Warfare: An Invention — Not a Biological Necessity

Topics: War, Human, Philosophy of war Pages: 11 (3729 words) Published: February 27, 2014


Margaret Mead
Warfare: An Invention — Not a Biological Necessity

IN 1969, TIME MAGAZINE named anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) the "Mother of the World." This title stemmed in part from Mead's work with young girls in various cultures around the world, but it also recognized the moral and intellectual status that she earned during her fifty-year career as the world's most famous and respected anthropologist.

Mead was born in Philadelphia in 1901. She earned a doctoral degree in anthropology from Columbia University, where she studied under the legendary anthropologist Ruth Benedict (p. 56). In 1925, Mead traveled to American Samoa for an extensive fieldwork project studying adolescent girls. She used this research as the basis for her first book, Conning of Age in Samoa (1928), which became a best seller and introduced a generation of nonspecialists to the field of anthropology. In 1929, Mead traveled to New Guinea for a similar study, which resulted in her second major book, Crowing Up in New Guinea (1930). She continued doing fieldwork throughout the world, but maintained strong ties to New York, where for most of her career she worked at the American Museum of Natural History.

In the course of her career, Mead became known as an expert on both a diverse group of cultures and on human culture generally—on the ways that human beings form, maintain, and modify social relations. She refused to accept the common division of the world into "civilized" and "primitive" cultures, insisting instead that all cultures had things to learn from each other. The accessibility of her scholarly work, combined with her willingness to write articles for the popular press (she wrote a monthly column for Redbook magazine for seventeen years), put a human face on the often-obscure discipline of anthropology and gave Mead enormous influence with the American public.

The following essay, "Warfare: An Invention—Not a Biological Necessity," was originally published in Asia magazine in 194*0. It is based on one of Mead's most cherished beliefs: that people can change by learning from other cultures. In this essay, Mead draws on her vast experience with other cultures to refute the popular argument that the inherent aggressiveness of human beings makes warfare inevitable. 3k

Is WAR A BIOLOGICAL NECESSITY, a sociological inevitability, or just a bad invention? Those who argue for the first view endow man with such pugnacious1 instincts that some outlet in aggressive behavior is necessary if man is to reach full human i. Pugnacious: eager to fight, combative.





stature. It was this point of view which lay back of William James's famous essay, "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he tried to retain the warlike virtues and channel them in new directions.2 A similar point of view has lain back of the Soviet Union's attempt to make competition between groups rather than between individuals. A basic, competitive, aggressive, warring human nature is assumed, and those who wish to outlaw war or outlaw competitiveness merely try to find new and less socially destructive ways in which these biologically given aspects of man's nature can find expression. Then there are those who take the second view: warfare is the inevitable concomitant of the development of the state, the struggle for land and natural resources of class societies springing, not from the nature of man, but from the nature of history. War is nevertheless inevitable unless we change our social system and outlaw classes, the struggle for power, and possessions; and in the event of our success warfare would disappear, as a symptom vanishes when the disease is cured. One may hold a compromise position between these two extremes; one may claim that all aggression springs from the frustration of man's biologically determined drives and that, since all forms of culture are frustrating, it is certain...
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