Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible?

Robert Sapolsky & Baboon Friend

Robert Sapolsky & Baboon Friend

Robert Sapolsky, in YES! magazine (Can Animals Save Us?), tells the story I mentioned a few weeks ago about the peaceful baboons. There’s also a video of him you can watch. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, please do, he’s a funny guy.

Are there any lessons to be learned here that can be applied to human-on-human violence—apart, that is, from the possible desirability of giving fatal cases of tuberculosis to aggressive people?

The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility. Humans have invented the small, nomadic band and the continental megastate and have demonstrated a flexibility whereby uprooted descendants of the former can function effectively in the latter. We lack the type of physiology or anatomy that in other mammals determine their mating system, and have come up with societies based on monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry. And we have fashioned some religions in which violent acts are the entrée to paradise and other religions in which the same acts consign one to hell. Is a world of peacefully coexisting human Forest Troops possible? Anyone who says, “No it is beyond our nature,” knows too little about primates, including ourselves.

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