I recently read that anthropologists are hotly debating whether chimps are predisposed to engage in war — and, if so, is it part of the genetic inheritance they have given to us humans? It turns out that anthropologists are still in divided camps about both — the proclivity of chimps to engage in war and, if so, perhaps providing our genetic inheritance for it. This question emerges: Are we humans, who so often engage in war, genetically programmed to engage in war?
To me, a sociologist, it means that we must ask an entirely different kind of question. Is there an ingredient of Social Space, in which we live, that forms the basis for accepting, and engaging in, wars?
I have suggested that one of the ingredients of Social Space is “Closed Moral Worlds”. We humans get our bearing — who we are, what our life is all about — from the sense that we are part of a larger moral context. It can come to us when we identify ourselves by our nationality (as Americans, or any other country), or by our religion, our community, our family, our profession — any one of these, and others. They bring us the “moral” message of who we are, our identity. I call it the Closed Moral Worlds in which we lead our lives. They provide the beliefs and values that guide our behavior. They can donate to us the basis for our most decent, caring human behavior. BUT THEY CAN ALSO UNDERWRITE ENGAGING IN WAR.
Let me illustrate: A young civilian who enters military service will, at first, go through basic training. What is basic training? Yes, it teaches the new recruit how to use weapons. But much more fundamentally, it teaches the recruit that, despite his/her upbringing against killing, one is now in a context where killing is “morally” justified, indeed, it is “morally” demanded that you kill whoever has been designated as enemy. You learn this in a community of soldiers, all of whom have been inducted into the non-civilian morality. It is a Closed Moral World of its own, where different values, duties and rewards are in play from those from which the civilian recruit comes. Yet it is a compelling, Closed Moral World. It is “closed” because the recruit’s civilian morality — with its rules against killing — is decisively excluded. (During the Second World War general Omar Bradley, general Eisenhower’s second-in-command, gave a talk to American mothers in which he told them “we are making your sons into killers.”)
For more about Closed Moral Worlds, please see my website: http://www.questforeffectiveliving.com