Humans Are Genetically Programmed To Wage War

Humans Are Genetically Programmed To Wage War

Geobacter metallireducens 

All forms of life on the earth compete for one critical resource: energy. Plants draw it from the sun and soil, most animals extract it from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and some species of Geobacter can both consume and excrete electrons thus living on pure energy alone. Virtually every source of energy supports some form of life that competes with other forms of life for that energy.

But competition for energy is a requisite of life, not a catalyst for war.

Researchers typically use the term war when a coordinated assemblage of one community attack members of another community of the same species. There are only two primates that wage wars: humans and Chimpanzees. No other primate engages in coordinated attacks on its own species. Researchers have uncovered a genetic predisposition for this unique primate behavior. Humans and chimps have evolved a more pronounced fight or flight response than have other primates. Technically, a particular gene (ADRA2C) suppresses the fight or flight response but that gene is itself inhibited by a molecule (NRSF) produced by humans and chimps. Our more peaceful primate cousins don’t produce the NRSF so their fight or flight responses are more moderated (Source).

Bonobos and chimps are equally closely related to humans sharing 98.4% of our DNA. But the 1.6% that is not human differs between chimps and bonobos. Bonobos are more peaceful and are not known to kill their own kind unlike chimps (although bonobos recently have been observed hunting and killing monkeys). Bonobos have lower fight or flight responses than do chimps and do not wage war. This difference is attributed to differences in access to food; Chimpanzees have spent the past couple million years competing with gorillas for food and have evolved to be more aggressive. Bonobo and gorilla habitats have remained separated by the Congo river; competition for food has taken chimps on a different evolutionary course from bonobos.

Animals other than primates do engage in something that appears to be a war but falls short of the definition used here. Ants from the P.americanus Colonies raid Temnothorax colonies killing all adults and “larva-nap” slaves that the worker “masters” will raise until they pupate (mature). The slaves take on the odor of the abductors and become servants of the queen maintaining the nest and even participate in larva raids of their own species. However, a few of the slaves rebel not only refusing to do the queen’s bidding but killing the host queen’s pupae. In one study, the rebels killed 83% of the pupae containing queens but only 3% of the pupae containing males. This behavior falls short of war as defined here on two criteria: 1) the ants don’t raid nests of their own species, and 2) researchers categorize the ants as social parasites rather than warring insects. In this case, the abductor ants (the host) provide the labor to raise the abducted ants.

Other than wars, many animals have a propensity to murder their own kind. At the top of the list is the Meerkat with nearly 20% of deaths being inflicted by members of their own species. Other murderous species include many lemurs and lions. Mammals as a whole kill about 0.3% of their own species (outside of wars) but humans have a homicide rate of roughly 2%, a rate six times that of other mammals. 

We are a warring species and likely always will be. Evidence of human warfare stretches as far back as archaeological history can reach. Of course, evolution has not ended and our efforts to live more peacefully are not wasted -- compassionate people live among us. One potential means of reducing warfare lies in the controversial prospects of genetic engineering now that technology allows us to dig deeper into, and modify our DNA. And we can hope that we evolve as a more peaceful species.