Friday, April 16, 2010
Fight or flight? Neither: Natural nonviolence
Violence within and between Semai communities is nearly nonexistent. Husbands do not beat their wives nor parents their children. Neighbors do not fight with one another, nor do communities contest violently.
--Gregor, T. & Robarchek, C. A. (1996), Two paths to peace: Semai and Mehinaku nonviolence. In Gregor, T. (Ed.), A natural history of peace. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University Press. p. 161.
If we can find one human society that exists without war, we disprove the notion that all humans are hard-wired for war.
Since the Semai don't wage war, and since anthropologists and archeologists have identified other societies that don't or didn't wage war, that old canard can be consigned to the dustbin of failed theories.
What we most often hear when we ask what is our human response to serious danger? Everyone now...fight or flight!
But that is not all.
There is posing, like cats when they horripilate--puff up large to look scary. Or like Richard Pryor bellowing "Hold me back! Hold me back!" and obviously counting on his buddies to do just that.
There is abject surrender, like wolves when they roll over to expose their jugular and acknowledge the higher status of the alpha animal (or like Democrats when the Republicans gain a majority).
And there is the only hope for nonviolence and the only response that is uniquely human--creativity. Unlike any other animal, we cannot be counted on to react the same twice to mortal threat. We might, or we might change it all massively and totally surprise our opponent.
Nonviolence is associated with creativity more than with any other response.
Fight is usually violent.
Flight is not violent but it's not nonviolent in any meaningful sense.
Posing is not necessarily violent--until someone calls the bluff and it gets brutally ugly in a hurry--but it is certainly not nonviolence.
When we use our creative portion of the brain, perhaps we say something that will cause our opponent to pause. Maybe we use nonviolent nonverbal language--palms up, steady and friendly gaze, relaxed yet interested affect. Perhaps we ask a question that tells our opponent that he doesn't have to strike us in order to make a point. Maybe we assume a parental role, a friendly advisor role, the role of the student, or the comforter. The roles are illimitable.
Imagine a society of Semais writ large and modern. Imagine a no-army nation-state, such as Costa Rica, as the norm.
There is one species that can choose to evolve. Us. Let's make that choice to access the natural nonviolence that is one of the infinite hardwired parts of our brains.
Gregor, T. & Robarchek, C. A. (1996), Two paths to peace: Semai and Mehinaku nonviolence. In Gregor, T. (Ed.), A natural history of peace. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University Press.