many ways over the past few decades, and we wonder somethingas barbaric as war persists.
An emerging popular answer to this question is that war is part of our human genetic predisposition. I think this answer is not only a cop-out, but it also casts an unwarranted vision of limited human potential.
Humans have always had to fight to survive. Recent studies show that death by warfare was so common in hunter-gatherer societies that it put evolutionary pressure on these people. Today, some of the instincts that evolved for our survival thousands of years ago have persisted and allowed us to thrive. However, survival of the fittest shouldn’t be our only driving force. We are better than that. We are more evolved.
Instincts will always be part of us genetically, but using them as an excuse for our behavior is not constructive. If we compare our “instinct for war” to other instincts, such as the instinct to eat, it becomes apparent that we can and have controlled our instinctual responses.
Early humans craved foods with high levels of calories and fats. Those who had the instincts and abilities to find such foods lived and passed their genes on to the next generation. Those who did not couldn’t survive. Consequently, over millions of years, the craving for these foods became common instinctive behavior.
Today, however, we have to work to consume fewer calories and fats in order to stay healthy. As our diets have evolved over time, so should our ways of resolving conflicts.
While humans may owe much of their rapid evolution to natural selection’s favoring the most competitive and fit individuals, it is also plausible that we evolved as a species because selection favored those of our ancestors who were especially good at communicating and cooperating.
For animals, cooperative and communicative skills are lacking, so violence is still a reasonable way of solving conflicts. As humans, however, our communication has evolved in so many ways, especially through the development and utilization of technology. It is only right that we try to find a means other than barbaric warfare to resolve conflicts.
I am by no means suggesting that war is something we can or should completely outlaw, but I am suggesting that war is not the only way to solve conflict. We should not use our “instincts” as an excuse to use physical violence. We can defend ourselves in other ways.
Meredith Ansel firstname.lastname@example.org ’16 is from Edina, Minn. She is undecided.