Human Evolution: Leaders & Conflict

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    • 00:00


    • 00:11

      HAN DORUSSEN: My name is Han Dorussen.I'm a professor of international relationsand conflict resolution at the University of Essex.In this lecture, I'm going to talk about how humans--how groups-- actually control violent behavior.It's easy to look at the world and to thinkthat violence is all around us-- criminal activities, wars.

    • 00:33

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: You name it.In reality, of course, most of the time peopleget along perfectly well and are able to dealwith conflict or situations in a even-handed, easy manner.So what is it that how have humans evolvedthat allows them to deal with conflicting situationsquite effectively most of the time?

    • 00:60

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: Two things are going to be important here.First, I will talk about individual and socialconstraints on violent behavior.How do we control ourselves?And how we are being controlled by our social environment?And I'm even going to make an argumentthat perhaps over time, we have become better

    • 01:21

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: at controlling violent behavior.The second point I want to talk about hereis about the particular role that leaders--political leaders-- play in avoiding conflict.In history, it's largely political leaders thatdecide to go to war-- to fight.

    • 01:42

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: But its also political leaders thatultimately negotiate the ending of conflicts--the resolution of wars.So how can we think about their actions, their motivationswithin the context of the possibilitiesand the limits of rational conflict resolution?

    • 02:03

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: Steve Pinker mentioned in his book, The Better Angelsof Our Nature-- he says, for various reasons,humans don't want to be violent.And we actually mind seeing other people suffer.So first of all, we can think about the distressthat we feel when violence is being

    • 02:26

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: committed towards other people.In this context, it might be useful to actually realizethat even animals are quite often capable of such behavior.But humans seem to have a particularly developed senseof distressed by perceiving the suffering of others.

    • 02:46

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: Some people talk about this in the context of empathy--our ability to put ourself in a position of the otherand to actually experience the pain inflicted on another asif it affects ourself.These things are human.

    • 03:07

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: You find them occasionally in animals as well, but more so,more elaborately, within humans.A third motive, a third aspect thatseems to be matter in this context,is a notion of self-control.Humans have a particularly developed sense

    • 03:30

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: of reflecting upon the situationsand not acting immediately.If you look at the brain, a particularly large partof our brain is made up out of the prefrontal cortex.Particularly, this part of the brainseems to be responsible for reflection,for controlling our behavior.

    • 03:51

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: Daniel Kahneman and other social psychologiststalk about our capacity to think slowly.Not to react immediately about a threat,but to actually step back, think about what we're doing,what is the best possible course of action.Humans, in that sense, have not only evolved extensively.

    • 04:11

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: It's also quite interesting to seethat these aspects of the brain, how important itis in motivating our behavior, by looking at whatmay go wrong.In a very interesting study, the Dutch neuroscientist Dick Swaabactually examined brains of peoplewithin the area of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

    • 04:36

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: He started collecting the brains of deceased peoplesomewhere in the 1970s, and continued doing thatuntil about the 1990s.Interestingly, as part of his collection,he also got the brains of people thathad been conceived during the period of 1944 to 1945

    • 04:56

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: in the Netherlands.That was a very pivotal period for the Netherlands.It was the end of the Second World War.The Netherlands-- particularly the northern partof the Netherlands-- was still occupied by the Germans,but the Germans were no longer having an effective controlof the area.This actually made it very difficultto get enough food supplies towards the major cities.

    • 05:19

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: As a result, there was a famine.The Dutch talk about it as the Hongerwinter.Children conceived during that periodactually suffered damage to their brainsbecause of the insufficient amount of food thatwas available to the mothers.This wasn't social behavior in the sense

    • 05:40

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: that they were small children, and theywere experiencing something.This was literally the behavior within the womb of the mother--completely biologically driven.However, the result of it was quite shocking.Not only could Dick Swaab observethat the brains of these children had been different,had developed differently, he could also

    • 06:01

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: observe the life story-- what happenedto these children, and young adults, and even older adultsin the period between 1945 and whenever they deceased.And it turned out these people quite oftenhad particular difficulties.There were more asocial.They found it more difficult to control aggressive behavior.They very often found it simply more difficult

    • 06:23

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: to control themselves.They would overeat themselves.They would use drugs, alcohol in a more extensive waythan other people would.So this shows that some of our ability to control ourselfis really kind of driven biologically.It's not necessarily driven by the social environment.

    • 06:44

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: At the same time, of course, we knowthat once a person is born, social development--psychological development-- doesn't stop.So there's a whole life story thatallows people to develop further,to become further socialized.And again, this can be linked with howwe respond to actions and our ability

    • 07:05

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: to control violent behavior.Controversially, Steve Pinker takes these kindof arguments-- which are quite solidlydemonstrated to exist at the individual level--to the group level.But not only to the group level, but also to kindof an historical, evolutionary perspective.

    • 07:27

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: And he asked himself, Could it be the casethat as time progressed, groups of peoplehave developed different mechanisms to control violencenot only within the group, but possibly alsotowards other groups of people?And he feels it has.He not only feels that people have developed

    • 07:47

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: different mechanisms, but also have developedmore effective mechanisms.He describes the earlier mechanismsto be very closely related to notions of taboo--those certain actions that are simply not allowed.Out of accepted behavior-- and this includes, quite often,violent behavior.

    • 08:07

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: And again, particularly violent behavior within the group.And these taboos, of course, have a powerful constrainingeffect on action.But he feels that there are certain limits to taboosas well.Taboos are there to be broken.But also, taboos are very often veryspecific and narrow definitions when they apply

    • 08:29

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: or to whom they apply.What generally he says is that if welook at the development of groups,we can see development from more communal to relational sharing.Communal sharing is behavior toward people of your directin group.It's your family.

    • 08:50

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: It may be the village.In his description, over time we startedto generalize these rules of behavior.So for example, whereas, in instance, youhave to tell the truth towards your parents--

    • 09:11

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: as societies evolve, this becomeshaving to tell the truth to the elders of the village.More or less, persons of authority,but more abstract than the direct family ties.But this goes further, he says.Eventually, this becomes a general moral principlethat one should tell the truth.

    • 09:34

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: And this may be enshrined in lawsthat apply to a much, much larger group of people.And they even may be enshrined in general moral behavior.This rule-based behavior, which largelyexists on the anonymity of people, can be very powerful.It controls our behavior, but it alsomakes a very effective economic exchange, for example,

    • 09:57

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: possible.I always personally find a striking example the ability,the willingness for us to use credit cardsin an online situation.We know that occasionally these situations may be abused.But in general, we are willing to provide the information.We know we get an economic transaction in return for it,

    • 10:20

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: and this is an extremely efficient, powerful wayof getting ourselves goods and services.And we trust the system to largely functionunless it is affected thus.For Pinker and other evolutionary psychologists,this actually becomes a strengtheningof the rule of reason in controlling our behavior.

    • 10:44

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: People-- and groups of people-- increasinglyhave the capacity to think about the future,to save now in order to have beneficial actions later on.He feels this behavior is not onlyto be economically very sensible,and it allows us to be much more wealthy than we used to be.

    • 11:06

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: It also allows for an enormous amount of regulated behaviorand actually diminishes the role for violent behavior,for predatory behavior.We largely tend to behave within rules.Apart from these social constraints,I also want to talk here about the rules of leaders.And we could say to some extent, similar developments-- how

    • 11:29

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: we choose our leaders, what we expect from our leaders--have also changed over time.Without still of the older aspects being there as well.Why do groups accept the leadership within a community?What's special about leaders?Some people have pointed out leaders

    • 11:50

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: are quite confident, sometimes evenoverconfident about situations.They are characters that, to some extent,might be larger than life.They have a vision, but also theyhave a certain charisma that appeals people to them.So a lot of this may actually not be fully rational,in that sense.Our attachment, our willingness to follow leaders,

    • 12:12

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: might be based on the need of the groupand the actions of the group of having a strong person in frontof the group.However, as time's developed, we alsoexpect leaders to behave to the advantage of the group,to take the best possible course of actions.

    • 12:34

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: Very strongly, this can be seen in our evaluationof the behavior of rulers, of leaders,within the context of crises.So one model of thinking about what leaders doand what they don't do in crises is very muchfocused on the notion of rationality.They evaluate a number of alternatives

    • 12:55

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: and then choose the alternative thatis best for the larger group.And within these rational choice models,we actually think about leaders being capablefor that kind of behavior.So we move away from their behavior maybe that'sdriven by charisma, or by the need to dominate,

    • 13:16

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: to actually the ability of leaders to evaluate situationsand to choose the best possible course of action.And then we start thinking about whatmight be problematic about that, and werecognize that quite often, crises situationsare very difficult situations where informationhas to be processed and evaluated very,very quickly with the opportunity of getting

    • 13:37

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: it wrong.We may not know what will happen,so we are uncertain about the future.And we may be uncertain about the implicationsof the various pieces of action.This line of research has actually unearthedan awful lot of interesting insights about how leadersmay be capable-- or occasionally not capable--of solving conflicts, resolving conflicts.

    • 13:59

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: And as I said earlier on, leadersare in a very unique position.They may well motivate people to go into conflict.They decide upon war.But they also decide upon peace.They quite often have to decide on whatterms to make an agreement.So the fact that these leaders are humans nevertheless,how may that affect what we can expect from them?

    • 14:23

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: People have pointed out at a number of reasons that are allworthwhile to think about.First of all, they may have inaccurate perceptions.They may not quite and fully understandwhat the situation is that they find themselves in.They may misread history, in that sense.Also, of course, whatever the intentionsare-- whatever your actions are trying to achieve--

    • 14:46

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: they still need to be communicated to the other side.And things may well go wrong in that behavior.And finally-- and this might be more problematic-- thereare risks of being overconfident,of actually having wishful thinking.Some people also link this to the notion

    • 15:07

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: that political leaders, more than the population at large,are willing to take risks.Interestingly, these rational models of choicepartially are able to include some of these aspects.But partially also point out that exactly these aspects--like overconfidence, like the willingness to take risks--

    • 15:30

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: may actually make it more difficult to resolve conflictspeacefully.So to kind of bring the story back,exactly our tendency to look for leaders that are confident,that are charismatic, may hurt these leadersin their ability to deal with conflicts in a peaceful manner

    • 15:51

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: to settle conflict.Leaders normally don't make decisions on their own.They're ruled by groups of people around them.And these groups of people may giveinformation that tends to feed into what are alreadyheld perceptions.So there's a missed opportunity for learning.Also, quite often, the preferences

    • 16:12

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: are not given immediately.We don't exactly know why we like the various alternatives.And actually, it's during this questionand during the actual dealing with the crisiswe develop an insight of what are the bestpossible alternatives.And as I pointed out earlier on, crisis situationsare very peculiar situations.

    • 16:33

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: They are made with an awful lot of tension.It's important to recognize when wethink about the abilities of individuals, of groups,of our leaders, to resolve conflicts,to understand both the limitationsto their psychology, to understand that they are

    • 16:53

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: like every one of us driven by the need,by fear, by rage, by the need to protect themselvesand to protect the group.And at the same time, it's also important to recognizethat as situations have evolved, weare increasingly-- both biologically,but definitely also socially-- capable of dealing

    • 17:15

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: with conflicts peacefully.We do not necessarily have to resort to violence.We're quite capable of solving conflictswithout resorting to violence.Leaders in this respect are in a very particular and difficultposition.They are the ones that ultimately haveto decide on peace and war.They quite often may get it wrong,

    • 17:36

      HAN DORUSSEN [continued]: but quite often they're are also the persons thathave to make the ultimate decision to get it right,to make the necessary compromises.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Human Evolution: Leaders & Conflict

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Professor Han Dorussen discusses how individuals and communities control violent behavior. He addresses social constraints on violent behavior as well as the role political leaders play in resolving conflict.

SAGE Video Lectures
Human Evolution: Leaders & Conflict

Professor Han Dorussen discusses how individuals and communities control violent behavior. He addresses social constraints on violent behavior as well as the role political leaders play in resolving conflict.

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