|Since the dawn
of history, and probably a good deal longer, human beings have
enthusiastically ganged up together in order to maim and kill other people
in pursuit of their own economic, political and religious objectives. In
the past, this murderous activity contributed to the success of our
species by selecting the fittest males, and promoting the evolution of our
brains and the development of human consciousness. But now that we possess
biochemical and thermonuclear weapons it has become our greatest
liability, threatening the very existence of our civilization and the
survival of life on our planet. So why do we do it? And can it ever be
In The Roots of War and Terror, psychiatrist Anthony Stevens
provides profound insights into the nature and origins of armed conflict,
locating the problem primarily in the psychology and anatomy of the human
male. The evolved propensities for warlike behaviour, essentially
unchanged since Paleolithic times, continue to prompt men to seek
aggressive confrontation in groups, motivating modern soldiers and
terrorists, armed with weapons of unprecedented destructiveness, to
slaughter their enemies in the same spirit as Stone Age warriors.
In his far-ranging final chapters, Stevens discusses
ways of inhibiting the archetypes of war (through genetic
engineering, educational policy, and the admission of women to the
citadels of masculine power), of diverting them into less destructive
channels (through competitive sports, ritualized battles, the arms
and space races), and, eventually, of rendering them obsolete
(through development of a global consciousness and mobilization of the
transcendent function possessed by the universal symbols of
This is an indispensable work for anyone wishing to understand the
psychological basis for war and terror, or hoping to discover ways in
which the unimaginable catastrophe of nuclear or biological warfare may be
"Throughout history, cycles of war have been followed by
peace. War has been with us since the beginning of time, but so has peace.
This is the simple, but brilliant, twist in Stevens's argument: peace is
as much an evolutionary impulse as war and is therefore also an archetypal
phenomenon. We are hard-wired for peace as much as for killing."
The New Statesman, 1 March 2004.
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