Constant Battles – Steven A. LeBlanc (2003)

Following up on a strong recommendation in Stewart Brand’s recent book, I picked up and read Steven LeBlanc’s Constant Battles from 2003.  LeBlanc is an archaeologist, and his book is about his thesis that in fact there really never was a time of humans living in some sort of ecological balance with nature.  Instead he posits that whenever people started to overrun their resources, there was a strong tendency to warfare, and he claims archaeological evidence of this in finds around the world.

LeBlanc describes different types of warfare that seem to be found in different types of societies – from hunter/gatherer tribes to more complex agricultural groups and states.  While agriculture often had the effect of increasing the resource base, that tends to lead to population rise, and back again to resource constraints.  He does not believe that humans are in some way genetically programmed for warfare, that it’s more of a last resort in desperate circumstances (i.e. when resources are plentiful there seems to be less tension and less reason to fight).

In our modern world, while wars are unfortunately common, the actual numbers of people killed in them is quite a bit less than what he has found from the remains of tribal societies, where as many as 25% of males could die as a result of ongoing warfare.

The book itself is pretty short and not completely compelling reading, but the ideas here are quite interesting.

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