Is war natural for humans? This question launched episode 8 of this podcast. In that episode, anthropologist Douglas Fry argued that war is a new phenomenon. Yes, history is full of wars. But war arrived on stage only 10-15 thousand years ago – or in many areas, much later. And while war is undoubtedly part of human capacity, it is hardly our hardwired inclination.
But what about chimpanzees, I asked him. They wage war. And according to many chimpanzee experts, they gang up on strangers whenever they can do so with ease. Does this not show that humans, too, are biologically programmed for feuding, raiding, and eventually, warfare? Is it not the case, then, that peace is a social invention – war the biological norm?
No, Fry answered. But to understand why, he told me, I must wait until his colleague releases a book on the topic.
That book is out now. Chimpanzee, War, and History is written by Fry’s long-time collaborator, R. Brian Ferguson. It goes through every chimpanzee killing on the record. And it argues that chimpanzee violence has been deeply misunderstood. The book was detailed, dense, and important. It was an eye-opener for me. So it was a pleasure to have Professor Ferguson come on the show to talk about it.
We touched upon questions such as:
How often do chimpanzees kill others?
Why do chimpanzees kill others (when they do)?
Is human impact the only reason for chimpanzee wars?
Do chimpanzees and humans enjoy violence?
Does war go forever back?
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Albert Einstein / Sigmund Freud / Michael Ghiglieri / Richard Wrangham; episode 21 / Brian Burkhalter / Leslie Sponsel / Douglas Fry; episode 8
Kahama and Kasakela group (in Gombe)
K- and M-groups (in Mahale)
Ngogo (in Kibale)
Video of a chimpanzee raid (narrated by David Attenborough)
Essays, articles, and other materials by R. Brian Ferguson are available on his personal website