Resource Unpredictability, Socialization and War

Session Date: 
May 16, 2014

Until we understand the conditions that increase or decrease the likelihood of conflict, it is difficult to imagine how we would create a more peaceful world that many yearn for. The research I describe today is the culmination of decades-long research that tested a variety of theories about warfare and other forms of violence in a sample of 186 societies. Many of the theories of warfare assumed to be plausible fell short, such as the idea that war becomes more likely with agriculture and political complexity. Resource scarcity, particularly unpredictable scarcity such as drought, is a particularly strong predictor of more warfare. Warfare is not an isolated form of violence; indeed warfare is correlated with many other types of violence. There is suggestive evidence that warfare may be central to this pattern by not only legitimizing violence, but also by encouraging young boys to be aggressive to prepare them for their future as warriors. Are these results relevant to the world today? Much of the violence today is ethnic violence and some recent analyses of contemporary violence in eastern Africa support the link between conflict and resource scarcity.

File 2014_05_16_07_Ember.mp498.17 MB