Is war inevitable? Is it hardwired in human nature? Many believe that the answer to both questions is yes. But in his new book, The End of War, science journalist John Horgan reaches the opposite conclusion, making the case that “the end of war is possible, and even imminent.” Horgan discussed the research that led him to that optimistic view at The Hastings Center on April 26 as part of the Garrison Seminar series.
Horgan critically analyzes scientific claims that war is “in our genes,” including the supposed discovery of a “warrior gene” that promotes violence. Research has found minuscule difference in rates of aggression between carriers and noncarriers, he says. “My guess is that the warrior gene claim will eventually be discredited, because that’s the pattern with attempts to link complex behavioral traits to specific genes,” he writes in his book.
Horgan also debunks data cited in scientific literature that lethal group violence dates back to our common ancestors, chimpanzees. An example of such data is that the median annual death rate from intergroup aggression among chimpanzees is 140 per 100,000. In fact, Horgan says, as of 2004, researchers had directly witnessed only 12 deaths total from lethal intergroup aggression and that chimpanzee violence may be related to environmental factors such as population stress caused by human encroachment.
Horgan, director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., says his goal “is to start a conversation about why we fight and how we can stop.”