An Open Access Article

Type: Research Article
Volume: 2022
Relevant IGOs:

Article History at IRPJ

Date Received: 2021-12-21
Date Revised:
Date Accepted: 2021-12-22
Date Published: 2022-01-08
Assigned ID:

A Reading of Human History with Bifocals: Looking at Human Conflict Through Biopolitical And Constructivist Views

E.W. MacEnulty II

  • Graduate of Diplomacy and International Affairs, EUCLID University;
  • Secondary Teacher Licensure, Regis University, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA;
  • Bachelor of Arts in the Theatre Arts, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, USA.


Corresponding Author:

Pr Devender Bhalla, HDR (Editor)



I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.                                                                                   ~ Saint Paul, Romans Chapter 7, Verses 15 and 18

Welfare takes away a man’s strongest reason for working, which is survival.                                                                                    ~ Melvin B. Tolson, The Great Debaters (2007)

Mythology can never be disconnected from language.                                                                                      ~ J. R. R. Tolkien, author and linguist


The Good Friday Accords bring peace to Northern Ireland after the three-decade struggle known as ‘the Troubles.’ The announcement is at once surprising and welcome. The larger truth, however, is that the hostility between the Irish and English identities had been in conflict for centuries, perhaps one of the longest – if not the longest – continuous conflict between two established peoples in the history of the world, dating back as it does to the eleventh century. This conflict also reveals – due to its long-standing history – the power of the Biopolitical human brain in its evolution of identity in-group and out-group formation, complemented by the profound flexibility of Identity evolution of Constructivism, two “newer” theories of International Affairs working in concert with each other. This article seeks to understand the complexity of the evolved human brain as a specific instrument that developed over six million years of human evolution; that both initiates and repels violence as resource protection and acquisition to protect the in-group, the primary physical and psychological struggle for survival. Understanding this innate human development allows individuals (and, thus, states) to make conscious decisions that will allow for identity evolution, resulting in peaceful accords, most notably the Good Friday Accords which brought peace to Northern Ireland. Understanding how identities change and evolve, rooted as they are in human brain evolution, is the key for negotiating peaceful overtures between groups in conflict. Conflict is natural; peace can be if identities are allowed to evolve.



The woman is bound with rope to a concrete lamppost. A crowd gathers as her clothes are torn and one man – called an “enforcer” in this first-person account – cuts off her long hair in ragged clumps. Red paint is poured, covering her in what looks like blood. A pillow’s feathers are thrown on her from head to foot. Her humiliation is not over just yet: a sign is placed about the woman’s neck. It reads: “Fenian[1] Lover.”

This is not recent history; this is a mere forty years ago in the modern city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, during a violent time known as ‘the Troubles.” Her crime? “Suspected” of dating a Catholic.

If the incident had the eerie tones of another woman humiliated before a jeering mob, it could certainly not have been lost on this crowd. How is it that for a people whose identity finds its bedrock in an institution where the story of the “Woman Caught in Adultery” is part of Sunday sermon canon should take the parts of the Pharisees? How is it for a people, who identify with God’s saving love, should make the idea of “loving one’s enemy” a crime, even worthy of public humiliation and abuse? Our witness to this event, now writing as a mature adult, remembers what his ten-year-old-eyes saw:

Something inside of me knew I’d witnessed a terrible thing, yet I knew I couldn’t even begin to think like this. It was against the rules; the same unwritten rules and code of conduct that this young woman had disobeyed. Fear of the paramilitariesY created a culture of silence and where we lived this was a survival strategy we all lived by. We were all products of this violent environment and we had been desensitized to events that no child should ever have to witness.[2]

In the larger picture, actors at all levels of society operate in an “us versus them” system that goes back millennia, embedded in our very DNA. These same actors at the family, local, state, national and international levels engage the larger world in service to and powered by these specific identities. The good news is that these identities are ever-evolving, morphing, and can change quickly if need be as evidenced by the ; the bad news is that it often goes against millennia of physiological and psychological roots that has enabled survivors to pass on their genes. Every living organism is a product of survivors, full stop. Man might be a step below the angels but he is only one step above the animals.

This paper will argue that it is the combination of both Biopolitical and Constructivism that offers the most complete, adaptable, and thorough views with which to analyze international events. Biopolitical addresses the human species’ urgent drive to survive, and the “reptilian” part of our brain that evolved specifically to react to danger (not think) and function on this same “us versus them” survival strategy. Constructivism is the second part wherein identity formation occurs, and language lies at the heart of identity evolution.  Using these two lenses – like bifocal glasses allowing one to see both near and far – this paper will analyze the long-standing difficulty of human beings to function outside this dilemma that enabled survival but still inhibits international peace.


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.          ~ Saint Paul, Romans Chapter 7, Verses 15 and 18

Genes matter. Words matter. It is the classic nature-nurture argument: genes are wired at birth, but the environment acts on them like weather and soil conditions on a seed. The seed can only be what plant it is wired to be (an acorn cannot be a daisy), but how strong or weak, long- or short-lived the mature plant depends on the variable conditions of soil, water, sun, and temperature; the more favorable these are, the better chance of the gene’s passage to the next generation by a mature reproducing adult. Humankind is no different. As author Jennifer Sterling-Kohler says: “Reproductive success is the only criterion that counts in evolution.”[3]

Biopolitical is an International Affairs theory whose central tenet is that long-enduring genetic codes of survival, stretching back millennia, still inform a large part of the “us versus them” dilemma that influences the relations between individuals and states, for good or ill. In more specific terms, writer Ms. Sterling-Kohler sums it up thusly:

[It is an] analytical umbrella exploring the role that human biology, psychology, cognition, perceptions, and emotions might play in IR. What differentiates Biopolitical approaches is that Biopolitical scholarship generalizes behavioral attributes across the human species and argues that these attributes have relevance to IR outcomes and events.[4]

The human animal is closer to their “animal” ancestry than their civilized mind likes to think. It is difficult to override the basic DNA that has allowed for survival across the millennia based on the important “us versus them, fight or flight” dynamic. If one was not wary or watchful, they may not live long enough to pass on the experience.

The importance of Biopolitics as a fundamental view of International Relations is due to its long track-record. Biopolitics addresses three fundamental realities about the human experience over many eons: (1) the human species is still evolving; (2) their greatest need is to pass on genetic memory through their propagation; and (3) our natural tendency towards aggression to protect resources is the “Us vs. Them” dynamic embedded in our very brain structure.

2.1.  The ‘Elegantly Complex’ Species Evolves

Natural selection does not work ‘for the good of the species,’ as many people think. ~ Leda Cosmides and John Tooby

Professor of Resource Ecology Bobbi Low sums up the true nature of humankind thusly, “Humans are indeed animals, even if elegantly complex ones, and they are therefore subject without special exemption to the general rules of natural selection, the rules that govern behavior and life history among living things” [emphasis mine].[5]

Humankind, while certainly endowed with some impressive evolutionary successes, remains an animal that has evolved over millions of years and is no less effected by the fundamental nature of evolution: to wit, the survivors reproduce.

2.2.  Evolutionary Timeline

In the universal timeline, humankind arrived on the scene only recently. Our oldest ancestors date back six million years.

The Homo group — including our own species, Homo sapiens — began arising more than two million years ago. It’s distinguished by bigger brains, more tool-making and the ability to reach far beyond Africa. Our species was distinguished about 200,000 years ago. While we started in temperate climates, about 60,000 to 80,000 years ago the first humans began straying outside of the continent in which our species was born. Civilization as we know it is only about 6,000 years old [emphasis mine].[6]

Dr. Johan van der Dennen expands on this history:

Placed on the evolutionary time scale, the human being appears as a mere afterthought. Placental mammals evolved around 100 million years ago, towards the end of the Cretaceous period. The primates diverged from the ancestral mammalian stock roughly 75 million years ago. The hominids, the ancestral stock from which humans are derived, split off from the remainder of the ape family (the pongids) some 8 million years ago, towards the end of the Miocene epoch, in Africa east of the Great Rift. Archaic Homo sapiens appeared on the scene by about 400,000 years ago; and our subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens has been in existence for a mere 35 to 50,000 years.[7]

Humankind is a relative newcomer to the evolutionary timeline. Two million years on a planet that is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old is a short amount of time comparatively.[8] In true evolutionary biological framework, humankind is just beginning. Dr. van der Dennen expresses it this way:

It has become increasingly clear that Homo s. sapiens is indeed an exceptional and odd species in the world of organisms. The time elapsed since our origin is – in evolutionary perspective – quite brief. Therefore, many of our genes’ frequencies and behaviors are still oscillating without having reached yet a less disequilibrated state as is usually found among other – ’older’ – species. We are still in the wake of our evolutionary origin.[9]

Compared to other organisms who have evolved over a longer period of time, arriving at more or less their apex genetically (i.e. sharks or reptiles), we are still evolving. Most of that two million years was spent in the “uncivilized” world where survival—or more importantly, reproduction—was the primary aim. Even in supposedly “civilized” groups a mere 6,000 years ago, survival and violence were a part of daily life.

[O]ur ancestors spent the last two million years as Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, and, of course, several hundred million years before that as one kind of forager or another… The few thousand years since the scattered appearance of agriculture is only a small stretch in evolutionary terms, less than 1% of the two million years our ancestors spent as Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.[10]

The reality of a hunting-gathering society, avoiding predation from other animals as well as other humans, is the larger part of our evolution, directly affecting how our brain developed. We function on the principles of sexual reproduction and that includes war and aggression. Ms. Sterling-Kohler states: “Biopoliticists would argue that ‘without an understanding of the evolutionary and genetic aspects of behavior, we cannot fully comprehend the inner principles by which human life is organized.’”[11] The wiring took eons to evolve, and, what is more, it is still evolving. For some, this view might seem a “cop-out” about rationalizing our innate aggressive human instincts. To an evolutionary biologist, the question of moral values is irrelevant when one seeks to understand how the human “animal” evolved genetically as well as culturally – the seed and its environment. Again, Dr. van der Dennen states:

Many people are still very reluctant to acknowledge any ’animal heritage’ in human behavior. … the complex of collective behaviors we call war evolved as a facultative male-coalitional reproductive strategy. … Via a nearly similar trajectory, some communities of chimpanzees evolved ‘lethal male raiding’, while the other pongids (gorilla and orangutan) evolved rape as an equivalent reproductive strategy. … It also required the existence of recently acquired patterns, notably coalitional cooperation, cultural badges as markers of group identity and ethnocentrism, social and operational intelligence and artefactual weapons. It was not only a novel pattern, it was also ‘invented’ or stumbled upon by very few, typically brainy species, which may explain why it arose so late on the evolutionary time scale.[12]

Yes, we must appreciate that we are the crown jewel of evolutionary mammals, but we must accept we remain tied to our mammal evolution without special exemption.

2.3.  Sexual Dimorphism

Through evolutionary history, men have been able to gain reproductively by warring behavior; women almost never have been able to do so. ~ B.S. Low, Professor of Resource Ecology

To illustrate our place in the evolutionary timeline, we begin with the basic taxonomy:

Taxonomically, humans belong to the Kingdom Animalia, the Phylum Chordata, the Subphylum Vertebrata, the Class Mammalia, the Subclass Eutheria or Placentalia, the Order Primates, the Suborder Anthropoidea, the Superfamily Hominoidea, the Family Hominidae, the Genus Homo, the Species sapiens, and the Subspecies sapiens.[1]

The designate of mammal has dramatic implications for reproduction. Mammals require a male and a female to reproduce with the female providing lactate via mammary glands to nourish offspring. In particular among mammals, this leads to male aggression in the acquisition of mates. Professor Low sums up this dimorphism in two different ways:

Mammalian aggression is sexually dimorphic. An analysis of coalitions in non-humans makes clear that, compared to females, males tend to form coalitions that are riskier, more aggressive, and more often among non-relatives. Because females’ conflicts center on food or parental resources, while males’ conflicts are likely to center on the acquisition of mates, the reproductive impact of conflict for male mammals may be many times greater than that for females.[13] …  It isn’t that men are bigger and stronger than women. In primate species, and in human societies, social complexities so outweigh the impact of physical size that size alone is a poor predictor of success … The critical factor behind our sex differences is that resources and power have different reproductive utility for men and women.[14]

There is much to unpack here. It is clear from the behavior for males and females that males benefit from aggression as a means to acquire and protect mates thus ensuring genetic reproduction. This innate aggression led to risky and even violent behavior, the precursors to war. While it may be debatable that much of our current wars and international conflicts are about procuring reproductive resources, the original wiring laid down millennia ago is rooted in this conflict. Though weapons change, the brain’s particular development for hunter-gatherer survival still informs our functioning in today’s world. In many primitive cultures, the success of males on the battlefield led directly to choice selection of female mates. The “man in uniform” attraction remains strong today. Look at our reverence for the war hero. Indeed, Pr. Low says, “If sexual preference still exists for ‘war heroes’ or if there are other proximate rewards, previously linked to selective advantage, the risky behavior may still be common.”[15]

It is certainly no headline that firemen, soldiers, and even professional athletes certainly claim a considerable amount of sexual prowess. This, of course, is due to hard-wiring of the aggressive male who competes among fellow males to stand out from the crowd to garner attention of females who are also looking for the strongest reproductive success: producing offspring who will in turn produce more offspring.

2.4.  The Human Brain: Where Psychology Meets Physiology

We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.                  ~ C-3PO, Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Evolutionary psychologists have come to question the long-held belief that all humans’ brains are born like a blank canvas, to be filled by culture and values of the environment. The brain has long been seen as a “simple” instrument, that culture is the biggest influencer of behavior. Evolutionary psychologists postulate that the brain is hard-wired for very specific functions from the time in which it was developed. The human brain evolved for purposes different from our modern world: We employ a hunter-gatherer brain in a modern, technological world. No matter the seed, it can only be what it is genetically determined to be … an acorn cannot be a daisy, dolphin, or deer.

2.5.  Genetic Coding

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.          ~ Agent Smith, The Matrix

What exactly has been encoded in our human brain? Why is the human brain less like a computer and more like a specific instrument that developed over six million years of human evolution? Evolutionary psychology is a relatively new area of study that looks at how the human brain evolved and where its specific wiring impacts human psychology. The brain evolved not to think but operate in a specific circumstance. Doctor of Cognitive Psychology Leda Cosmides and anthropologist Jerome Barkow are among the first to challenge the misconception of the human brain as a blank slate or canvas.

Behavioristic psychology assumed that the human mind was virtually a tabula rasa: it had little wiring, and that of a very general sort. But behaviorism, or extreme versions of it, has been shown to have severe limitations. Current thought,  forcefully supported by data on the highly specific cognitive, emotional, or behavioral deficits that result from brain lesions in specific locations, thus has it that the mind is wired in great detail.[16]

Rather than being born with no wiring, the brain is wired at birth, like unpacking an already assembled radio or TV and “plugging it” into culture. Yes, a socio-cultural environment will play an enormous shaping influence, but it can only do so on what structure is installed. Dr. van der Dennen discusses the human brain’s evolution.

It is important to understand that brains did not evolve to think, or solve academic puzzles, but to act, or at least to make optimal decisions for the animal to act upon in the light of its survival interests. The picture of the outside world through the senses and what the brain reconstructs from the signals they receive has only to be ’adequate for survival’ not to provide deep insights into the objective world.[17]

Here we see how our brain functions closer to our animal kin than any ideal of divine beings. The vast majority of our human history involved intense competition, mortal danger, and struggle for survival.

A genetically coded aversion toward strangers would have enabled individuals to avoid attack more readily or immediately than would learning alone, and by avoiding injury and death, survival would be enhanced, leaving more offspring from these individuals. Over time, those with the genetically coded aversion toward strangers would come to prevail in the population.[18] … The part of the brain mainly responsible for the trebling in brain size during hominid/human evolution is the cauliflower-like neocortex, a neomammalian development that mushroomed late in evolution and achieved its greatest proportions in human beings.[19]

This is the part of the brain that covers the entire top, beneath the cranium. Such distinctive large growth in this part of our brain will make humankind more susceptible to emotional disturbance (strong emotions across the spectrum and felt more intensely) than his “lesser” forebears and other organisms. This reality of emotional susceptibility – especially fear – will have dramatic implications on human’s prevarication and predilection to violence and war based on perceived or imagined threats.

2.6.  Evolved Brains and Fear Susceptibility

External environment, development, and genes interact in a complex way. ~ B.S. Low

Our brain is wired to process lots of information regarding our surroundings and  threats, and to do so quickly. In addition, our larger neocortex generates a whole new slew of potential threats and aggressions in imaginary fears.

From his protohominid past early Man must have inherited a great susceptibility to fear, which must have been amplified by his primordial intellectual and symbolizing capacities. His growing self-consciousness must have been accompanied by a great deal of anguish. Not only real dangers such as natural catastrophes, famines, diseases, and predators became more terrifying as he gradually came to realize their consequences, but internally generated, fantasized, imaginary fears began to haunt his overloaded brain as well. These fears include fear of revenge of killed animals and slaughtered enemies, fear of the spirits or ghosts of the dead, fear of malevolent demons or deities, fear of black magic, the evil eye, witchcraft, fear of the gods or other supernatural forces, fear, in short, of the nightmarish figments of his own imagination; but also more realistic fears: Fear of the stranger and the potential danger the stranger incorporates, the unknown, fear of death and dying, fear of anything that could demolish the vulnerable identity and the so-painfully acquired social cosmology. The magical-animistic universe of primitive Man may, at least in part, be understood as a protective device against the ubiquitous fears and anxieties generated by a hostile world.[20]

In such a “pre-scientific” world where humankind could not explain natural occurrences, even devastating ones, it was left to their mind to construct meaning. In their limited capacity to understand greater scientific laws that we so easily take for granted, the emotions flooding their conscious mind would have a strong affect – like the transformation of constant coastal tides on cliffs and rocks. In today’s view, such thinking seems “primitive” and “antiquated” as it most certainly is; however, we neglect to fully grasp what such a world did for human brain development.

Such a strategy also makes good evolutionary sense for the explanation of the overperception of threat. An organism contemplating every new situation probably would not survive its first encounter with a predator. To be overcautious, overperceptive of threat or oversensitive to even minor signs of danger carries with it high costs in terms of vigilance, sheltering, but these costs are insignificant compared to the costs of making the error of being not cautious enough. Such an error is fatal. An evolutionary strategy of being overcautious – jumping to conclusions given the slightest indication of danger – thus pays off in terms of survival and reproductive success.[21]

In such a dangerous world where survival is a daily struggle, this type of brain functioning makes sense, much like our pet cat who is a jumble of nerves and reactions in the urban environment. Add to this, the amount of years and generations whereby survivor genes are passed on to the succeeding generation, one begins to see the level of wiring encoded deep inside the human brain and why it developed the way it did.

As noted above, the larger neocortex of humankind allows for higher-level thinking but also allows for stronger emotional disturbances, among them a highly acute sense of fear, suspicion of the unknown, and “magical thinking.” The neocortex in humankind is larger than in all other organisms. The neocortex, according to Jon H. Kaas:

The neocortex is a structure with great information-processing and -storing capacity. In humans, the neocortex mediates consciousness. Most importantly, the neural circuits in the neocortex are modifiable in development and throughout life, so that species become specialized for relevant perceptual and behavioral abilities, and individuals acquire individual skills, abilities, personalities, and memories.[22]

Also consider this fascinating conclusion by Michel A. Hoffman of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience:

The human brain contains about 100 billion neurons, more than 100,000 km of interconnections, and has an estimated storage capacity of 1.25 × 1012 bytes. These impressive numbers have led to the idea that our cognitive capabilities are virtually without limit. The limit to any intelligent system therefore lies in its abilities to process and integrate large amounts of sensory information and to compare these signals with as many memory states as possible, and all that in a minimum of time.[23]

As already discussed, this ability allows humankind to make rapid judgments and categorizations. Continuing, he notes the evolutionary history of the human brain:

A progressive enlargement of the hominid brain started about 2.5 million years ago, probably from a bipedal, australopithecine form with a brain size comparable to that of a modern chimpanzee. Since then, a threefold increase in endocranial volume has taken place, leading to one of the most complex and efficient structures in the animated universe, the human brain. Explanations for the evolution of the human brain are mainly focusing on selection pressures of the physical environment (climate, diet, food availability) and those of the social environment (group size, coalition formation, parental care)[24].

As noted, environmental pressures and in-group identity processes (family and kin groups) led to a three-fold expansion in brain size. Simultaneously, a threefold expansion in brain size and function affect higher-order brain functions as sensory perception, cognition, motor commands, spatial reasoning, and language. These functions allowed for a dynamic in-group functioning well above lower order organisms.

Because, however, of their larger brain, humankind has the advantage of a higher-level-acquisition of learning and knowledge. Humankind’s early brain employed the “concepts” and “categories” as noted by Dr. van der Dennen, “Categories and concepts, generalizations and unifications, enable us to create order out of chaos. At the same time, however, these are necessarily simplifications of reality, and may easily lead to stereotypes and prejudices.”[25] Our remarkable and highly evolved brains calculate extremely fast and efficiently. We have arrived at the quintessential foundation of a Biopolitical worldview: for millennia, humankind has assigned sensory perception it encountered into an in- or out-group designation. Today, our modern brain still employs this function, thereby creating the root of conflict between all humans.

2.7.  Ethnocentrism and In-Group/Out-Group Demarcation

We very rarely say the views of the people who disagree with me are thoughtful and nuanced. ~ Shankar Vedantam, host of Hidden Brain

In our evolutionary past, quick and unconscious sorting of all strangers into in- and out-group categories meant life and death. The vast majority of human co-habitation was in family groups, numbering under fifty people. This has implications for reproduction, food resources, as well as aggression to either ward off attackers or protect and defend resources (including females).  Today, larger states are simply the tribe or family unit writ large. We process new information and people and we place them in the in- or the out-group. We make generalizations, assumptions, and predictions about their behavior. This ethnocentrism, the inherent belief that our in-group is trustworthy and righteous while any out-group is not until proven otherwise is the prime survival strategy. Dr. van der Dennen describes this propensity in greater detail:

The particular logic of ethnocentrism is its duality which dichotomizes the world into A and non-A, self and other, in-group and out-group, us and them, friend and foe, [which] seems to spring from the cognitive capacity of Man to juxtapose, classify, categorize, distinguish, differentiate, dichotomize and discriminate, but also his ability to abstract, generalize and detect common determinators in things highly diverse.[26]

It is hardly surprising, then, that aggression and war is a result of this “us vs. them” dynamic. Further, we in our in-group must, in some way, dehumanize “them” in the out-group in order to engage in lethal conflict. There are socio-cultural barriers that add to this separation. This ability was well-suited for most of our human history when we survived in smaller family groups. Our brains survived by this ethnocentrism because the survivors survived. As a result, the human brain was designed for a past environment and is not well-suited to the larger international arena. It matters not how the weapons change; it is the basis of conflict that has not. Indeed, Dr. van der Dennen states:

[With regards to] the ’deep structure’ of warfare propensities it is thus crucial to bear in mind that evolution always involves adaptation to past, not present environments. Moreover, most genetic evolution of human behavior has occurred over a span of hundreds of thousands of years prior to civilization. A ’red line’ throughout the theory is that the evolution of much contemporary social behavior has originated during the past 1 to 2 million years when our ancestors lived in small, tight-knit kin groups. … call[ed]’nucleus ethnic groups’. Numbering approximately 100 individuals at most, a nucleus ethnic group comprises one’s offspring, one’s siblings’ offspring, and one’s parents and their siblings and their offspring.[27]

2.8.  Conflict and Competition Really Are a Matter of Life or Death

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. ~ Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Foundational to understanding Biopolitics is understanding the world in which humankind evolved and the evolutionary laws that governed that development. Humankind is a highly evolved organism, but is still subject to the same patterns of natural selection over a great amount of time: The attributes of the suspicious survivors pass on their genes to the next generation. The human brain did not evolve to contemplate deep meaning, to think as we know it today, but rather to organize their world into categories that best promoted successful reproduction and survival. The common denominator of all life forms is conflict.

Conflict on all levels of organic existence is pervasive, persistent, ubiquitous. Conflict is the universal experience of all life forms. Organisms are bound in multiple conflict-configurations and coalitions, which have their own dynamic and their own logic. This does not mean, however, that the more paroxysmal forms of conflict behavior, naked violence and destruction, are also universal. Conflict and cooperation are always intertwined. Conflicts do, however, have a propensity to gravitate towards violence.[28]

Further, modern man has a “rose-colored” view of the lesser animals and organisms whom they view as functioning in an idyllic existence, not understanding the pervasive violence that exists among all life forms. Dr. van der Dennen notes this salient and interesting point:

Sigmund Freud reinforced a pessimistic view of human nature by his inadvertent misapplication of Darwin’s theory … Even worse, if it so happened that all other animals normally restrained themselves, and behaved ‘for the good of the species’, and selfishness and violence occurred only within Homo sapiens, then people really would be aberrant, biologically tainted with a kind of original sin. Konrad Lorenz and his generation of ethologists were apparently unaware of the ubiquity of animal violence, and thus they falsely attributed special malevolence to human beings [emphasis mine].[29]

By studying our nearest ancestors, chimpanzees, we note some common behaviors that deal with in- and out-group aggression and resource competition. While humankind’s larger neocortex progressed, our base brain – specifically, our reptilian and limbic system which remains roughly the same size –  still competes on a similar “primitive animal” level.

The preadaptations required to permit the emergence of warfare in both chimps and early human ’dawn warriors’ were, according to [Jane] Goodall (1986), probably cooperative group living, group territoriality, cooperative hunting skills, tool/weapon use, an inherent fear of, or aversion to, strangers, and the intellectual ability to make cooperative plans.[30]

Our larger brains allowed us to congregate, cooperate, and strategize for mate and resource acquirement. Our innate ability to plan ahead and use tools at the same time, led us to use those for violent ends. Today, we call that war.

2.9.  Propagation of The Species: Making War to Survive

SynclaireBut you ever stop to think about what the world be like without men? Khadijah: A bunch of fat, happy women and no crime!  ~ TV show Living Single (1993)

Even humankind had to fend with the “eat or be eaten” dynamic. Their position at the top of the food chain was not a guarantee of survival from not only predators but other human beings. In such an environment, is it any wonder that humankind, like all species, developed means to avoid predation and, in our case, developed suspicion, aggression, and violence. Ms. Sterling-Kohler quotes ethologist Konrad Lorenz when he “argued that aggression was an instinct or urge developed to ensure survival of the individual and the species by warding off competitors.”[31]  As we have learned, conflicts arose over resources (food and water) to reproduction means (women) to even prey and cannibalism (man as food).

Outsiders were seen as a potential threat and for good reason. Aggression resulted in making war while for others it was defense by violent means; usually, it was both.

2.10.        Making War as A Reproduction Strategy

Dr. Falger and Dr. van der Dennen open their pivotal chapter with the following statement about war:

War is almost always seen as an exclusively human activity, and once “invented” as a social institution some 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, it spread [as] an evolutionary view, in which interactions including warfare make sense only if they serve reproduction on which natural selection works.[32] [T]wo types of warfare in animals and mankind have been distinguished: raiding (lethal male raiding, or ambush or dawn surprise attack), and battle (the confrontation of two opposing lines or phalanxes).[33]

Breaking down the evolutionary advantage by waging in aggression to secure access to resources, what was gained by such risky behavior. After all, engaging in violence very well could lead to one’s own demise and defeat the purpose altogether. Why, then, do the males of the species specifically engage in such behavior?

Pr. Low examines the cost versus benefits:

We must define “resource.” The significant aspect of a “resource” in evolutionary perspective is its influence on survival and reproduction. What are wars fought over in pre-industrial societies? Wars were fought to secure scarce animal protein from the hunting grounds accruing to the winning side. It was not the means of production, but the means of reproduction, that led to such serious escalation of competition.  … Reproductive competition is a major evolutionarily important selective force underlying lethal conflict; warfare is a principal mechanism, and may be waged in the name of women, revenge, agricultural lands, new territory, or any devised reason.[34]

The female of the non-tribal groups has long been sought to expand the gene-pool as most primitive kin-groups were dominated by male blood relatives. This can also be seen in the tendency of rape during war, as a means to further humiliate defeated enemies and eradicate their genetic line by creating new ones with captured females (see Appendix IV). Making war was a means to gain and protect territory and resources as well as genetic lines.

Through evolutionary history, men have been able to gain reproductively by warring behavior; women have almost never been able to do so. … The warmongers’ genes will be represented relatively more in the next generation (ultimate or evolutionary consequence).[35]

Males will engage in violence to secure access to females, hence their innate aggression. Females engage in aggression to protect food resources for their offspring.

[M]ales generally compete and may fight over females, either individually or in coalitions, while females generally do not fight, either individually or in coalitions, over males, but over resources to invest in offspring.[36]

It is common knowledge that society’s prisons across all cultures are filled with more men than women due to aggressive, risk-taking behavior. However, consider this statistic as quoted by Dyfed Loesche: “According to the most recent numbers published by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 93.2 percent of the approximately 185,500 federal inmates are men, and only 6.8 percent are women.”[37]  Note this witty summation of life without men as quoted by Queen Latifah: “A bunch of fat, happy women and no crime!”

As noted above, we are far closer to this “fight or flight” paradigm than our still developing consciousness that rejects war, makes peace, and idolizes cooperation outside the tribe as the ideal. Thus we continue to be in constant conflict with our suspicious, wary defensive hard-wired brain, categorizing new variables into the “us or them” paradigm. Six million years of inbred DNA is difficult to encode out of our “reptilian” brain which did not, as discussed, evolve to think but act. The inherent and genetic nature of conflict is troublesome for idealists who wish to believe that war is a cultural invention.

The idea that war, the institution of war, is a cultural invention proved to be attractive to many cultural anthropologists. Man an sich [in itself] would be peaceful, it is culture that transforms him into a belligerent being. … When war is ’only’ an invention, it can also be ’dis-’ or ’uninvented’ and abolished.[38]

It is only the nature of warfare that has changed, not humankind’s genetic predisposition to it. The bottom line is that we must recognize that the male of humankind has engaged in such aggression to achieve his ultimate aim: reproduction.

When man developed his weapons, culture and population sizes to levels that erased the significance of predation by other species, he simultaneously created a new predator: Other human groups, leading to either manifest intergroup competition (i.e., war).[39]  … War was the principal method of gaining livestock, and warriors were expected to earn bride wealth as well as ever-increasing familial wealth and status. Rules and traditions of warfare among the Meru [a still-living Bantu ethnic group in Kenya], in fact, facilitated rather than limited cattle stealing.[40]

War is intergroup competition in the face of conflict, a fact of life for every organism on this planet.

2.11.        War Between Out-Groups

In the wake of the Conquistadors, who had come to plunder, and the first settlers, who had come to stay, followed the missionaries, who came to convert. ~ Johan van der Dennen

Having established the importance of the brain’s wiring for identifying out-groups, it is time to examine in-depth the importance of in-group discipline. It is surprising to learn that the rigid discipline inside groups is just as important as the rigid discipline in viewing out-groups, a phenomenon we see today in our standing armies, religions, and political parties.

Lethal conflict exists because individuals and families have profited from assuming the risks of lethal conflict under specific conditions, over evolutionary time. … humans and chimpanzees have particular “Darwinian algorithms” which govern coalition formation, and predispose both species to warfare. They argue that the psychologically imposed structure has certain characteristics: cheaters must be identified and excluded or punished; participants are rewarded or punished in proportion to the risks they take, and in proportion to their contribution to success. Each coalition member has impact on the coalition by regulating his own participation in the coalition and by the actions he takes to enforce the contract on other members.[41]

Note the importance of both in- and out-group dynamics in the execution of aggression and lethal conflict. By closely studying our nearest ancestors, we see how even among “animals” the delineations between in- and out-group are of crucial importance and how they can change. In the following, Dr. van der Dennen relies heavily on Jane Goodall’s pioneering work with chimpanzees.

Thus it is of considerable interest to find that the chimpanzees show behaviors that bear strong resemblance to pseudospeciation in humans. First, their sense of group identity is strong; they clearly differentiate between in-group and out-group, between individuals who ’belong to us’ and those who do not. This sense of group identity is, Goodall claims, far more sophisticated than mere xenophobia. The members of the Kahame chimpanzee community had, before they split, enjoyed close and friendly relations with their aggressors. By separating themselves, it is as though they forfeited their ’right’ to be treated as group members – instead they were treated as strangers.[2]

Group identity is a strong component of Constructivism and it is clear that the designations of who is “in” and “out” can change over time or on a whim. Another important psychological aspect of creating out-groups is that designating an “other” a stranger, makes it easier to engage in lethal conflict. Again, Dr. van der Dennen:

Together with the concept of cultural pseudospeciation, dehumanization is probably the most important proximate concept for understanding (mass)-violence phenomena, including warfare, ’ethnic cleansing’, massacres and genocide, in humans (and probably as ’dechimpization’ [Goodall, 1987] in chimpanzees too). There is a profound paradox involved in the process of dehumanization in the sense that one can only dehumanize what is recognized and acknowledged to be human in the first place.[42]

We acknowledge that an interior discipline inside the group is necessary to create a strong group identity and cohesion that, therefore, allows the group to aggressively engage in competitive conflict with out-groups. There must be an “us” to protect from “them.” One vastly important and underestimated part of group cohesion and identity in humankind is the role of religion (Appendix V).

2.12.        Tribes To Nation States

Land and women are the roots of war.  ~ Maori proverb

It does not matter how technology or weaponry has changed, humankind has learned aggression as a means of survival over six million years of human activity.

The development of chiefdoms and states changed the character of warfare. Whereas the main proximate causes and motives for war and feuding among band-level and tribal societies were revenge, women, scarce resources and territory … the proximate causes of war among chiefdoms and (city) states were mainly economic (booty, plunder) and political (conquest, empire) [emphasis mine].[43]

The identities of “tribe” simply shifted to identities of “state” or “nation.” The innate instinct of the human animal to designate new variables (a.k.a. threats) into in-group and out-groups would only increase on a macrocosmic scale though the motives be essentially the same (resources, territory, and defense). As we will see in Constructivism, it is the identity of leaders who define the lines of demarcation separating who is “in” from who is “out.” What weapons are used – whether they be stones, bows and arrows, spears, fighter-jets, or nuclear weapons – is non-material; they only help accomplish humankind’s innate aggression of self-preservation and reproduction. Nationalism is simply the “tribe” writ large.

All conflicts of the twentieth-century are distilled down to this “us versus them” dynamic. By example, how quickly do husband and wife turn from partners to individuals? The turn is simple and easy: by changing the narrative and definition of “we” to “me.” On the macro scale, modern conflict extrapolates into a larger proto-ethnocentrism, defined as the inherent belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.

Proto-ethnocentrism is supposed to imply some kind of group identity or the ability to recognize in-group versus out-group members, to discriminate between these categories, and to preferentially treat in-group members to positive reciprocal interactions such as protection, nepotism, and sharing of resources.[44]

Nor does this dynamic change if the warring parties are a coalition (i.e. Allied versus Axis powers). They continue, “The coalitional dimension of warfare also draws attention to the in-group/out-group differentiation, which is no less characteristic of all instances of warfare.”[45]

2.13.        Biopolitical Conclusions: ‘External Antagonism and Internal Friendship’

Welfare takes away a man’s strongest reason for working, which is survival. ~ Melvin B. Tolson, The Great Debaters (2007)

Only erosion and time can change the pyramid. The pyramid of Biopolitics is built on six-million years of human activity wherein only the strongest survived to pass on their genes. Survival is humankind’s most basic need, and humankind learned to identify friend or foe and initiate or repel violence accordingly. As the character of society, culture, and warfare changed through technology, migration, and growth, the human ideal of peace and cooperation developed at a far slower pace. We are still evolving. Humankind depends upon the skill of the few prominent actors in international affairs to wield “identity construction” deftly. For the time being, humankind must still consciously combat the wiring and brain function that served them well for many generations and for one specific purpose: not to think, but to act. As a final word on the past influencing present day dynamics on all levels of society – from the family to state to national and even international relations – Dr. van der Dennen lays out the true dichotomy we face:

Inter- and intra-group selection go on to the present day. Herbert Spencer wrote: “Rude tribes and civilized societies have had continually to carry on an external self-defense and internal co-operation – external antagonism and internal friendship. Hence their members have acquired two different sets of sentiments and ideas, adjusted to these two kinds of activity” [emphasis mine].[46]

“External antagonism and internal friendship” sums up the dichotomy we balance daily: nation, race, gender, and, yes, even class. As for class, Cosmides and Tooby state:

Class conflict is an especially prominent feature in developed states. In origin, the dominant class usually represents a conquering group, but over time new classes develop to complicate the power relationships. Primary elements in the formation of the class system are opposing economic interests as well as the formation of alignments necessary to allow effective domination by a ruling group. The desire for greater material welfare for one’s group and a drive toward domination over other groups provide the constant stimuli for further conflicts of class against class.[47]

Yes, class is a primitive desire to protect resources that benefit their in-group. As we close out Biopolitical, one might be concerned that wiring predetermines humankind to conflict. This is not what Biopolitical affirms. It is only by recognizing how our brains have been wired – the human condition, as it were – that we consciously determine different paths of conflict resolution, recognizing that our strong emotional disturbances tap into familiar wiring. As a final word on this “doom and gloom view” of human nature:

This view moves from patently true statements (e.g. about the non-evidence of any special alleles for “warring behavior”), to generalizations that “biology does not condemn humanity to war, and that humanity can be freed from the bondage of biological pessimism and empowered with confidence . . . Just as ‘wars begin in the minds of men,’ peace also begins in our minds . . . The responsibility lies with each of us.”[48]

We move from Biopolitical to Constructivism and do what the lower animals cannot: create empathy for an outgroup and thereby break down barriers between “them” and “us.”


People make history but not in conditions of their own choosing.      ~ Karl Marx

LINCOLN: You think we choose to be born? BECKWITH: I don’t suppose so.                        LINCOLN: Are we fitted to the times we’re born into? BECKWITH: I don’t know about myself. You may be, sir. Fitted.                                                                                     ~ screenplay Lincoln, Tony Kushner (2011)

3.1.  An Important Evolution in I.R. Theory

It is the premise of this paper that individual actors, more so than any other factor, have more to do initiating or alleviating conflict. Individuals work within identities of their own psyche as well as construct identities of those whom they lead. Identity creation and advancement is the true art in diplomacy. States are, after all, populated by actors who hold high-ranking positions whether granted by dint of birth, popular election, or even force; change the person, change the identity. As we will see with the conflict in Northern Ireland, it would be new guests “at the table” that signaled a shift that ultimately led to resolution of a centuries long conflict.

Constructivism is a lens of IA that seeks to diagnose “identities” produced by social interaction. In other words, by interacting with the world, we construct our identities. How, for example, does the beautiful woman know she is beautiful except by reading reactions of those around her? How does a woman learn that other women are more beautiful than she by the attention not garnered on her? How, then, does the young man learn his strength but in the presence of other males? How does a child know her value to a parent but by interaction or neglect? States are no different, being as they are populated by people who act and interact based on these identities of the person and their respective culture.

Constructivism is predicated on the basis of identity formation formed by social interaction; it is fluid, changing, and constantly evolving, allowing it important flexibility; it relies on the symbolic nature of language, particularly narratives, speech acts, and verbal and non-verbal signaling; and it runs a complete life cycle in a population through emergence, cascade, and internalization.

Constructivism is an ontology (dealing with the nature of being) that rose fairly recently as a subject in IA due to the simple fact that it accounts for changes, most notably the “overnight thawing” in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, bringing about a swift and unexpected resolution to the multi-decade Cold War; and, for our purpose here, a surprise resolution to the Troubles. Prior to the end of the Cold War, international theories were dominated by Realists and Liberals; neither could account for the sudden change. As Ferguson and Mansford observe in their book Polities, they state:

International-relations theorists, especially those in the power politics tradition, seem to have particular difficulty in accounting for radical change that entails massive shifts in loyalties from one set of authority to others. … Power theorists have been equally at a loss to address the post-cold war political disintegration occurring in much of the developing world from ethnic, religious, and class conflict.[49]

As summed up by Sarina Heys:

[Constructivism] demonstrates that constructivists go beyond the material reality by including the effect of ideas and beliefs on world politics. This also entails that reality is always under construction, which opens the prospect for change. In other words, meanings are not fixed but can change over time depending on the ideas and beliefs that actors hold.[50]

Reality is always under construction, and individuals introduce powerful new ideas that affect events. Indeed, Ferguson and Mansford address this failure of interwar politicians in the buildup to World War II, especially in the irrational (as far as cost/benefit analysis of Realism) behavior of Chancellor Adolf Hitler. They explain:

Hitler refused to behave according to the dictates of balance of power [Germany had none]. In short, realists would have been unable to explain or predict the behavior of a leader who did not act according to the dictates of realist rationality. History revealed to the realists that the interwar statesmen should have acted differently.[51]

Traditional theories of international relations proposed that states should act in predicable ways; however, the fallacy in this linear thinking is that it assumes that the individuals who “run” the states should follow these, as well. It is notable that neither Hitler nor Soviet Premiere Gorbachev did so, thus flummoxing a host of expectations.

Ferguson and Mansford state:

The cast of actors—the dramatis personae, so to speak—changes, as do relations among the players. This view challenges the premise that the cast is constant, with a few powerful states in starring roles. In fact, the cast of actors in global politics constantly changes [emphasis mine].[52]

The danger of “blinders” when it comes to international lenses is that prognosticators fall into the trap of determinism: that states – and the leaders who run them – behave the way they always behave. This point is picked up on by Behravesh when tying individual identities to state behaviors.

As individuals, our identities change over time and so do our interests. It is states that make the international environment conflictual or cooperative. Constructivism’s emphasis on the agential capacity of states in making the international system and determining its course enables it to steer clear of the trap of determinism.[53]

As with individuals, the importance of State identity is crucial:

Rather than considering the state for granted and claiming that it totally aims to survive, constructivists consider the identity and interests of states as an extremely flexible. State identity is mainly about the non-material factors such as values, culture, norms, ideas etc., studied by the constructivist scholars.[54]

Given what we have learned about the in/out-group hard-wiring of the brain, having the flexibility in shifting identities within one’s in-group is also critical to predicting and negotiating behavior. International theorists must be able to identify norm identities and, on that issue, address or negotiate changes based on these norms.

3.2.  Identity Formation and Social Interaction

Mythology can never be disconnected from language.           ~ J. R. R. Tolkien, author and linguist

Identities are how actors see themselves and how they see themselves in relation to others. Identities involve the entire person: psychosis and strengths, skills and blind spots, and will and drive. It is in interacting with the world and other actors that the individual will learn what it is they do well and what they do not, if basic human needs are met or whether it will be a struggle to acquire them, and, ultimately, they will look to see this identity reflected back by others. Our theorist Mr. Hoffman sums it up this way:

Such collective understandings, and their accompanying social identities and interests, can become embedded over time so that alternatives seem unimaginable. “Notions of what is right or wrong, feasible or infeasible, indeed possible or impossible, are all a part of an actor’s social context and it is these ideas that shape what actors want, who actors are, and how actors behave.”[55]

Nations have identities. A constant echo-chamber of feedback results in a clear view of a state internationally, evidenced by big state versus small state dynamics at the United Nations. Leaders act, or more accurately, react based on their own perceived perceptions of themselves. As we shall see in the Troubles in Northern Ireland,

The separation of ethnic, racial, or social groups fosters hostility by blocking off communication. Without interaction, it is impossible for people to discover that they are basically similar to each other in their values, beliefs, concerns, and experiences. … Especially, Newcomb (1947) pointed out the vicious circle by which an individual or a group once ready for hostile responses gradually reduces the channels of communication with the potential enemy.[56]

With the centuries long divisions between English Protestants and Irish Catholics, conflict often created barriers to understanding, creating generation after generation of identity construction that deepened the rift between “us and them.”

[C]onflict sets boundaries between groups within a social system by strengthening group consciousness and awareness of separateness, thus establishing the identity of groups within the system. … Conflict serves to establish and maintain the identity and boundary lines of societies and groups. Conflict with other groups contributes to the establishment and reaffirmation of the identity of the group and maintains its boundaries against the surrounding social world.[57]

Writer John Stoessinger in his compelling book Why Nations Go to War has this to say regarding the importance of individual identities:

With regard to the problem of the outbreak of war, the case studies indicate the crucial importance of the personalities of leaders. I am less impressed by the role of abstract forces, such as nationalism, militarism, or alliance systems, which have traditionally have been regarded as the causes of war. Nor does a single one of the seven cases [of the twentieth-century] indicated that economic factors played a vital part in precipitating war. The personalities of leaders, on the other hand, have often been quite decisive.[3]

3.3.  In-Group Versus Out-Group Dynamics

While Biopolitical explores the physiological roots of brain evolution and specific functioning in the creation of in- and out-group as a survival method, there is also an important sociological undergirding in the creation of group identity and cohesion. It is in this combination of psychological, sociological, and physiological elements that the in- and out-group dichotomy leads to conflict and warfare.

Violence in and between human societies is virtually always a collective activity or committed in the name of a collectivity. “Adults kill and torture each other only when organized into political parties, or economic classes, or religious denominations, or nation states. A moral distinction is always made between individuals killing for themselves and the same individual killing for some real or supposed group interest” (Durbin & Bowlby, 1938). This moral double standard leads to the masquerading of the violence committed in the name of one’s own in-group as justified.[4]

Certainly, outside of individual acts of violence, which have always occurred in humankind, warfare finds its root in a collective identity.

Total identification with the group makes the individual perform altruistic and heroic acts to the point of self-sacrifice, and behave with ruthless cruelty towards the enemy or victim of the group. Sumner coined the term ’ethnocentrism’ for this dual code of conduct. Sumner writes: “The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace inside, lest internal discord should weaken the in-group for war. The exigencies also make government and law in the in-group, in order to prevent quarrels and enforce discipline. Thus, war and peace have reacted on each other, and developed each other.”[58]

There is certainly little debate about how an established common enemy does wonders for group cohesion. The strict discipline inside the group, the constant and consistent markers of identity – that is, the norms, symbols, beliefs, and values – that promote the communal commonality, is now the focus of our attention.

To understand how humanity’s alleged propensity for warfare finds continuous expression in a given group context, let us briefly examine the bond between the individual and his or her membership in the larger group.
Recognition markers include language, religion, phenotype, homeland, and myth of common descent.[59]

Language, of course, remains one of the most common promoters of bonds between people. The fabled tower of Babel, whereby humanity was divided by language as a means to prohibit cooperation, finds its metaphorical relevance here. Bridging a language barrier, especially in the world of international politics, is the strongest divide as anyone who has traveled in a foreign country can attest.

3.4.  Story, Language & Symbols: “A Community of History and Destiny”

LOUISE: That’s the word [war]. But what did Danvers say it means in Sanskrit?                                                        COL. WEBER: He said it means ‘an argument.’ What does it really mean?                                                            LOUISE: “A desire for more cows.”                                         ~ screenplay Arrival, Eric Heisserer (2015)

Language is the biggest advancement that separates Homo s. sapiens from every other organism on the planet. Differences in language – and all the associated symbolism and cultural values tied to the subtle meanings in the very words themselves – are a quick and easy identifier of who is in the in- and out-groups.

When they cannot understand one another beyond the level of smiles and grunts and blatant gestures, people rarely achieve deep cultural bonds and common loyalties. The evolution of linguistic capacities, therefore, would have served to reinforce territorial and other segregating forces during prehistoric times. And greater linguistic abilities would have simultaneously increased the social cohesion within each separate group.[60]

Tied directly to language is the communication of stories or myths – usually in the form of religion and/or history, but not always – that describe a common journey and connection with one’s ancestors. Dr. van der Dennen calls this “idealizations of its past” and the importance that such story and ritual adds to common language. He states:

Symbols express the culture and evoke the salvation drama of the nation. In the nation’s flags and anthems, its memorials and monuments, its parades and ceremonies, its coins and insignia, its capitals and assemblies, its arts and crafts, and its music and dance are distilled the pride and hope of a ’community of history and destiny’ which seeks to shape events and mould itself in the image of its ideals.[61]

Unlike, say, the myth of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” or “a melting pot” signaling a common journey of a shared “rebuilding in the New World” that tied us one and together underneath, the common journey of Northern Ireland was one of conquest, thus forever separate, perhaps more akin to the Native Americans experience with arriving Europeans than a shared destiny of “blending” ethnocentric immigrants. Even within communities that have evolving and shifting identities, individuals can have several identities, often conflicting within themselves.

Individuals typically have numerous identities. There are broad loyalties to family, tribe, class, religion, cast, race, ethnicity ender, or nation that may elicit obedience from individuals in diverse locations over a broad range of issue. … Sometimes identities and loyalties coexist easily, and sometimes issue force choices among them.[62]

These common symbols and the importance of a shared language, history, and/or stories and myths is vital for an identity to, firstly, be constructed, secondly, maintained, and, finally, defended.

Men and women first construct towering structures of theology and religion, complex analyses of racial character and class structure, or moralities of group life and virility before they kill one another… Men will die like flies for theories and exterminate each other with every instrument of destruction for abstractions.[63]

Returning again to the concept of State Identities:

Currently, much of humanity is still organized into discrete territorial units. In many parts of the world, the symbols of the state—its flag, national anthem, and foundation mythology—elicit a substantial measure of habitual obedience and the voluntary provision of resources from citizens. Shared history and/or culture whether real or mythic makes legitimate many national and ethnic polities [identities].[64]

Continuing in this vein, Dr. van der Dennen states:

Reification (’ideas-become-real’) refers to the human capacity to treat an abstraction as a real thing, substance or entity. [F]amiliar examples are the anthropomorphized and personalized representations of the mother- or fatherland in nationalistic hymns, patriotic battle songs, and national anthems from all over the world. Such images are almost always employed as powerful mobilization devices in warfare.[65]

The importance of these shared identity creations within the group are strong motivators that fit easily into the brain’s hard-wired propensity for identification of and defense from out-groups if need be.

3.5.  Identities Are Fluid and Evolving

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict. ~ screenplay Arrival, Eric Heisserer (2015)

The distinct advantage that Constructivism has over other IA theories is that “rapid, radical change is one of its central tenets.”[66] The sudden and rather anti-climactic end of the Cold War shocked many IR theorists simply because they did not see it coming and ending as fast as it did, rather anti-climatically at that. Both Realists and Liberals were completely caught unawares by the “overnight” thawing of the relationship between the two superpowers. What changed, however, was not the structures but the leadership of the Soviet Union under the new premiere Mikael Gorbachev and the emboldened populace who was eager to follow him. He envisioned a new type of Soviet Communism. As Joseph Nye states,

He wanted to reform communism, not replace it. However, the reform snowballed into a revolution driven from below rather than controlled from above. In both his domestic and foreign policy, Gorbachev launched a number of actions that accelerated both the existing Soviet decline and the end of the Cold War.[67]

By signaling a new identity in a reformed Soviet Union, the dramatic restructuring came from the governed people who responded to his challenge of openness and democratization, known as glasnost, and not old-Soviet hardliners (bureaucrats). The people wanted out of the old system, but only did so when the premiere signaled that change was acceptable.

[C]onstructivism can actually explain how this relationship went from hostile to friendly almost overnight.[68]

As leaders change, so too does the nature of international interaction. A summary glance at the major conflicts of the twentieth-century sees the great importance that leaders have in shaping world events, perhaps none more so than the surprise election of reality-star Donald J. Trump. His complete inability to filter his comments, saying or “tweeting” the most outrageous comments about women, immigrants, and Mexicans, and his outright unabashed old-school alpha-male masculinity seemed a sure loser for any modern, American electorate. However, his signals touched on a forgotten identity of the White, poor, and working class who, motivated by his “take-no-prisoners” bravado in the face of a heavy-handed political correctness, turned out in droves to elect him over a seasoned, political professional policy wonk in Secretary Hilary Clinton. This is what our theorists call a “shrewd or conscientious individual.” They state:

There is also an emphasis on studying “how individual agents socially construct these structures in the first place” because some constructivists argue that social contexts, and hence identities and interests, may be consciously reshaped by particularly shrewd or conscientious individuals.[69]

We can name the great leaders: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi as well as the bad ones (Hitler and Stalin) who were still shrewd and conscientious in shaping identities. One cannot help but feel a rising humanity (not nationalism) in reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Second Inaugural, where he intentionally framed the great loss and turmoil of the U.S. Civil War against the ongoing evolution of democracy and not seeing our fellow countrymen as enemies but brothers who “read the same Bible and pray to the same God.” By framing the conflict against the larger background of human nature, and balancing the cost of blood “drawn by the sword with blood drawn by the lash,” he opened up space for members to identify with his long-view of American destiny and shared sacrifice.

By contrast, it was Adolf Hitler’s insatiable resolve to lift his German Reich from their downgraded and neglected identity as a result of the demeaning and harsh terms at the end of WWI. The Fuhrer would become “father” in the mold of the traditional German father and employ this concept of sacrifice for a superior race and destiny.

3.6.  Norm and Identity Creation

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better. ~ Richard Hooker, English Theologian

Signaling is how “actors’ words, deeds, and interactions shape the kind of world in which they exist, and that the world shapes who actors are and what they want.”[70] Individuals choose an identity and they use words and actions to match those narratives. From these, norms and appropriate standards of behavior are identified.

Norms do not appear out of thin air; they are actively built by agents having strong notions about appropriate or desirable behavior in their community. Prevailing norms that medical personnel and those wounded in war be treated as neutrals and noncombatants are clearly traceable to the efforts of one man, a Genovese Swiss banker named Henry Dunant.[71]

A further definition of norm is required for our purposes of studying the life cycle of one. Our authors state:

Norms involve standards of “appropriate” or “proper” behavior. …. We only know what is appropriate by reference to the judgments of a community or a society. We recognize norm-breaking behavior because it generates disapproval or stigma and norm conforming behavior either because it produces praise, or, in the case of a highly internalized norm, because it is so taken for granted that it provokes no reaction whatsoever.’[72]

3.7.  The Life Cycle of An Identity

[I]deas and norms shape politics. … Collective identity is socially constructed in the interplay of elites, populations, and state institutions. … The norm life cycle is composed of three linked stages: emergence, cascade, and internalization.[73]

It is a subtle “conversation” traversing across the people and the institutions – and specific leaders – who run them. It begins with an individual, who Mr. Hoffman calls a norm entrepreneur. Here is Mr. Hoffman’s definition:

Norm entrepreneurs are actors (organizations and states could play this role as well) that advocate different ideas about appropriate behavior … Norm entrepreneurs work to persuade other actors to alter their behavior and beliefs in accordance with the norm entrepreneur’s ideas about how actors should behave and think.[74]

Here is another description of norm emergence:

Norm entrepreneurs are critical for norm emergence because they call attention to issues or even “create” issues by using language that names, interprets, and dramatizes them. Social movement theorists refer to this reinterpretation or renaming process as “framing.'” … In other words, new norms never enter a normative vacuum but instead emerge in a highly contested normative space where they must compete with other norms and perceptions of interest.[75]

The second stage in the life cycle is called “cascading” whereby the new behavior being “endorsed” by the entrepreneur begins its journey through the population who will either reject or accept it until it becomes accepted, or internalized.

When a “critical mass” of actors accepts the new ideas as appropriate … a norm has emerged. After norm emergence, there is a rapid diffusion of the norm—a norm cascade. The final stage in the cycle is internalization, when the norm becomes taken for granted, and conformance with its dictates is no longer (or at least rarely) questioned.[76]

Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s new behavior of brazen political discourse touched an identity of a large-segment of the population who felt they could not be honest for fear of social reprisal and a latent ongoing futility in “politics as usual.” He set the tone, and they felt liberated to follow suit.

Consider that entrepreneurs present ideas about collective identity. Sometimes entrepreneurs invent the collectivity itself. National identity is never a finished product; it is always in the process of being constructed and reconstructed. … the more people that accept a new identity, the more likely that others will accept it as well.[77]

Herein lies the rub for any norm entrepreneur. The norm can be rejected. Without the behavior reaching critical mass in the general populace, it will not become internalized.

This paper also posits that norms may seemingly reach critical mass beneath the surface, like a cold, ocean current beneath the lighter, warmer one, until such time as the norm is ultimately rejected or accepted. That is precisely what this paper will argue with The Troubles and the decades long warfare that was finally settled to great fanfare and approval with the Good Friday Accords. In the final analysis, the general population was too afraid of the “violent” few before finally voting to uphold the Good Friday Accords in staggering numbers. It is quite the accomplishment.

3.8.  Conclusions: Constructivism as Identity

Ethnocentrism expressed spatially is territoriality; expressed psychologically [it is] strong group identity with clear demarcation of in- and out-groups. ~ Johan van der Dennen

Constructivism is fluid and adaptable as actors are also fluid and adaptable to circumstances. At its core, this theory allows for a concerted effort to change identities by changing the symbols and signals that mark an emerging identity. As we will see in the negotiation of the Good Friday Accords, understanding the importance of this dynamic and not being stuck in a deterministic view, allowed the parties to engage, not anew per say, but with new identities in mind. In one word, the response is empathy: the ability to set aside one’s own personal identity to see from another’s viewpoint.

Logic alone does not dictate the result, since appeals to emotion may well be used to strengthen or undermine logical extensions of norms. … empathy is a means of understanding persuasion, accommodation, and arrival at mutual understandings in international politics.[78]

States, like individuals, also change their identities. States and individuals change by ideas. Ideas and words utilized by deft hands, regardless of the ends, have shown to have tremendous impact on events.

In other words, the state in international politics, across time and space, is assumed to have a single eternal meaning. Constructivism instead assumes that the selves, or identities, of states are a variable; they likely depend on historical, cultural, political, and social context. … interests are the product of identity.[79]

A groundswell of support from the general populace has shown to affect change from the bottom up, i.e. grass-roots support for Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika, the defeat of President Trump in his re-election bid (but still garnering over seventy million votes), and the popular voter referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as seen in the overwhelming acceptance of the Good Friday Accords, bringing, at long last, a nervous peace to the island of Ireland.


The past is never dead. It’s not even past.                               ~ William Faulkner

Twenty years later, the Good Friday Agreement holds. Despite the difficulties and frustrations that dominate the politics, identity  change has endured in Northern Ireland as a result of evolution in identity have allowed for a gradual transformation of the people, including, specific labels that assign one into certain camps:

The vast majority of those who grew up over the past two decades have friendships across the divide that were unimaginable to their parents. Northern Ireland election surveys conducted at the University of Liverpool show that nearly half of those aged 18-24 do not choose the labels unionist or republican when asked about their identity. The increasing agnosticism about identity in Northern Ireland is evocative of the GFA’s desire to create a new sense of identity. The people now support inter-community marriage and wish for equal treatment for sexual minorities and women. It’s they who step across the sectarian divide while politicians fail to do so.[80]

It is clear that identities change and evolve if leaders have the courage to introduce new ideas. From there, we see the change in identities as they cascade through a population as noted above in the increasing acceptance of marriage norms and treatment of minorities and women. Such is the power of norm entrepreneurship demonstrated by leaders.

It cannot be overstated how the Good Friday Accords was a triumph of leadership empathy. From the high-profile figures of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton, to the Sinn Feín hardliner of Gerry Adams and the non-aggressive John Hume to the players in both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland governments, the will to seek solutions and secure peace is a testament to their courage and bravery, especially when seen in light of the eighty-years of bloody conflict since the Partition of Ireland in 1921.

4.1.  In and Out Pressure

In the arena of internatonal politics, two fundamental truths must be held – a yin and yang, as it were – in international dealings:

Number 1: Conflict between states arise over resource protection and acquistion. At the deepest, unconscious level, state actors engage the “fight or flight” response to any conflict as a means of self-preservation, even if that annihilation is not physical but an identity (a.k.a. psychological). Our basic brain machinery is programmed to see any potential conflict as a threat to the in-group and one’s own survival, however that survival is identified.

Number 2: The pressure on actors within their own in-groups is just as intense as the real or perceived pressure placed on the entire group from the out-group. Rigid internal self-discipline is needed to maintain strong defenses against an out-group, and internal weakening of identity resolve by members is a threat to the preservation of the status quo (see appendix VI). In addressing conflict of any type (economic, cyber, or outright war), negotiators must engage the self-preservation instinct while firming up their resolve to seek peace or compromise while withstanding pressure from their own in-group. It is in inevitable.

As we saw with the success of the Good Friday Accords, it was multiple state actors from the entire range of viewpoints (a condition of Senator George Mitchell) that engaged with empathy. They understood that the fear and pressure the in-group would place on their leaders arises from the fear of losing self-preservation and identity. There is fear in sharing resources, as we saw, most notably, with the Protestant British who had controlled all the levers of power for centuries. The fear to lose that control made it difficult for them to empathize with their Catholic Irish countrymen who were part of the “out-group.” Negotiators allowed for mutual respect and power-sharing that would ulimtately lift all parties.

Any negotiator must comfort those who are giving up easy access to resources (a.k.a. power) and affirm the resolve of those who are gaining this power to not turn the tables and restrict the access to those whom previously denied them. In this, too, our susceptiblity to revenge is a long evolved process to ensure protection from those who had previoulsy threatened us.

This paper closes the way it began: with an account of the ten-year old boy who witnessed a horrendous wrong done to a young woman of his own “tribe.” Now, Mr. Chambers is a man in middle-age. He writes after partaking in a pint in his former enemy’s neighborhood, once a “no go” zone for Protestant Loyalists like him.

Yet, despite a peace process that has lasted twenty years, some things never change and when I get a whisper of trouble brewing in East Belfast, something deep within me stirs, compelling me to take a closer look and revisit a childhood that traumatized me, left scars that can never heal completely. Like so many others. When you grow up in a place like the Shankill or the Falls Road, your whole life is dominated by conflict. Because you are in that tribal environment, the community think and act as one.[81]

Even now, past events continue to evolve the human animal, imprinting strong messages of fight or flight responses, touching deep in our ancient wiring. As William Faulkner noted, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” However, by individuals creating new norms, change is possible only by conscious will; the weight of six-million years of in-group/outgroup mentality in a brain developed for that specific function is difficult to override and, even then, only by conscious choice. Eventually, conscious memory of these events will be forgotten and future generations will take for granted the peace between Protestant Loyalists and Catholic Republicans. Maybe they will just be known as Ulsterman.

With our bifocal lenses, we can accept our long, ingrained nature of six-million years of in/out-group resource protection and aggression, not as something to hate, but to understand. It is this instinct that has allowed humankind to survive to civilization. We must contend with a brain that evolved as a specific instrument to act and react against threats and categorical differences, all heightened by a large neocortex prone to emotional disturbance. We can shape our identities with language, choosing consciously different words that lead to different actions, culminating in different identities that allow us to live in peace. The native Irish of many centuries long endured a constant attempt to assimilate their identity; a decline in Irishness through the tragic potato famine and diaspora, resulted in a resurgence of Irish identity that led to independence. Now, however, Irishness and Britishness must give way to the larger tribe of common humanity, both bound up in the common path of peace.

This is the great mystery of our global times: How do we celebrate unique identities of our sub-cultures while appealing to our higher, common ones that unite us? Ultimately, our cohesion depends upon our mutual collectivity of goodwill. If the people of Northern Ireland can face the rigid identities they constructed and choose the path of peace, then it follows that any people anywhere can also make the same choices.


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Have you ever noticed when you’re driving that anyone who’s driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac? ~ George Carlin, comedian

Shankar Vedantam hosts an intriguing podcast called Hidden Brain that takes in-depth looks into the deeper functioning of our human brain with experts in this area. In one podcast, Mr. Vedantam discusses the “Double Standard” of our brains with psychologist Emily Pronin of Princeton University. In short, this specific podcast discusses how we view ourselves and others with different standards. In other words, how we view our own in-group criteria and dismiss outgroups. Ms. Pronin explains,

There’s a phenomenon called the third person effect, whereby people think that persuasive attempts have more of an impact on other people than themselves. There’s more of a tendency to stereotype and characterize others, and to recognize the nuance and complexity in our own views. People do tend to portray themselves as more clear [in their own thinking]. … The [yardstick] that we use for judging others is we look at their actions. The [yardstick] that we use for judging ourselves is we look inwards. And when I say look inwards, we look to our thoughts, feelings, intentions, motives. So I don’t realize I’m using a different yardstick to evaluate your behavior and a different yardstick to evaluate mine.[82]

It is obvious how this dichotomy influences our interactions with out-groups, especially groups that we might be involved in conflict: we see ourselves as heroic and clear and “them” as wrong. The importance of empathy—or, more specifically, lack of it—leads to disastrous results, most notably World War I. Ms. Pronin calls attention to this “introspection illusion.” She says:

We ascribe greater weight to our own introspections than maybe we should, but on the other, we discount the introspections of other people. So in other words, I don’t think that my political opponents have actually thought very carefully about how they’ve chosen their course of action. I can dismiss them as being easily led, as being sheep. Even as we overvalue our own introspections, we undervalue the internal thought processes of other people.[83]

In our modern world and the international arena, we can see how dangerous and formidable this illusion is: always ascribing truth and nobility to our own views. In a “pre-civilization” landscape, this quick rush to judgment about external stimuli was a matter of survival. The subtle nuances of negotiations did not exist when our brains were being developed and the wiring foundation was being set. Our host, Mr. Vedantam, illustrates this dichotomy rather well over even such mundane issues:

There are lots of implications that stem from what Emily calls this basic architecture of the brain. If I’m late for a meeting, my mind is chock full with all the reasons I’m late: traffic was terrible, I had a childcare crisis, and so on. But if someone else is late for a meeting, I don’t have access to all that stuff happening inside their heads. It’s easy for me to think of them as just being irresponsible or careless. Psychologists call this the fundamental attribution error.[84]

This salient point is part of even direct negotiations between parties. In his book International Negotiations: Theory, Practice, and the Connection with Domestic Politics, author Alexander Nikolaev refers to this trap in the negotiation process:

The next major problem is the problem of categorization. “Categorization is basic to human thought, perception, action and communication. Whenever we see something as a kind of thing, we are categorizing. Without the ability to categorize, we could not function in our physical and social environment.” Very often, the sides interpret each other’s behavior incorrectly because they attribute their own and other people’s actions to different causes.[85]

In other words, the parties in tense negotiations often attribute wrong or negative biases to their opponents. Another carryover from our primitive brain is what Ms. Pronin calls magical thinking.

Magical thinking involves the idea that our thoughts could somehow influence the world around us. So for example, if I think ill thoughts about you, can that give you a headache? Or if I think positive thoughts about my favorite player on the team, will that help them score a goal?[86]

This is the carryover from the large fear susceptibility, combined with an increasing conscious mind, that allows the brain to subscribe to supernatural notions and animism that confronted early Homo sapiens.


To preface the predilection of religion (or supernatural thinking) in humankind, it is important to discuss larger picture foundations for such a need. As noted above, the larger neocortex of humankind allows for higher-level thinking, but also allows for stronger emotional disturbances, among them a highly acute sense of fear, suspicion of the unknown, and “magical thinking.” The neocortex in humankind is larger than in all other organism brains.

Environmental pressures and in-group identity processes led to a three-fold expansion in brain size. Simultaneously, a threefold expansion in brain size and function affect specifically such higher-order brain functions as sensory perception, cognition, motor commands, spatial reasoning, and language. These functions allowed for a dynamic in-group functioning well above lower order organisms. One particular and fascinating correlate of higher brain function is the development of religion, symbols, and moral creation. For an intriguing look into this evolutionary practice, we return to Hidden Brain and a discussion with Azim Shariff, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, who studies religion from a psychological point of view.

Professor Shariff notes that for the vast majority of human history, humans lived in smaller family or kin-groups, usually numbering no more than fifty to 100 people. As these groups got bigger, dynamics within the groups themselves changed, particularly those who do not contribute fairly (a.k.a. cheaters or slackers) to the maintenance of the group.

There’s evidence from history and anthropology that suggests modern religions arose to solve problems related to trust and cooperation. All the world’s major religions today arose at times when human societies were struggling with the challenges of size, complexity or scarcity. For the vast majority of human history, we lived in small groups of around 50 people. Everyone knew everybody. If you told a lie, stole someone’s dinner or didn’t defend the group against its enemies, there was no way to disappear into the crowd. Everyone knew you, and you would get punished. But in the last 12,000 years or so, human groups began to expand from a few dozen to more than a thousand. And now it wasn’t so easy to punish the cheaters and the free riders. So we needed something big, vast, an epic force that could see what everyone was doing and enforce the rules. Since individual people could no longer police gigantic groups, the policing had to be done by a force that was superhuman. That force, according to psychologist Azim Shariff, was the modern idea of a punitive god, the kind that many preachers warn can send you to hell.[87]

Out of this framework of “creating god(s),” a common identity, or myth-sharing, is created that simultaneously enforces conduct within the group while binding the group in unison and cohesion. This strengthening of the in-group, of course, allows for clear delineation and protection against the out-groups, those who do not belong, who do not share our values. In the creation of god(s), rituals are created that bind the community together, an added bonus that enhances group identity, bonding, and myth-making. Again, Professor Shariff:

If you look at the costly rituals that happen in religion, those are indications to other people in your group that you are a true believer. You are showing in a costly way indications that you’re a believer. It is a hard-to-fake signal. If you weren’t a true believer, you wouldn’t go through all that effort. … Now you have trustable cues, credibility-enhancing displays of people’s genuine religiosity, which indicates that you actually can trust them. … So another example is this work on what’s called synchrony, which is just engaging in actions at the same pace in the same rhythm as others. And you have this in terms of hymn singing. But you also have this in terms of marchingY that is often used in military drills for the same reason. When you’re engaging in an action in rhythm with somebody else, that creates the psychological connection that makes people feel fused as a group.[88]

Such intense creation also yields surprising resolve to defend the in-group which make better fighters: fighters who will engage in aggression or wage war. It is certainly not surprising the blending of religious with the national in such countries as the U.S. currently and Imperial Japan during WWII. This creation of religion adds the socio-cultural dimension to our already innate genetic aggression. As Professor Shariff sums up:

This ability to form very cohesive, very tight coalitions, as well as to introduce sacred values, things that people are willing to fight for beyond all utilitarian or rational calculus, allows religion to make people better fighters. So, yes, religion does contribute to our warlike nature, but it does so in a very culturally adaptive way.[89]

The genetic seed now has its fertile soil to use whatever means to enforce in-group discipline and outgroup suspicion. The myth- and deity-making effect cannot be underestimated in the symbols, signals, and stories that bind an identity together.

Definitely involved in human violence are highly complex and elaborate, abstract and rule-governed, cognitive conceptual and symbolic processes, meanings and constructs of reality, attitudes, norms, values, codes of conduct, anticipations, strategies, etc. … Myths play a crucial part in the apologetics of war. The ‘blood and soil’ mythology, the motherland and the fatherland, the ‘honor of the flag’, the deification of the Führer, etc., derive directly from the ancient urge of regarding inanimate group symbols as living entities and the living group symbols as gods. Parts of our self-images still derive from supra-individual group structures and symbols, and this inevitably involves the possibility of indoctrination to kill or to be killed for cause and country.[90]

Common symbols such as flags, songs, and marches or parades (displays) are powerful signals of identity.



7.1.  Male Maximization and The Cost Vs. Benefit Dynamic

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. ~ U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

It is far too easy for “modern” man to dismiss the primitive aggression and warmongering of hunter-gatherer society as remnants of a bygone age. Understanding, as we do, that our brains are wired for resource protection and acquisition (food and mates), supported by strong in-group identities that reinforce strong out-group fear susceptibility, the main drive for “modern” man remains the same—reproduction—though, admittedly, to a much lesser degree given that survival in our current age does not depend on avoiding predation and lethal fighting to secure access to mates (competition, though, remains a dynamic of partnering off even today).

However, male maximization of competition for females and the higher costs versus rewards remain a male-dominated forum: the military. In our ancient past, a male proved his worthiness by competing for females. Status was rewarded despite the high risks – permanent injury or death – with selection among eligible and prized females. Therefore, it is important that we look at our current predilection to the twenty-first century male of Homo s. sapiens as he still ascribes great sexual prowess to advancement in the armed forces, protective services (police and fire departments), athletic competition, and, yes, even celebrity status in the arts. For our purposes here, however, we shall analyze specifically the importance of training of young males in the military and, to a lesser but still applicable degree, athletic teams. These two groups find a high similarity to the male dominated kin groups of our hunter-gatherer past that worked in cooperation in aggressive causes. Modern man is not so evolved as he might think.

Bobbie Low notes the preponderance of military men who rose through the ranks of war to achieve leadership status in peace. She says, “Leaders in war, then, had more likelihood of becoming leaders in peace. Increase their power, status, and resources, increase their sexual prowess, their leadership, their peacemaking skill.”[91] In these instances, one thinks to former U.S. Generals turned Presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They were towering giants in their respective countries’ wars and, as such, were elected by grateful nations to achieve lasting peace though the bloodshed be finished. This is not different in our past, as young males proved their worth on the field of battle had the choice of eligible females and continued exalted status as leaders of their people as chiefs of their tribes. Even twenty-three years on, former president of Sinn Feín Gerry Adams has become an elder statesman, despite his long years working with the IRA. The thick dark beard has become the wizened gray of the leader.

Dr. van der Dennen supports this evolutionary adaptation:

Peaceability and warlikeness are … the outcomes of a rational cost/benefit calculus … Most people seem to prefer peace when they can afford it, i.e., when they can solve the internal problem of the ’male fierce warrior syndrome’, and the external problem of being left ’in peace’ by other peoples. … Thus, warlike people are quite capable of peacefulness, while peaceable peoples are perfectly capable of violence under altered circumstances. … The supposition that war evolved as a reproductive strategy does not contradict the notion of peace as the normal condition among primitive peoples.[92]

Having served in the trenches of warfare, making the difficult decisions that will result in the deaths of people under their command, war heroes are elevated to exalted status as wise leaders because they have seen the violence that comes from war.

History abounds in charismatic leaders who symbolize the group and successfully mobilize their followers. Many adopt a patriarchal role, representing themselves as symbolic fathers and their followers as symbolic children. Followers, in turn, are typically consumed by family-like devotion and, not infrequently, by fanatic loyalty.[93]

Or fanatic disloyalty, as in the case of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. His attempts to wean a society off the violent pathway to reconciliation and peace led to his own untimely death at the hands of one of his own.

Despite the ability of peace among all people, and despite predilections towards violence should the circumstances warrant it, the issue of male aggression is one that all societies and cultures confront. It is certainly no surprise that the vast majority of prisoners in all societies are male. This innate aggression most assuredly served smaller tribes and clans when issues of protection arose. However, what is a keen interest for our purposes here in the warmongering efforts of the male of humankind (from the leaders who call for it to the younger men who fight it … war and war politics are definitely a man’s arena) is how societies construct their young men’s identities to that of brothers-in-arms, soldiers ready to die for larger causes at the behest of the male group: we speak of the military training they receive to channel and shape male aggression for larger goals and how that cost versus reward dynamic still serves young men in the selection of potential mates.

7.2.  Constructivist Identities In Soldiers

Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends. ~ U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it. ~ Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Young male recruits (though more and more females now join their ranks in far lesser numbers, however) undergo a process whereby the individual is broken down and rebuilt in service of the in-group. Bobbi Low notes the following:

Many features of men’s training for warfare mimic the proximate cues of both kin groups and close reciprocity. New recruits in many armies undergo forced transformation to uniformity (GI haircuts, uniforms). Training emphasizes communal values, often by using kinship terms; training is aimed not only at obvious skills, but also at ensuring cohesion, inciting hostility, enforcing obedience, and suppressing mutiny. Recruits are likely to be called “son,” “boy,” or “lad.”[94]

The importance of identity construction centers on clear lines between the in- and out-groups, down to the very words they are called by … from “boy,” “son,” and “brother.” We clearly see at work the advantage of identity construction tapping into prewired brain “machinery” to categorize “the enemy” and fight on behalf of the in-group. The strict autocratic discipline inside the group, with harsh consequences for rule-breakers, maintains the strong identity of belonging to something bigger than the individual, the ultimate aim of Darwinian evolution. We still see this phenomenon among young males in our professional athletic teams and deviant social gangs: they all function on the same principle. As with successful athletes who cannot control these deeper urges, power plays in the form of rapes and criminal activities are common even while disapproved of, yet, with no irony, these urges are blatantly supported among street gangs and drug cartels. These young men belong to something and the reward comes in resources and, of course, access to females who are attracted to the same responses of offspring protection and rape avoidance that served females over the millennia.

The psychology of male-raiding groups has deep cues as elaborated by Mr. van der Dennen:

Wilson & Daly (1985) and Daly & Wilson (1987) noted the preponderance of young males in all kinds of criminal violence. They called it the “Young Male Syndrome”. Most nationalist violence, too, is committed by a small minority of young males (some of whom may be psychopathic; most, however, are perfectly sane). Apparently not everyone abhors or fears violence. Presumably, it is deeply pleasurable and satisfactory for young armed males to have the power of life and death over other people; to fanatically assert themselves at the cost of others and to escape from insignificance; to rebel against and disrupt the deeply resented order of the state; to massively rape; to psychologically and morally and phylogenetically regress.
Note that the underlying psychology is no different for urban gangs, motorcycle gangs, criminal organizations, American football teams, pre-state warrior societies, and contemporary armies: “Demonic males gather in small, self-perpetuating, self-aggrandizing bands. They sight or invent an enemy ’over there’ – across the ridge, on the other side of the boundary, on the other side of a linguistic or social or political or ethnic or racial divide. The nature of the divide hardly seems to matter. What matters is the opportunity to engage in the vast and compelling drama of belonging to the gang, identifying the enemy, going on the patrol, participating in the attack” [emphasis mine].[95]

Further, Ms. Low states the following:

With the elaboration of war, and the increased pace of weapons development, selective outcomes became less tied to individual actions and characteristics. Those with the most to gain from warfare frequently suffered lower risks than those with little to gain. We may well have unhooked the reproductive rewards from the behavior, so that lethal conflict is now counter-selective, and driven only by proximate cues, but throughout the evolution of conflict in humans as well as other species, there have been reproductive profits associated with the risks of lethal conflict. … the driving cues remain.[96]

Her point is clear: the intense hand-to-hand combat of warriors out to prove their masculinity has changed dramatically in the advent of armies to missiles to bombs, but the driving force beneath it all still had tremendous power over young males’ status and older men’s legacies. Of particular trouble is the still ongoing predilection for rape during wartime. Despite the changes in technology and weapons, this direct assault on the “resource” of our vanquished enemy remains a blistering critique of those who would say we have evolved past primitive and evil acts. Rape of vanquished females remains the most obvious humiliation and attempts to “erase” an enemy by literally supplanting “their” genetic seed with “our” own.

Even as recent as April of this current year, the New York Times documented the preponderance of rape in the current civil war raging in Ethiopia.

Mona Lisa lay on a hospital bed in Mekelle, the main city in war-torn northern Ethiopia, her body devastated but her defiance on display. Named for the iconic painting, the 18-year-old Ethiopian high school graduate had survived an attempted rape that left her with seven gunshot wounds and an amputated arm. She wanted it to be known that she had resisted. “This is ethnic cleansing,” she said. “Soldiers are targeting Tigrayan women to stop them giving birth to more Tigrayans.” On Tuesday, addressing Ethiopia’s Parliament, Mr. Abiy publicly acknowledged that sexual assault had become an integral part of a war that he once promised would be swift and bloodless. But civilians, and particularly women, are bearing the brunt of the most disturbing violence. … Rocks, nails and other objects have been forced inside the bodies of women — and some men — during sexual assaults, according to health workers. Men have been forced to rape their own family members under threat of violence, Pramila Patten, the top U.N. official on sexual violence in conflict, said in January.[97]

The intention is clear and unmistakable: humiliation over a vanquished foe and ethnic cleansing, most assuredly symbolically and possibly genetic (should conception occur). Actions such as these are no different than the male lion taking over a new pride, first killing all the male cubs of the former pride leader and impregnating the remaining females with his own seed.

Nonetheless several aspects of men’s behavior in wars, and of the organization of fighting forces, suggest that [1] proximate correlates of reproductive success due to risky and aggressive behavior still exist in modern wars, and [2] successful leaders organize field units in ways that play on past kinship structure of warring groups.[98]

The parallels are eerily similar.

8.     APPENDIX V: The Irish Famine and Diaspora –  The Hunger for Identity

The Potato Famine of 1845-1852 is seen as a significant marker in Irish history. Not only did the English response from London reveal the overall neglect of the British towards their “inferior” Irish subjects as leaders thought they would let the “market play itself out,” the flood of immigrants who left the Emerald Isle had a strong impact on those left behind; specifically, a rebirth of Irishness. The event itself is straightforward: a blight caused massive crop failure of potatoes over many years. The potato had come to not only be a major food source for the poorest Irish, but it had also come to be a major source of currency (via bartering). With the potato crop a repeated failure, the Irish could not eat or barter. A neglectful London government downplayed the failure and was slow to aid people who could not eat, even while food rotted on store shelves. These events deeply embittered the Irish people, further cementing the already deep-seeds of ethno-religious conflict that stretched back to the sixteenth century.

Not only was the Famine a calamitous and deadly event in its own right, it has come to be seen as a defining point in Irish history. … Resentment against the English deepened and spread … They died of hunger in the midst of abundance. … The government’s reaction to the Famine was the inevitable outcome of centuries of misrule and disregard for the Irish as equals.[99]

However, what is of far more importance to Constructivists is the alarming decline of the Irish language because of the famine. Language, as we discovered, is one of the most important constructs of in-group identity.

The Famine has also been seen as causing the decline of the Irish language. Not only had the Famine hit predominantly Irish-speaking areas (and therefore many Irish speakers died or emigrated to English-speaking countries), … but Irish speaking had been declining rapidly before the Famine. …  [N]ationalist leaders had not linked the Irish language with demands for Irish sovereignty, and it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that a new generation of nationalists tried to revive it.[100]

Out of such tragedy would arise the “Gaelic Revival,” which would make a conscious return to Irish identity through literature, language, and sport.

8.1.  Gaelic Revival: Irish Identity Resurgent

Tabhair dom ghrása  [Give me your love] /                                                      Fíormhac Dé [True Son of God] /                        .                              Tabhair dom do neartsa,[Give me your strength] /                                                   An ghrian gheal ghlé [the clear bright sun.                                                  ~ Triad: St. Patrick, traditional, Irish Gaelic song

For the Irish, the famine would have a dramatic impact on the psyche of the Irish at home and abroad. For a population of 8 million, one million (1 out of 8) would die of starvation and another one million (1 out of 8) would emigrate from Ireland, particularly to America. Losing twenty-five percent of the population had a marked effect for those left behind to mourn their losses. This Irish diaspora would have fateful impacts in the twentieth-century as a small rebellion for an independent Irish Republic would receive significant assistance from the Irish in America.Y (In fact, this American support is even noted in the 1916 Irish Proclamation.) For these left behind, this dark chapter in Irish history, revealing the centuries-long neglect at the hands of the British, would embolden a return to Irish identity.

[S]ome Irish people looked for other avenues to express what they thought of as Irish identity: a new Irish literary movement, the revival and promotion of the Irish language and the organization of traditional Irish games and sports. It began with the founding of the Gaelic League, an organization devoted to Irish identity. [It] organized Irish language classes and Irish-speaking social activities. Irish language became a central part of Irish education. In 1903 alone, 1,300 National Schools had Irish introduced into their curriculum, and in 1909 it became a compulsory subject. [Continuing] they thought that a national literature and cultural life was vital to Irish nationality. They also thought that this literature should not just be old folktales (although they were considered important), but that it should be a vibrant and cultivated literature of the highest quality, one that would be regarded as highly as other national literatures. It was led by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), a young poet who eventually came to symbolize the movement and much of what is now considered Irish literary culture.[101]

A rebirth of the Irish language with its focus on Irish literature was hoped “to invigorate the country with what was, essentially, new-found Irishness.”[102] Traveling to Ireland today, one sees that both the English and Irish languages share equal billing, a marked difference when one crosses into Northern Ireland where only English is seen. British sport was also an import that the Irish hoped to reject, those classic British staples of rugby, football, and cricket. Notably literary figures like W.B. Yeats and playwright Brian Friel would explore uniquely Irish identity in works for the page and the stage. The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, established 1903, was created to produce specifically Irish works that sought to further expand this Irish identity.[103] The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) promoted traditional Irish sports of hurling, Gaelic football, and camogie with the stated intention to celebrate Irish athletics. The stated goal of the Gaelic League was to elevate and reconstruct Irish identity to counter what was seen as the assimilation of it at the hands of the British. Out of the ashes, rises the Irish phoenix .. and the rise of the Irish Republic. With this rediscovered Irish identity – a unique mix of its pagan/Celtic and Christian influences – now combined with the resurgent dream of Irish independence, it is no wonder that as the Nineteenth closes and the Twentieth-century opens, new hope is born for an independent Republic of Ireland.


The state does not exist unless it has been internalized inside people’s hearts, souls, and consciousness. ~ Theodore Herzl, Founder of Zionism

Not only do we see Constructivism at work in individuals, or more specifically, leaders and people they lead, but we also see an entire nation’s identity reborn. Like a phoenix reborn from its own ashes, the modern-day Israeli Jew fundamentally transformed its identity, as a people, and as a nation. In fact, to the modern day Israeli Jew (hereafter Israeli), the nation and the new identity are one and the same. What is even more interesting about the Jewish identity is its long history, stretching back thousands of years: from a small enslaved tribe in Egypt to a mighty kingdom that created two of the wonders of the ancient world (the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem) to an outcast, wandering race in the Jewish Diaspora to, finally, the fearsome, albeit troubled, soldier in the only democracy in the Middle East.

For our purposes here, the transformation from the late nineteenth-century to the founding of modern day Israel will be the focus. From a victimized, persecuted Torah scholar, a new Jew is fashioned in principles of language, manual labor (working the land), and a return to an ancient homeland.

Zionism was a late nineteenth century movement under Theodore Herzl to not merely create a new nation-state in Palestine for the Jewish race, but to refashion the entire identity of the Jewish people. Daniel Gordis, author of Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, sums up the entire dual identity of the nation of Israel and its collective identity:

Though it is a story of a country, the story of Israel is also the story of a revolution. Zionism was the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, a movement committed to transforming the existential condition of the Jew. It was time, Zionists insisted, for the Jewish people to be reborn. … It was time for the Jews to refuse to be victims on call, living wherever they might call home until their host country decided to evict or murder its Jews. England evicted Jews in 1290; Spain, in 1492. And then came violent European anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, Jews remains passive, weak, fearful, and huddled over ancient, sacred texts instead of defending themselves and taking history into their own hands.[104]

Out of this idea, a nation state founded by their hands, protected by their own blood, would be fashioned out of their ancestral homeland. It is not hard to distinguish the difference from today’s Israeli soldier and the stereotype of the docile, pacifist community of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof. Today’s Israeli is defiant, perhaps even arrogantly so. Though it is an international pariah in such bodies like the UN, it remains steadfast in its core that it will cling to the dream of their homeland and not be evicted from it. Despite the troublesome parts of its rule over another stateless Palestinian people, the Israeli is a far-cry from the “passive, weak, fearful” Torah Jew of a bygone age.

The transformation began in tragedy and blatant genocide: the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 in Russia. Gordis sums up the ramifications:

Shortly after the pogrom, the Jewish Historical Commission in Odessa asked Chaim Nachman Bialik to go to Kishinev, to interview survivors and to tell the story. Bialik was a natural choice for the assignment., He was widely considered one of the great – if not the greatest – Hebrew writers of his generation. Ze’ev Jobotinsky, another Zionist leader and himself a gifted writer, said Bialik was “the one poet in all of modern literature whose poetry directly molded the soul of a generation.”

What Bialik saw and heard when he arrived in Kishinev shocked him. His response … directed his fury not only at the marauding, raping, murdering mob, also, surprisingly, at the Jews themselves. Bialik describes the basement of a house, where a gang of Cassocks raped the Jewish women mercilessly, time and again. While the savage assault is unfolding, the Jewish men hide behind casks, unable to stop the attackers, too frightened to even try. These “sons of Maccabees,” Bialik calls them with bitter irony, are the very symbols of what Bialik believes has gone wrong with European Jewry.

Then, Bialik turns his rage on the Jewish tradition itself. Bialik describes how after the attack, these men of priestly descent stepped over the broken bodies of their still-living wives and ran to the rabbi to ask, “Is my wife still permitted to me?”

“That is what worries you?” Bialik screams. The people you love are broken, wounded, raped and lying on the ground, and all that concerns you is a question of Jewish law? … What has happened to your humanity? What have you become?”

The exile of the Jew from his own land, Bialik claims, has more than robbed the Jew of his strength and his courage. It has eroded his capacity to feel. Exile has destroyed him. For Bialik therefore, the point of the return to the Jewish homeland was not simply to create a refuge or to fix the “Jewish problem” in Europe.[105]

It is a long but very important moment that Bialik describes for the Jewish people. He asks “what has happened to your humanity?” As we discussed in Biopolitical, the “genetic nature” of humankind over six million years was to defend one’s in-group against predation by the outgroup, in this case, the Cassocks who, it might be noted, used rape as a tool to humiliate their enemy, a symbolic substituting their enemy’s seed with their own. He makes a plea for a return to the homeland for the Jewish soul to identify with their history and identity with warrior ancestor.

The rebirth out of ashes began with language. Constructivist identity finds its root in the symbols of language. After all, what is a spoken word but a symbol of meaning. Hebrew, the long-forgotten language of their ancestors, would return to its place as a unifier of identity. As Mr. Gordis states:

The rebirth of Hebrew was yet another of Zionism’s early revolutions. Thanks to Ben-Yehuda, revived the language of the Bible, the language in which the Jewish people had first defined itself. That revolutionary zeal was reflected in Ben-Yehuda’s inviting numerous women to publish in his various journals. Women, he argued, would be uniquely able to “insert emotion, tenderness, flexibility and subtlety into the dead, forgotten, old, dry and hardened Hebrew language.” [106]

A second pillar would be a return to their ancestral homeland. Early in Zionism, other locations were suggested, most notably Argentina, but it would be a return to that place from which their diaspora began: Palestine, the Holy Land.

The reason that Jews needed to return to their land was that it was only there that the Jews could fashion a “new Jew.” It was time, he insisted, to re-create the Maccabees of old. It was time for the Jewish nation to be reborn.[107]

Judas Maccabee, of course, was a Jewish warrior of the old mold: strong, fearless, and violent. It was he, of course, that rebuilt the first temple and from this event we have the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight days and nights; today that is celebrated by Jews world over as Hanukkah. This new Jew would be reborn in their ancestral land. Israel would be “populated by the new Jew—a strong, empowered figure for whom the yeshiva [school] was a distant memory.”[108]

Once rooted in the land, he would become a part of the land. His labor would transform him by his working the very dust and thus was born the kibbutz. Dusty texts were replaced by dusty boots and sweat.

The new Jew would emerge from working the land. … Labor is not only the force which binds man to the soil and by which possession of the soil is acquired; it is also the basic energy for the creation of a national culture. Jews needed to return to nature and to working the land with their bare hands; for too long, they had relied on their intellect for their livelihoods. This had distorted their national soul. … Built largely on land the Jewish National Fund had purchased from the Ottomans, the kibbutz movement was rooted in strong socialist ideals, with an emphasis on collective responsibility and working the land.[109]

In the beginning, Israel was a fairly small slice of the coastal plain of today’s Israel. However, as the new Jew would find its root in the soil of their ancestral homeland, a spark would ignite that would change the world forever and add a drive and determination to this new Jewish identity. In a sick irony, this phoenix would literally be built out of the ashes of the crematorium in Europe.

Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses throughout Nazi Germany and Austria were destroyed. Two hundred sixty-seven synagogues were burned and seventy-five hundred Jewish-owned commercial stores were ruined. Firefighters were instructed to intervene only if the fire threatened non-Jewish-owned property. Nazi SS troops and Hitler Youth stormed into Jewish homes, attacking civilians. Many women were raped; others committed suicide rather than face the same fate. Twenty-six thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps, many dying almost immediately as a result of ruthless treatment. The attack, a return to the pogrom from decades earlier, is remembered as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” In many ways, it marked the beginning of the Holocaust. A month later, in December, when leaders of the Yishuv met to discuss what had happened in November, they used the term shoah for the first time in that context. It was a biblical term, taken from the Book of Zephaniah, which means ‘catastrophe.’ Jewish history, they intuited, was about to change forever.[110]

The rest is history. Six million Jews would perish in the concentration camps of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Jews were rejected by Western states, most notably the U.S. and Britain. Finding no place to go, they would land in Israel with a renewed rage that would firmly enable them to grab their destiny. Angry European Jews stepped on to their ancient homeland and, with guns thrust into their hands, were reborn Israelis. Soon followed state sponsorship in the UN (and the naming of “anti-Semitism” in the founding charter) and the United States, under President Harry S. Truman, would be the first to recognize this new homeland of the Jews.

From the pacifist Torah scholar, a new Jew emerged.

So desperate were the Jewish people to fashion a new kind of Jew that they even changed their names. Altering their names was a way of saying “no more”—it was time for a new Jewish worldview, a new Jewish physique, a new Jewish home, new Jewish names. It was time for a “new Jew,” a Jewish people reborn.[111]

Fearless. Defiant. Unrepentant. Proud. Hebrew. Warrior. New words for a new identity. In the state and people of Israel, we can see Constructivism’s power to shape. While not as quick as the change in the Soviet people, there is not denying the dramatic change from the Torah Jew to the Israeli Jew. This tension between the old Torah Jew and the modern Israeli is still felt in Israel today. There is a growing resentment on the part of many Israelis who feel the Israeli Hasidim who do not do their part to defend the nation, who sanctimoniously insist they serve the country by “studying the Torah.” This was told to this writer by Yuri Yochelmann, an Israeli-American citizen, born in Tel Aviv and served his mandatory time in the Israeli Air Force.

9.1.  Post-Scriptum: In-Group Criticism

It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. There are all kinds of courage. ~ Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

In response to the renewed violence in Israel earlier this year, the podcast Hidden Brain looked at two individuals – one Israeli, the other Palestinian – who tried to change their respective in-group’s thinking regarding the “outgroup.” The responses of the members of their in-group will surprise you. Based on our previous discussion of the necessity that in-group discipline match out-group aggression, perhaps this is not surprising, after all.

The story, “Tribes and Traitors” documents the experience of Avner Gvaryahu, an Israeli citizen and soldier, and Mohammed Dajani, a former Palestinian professor of political science at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Both grew up believing in the plight-and-fight of their respective in-groups.

For Mr. Gvaryahu, he attended yeshiva growing up before joining the military. It was required, of course, but he also felt it was his patriotic duty. However, during routine patrols wherein part of his job was to break into Palestinian homes to secure vantage points from second story windows to protect his fellow soldiers working on the street below, he began to see Palestinians in a whole new light. He says, “And I think that that’s where I really learned for the first time, first of all a little bit about the Palestinians because I was never in a Palestinian home before I started my service. I had no real contact with Palestinians before I started my service.” Clear separation maintains the rigid out-group view (as we clearly saw in Northern Ireland in walled off neighborhoods). Now, having seen the Palestinians up close and the emotional disturbance he was causing, he began to have empathy for “his enemy.” Consequently, he joined an organization called Breaking the Silence, a group of military veterans who talk about their experiences. The host Mr. Vedantam says:

From Avner’s perspective, there is nothing unpatriotic about Israeli veterans telling their stories, talking about moments they struggle with or Palestinian families they got to know. But others see it differently. Some see it as treason. In one recent video, a group targeting Avner shows a Palestinian attacking an Israeli with a knife. The video then accuses four human rights activists, including Avner, of protecting the terrorist.

To be clear, these are his own people, his Israelis, who are accusing him of treason. Mr. Gvaryhau responds,

They called all four of us foreign agents or the – or what they called it were shtulim, which basically mean ‘implanted,’ meaning my opinions, my thoughts and the actions of myself and my friends are not things we actually think on our own, but we’re actually working for a foreign government. To us it sounds as if they’re blaming us for being spies.

Identity in in-groups demands that the group think the same way in order to defend the in-group from the out-group. Failure to do so could lead to dissolution of the identity bond.

Professor Dajani has a similar experience from his own in-group members. Prior to being a professor, Mr. Dajani was actively involved in protecting Palestinians from what he saw as Israeli aggression and occupation. He was even exiled from Israel by the Israeli government. When his father fell ill, he was allowed to return and that was when his perspective began to change about his so-called enemy. As he tells it,

My father, who had cancer, started taking me to Ein Kerem Hospital, where he used to have chemotherapy, and it made me observe my enemy – the Israelis, the doctors, the nurses, the staff. I noticed that their attitude to my father was not an attitude of an enemy towards enemy but rather a doctor who is patient.

When his mother had a heart attack and they were rushing to the hospital, they had to go through an Israeli checkpoint. He feared the worst. However,

When we came to the gates of the airport, and my brother told them that we have a sick woman with us and they saw her, they vacated one of the gates there and immediately called for ambulance. Then when the doctors came, they found out that they could not move her, so they tried to resuscitate her there. So it became like an operation room.

As a result of seeing the common humanity in his “enemy,” he began to have empathy for the plight of the Israelis, in particular, the traumatic event of the Holocaust on the Jewish psyche. With his students, most of whom were unable to empathize with the Jews, he decided he would take a few of his students to Auschwitz to see first-hand a concentration camp. He was not surprised by his students’ change of thinking once they understood what the Holocaust was in its reality. He says,

It was very emotional to them. Some of the girls even cried. One of the student was telling me, I thought that Hitler gathered the Jews in these concentration camps to send them to Palestine, to have them shipped to Palestine. So to them and in their total misconception about what is the Holocaust, what is the concentration camp, what did it mean, how life was there, and so it was an eye-opener for them.

What was surprising was the reaction back home from his own “tribe.” He says,

The last day in Auschwitz, my secretary wrote to me an email saying that students have come and ransacked your office, and they are making demonstrations against you on campus and that they came and left you a letter of threatening your life, that you should not come back to the university, and that if you come back, they are going to kill you. And she said that they were extremely – there is a lot of enmity and an uproar on campus regarding the trip. … that prepared me that the reception will not be easy going back to the university. And once I went there, I noticed that there was a lot of enmity. People were looking at me as if I’m a traitor. I’ve betrayed them. At the same time, nine student organizations issued a statement on campus saying that this is normalization, and normalization equals treason. What was most hurtful for me, most painful was nobody stood by me. That was really what was most painful for me. Also the fact that I have dedicated all my life for the Palestinian cause, and suddenly, I’m a traitor for that cause.

Mohammed was forced to resign from his job. One night, someone set fire to his car. He knew his life was in danger. He packed his bags and left Jerusalem again, this time exiled by his fellow Palestinians.

Rigid in-group identity demands a powerful, pressurized group-think from the group. In short, empathy is dangerous. As we saw regarding the Good Friday Accords, it is not just negotiating with your “enemy” or “opponent” that requires bravery, but also seeking change inside one’s own group.





[1] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 541.

[2] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 182-183.

[3] John Stoessinger, Why Nations Go To War. Sixth Edition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992) page 213.

[4] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 437.

[1] Fenian: a derogatory term describing an Irish Catholic revolutionary from the 19th-century. These revolutionaries were generally known as ‘Fenians’, which referred to ancient Irish warrior tribes.

Y Paramilitaries were armed vigilante groups operating as enforcers in neighborhoods as well as conducting guerilla operations against rivals.

[2] John Chambers, A Belfast Child: My True Story of Life and Death in the Troubles. (John Blake, 2020) page 3.

[3] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 283.

[4] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 283.

[5] B. S. Low Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000) page 34.

[6] Elizabeth Howell. “How Long Have Humans Been On Earth?” Universe Today (blog), January 19, 2015.

[7] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 214.

[8] National Geographic Society. “Age of the Earth.” Accessed January 18, 2021.

[9] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 31-32.

[10] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 575.

[11] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 285.

[12] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 50.

[13] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 5.

[14] B. S. Low Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000) page 217.

[15] B. S. Low Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000) page 218.

[16] Leda Cosmides et al, The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) page 4.

[17] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 544.

[18] Ibid., page 458.

[19] Ibid., page 569.

[20] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 445.

[21] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 459.

[22] Kaas, Jon H. “Neocortex – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics.” Accessed May 16, 2021.

[23] Hofman, Michel A. “Evolution of the Human Brain: When Bigger Is Better.” Frontiers in Neuroanatomy 8 (2014).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 463.

[26] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 477.

[27] Ibid., page 494.

[28] Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, “Evolutionary Psychology Primer,” Accessed May 9, 2021.

[29] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 12.

[30] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 566.

[31] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 283.

[32] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006)., page 288.

[33] Ibid., page 289.

[34] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 10.

[35] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 291.

[36] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 567.

[37] Statista Infographics. “Infographic: The Prison Gender Gap.” Accessed January 21, 2021.

[38] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 61.

[39] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 587.

[40] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 18.

[41] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 10.

[42] Ibid., page 442.

[43] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 292.

[44] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 292.

[45] Ibid., page 294.

[46] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 231.

[47] Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, “Evolutionary Psychology Primer,” Accessed May 9, 2021.

[48]   B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 8-9.

[49] Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach. Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) page 3.

[50] Heys, Sarina. “Constructivism – Critical IR Theories (Constructivism, Postmodernism, Feminism).” Coursera. Accessed May 6, 2021.

[51] Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach. Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) page 98.

[52] Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach. Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) page 28.

[53] Maysam Behravesh, “Constructivism: An Introduction.” An Introduction, n.d., page 1.

[54] E-International Relations. “Introducing Constructivism in International Relations Theory,” February 23, 2018.

[55] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 117.

[56] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 473.

[57] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 475.

[58] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 437.

[59] Ibid., page 498.

[60] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 452.

[61] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 456.

[62] Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach. Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) page 34-35, 43.

[63] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 437.

[64] Yale Ferguson and Richard Mansbach. Polities: Authority, Identities, and Change (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) page 56.

[65] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 498.

[66] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 115.

[67] Joseph Nye Jr. Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History (New York, New York, 2007) page 135.

[68] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 118.

[69] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 119.

[70] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 120.

[71] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkik. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization at Fifty: Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics, pages 896-897.

[72] Ibid., page 897.

[73] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 124.

[74] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006), page 124.

[75] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkik. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization at Fifty: Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics 52 (1998), page 897.

[76] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 125.

[77] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Making Sense of International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publisher, Inc., 2006) page 126.

[78] Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkik. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization at Fifty: Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics 52 (1998), page 915.

[79] Ted Hopf, “The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations.” International Security 23, no. Summer 1998 (1998), page 176.


[80] Texas National Security Review. “The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland,” May 21, 2019.

[81] John Chambers, A Belfast Child: My True Story of Life and Death in the Troubles. (John Blake, 2020) page 254.

[82] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: The Double Standard,” n.d.

[83] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: The Double Standard,” n.d.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Alexander Nikolaev. International Negotiations: Theory, Practice, and the Connection with Domestic Politics. (Lexington Books, 2007) page 30.

[86] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: The Double Standard,” n.d.

[87] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: Creating God,” n.d.

Y This writer witnessed this very phenomenon in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when Loyalist groups marched together, celebrating a four-hundred-year Protestant victory.

[88] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: Creating God,” n.d.

[89] Vedantam, Shankar. “Hidden Brain: Creating God,” n.d.

[90] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 441.


[91] B. S. Low Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000) page 18.

[92] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 454.

[93] Ibid., page 454.

[94] B. S. Low Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000) page 237.

[95] Johan M.G. van der Dennen, Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. (Groningen Origin Press, 1995) page 456.

[96] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 29.

[97] Declan Walsh, “‘They Told Us Not Resist’: Sexual Violence Pervades Ethiopia’s War.” New York Times. April 1, 2021.


[98] B.S. Low, An Evolutionary Perspective on War. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) page 25.

[99] Joseph Coohill, Ireland: A Short History. (London, England: Oneworld Publications, 2014) page 76,77.

[100] Ibid., page 77.

Y It is estimated that there are 70 million people worldwide who count themselves of Irish descent, many times more than the entire population currently living in Ireland.

[101] Joseph Coohill, Ireland: A Short History. (London, England: Oneworld Publications, 2014) page 75.

[102] Joseph Coohill, Ireland: A Short History. (London, England: Oneworld Publications, 2014) page 77.

[103] The EPIC Irish Migration Museum. “EPIC: The Irish Migration.” Dublin, Ireland, July 14, 2021.

[104] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) page 200.

[105] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) page 201.

[106] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) page 72.

[107] Ibid., page 50.

[108] Ibid., page 72.

[109] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) page 61.

[110] Ibid., page 124.

[111] Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (New York: Harper Collins, 2016) page 5.


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