In Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza discuss how the ability to kill individuals of the same species from a distance is the reason why humans act in a relatively peaceful fashion. However there are alternative explanations to this relative peace. Specifically, our ability to communicate in a complex fashion could be the explanation.
Recently I finished reading an interesting piece by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza. The primarily thesis is that the ability to kill conspecifics–individuals of the same species–from a distance, and therefore at a low cost, is the reason why humans act the way that they do today. I simply can not agree with this violence at a distance theory. I also must disagree with the idea that actions like stealing would become the norm if we did not have laws. This is assuming that the population didn’t face a drastic shift from one environment to another. I want to make clear that this is not based upon some moral ideal of the human race; I see no such ideal, but rather this is based upon observations that I have made while studying anthropology. Through my studies, I have long since concluded that culture is the primary driving factor behind how people act. This is why a nation can not effectively legislate morality.
If violence at a distance and conformation to a legal system were a valid theory, then how would one explain the use of drugs within societies like the United States? There are multiple laws on the books regarding drug use, and yet so many still use drugs–even hard drugs–with dangerous side effects. While many would not like to admit it, quite a few people, especially college aged people, do not even think twice about lighting up a joint. This is just one of many situations in which the law conflicts with the cultural constructs of the population and thus, instead of bringing stability, brings disorder.
Now, even though I have given a counter example to consider, I can not just assert that the theory posited by Bingham and Souza is wrong. It would be unfair not to offer an alternative idea to that of violence at a distance. That alternative idea is communication at a distance. Unlike other species, we have the ability to inform others that an individual in the population is misbehaving. In turn, we have the ability to ostracize such people from the community. While individuals may survive for a short period of time under such a situation, a group of people would not be able to function in such away. This is because of the great deal of resources required for a human to survive to adulthood.
This is not to say that the use of violence at a distance isn’t one method of exacting control over aberrant in some societies. However that is not enough to explain why general members of a population conform. Violence at a distance is useful, however, in explaining war and government, as well as the domination of human beings by others. In this way, the ability to kill conspicifics at low cost could explain why humans wage war in the way that they do. It can also help to explain the domination of people by government entities and how the disease known as government came to be.