“War Before Civilization” by Lawrence Keeley explores ‘the myth of the peaceful savage’. It seems that this myth got its start amongst anthropologists after the first and second world war as a wish fulfillment against total war. Archeological evidence is firmly against this myth. For instance, the defensive Celtic forts are explained away as symbolic status totems. Yet, as the author states, only centralized states can afford vanity projects. If a labor intensive building is in place, it is only because it was necessary, not because it was desirable. This goes back to the one concept that explains human behavior, “it’s all about the food, stupid”. Anything contrary to this is simply just bullcrap. Evidence amongst bones showing clear violence was similarly explained away by other flights of fancy. As Keeley goes to lengths to convey, primitive peoples were very violent, most of the time and their conflicts were generally of a genocidal nature. This itself is easy to explain, as leaving the enemy intact places yourself at risk in the future. Slaughtering women and children ( those not taken captive if resources permit ) is the safest way to ensure your descendents won’t be in danger in the future. And since all males of age with a handful of exceptions are warriors, war was easy to start. You didn’t need to mobilize the Kings men or have your craftsmen produce more material for a time prior to battle. They were literally the original Minute Men. Because war was easy, casualties even when light could add up too quickly and endanger your tribe. You had to slaughter the enemy quickly and as safely to yourself as possible. Hence the frequency of ambushes and raids. They were less risky than open battle, and were necessitated by the lack of surpluses and other logistic considerations.
Where the book lacks conviction, at least to myself, was in the discussion of motivation. War is hell, and primitive warriors were no fools-minimizing risks and recognizing a necessary evil. And, yes, obviously war was about economic necessity. You needed resources to survive and not only was it easier to steal others goods, you also had to both defend yours and preempt others attempts to take yours. If it is easier to take others food, you KNOW the enemy will want yours. You don’t need to wait for them to attack you because like Bush Jr. you rationalize first strikes as actually defensive. Between all these considerations war is going to be ongoing ( obviously not every week but at least once every two or three years, as opposed to the once a generation of centralized societies ). But humans are lazy curs and the concept of economic necessity does not by itself explain what motivated individuals to risk their lives for a fuzzy future necessity.
One thing that does explain motivation is immediate gratification and here I’ll diverge from the book and put forth my own theory.
END PART ONE
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