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Thread: War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage

  1. #1 War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage 
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    Last Sunday, I finished this book by Lawrence H. Keeley.

    In a nutshell, Keeley's book counters claims which say that mankind lived in some sort of golden age before major civilizations arose and proceeded to make war, and the stereotypical image of the American tribes as the peaceful "noble savage" by pointing out the mass graves at Crow Creek. He ultimately makes the argument that there are very few societies that can genuinely be said to have always been peaceful (if ever). And finally, he claims various people who have studied these subjects have been going out of their way to glance over evidence of conflict in primitive societies.

    Definitively an interesting book.


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  3. #2  
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    An opposite book on the subject would be Beyond War: the Human Potential for Peace by Douglas P. Fry (2007, Oxford University Press).

    I'll be writing a review of it to post on my blog the first half of December (I've been side-tracked with other writing projects). His thesis is that our ancient ancestors were not innately "warlike" (and neither are modern humans). Using anthropological and archaeological data, Fry sets out to show the reader how for the first 99 percent of human history (150 Ka to present?) humans subsisted in hunter-gatherer groups with an egalitarian lifeway in which actual warfare was rare.

    His evidence is compelling, though I'm not sure to what extent I buy the entire thesis. Still, I have a few chapters left to read so I'll reserve judgment for now.

    I'll have to have a look at the text in the OP at some point. I'll certainly keep my eye out for it.


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    I didn't get the impression Keeley was ever arguing that humans are innately warlike. Rather, he was pointing out how researchers seem to deliberately understate the frequency of war and conflict in relatively primitive societies (and basically embracing noble savage myths), and making the argument that civilization is a improvement rather than something negative.
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