The Evolution of War and the Discovery of Alternatives

Spring 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Steven Niva
international politics, political science, Middle East studies

War is a complex process involving multiple interacting agents and institutions that defies simple explanation. War has typically been explained through the lens of political science, economics and history, yet the potentially powerful insights of evolutionary theory are often omitted from the toolbox of most scholars and theorists of war. While war takes many forms—gang violence, terrorism, insurgency, rebellion, civil war, inter-state war—an important commonality is that they are fought, and led, by human beings. This makes evolutionary approaches potentially relevant to them all. It also suggests important variations that an evolutionary perspective may help to explain. Given the unending list of conflicts around the globe, and the many failures of conflict resolution efforts, this program will explore to what extent evolutionary approaches can shed new light on the old problem of war and whether its insights may help us discover or re-think alternatives to war.

We will develop a toolbox of evolutionary theory and then apply it to several cases of war and extreme intergroup violence such as genocide, civil wars and ethnic conflict. This will include a close examination of the causes of the Holocaust, the civil wars and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda and contemporary resource wars, especially in light of climate change. We will explore how evolution may offer new perspectives and often counter-intuitive theories that add explanatory power over and above existing theories on why people are motivated to fight, and the conditions under which they are more likely to fight or seek peace. We will think deeply about how alternatives to war may need to consider the evolutionary constraints that shape human behavior.

The program will be guided by a participatory approach to learning, with encouragement of diverse perspectives and a high level of student discussion and engagement expected. We will read texts and write papers. The key learning will take place through active participation and active student theorizing about evolution, war and alternatives to war.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: evolutionary biology, international studies and political science.

Online learning:
  • No Required Online Learning - No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

2018-01-22This program has been cancelled. Steve Niva will teach Shadow Wars and Global Governance.