Violence is Reality

Realism has been falling out of favor since the end of the Cold War, condemned by the Kumbaya crowd, avoided by the liberal, PC-gone-wild intelligentsia, and denigrated by “end of history” ideologues (many of whom all too cynically remain realists while cloaking it under the mantle of “liberal interventionism”). What they all have in common is a denial of reality – denial of basic human psychology, and the inevitability of its transmutation onto the level of inter-state relations. Let’s look at this through the prism of human violence throughout history.

Imagine living in a society in a near-constant state of war, both within and without. A society where you lose 0.5% of your population to violence every year, a rate which would translate to 2bn war deaths during the 21st century. As a man, you are constantly mobilized for fighting and your chances of meeting a violent end are roughly equivalent to that of a French man during World War One or a Russian during the Great Patriotic War – throughout your entire life. Overall there is a 15-60% chance you will die by the club, spear or arrow. Doesn’t sound like a great deal, right? But such was human reality for the vast majority of its history, “noble savage” myths to the contrary. Quoting Lawrence Keeley in War Before Civilization:

The high war death rates among most nonstate societies are obviously the result of several features of primitive warfare: the prevalence of wars, the high proportion of tribesmen who face combat, the cumulative effects of frequent but low-casualty battles, the unmitigated deadliness and very high frequency of raids, the catastrophic mortalities inflicted in general massacres, the customary killing of all adult males, and the often atrocious treatment of women and children. For these reasons, a member of a typical tribal society, especially a male, had a far higher probability of dying “by the sword” than a citizen of an average modern state.

Below is a chart illustrating the vast gulf between the natural violence of man in the “natural state” (two meanings) and the artificial / coercive violence embodied in the “civilized” state.

This was total war on a scale even technological totalitarianisms had difficulties recreating. The constant prevalence of warfare in human prehistory also made a huge impact on society in terms of language (“…That language has evolved to be parochial, not universal, is surely no accident…Given the incessant warfare between early human groups, a highly variable language would have served to exclude outsiders and to identify strangers the moment they opened their mouths.”) and even psychological traits like altruism.

As if this wasn’t enough, tribal societies are also very violent internally, with homicide rates a full two orders of magnitude above those seen in modern industrialized nations like the US today (5.8 / 100,000). Typical homicide rates ranged from 165.9 / 100,000 for the Yanomamo of Brazil (1970-74) to the 778 / 100,000 of the Hewa of New Guinea (1959-68). As described by one of the first visitors to the New Guinea Highlands, Kenneth Read:

Both men and women are volatile, prone to quarreling and quick to take offense at a suspected slight or injury. They are jealous of their reputations, and an undercurrent of tension, even latent animosity, accompanies many interpersonal relationships. Dominance and submission, rivalry and coercion are constantly reccuring themes, and although the people are not lacking in the gentler virtues, there is an unmistakable aggressive tone to life.

Homicide rates fell somewhat by the time of the Middle Ages, though at 20-100 / 100,000 per year medieval societies were still far more violent than most countries today. (Again, images of bucolic Christian idyll to the contrary).

[Historical homicide rates in Germany and Switzerland (log scale) on vertical axis. Note the uptick in the 14th century, which corresponds to the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages].

Folks of all social classes carried knives with them (for eating) and were quick to perceive insults, at which point they summoned the help of their kin, servants and friends to deal with the offender (most murders were collective). Though medieval and early modern punishments, when they happened, tended to be brutal, public and excruciating by modern standards, they mostly focused on transgressions against the community and the sovereign – from larceny & theft to high treason.

As Norbert Elias wrote in his history of manners, which attempted to explain the gradual pacification of European societies over the centuries, “fear reigned everywhere; one had to be on one’s guard all the time… The majority of the secular ruling class of the Middle Ages led the life of leaders of armed bands”. So if that was how the elites behaved, not much hope for constraining the traditional (violent) ways of life of the peasants. Homicide was not treated as a particularly fell crime and conviction rates were much lower for it than for property crimes. Society only hanged those convicted of murder who were perceived to be outcasts. In most cases they were pardoned or suffered a lesser punishment, because the circumstances were held to warrant their homicide (e.g. defense of honor).

The culture of violence only really came to be suppressed by the power of the emerging, centralizing monarchies from the 15th century, which more-and-more effectively claimed a monopoly on violence as one of their core prerogatives (as well as a monopoly on issuing money and tax collection). The power of coercion, to punish and discipline, passed from the community to the state as part of the overarching transition to modernity begun in the late Middle Ages.

* Trying to explain differences between homicide rates today in different countries is interesting, but is not directly related to the main thrust of this post, and is relegated to the end.

But states themselves are run by humans (e.g. with the same basic psychological attributes of primitive warriors), who have found it useful to repress small-scale violence by coercion and territorial integration, but nonetheless feel it necessary to maintain a more traditional perspective in an arena where older arrangements, that is, anarchy (the state of nature), still prevails – international relations. Almost all modernization efforts from the early modern period to today were driven by the fiscal-military imperative of building taxable (or controllable) means of manning, equipping and supporting the military forces that are the last and truest guarantors of state security from the predations of other states.

Whether you think the world state system today resembles more an inter-tribal state of nature (constant risk of bloody warfare) or a medieval-like community based on clan ties and largely separate from the state (need to conform for safety and always risk offending another member by a perceived slight into violence against you – and if he does, then the community is not certain to be on your side, or may even take the side of your attacker), it is certainly not an “end of history” utopia** where you can afford to sing Kumbaya as your lullaby and slip away into the progressive pieties of the warm glow of common humanity. Welcome to the real world, in which said humanity – most of which still identifies itself by tribe, nation and faith – will make sure you never wake up.

So here are the lessons and suggestions for further discussion:

  1. Though I call prehistoric peoples with a low material & technological level “primitive” and “violent” (which they are – by our standards), I do not consider them evil or even inferior to modern “civilization” – that would be quite illogical, consider that our understandings of “good and evil” are quite foreign to them, whereas “inferiority” implies measurement by one’s own yardstick.  Instead, I go by Trubetzkoy’s moral relativism as to “the equal worth and qualitative incommensurability of the cultures and peoples on this earth”.
  2. The concept that violence is our reality – and perhaps the most basic human commonality of all – is one of the major wellsprings of my geopolitical analysis, and I make no apologies for this.
  3. International relations are amoral (not immoral) and profoundly opportunistic. State security should always be (and usually is by wise leaders) prioritized in an optimal way – focus on power maximization, but not so overtly or arrogantly as to alienate the conformist “international community”. Applied to today’s world, act realistic while paying lip service to the tired tropes of liberalism and idealism.
  4. At times, this will have to include the sacrifice of internal liberties (economic, political and social) to guarantee the retention of greater liberties – foremost, sovereignty – from other Powers. The optimal balance between cooperation and coercion, both internal and external, varies between countries. It is logical for nations under intense geopolitical pressure like Israel, Russia or Iran to institute a greater degree of coercion within and aggressiveness without; geopolitically secure nations like the US can afford a greater degree of leeway.
  5. Assuming a medieval-era society is an acceptable model for the international system, note the spike in homicides during the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages recorded in almost every European region. This was a time of resource shortages (deforestation), famine and the Black Plague, i.e. a Malthusian crisis. Similarly, internal warfare – inter-tribal raids in primitive spaces and civil war in collapsing empires – spikes during Malthusian crises. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that if the energy-and-environmental crises are not checked and reversed soon – and there is absolutely no indication of that happening – one can expect a similar spike in global violence in the decades ahead. This is expected to manifest itself in resource wars externally and rising crime rates and authoritarianism internally.

Further Notes

* Today, most advanced industrial nations have very low homicide rates, ranging from 0.4 in Japan and 1-2 in most Western European nations to 5.8 in the US (which has pockets of medieval-level violence in many inner-city hoods). Only a few countries have homicide rates much above 20 / 100,000, encompassing mostly Latin American and failed / semi-failed states. Though there is a great deal of concern over violent murders even in extremely quiescent societies like Britain (by historical standards), their prevalence is mostly illusion. On the other hand, in a place like Venezuela, with its homicide rate of 48 / 100,000, the everyday danger from violence is very real (accounting for Venezuelans’ life expectancy, this roughly translate into a 1/30 lifetime risk of dying by the bullet, and would be translate into prestate-era rates in some barrios).

To a great extent, many of the differences in homicide rates between different nations today are the result of deeply-ingrained cultural legacies. For instance, why is the US so much more violent (typical homicide rates 5-10 / 100,000) than Western Europe (1-2 / 100,000)? Eric Monkonnen suggests America’s exceptionalism may have something to do with the historical weakness of the US state relative to its European peers:

There is no direct comparison, but arrest, prosecution, and punishment would appear to have been much more likely and much harsher in England than in the United States, at least until the mid-nineteenth century. Vic Gatrell’s study of English executions, The Hanging Tree, is chilling. In the waning years of capital punishment, 1805–1832, more than 2,000 people were publicly hanged; only 20 percent of those were for murder. Those numbers—about 75 a year—were down from an estimated 140 per year for 1770–1805, and even more dramatically down from 75,000 executions in the century between 1630 and 1730. In the United States, Watt Espy’s research suggests about 800 executions for 1770–1805, and 840 for 1805–1832. The execution rates per capita would be about 20 percent higher for England, and this crude estimate ignores the much lower crime and homicide rates there. In addition, we often forget that transportation loomed as a terrifying alternative for English felons. However, an English criminal would have found life easy in the American colonies and the young United States.

We can directly examine the figures on homicides and executions in New York City from 1800 to 1950, and the record shows that there is no statistical relationship between the two rates. In the nineteenth century, in slightly more than half of the years there were no executions in New York City, but there were plenty of murders. Very few New Yorkers were executed in that century—maybe 82 of some 3,400 murderers, less than 3 percent. Such a low rate of executions may seem surprising, but even today, the rate of executions for murder in the execution-prone state of Texas ranges from .1 to 1.3 percent. Even the dimmest murderer may not worry too much about capital punishment.

Combined with Americans’ different mentality from Europeans – they put a much greater stress on older values of individualistic, rugged, manly asperity and honor; as well as pockets of distinctly pre-modern social attitudes seen amongst “ghetto” communities (based on “respect”, turf wars, etc) – and it’s not surprising its homicide rates are much higher than in Europe. And although the US managed to substantially reduce it’s homicide rates from the highs of the 1980’s, this was most likely due to its record-breaking achievements in raising incarceration rates than  any kind of cultural shift.

(Though some would argue that guns are responsible for the higher American murder rates, this is a vacuous argument I will not bother debunking here).

Russia’s homicide rate is a lot higher even than America’s (around 16.5 / 100,000), nor is it a recent phenomenon born of “transition shock”. Soviet propaganda to the contrary, socialist Russia had a higher homicide rate than the US for the vast majority of the post-Stalin period, despite the relative severity of Soviet laws. Partly this was due to Russia’s traditional proclivities towards excessive alcohol consumption, but also partly due to the fact that by the time industrialization came to Russia in the late 19th C it was still, in a sense, a medieval society – very violent, community- and kin-based, and very touchy on matters of respect / social status (see Figes’ unflattering description of  pre-revolutionary Russian village life in A People’s Tragedy). A century of state coercion did not break its embedded medieval cultural traditions, and through its arbitrary nature perhaps even reinforced them.

** Granted, there are some improvements. Modern leaders tend to be more rational than the prestige-obsessed “big men” presiding over primitive societies, and most do not react to slights with the same zeal or violence. Another factor is that in relative terms, war has become less demographically damaging in modern times. In primitive societies, because political units were very small and dispersed, the “bloody borders” between states were much longer in aggregate, whereas the borders between today’s big states may sometimes get very bloody very fast, but there are much fewer of them. [A metaphor for primitive war would be a thousand gashes continually inflicted over humanity’s body all the time, whereas modern warfare (WW1-style) would be infrequent maulings with an ax]. On the other hand, the advent of missile / nuclear weapons and post-2nd generation warfare has married the technological destructiveness of modern war with the totality of primitive war.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. A few thoughts-

    You assume that the future of international relations will be found within a system of states. Why is this so? I find the thesis offered by Shlok Vaidya and John Robb, (see also here) to be more convincing as each day passes.

    My main objection with Morgenthau was always his insistence that human nature was, at its root, violent and evil. The problem I have with his line of reasoning (as well as your own) is that there really is no conclusive evidence to back up this statement. Are “primitive” societies incredibly violent? Of course. But – so what? This does not prove that violence is an inherent attribute of human psychology. All it suggests is that members of primitive societies live incredibly violent lives. While you assume that this violence is caused by the ‘basic psychological attributes’ of humanity, it is just as easy to explain away primitive violence as a feature of the tribal systems all primitive human beings were forced to live through. This latter argument is made all the more compelling by the declines in violence, murder, and war that accompanied the rise of civilization and the elimination of primitive systems across the world.

    In this sense, Mersheimer’s justification for realism makes quite a bit more sense. Mersheimer rejects the notion that humans are innately prone to aggression, content to blame an anarchic system for the “tragedy of great powers.” This notion (comparing the situation of modern states to that of the hunter-gatherers of yore) runs into a rather large problem. As you note, states are run by humans. The actors of international affairs – theMajority leader of the U.S. Senate, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, a contractor for Xe, an FSO climbing his way up the State Department’s latter – rarely have interests in accordance with the “national interest”. Indeed, the idea of a “national interest” is quite silly really, as the nation is nothing but a great conglomerate of individuals whose interests are contradictory and competing. In the end, talk of prioritizing “state security” is a quaint throwback to the age where the needs and desires of the individual matched the conditions needed to maintain a power structure. This age, I think, is no more.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, T. Greer, which forces me to be more rigorous. PS. I’ve slightly corrected your link so that it goes to (what I assume is) your site.

    1. Though terrorism is a significant factor in world politics, and new technologies are making them more effective at disrupting globalization, we shouldn’t exaggerate their real significance (or that of other non-state actors like MNC’s). For all the talk of the death of the nation-state, the reality is that historically it has never been stronger (e.g. some of the European welfare states take more than 50% of GDP in taxes, a level that was previously reached only during 20th century total wars). Corporations are completely subject to the regulations and laws of whichever state they happen to operate in (assuming it’s sovereign). Even many terrorist groups depend on covert funding and support from influential elements embedded within states (e.g. Hezbollah – Iran’s IRGC, Taleban – Pakistan’s ISI). I remain to be convinced that the states system will soon fold under the pressure of “networked terrorist tribes” to be replaced by “resilient communities” – that could only happen if the material base (resource & ecological) of the modern international system were to be depleted, leaving it extremely fragile, but that is not projected to occur until 2030-50 under the scenarios developed by the Limits to Growth modelers.

    2. To clarify some points. I am no geneticist, but if humanity lived under violent conditions for 99.9%, I would be very surprised if it did not also leave substantial imprints on the human psyche in the form of a propensity for violence under suitable conditions (insults to honor, resource scarcity, etc). The rise of civilization resulted in three major changes: a) the state beginning to monopolize internal violence since it is debilitating on state power – this explains the fall in internal violence, b) the sizes of states became bigger and populations larger (i.e. a smaller “border lengths per capita”) with more emphasis on technology rather than manpower (all relative to prestate formations) – hence warfare became demographically less costly, and c) particularly since the fossil-fueled industrial revolution, there has been an unprecedented era of resource abundance, which tends to moderate conflict (in effect, the average modern American possesses hundreds of virtual “energy slaves” via electricity and gasoline – hence, not much incentive to go to war to acquire real slaves). The hardware changed (the international system), the software didn’t – or nowhere near as much (human psychology). This will become evident should civilization unravel.

    3. From the academic IR perspective, I’m not really a big fan of Mearsheimer. He gets the international system = anarchy bit right, but his emphasis on power maximization / pursuit of hegemony is too narrow a definition of realism. The closest thing to my own views are probably Waltz and the neorealists (which I think #3 reflects?). Furthermore,

    Whether you think the world state system today resembles more an inter-tribal state of nature (constant risk of bloody warfare) or a medieval-like community based on clan ties and largely separate from the state (need to conform for safety and always risk offending another member by a perceived slight into violence against you – and if he does, then the community is not certain to be on your side, or may even take the side of your attacker)…

    Note that I refrained from taking sides here, my point here being to include the whole gamut of realists from the early “it’s human nature”-realists (too simplistic) to the neorealists. IMO, the medieval-era community, or Dark Age community, is a very good metaphor for thinking about the modern states system (certainly much better than either prestate warfare or post-state transnational anarchy):

    People (states) have different strengths (military capabilities), abilities (soft power) and kin or friend connections (alliances on an ethnic / religious or common interest basis). Though there exists a simulacrum of authority (the UN, League of Nations), it is distrusted and without the support of the entire community, is impotent. The most important ties are economic exchange, though most members possess a measure of self-sufficiency (globalization vs. autarky), as well as issues that affect everyone like the grazing commons (the world’s resources and pollution sinks). Aggressive psychos and outcasts who threaten or attack everyone (Nazi Germany, “rogue states”) are ostracized (sanctions) or tried and hanged (invaded with regime change). Some clans are more powerful and influential than others (obviously), inducing others to either balance against them or bandwagon with them. Disputes about RL issues like land ownership, or clashes over beliefs / insults to honor, or fights for resources, occur with some frequency. Sometimes the transgressor simply has the better connections and is actually supported by most of the village community, especially if he justifies it with some fluffy high-minded rhetoric (“international community” – see US vs. Iraq 2003). etc…

  3. Of course, my problem with my own sobriety of realism is: what is the purpose of acknowledging reality when one does not find changing things as feasible?

    Dabbling in survivalism makes me run across a lot of the types that “accept” the “law of the jungle” “reality” of the world – but with no acknowledgement of the need to overcome/change/modify that reality.

    Can it be modified? Obviously, with enough affluence. Should it be modified? Absolutely – unless you’ve a delusionally self-assured survivalist, one day you will run into someone stronger than you – reducing human violence is pretty much an objective good on the statistical level.

    So again – sure, realism is real. Now what do we do about it? Not addressing this part of the equation pretty much just petrifies most (intelligent) people. What’s the point of anything if changing the world (or even advocating change) is pointless?

    It;s easy to see why Nietzsche went crazy 😛

    • Mark, as of a few months ago I decided to (mostly) drop advocacy on this blog and instead focus on describing the world as I see it.

      People can act on it as they will, or not at all. Let democracy reign. 🙂

  4. I tend to think the propensity for violence is hardwired into human nature. While, perhaps, overly simplistic to assert that this is the only reason for international anarchy, if true, it must influence the reasons we ascribe to an anarchical world situation.

    If humans were not violent (or covetous, or prideful, etc), then we probably could get along reasonably well and would not have fear of the Hobbesian “State of Nature.” Indeed, would there even be a Hobbesian “State of Nature” under that scenario? It seems that there would be no systemic anarchy if we trusted our fellow man. Even under a Malthusian resource challenge, this would seem to hold if man were not a collection of problematic tendencies waiting to boil over under the right external stimulus.

    After all, isn’t systemic anarchy simply the result of a conglomeration of interests and fears of a given group within a defined area that conflict with a similar conglomeration of interests and fears of another group in a different (or in some cases the same) area?

    This does raise the troubling prospect that there is no fundamental solution to the problem, at least not in this world. Again, if human nature is what drives anarchy, then how can a “Leviathan” be completely trusted to put an end to the very root of the problem when it is run by those who suffer from the same malady?

    Indeed, maybe this is why Nietzsche went insane (at least if one likes to indulge in a bit of nostalgic romanticism). He saw what a world devoid of ethereal transcendence really would be.

  5. Very interesting post, Anatoly. It seems people of our generation have fairly similar views on human nature; despite self-styled ‘humanists’ becoming more prevalent, I wonder if humanism is itself becoming a rosy Victorian anachronism?

    As for America’s large crime rates, according to a certain right wing Canadian*, half of the homicides in America are due to African Americans. Do you know if this is right?

    And of course there is also the fact that in the west we have ‘surrogate violence’ in computer games and films. I’m sure if violent films and computer games were banned, there would be a mushrooming of GBH and murder.

    *I think we can guess who I’m talking about, but because I don’t know if the article is on the internet, or what it was called to verify, I thought it best not to say.

    • Re-crime. That would make certainly make sense. The highest homicide rates in the US are in depressed inner-city areas mostly inhabited by African-Americans and a significant portion are related to the drugs trade.

      Homicide in the hood: A Long View – Eric Schneider

      In a suburban nation enjoying declining rates of violent crime, we forget that not all places are created equal. Homicide in America remains concentrated in African American urban communities. In my city—Philadelphia—over 70 percent of homicide victims in 2008 were African American males, and 56 percent were African American men between the ages of eighteen and forty. At twenty-five per hundred thousand people, “Killadelphia” has the highest murder rate of the top ten American cities. According to a 2006 study, an African American male in North Philadelphia had a better chance of dying from violence than did a U.S. soldier in Iraq. This is not new; for more than a century African Americans have been disproportionately represented in homicide statistics. Let’s look at what we know about homicide (which may not be what we think we know), then at differing explanations for high rates among African Americans, and finally at some solutions.

  6. From their own respective slants, “realists” can have some idealistic tendences, with “idealists” displaying bouts of realism as well.

    As a follow-up, human rights advocacy can be considered incomplete if it shows some inconsistency that can be reasonably seen as politically motivated.

    Some examples pertain to:

    – stressing language rights for Albanians in Macedonia/FYROM unlike a similar advocacy for the good sized Russian speaking areas outside Russia.

    – getting involved in wars with the stated attempt to stop ethnic cleansing, while taking a “practical” approach that one group in a given conflict will “unfortunately” perhaps have to be ethnically cleansed in the interests of pursuing “peace.”

    In short, the otherwise noble cause of human rights can be used in a Machiavellian way that essentially serves as a propaganda tool.

  7. Antoly-

    Thanks for your response. I thank you also for fixing the link in my name. My website is indeed

    My thoughts, on each of the ideas you so neatly numbered:

    1. The I think the “networked tribes/resilient communities” thesis offered is more nuanced than you make it out to be. Networked tribes – be they terrorists, hackers, open-source social movements, ect. – do not need to defeat the state. They simply need to disrupt the operations of the Westphalian system to an extent that it can no longer function.

    Let me clarify what I mean. Joseph Tainter proposed in his book The Collapse of Complex Societies* that civilization solves its problems by means of complexity. Each problem faced by a given civilization is countered by expanding the number of variables between the production of a resource and its eventual use. However, every new “level” of complexity brings with it a host of new problems, which in turn can only be solved by making the system more hierarchical and the variables within it more interdependent. This process in not sustainable; eventually there comes a point where the problems confronting a civilization become a Gordian know of uncountable variables.

    Networks have an intrinsic advantage over states in such a situation. The systems that hold up our current world order are of a complexity not seen in human history; we have a financial sector too complicated to be understood with a life’s worth of study and too large to be effectively regulated, and a global supply system with too many moving parts to observe, much less manage. The weak spot in this great system is the interconnectedness of it all. You only need to disrupt one node in the supply chain to bring the whole system down. The material base does not need to be depleted to usher on a new era – it just has to be disrupted to a point where the current ways of transnational trade no longer work. The hierarchical and centralizing nature of the state means it is dependent on nodes such as these; as open-source projects, networks need not fail because one part of their system has.

    2. I tend to fall on the nurture side of the nature v.s. nurture side of the debate. But for arguments sake, let us say you are right – human beings have an ingrained instinct to get things done by means of physical aggression. But how does this translate into an executive order to bomb this facility or launch an assault on that one? Our primal instincts may explain why we can field armies. It does not explain why we choose to do so. Politics, by and large, is a game of civility. The politicians, generals, and corporate executives in Washington have no real connection to the violence their actions cause. In the realm of bills, treaties, and backroom deals, there is as much use of instinctual aggression as there is use of instinctual fear of spiders.

    3. I do not think I articulated my position very clearly here. I question all comparisons of the state and the individual, save those of the literary nature. The state is but a conglomerate of individuals. These individuals seek to use the state for their own betterment, not for the betterment of the collective. Thus, the state has no “interests”, it exists in no “community”, and it has no “friends.” The people operating the levers of state may have all these things, yes, but the state itself is simply a vehicle various individuals use to gain power/influence/money/a better life/security/ ect. International relations is not played out in a realm anarchy where states are stand ins for their citizens and have their own personalities and desires. Rather, as said before, international relations is conducted in the world of chambers, ballrooms, back-rooms, and meeting halls.

    So my case against ‘the reality of violence’ goes something like this: As states have no innate attributes, being only instruments in the hands of individuals, analogies to the Middle Ages, Antiquity, or Pre-history are flawed by design. Evolutionary behavior is thus restricted to the individuals governing a state. And in the modern world, the instincts of statesmen are not readily reflected in actual policies enacted.

    And of course, none of this matters because the state system is falling apart anyway. 😛

    *Full disclosure: I have not read his book, just several of his academic article.

    • 1. I understand better now. Terrorism is just one of many rising “costs” that will continue to afflict nation-states, along with ever poorer-quality energy supplies, accelerating climate change, etc. Eventually there’ll come a tipping point and they will collapse to a lower level of complexity, i.e. horizontal networks instead of vertical hierarchies. I completely agree with this scenario.

      Re-Tainter. It’s a very good book, but rather hard reading despite its short length. He has good ideas but is not a good writer. You can browse through my notes on it here –

      PS. Point to consider. Could not nation-states, especially those with a strong sense of self-identity, themselves become networks? Something to consider with the appearance of Facebook bureaucrats, tweeting politicos, etc.

      3. I disagree here, I think nations do have their own “interests”, “friends”, etc, that are largely determined by their cultural identity and geostrategic position. Though its rulers and enforcers do have their own individual and clan interests, this does not mean there is no overriding sense of patriotism and lust for power by association with and through expansion of the power of the state they preside over. (This is especially true within nationalist or fascist regimes who regard the state as an organic expression of the totality of its subjects, but also applies to all states with a powerful enough, binding national myth.)

  8. Anatoly,

    This piece of writing reminded me of the (much more simplistic but equally perceptive) observation made by Bob Dylan:

    “Democracy don’t rule the world,
    You’d better get that in your head.
    This world is ruled by violence
    But I guess that’s better left unsaid.”

    I think it makes good common sense to predict, as you do, a future “spike” in violence. (Nice mental association with choosing that word.) The times we live in are those where the human psyche is demanding more and demanding it quicker. This is a case in point in South Africa after Mandela was released and came to power but progress in society was too slow to match the expectation, leading to violence/crime through greater frustration than before.

    • The “spike” bit was actually unintentional, but yes, it fits well. I think we’ll be seeing many spikes in uncomfortable areas in the decades ahead.

      Excellent Dylan quote btw.

  9. Yeah, I think there’s a Dylan line for virtually every situation. Either that or a quote from George Orwell or a bit of dialogue from Al Pacino’s character in “Scent of a Woman.” I think all bases are then covered!

  10. This is wonderful,I would be grateful if i am trained to know much like you all.God Bless you.

  11. Tetsuya Sellers says

    Great blog! Another thing to consider is tht a hunter-gatherer band of thirty people is going to be fragile demographically anyhow. Even a flu bug could wipe them out. I read on a blog called Anthropik (I don’t think its currently running) claimmed that because of this most huntergathers spent most of their time ritual combat, like singing insults to each other or performing “mock raids” where one would enter an oposing comunity but not kill anyone.