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War: Poverty or Wealth Driven?

 
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War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 8:11:25 PM   
Anthropoid


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Question/topic for discussion for you guys: is war likely to be more common during periods/places of resource scarcity/unpredictability or abundance?

Just finished participating in the annual American Anthropological Association conference in New Orleans. A very senior professor named Ember, who administrates the Human Relations Area Files, gave a paper on some analyses she's been doing on this question. She was looking only at East Africa I believe, probably about 30 or so societies (not totally clear what her sample was but the "Standard Cross Cultural Sample" from HRAF is 186 societies). Basically she compiled some data from some other sources to look at how resource ecology correlated or did not correlate with frequency of war as well as war atrocities. Also looked at if there was a difference for nation states. The hypothesis was that resource scarcity/unpredictability would tend to associate with more war, and also with more atrocities.

As I was listening to her, I was thinking, maybe it actually goes in the opposite direction? Meaning resource abundance/predictability would tend to lead to war? Of course, at the proximate level, much more fine-grained and idiosyncratic factors are what precipitate war, but the idea would be that, that range of factors would be more common under certain broad ecological conditions than others.

The three wars that I thought of off the top of my head (Hundred Years War; Am Civ War; WWI) all struck me as having emerged during a time of relative plenty?

Her presentation was not very clear cut or simple, and sadly the data to make it more clear probably doesn't exist, but it is an interesting question. Would love to hear what you Matrix forum-flies think.

< Message edited by Anthropoid -- 11/21/2010 9:25:07 PM >


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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 8:47:40 PM   
Erik Rutins

 

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My guess is that there's more than one variable at work. In areas past or present where the societies are more tribal and/or defined by needs that are further down in the hierarchy, I think resource/food scarcity could absolutely cause wars of survival and would correlate well. Arguably, if you have a period of resource/food scarcity that goes on long enough, all societies would be reduced to this level. This is not to say that some peaceful ways out of the problem might not be found, but overall there would likely be an increase in violence on the raiding/skirmish level if not necessarily large scale warfare (which you might be able to afford early on in a shortage, but perhaps less so later on). Beyond this, if a society enters a time of need with significantly greater military resources than its neighbors, a period of conquest to take resources from others to stave off shortages may naturally follow, so what condition you're in and what tendencies your society already has may simply be magnified by the shortage.

My second guess is that societies with plenty of resources can afford large scale warfare and generally develop a whole new tier of needs that have little to do with physical needs and more to do with convoluted social and political structures that can create a myriad of pretexts for war. If you can afford to have a war and have many possible perceived reasons to do so, it could also lead to an increase in warfare.

Of course, then one wonders if societies that have their needs met, but not the point of abundance, and have not developed overly complex structures to create new needs would be the most peaceful?

I suspect though that if you look at raiding/skirmish warfare on the one hand and large scale warfare on the other, you may find two different correlations to times of plenty and times of need.

Regards,

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 9:12:56 PM   
Gary Childress


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It seems to me that this question would best be answered with a LOT of data. Take most or all of the wars of recorded history and determine how many were fought during times of plenty and how many were fought during times of scarcity. We can speculate all we want about what causes wars but until the actual data is in, it is just speculation. Sometimes theories can sound better and more convincing than reality.

Is there anyone out there in Matrix land who would have the relevant data to make this determination?

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 9:21:50 PM   
Anthropoid


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I agree Gary, historical data on wars would seem to me to be better. The HRAF is an interesting database, but what it does not tend to represent very well at all is historical or "diachronic" processes, like the ebb and flow of war. Eseentially what she was doing was looking at a variety of societies in the "ethnographic present" (meaning the 'value' for a variety of variables like "warlikeness" or "resource scarcity"are generalized over a particular observation period), meaning that the actual value for any of the societies could actually fluctuate quite a bit around the median represented in the database over time.

A related question I had a while back that took a very minor little stab at . . . I was playing the Paradox "Rome" game, and observing how they have the cavaly-infantry ratios setup for combat. Basically you do better if you have relatively more cavalry it seems. So I grabbed the data off wiki for 8 or 10 battles from the Punic period, nothing but # of infantry, # of cavalry and outcome of battle. As hypothesized, there was a significant trend (tested it with a t-test) for the side with a larger ratio of cav to infantry to win.

Seems like hstorians don't tend to approach questions like that in that way, if they work hypothetico-deductively at all. Anthropologists, who are sometimes interested in the same topics, DO approach (well _some_ anthropologists anyway) such questions in that way, but then they don't seem to realize how much historical data there is to use to address such questions.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 9:33:50 PM   
Gary Childress


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Just taking East Africa as a sample sounds a little suspect to me. I would be more convinced if the person had a broader base of data to work with. You can probably prove almost anything by relegating yourself to a small sample of data. And as Erik points out there are probably more than just a few variables involved in the creation of a war.

As a rule of thumb I just think we ought to be warry of war at almost any time, rich or poor, sick or healthy. War is bad news.

I hope the above doesn't sound "political." It isn't meant to.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/21/2010 9:57:16 PM   
06 Maestro


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I disagree with Professor Ember. It is evident that wars have started for a great host of different reasons throughout the ages. In some cases those who happily jumped off to war lived with the highest living standards on earth. There may be some truth to the poverty stricken to be more ruthless or brutal. However, that very brutality may be the cause of their poverty rather than the reverse case.

Someone should make a list of the top 100 wars (length, losses, results) in all history and to categorize the causes. Its common to blame religion for most wars, but I would suspect that would be down the list behind such things as a desire to subjugate neighboring people-for financial, security, and/or simple desire for glory. There was the famous war caused by a stolen woman. I suspect some wars were instigated just out of boredom.

I am under the impression that the greater factor for aggressive war to be started is the type of government a people has rather than the amount of money they have. If there is power sharing, then cooler heads will have a chance to try a different approach. In dictatorships, in all its various forms, seems to be the form of government that allows for initiating wars.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 12:13:59 AM   
Gary Childress


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quote:

ORIGINAL: 06 Maestro

In some cases those who happily jumped off to war lived with the highest living standards on earth.


Very true. We could probably end all the poverty on Earth and there would still be wars.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 4:30:11 AM   
Mobius


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Seems like the cause of major conflicts that could be called wars are the need to grow. Either in land, resources or economically. The situation of the aggressor would be its perceived choice of either falling into decline or going to war and sacrificing some of its blood and treasure to secure a better future.

Unfortunately the misjudgments in this are legend.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 6:02:00 AM   
willy


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Us, and them

"And after all were only ordinary men.
Me, and you.
God only knows it's noz what we would choose to do.
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.
Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who.
Up and down.
But in the end it's only round and round.
Haven't you heard it's a battle of words
The poster bearer cried.
Listen son, said the man with the gun
There's room for you inside.

I mean, they're not gunna kill ya, so if you give em a quick short,
Sharp, shock, they wont do it again. dig it? I mean he get off
Lightly, cos I wouldve given him a thrashing - I only hit him once!
It was only a difference of opinion, but really...i mean good manners
Don't cost nothing do they, eh?

Down and out
It can't be helped but there's a lot of it about.
With, without.
And wholl deny it's what the fightings all about?
Out of the way, it's a busy day
Ive got things on my mind.
For the want of the price of tea and a slice
The old man died."

-Pink Floyd


< Message edited by willy -- 11/22/2010 6:03:00 AM >


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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 6:29:50 AM   
jomni


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Anthropoid
The three wars that I thought of off the top of my head (Hundred Years War; Am Civ War; WWI) all struck me as having emerged during a time of relative plenty?


The wealth was not distributed equally among everyone so there were parties who were jealous and wanted to take something from others.

Hundred Years War - French tax on English wool.
American Civial War - Rural south vs. Industrial north.
WWI - British and French wealth accumulated from far flung colonies and Germany wants a piece of the pie.

< Message edited by jomni -- 11/22/2010 7:10:40 AM >


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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 7:30:20 AM   
06 Maestro


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Gary Childress


quote:

ORIGINAL: 06 Maestro

In some cases those who happily jumped off to war lived with the highest living standards on earth.


Very true. We could probably end all the poverty on Earth and there would still be wars.



I think that is true. There are just too many areas in various relationships around the world that cannot be solved by talking. The idea of overwhelming power to disused would be warriors does not even work all the time. Mutual assured destruction seems to work, but only if all parties have an interest in continued life.

There is also an example of certain countries where the average income (even without working) is so high that no one even wants to be in the military-let alone go to war. Even in such places war is still quite acceptable-they just have to pay someone else to do it for them.

Nope-riches by itself does not guarantee peace or a peaceful people. It might help in some cases, but it is not the finale criteria. There are plenty of examples of poor folks around this world that are peaceful and respectful-due to their culture.

BTW- poverty, IMO is impossible to eliminate on a global scale.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 1:10:07 PM   
vonRocko

 

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Rich or poor, we fight because we LIKE it. Barring alien or divine intervention, we always will!

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 1:38:14 PM   
Yogi the Great


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Poverty Driven
Wealth Driven
Religious driven
Ideology driven

Could be any of the above, but perhaps one of the biggest reasons especially for the first aggressor:

Power, egomaniac and/or revenge driven. Call it Human nature if you like.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 3:14:15 PM   
ilovestrategy


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There are just too many variables to give a simple answer. 

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 4:33:06 PM   
Anthropoid


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Interesting set of responses guys! Once again, confirms my conviction that this is one of the most astute online communities.

I'm actually tempted to excerpt some of this, else just link to it and send a not to Dr. Ember.

I read "Shattered Sword" a couple years back. It was one of the last books I remember reading that I devoured ravenously; I literally could not put it down. The subtle of the argument (basically, "its very complicated") was impressive, but the martialing of data even moreso. Anthropologists may have something to teach historians about hypothetico-deductive argumentation and developing 'explanations,' but I suspect historians have a great deal to teach Anthropologists about the use of history and keeping explanations inline with historical fact.

ADDIT:

quote:

ORIGINAL: jomni

quote:

ORIGINAL: Anthropoid
The three wars that I thought of off the top of my head (Hundred Years War; Am Civ War; WWI) all struck me as having emerged during a time of relative plenty?


The wealth was not distributed equally among everyone so there were parties who were jealous and wanted to take something from others.

Hundred Years War - French tax on English wool.
American Civial War - Rural south vs. Industrial north.
WWI - British and French wealth accumulated from far flung colonies and Germany wants a piece of the pie.


Yep! That is what I vaguely thought, so it is nice to hear you confirm it. In sum, it would seem to be very difficult to operationalize "wealth/poverty" so simply at the level of a whole society, let alone a region. Rather, equity/parity or inequity/disparity in either holdings or flow or prospects of holding or flow would seem more likely.

< Message edited by Anthropoid -- 11/22/2010 4:35:38 PM >


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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 5:16:11 PM   
SeaMonkey

 

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Over the years of my life, I've gotten into many philosophical discussions and have witnessed a world society that has grown vastly more complicated as did my life. We would dwell upon the idiosyncracies of life and the causes of certain types of behavior and then one day I found or felt that something was wrong, that somehow we had lost our clarity of the simple things in life.

Could it be that the complications we have created now run us and we're anxious that the simple conclusions seem to escape us so readily?

Since I have a simpletons attitude now, I'll offer a simple answer, it is man's instinct to "covet". The real question is why do we "covet" and what do we need to do to subvert the instinct. Then again, there's a simple answer to that also.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/22/2010 8:26:08 PM   
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quote:

American Civial War - Rural south vs. Industrial north.

If you study the period leading up to the Civil War, the biggest point of controversy was slavery in the territories. The North wanted to ban it completely, and the South wanted it to expand south of the Missouri Compromise line. The leaders of the South did not want money from the North, but they feared economic collapse of their system if slavery ended. Note also that the majority of the North's population still lived on farms at this point.

quote:

WWI - British and French wealth accumulated from far flung colonies and Germany wants a piece of the pie.

Not accurate, IMHO. Germany had its own overseas colonies. What they really wanted was to beat back Russia. To do that, they had to fight France as well, and to defeat France they chose to invade through Belgium, which brought the British in.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/23/2010 1:16:31 AM   
jomni


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I guess to sum it all up:  There's usually an Economic reason to go to war (may it be poverty or greed for more wealth).

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/24/2010 9:26:00 AM   
Lützow


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quote:

ORIGINAL: jomni

I guess to sum it all up:  There's usually an Economic reason to go to war (may it be poverty or greed for more wealth).


I can think about a bunch of different inducements. Rivalry, ideology, national prestige, strategic reasons, territorial expansion - even religion plays a crucial part in Middle East and Afghanistan. It all depends on era and inner structure of participating opponents.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/24/2010 10:01:28 AM   
jomni


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My take on the Afghan and Middle East conflicts is that they are religious wars on the outside but deep inside there are some Economic undertones.  Anyway let's not turn this into some political/ideological discussion as to not get the thread locked.



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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/24/2010 10:23:50 AM   
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I don't want to turn the discussion into something which needs to get locked. However, by thinking about the very topic I came to the conclusion, that the wealth-povery-thing is a rather western point of view. Going back to WW2, neither Japan, nor Russia or Germany were driven primarily from economic interests. Afghanistan is, regarding Taliban side, about warlords fighting for supremacy, while the civil war in Iraq get carried between religious parties.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/24/2010 8:44:28 PM   
Anthropoid


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I was talking about this Ember hypothesis with one of my colleagues (very briefly) and it seems that this is a longstanding hypothesis that they have worked on (which might explain why her talk was only on East African groups; might be that they have looked at bigger data sets and found evidence suggestive of support, and so she wanted to look this E. Africa set because other variables can be examined).

Seems the idea is that: some societies/regions will have been characterized over longish stretches of time by more resource unpredictability than others. This in turn will lead to people being more xenophobic, ethnocentric, and warlike. That seems to be the core mechanism on which the hypothesis is based.

So it is not so much that periods of resource scarcity trigger war, as it is that perennial ecologies of scarcity shift cultural psychology to promote war.

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RE: War: Poverty or Wealth Driven? - 11/25/2010 12:11:54 AM   
Joe D.


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Anthropoid

Question/topic for discussion for you guys: is war likely to be more common during periods/places of resource scarcity/unpredictability or abundance? ...


Doesn't that depend on what kind of war you're talking about?

Only wealthy states with the necessary industrial resources can afford to wage modern mechanized war, but impoverished nations fighting over limited resources can raid one another for years, i.e., the Sudan.

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