I don't understand war.

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  • #1
pergradus
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I was just reading about Remembrance day on Wiki and saw the figure that nearly 90 million people were killed in WWII and WWI... and I just can't understand how such things are possible.

How is it that people are tricked into throwing their lives away, or slaughtering their fellow man for the sake of some politician's political goals? That's what all war comes down to, money and politics, and I don't understand why people are so eager to die and kill so some guy in a suit in the capitol can profit from it all...

There must be something fundamental about the human psyche that draws men to battle, and somewhere along the lines they go from normal people to monsters. Can someone explain?
 

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  • #2
russ_watters
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For WWII, the answer is complex because of the odd psychology of Nazi Germany, but typically the fighters either believe in the cause/their leaders or are afraid of retribution from their commanders. Note that for the allies in WWII, it was pretty easy to believe in the cause...

...but don't mistake that for "eager to die or kill."
 
  • #3
Bobbywhy
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pergradus,

You are asking about a huge and complicated subject. There are no quick and easy responses that would satisfy your queries. Social scientists, philosophers, and others have studied war since written history began and still are still learning today. Why did primitive tribes attack their neighbors? Why did whole civilizations march across continents to conquer others? In WWII the war in Europe was already underway when Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor. That brought out patriotic men and women from every city, town, and village of America-ready to fight the Japanese and defend our country. Wars fought in other parts of the world are more complicated, with no simple answers. Understanding why individual soldiers risk their lives in war is complex and difficult. In ancient times fighters had permission to take whatever booty they wanted from the conquered (losers), including women for their “pay”. Since 9/11, 2001 (the last ten years) no doubt that many of the volunteer military folks had patriotic motives, and some others wanted steady employment and good benefits like total medical care.

Sources of information are all around you if you live in the USA. There are tens of thousands of Veterans of Foreign Wars from Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and some others…both men and women. Find them and ask them your questions about why they fought. I am a Vietnam Veteran and would be pleased to communicate with you in private. Just click on my name and select “send private message”.

May I suggest you visit the below sites and read up on some basics? After that you may want to explore some specific aspect of war here on Physics Forum, Social Sciences.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15546c.htm
 
  • #4
jackmell
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There must be something fundamental about the human psyche that draws men to battle, and somewhere along the lines they go from normal people to monsters. Can someone explain?

Yes. It's biology: survival of the fittest. That is our inheritence. Strip all the politics, all the social values, mores, laws, customs, religion from man and you're left with raw Darwinism that very much still controls his behavior and is always seething right below the surface of social conformity, ready in a instant to erupt and exude violence in an effort to protect his genes for promulgation to the next generation.

You have been misinformed into thinking man is some holy creature above the animals. This is wrong. He is very much still an animal and bound to the same laws of Natural Selection. So when he is confronted by a challenge, a disagreement, a threat to his survival or reproductive success, his Darwinist inheritance will compell him to fight if he is capable of doing so.

Thank goodness someone is mining the store by willing to fight to the death and by doing so impart strong, healthy and favorable traits to the gene pool.

And I can't imagine any real Biologist in this forum disagreeing with me.
 
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  • #5
arildno
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You have bought into the pernicious dogma of Rousseau that men are "inherently good", and that it is merely "outer circumstances" that "cause" them to inflict suffering.

Evil is all-pervasive, ever present, and will never go away.

That is why we should cherish those elements of our existence we cannot but regard as "good" (and be prepared to defend them, with war if necessary), and in a cautious manner, see if we can make the world slightly better than what it was before we were given life's responsibility.
 
  • #6
Astronuc
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I was just reading about Remembrance day on Wiki and saw the figure that nearly 90 million people were killed in WWII and WWI... and I just can't understand how such things are possible.

How is it that people are tricked into throwing their lives away, or slaughtering their fellow man for the sake of some politician's political goals? That's what all war comes down to, money and politics, and I don't understand why people are so eager to die and kill so some guy in a suit in the capitol can profit from it all...

There must be something fundamental about the human psyche that draws men to battle, and somewhere along the lines they go from normal people to monsters. Can someone explain?
Like aggression, it's a human condition that has persisted. Other primates exhibit aggression.

Clearly there are people who are pathologically driven to aggression and war. Hopefully, there are enough people around to prevent that from escalating.

You have bought into the pernicious dogma of Rousseau that men are "inherently good", and that it is merely "outer circumstances" that "cause" them to inflict suffering.

Evil is all-pervasive, ever present, and will never go away.

That is why we should cherish those elements of our existence we cannot but regard as "good" (and be prepared to defend them, with war if necessary), and in a cautious manner, see if we can make the world slightly better than what it was before we were given life's responsibility.
I think some are inherently good, and some are not. Temptation is always present, but the challenge is to resist it.


A different kind of memorial (or a perspective from a witness of war)
By William Branghamand Jessica Wang
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/video-a-different-kind-of-memorial/12332/
 
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  • #7
Ryan_m_b
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Yes. It's biology: survival of the fittest...And I can't imagine any real Biologist in this forum disagreeing with me.
Then you need to stretch your imagination somewhat. Whilst what you say is partially true it is false in that it completely ignores the selective advantage of non-violent interaction such as co-operation, altruism and symbiotism. Whilst humans (amongst other animals) have evolved mechanisms that allow us to partake in violent actions our success as a species is largely due to our increase co-operation and not because of our violent tendencies.

As to how our evolutionary history relates to war this faculty for violence combined with pack mentality and an inability to empathise well with mass groups of strangers means that human societies are quite capable of perusing violence en mass.
 
  • #8
jackmell
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our success as a species is largely due to our increase co-operation and not because of our violent tendencies.

I'm unwilling to accept "largely due" without suitable citations. On the contrary:

Look what cooperation did for the native american indian. They were weak and I belive many native indians would agree with me when I say they should have been more violent to protect their lands. But they werent', gave in, cooperated with the white man, and were desicimated because of it. Had they mounted a persistent, and extremely violent response to the first occurrence of white man, I belive they'd either still have their land or at least died as a group trying to defend it rather than allowing their offsprings to be hurded like cattle to reservations on undesirable desert land.


Look what cooperation is doing for us in Afghanistan. We're gettin' our butts kicked! And the fit ones to boot. They know we won't exercise real violence and they capitalize on it and continue to send American soldiers home that appear on the front page of the newspaper on Vet's day with their limbs blown off. Overwhelming American violence (or preferably withdraw) would resolve that problem and the Taliband would respect us for doing it too.

Look what cooperation (appeasement) did prior to WWII when Hitler began his agressive campaign. He succeeded because we were hesistant to resort to violence.

Throughout history, when did the weak ones win? More often than not, it's the strong violent ones that do. Would America have won the Revolutionary War had we tried to cooperate with Britain rather than mount a violent campaign of resistance?

Man is an animal and as such resorts to violence. And when confronted with such and animal, violence at a superior level is an effective winning strategy in my opinion.

I must make a note: I do not feel we should be in Afghanistan but if we have to fight there, then we should do so forcefully.
 
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  • #9
Ryan_m_b
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I'm unwilling to accept "largely due" without suitable citations. On the contrary...Man is an animal and as such resorts to violence. And when confronted with such and animal, violence at a superior level is an effective winning strategy in my opinion

You completely misunderstand what cooperation means in a biological sense and instead have fallaciously connected it to "weakness" and violence to "strength" before going off on a political rant. Until you've read up on phenomenon like cooperation, altruism, kin-selection and other aspects of the evolution of social behaviour I would advise against posting on a topic that you demonstrate no knowledge of.
 
  • #10
Pythagorean
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If we cooperate to kill our enemy, now that's the optimal strategy.

In game theory modeling, I believe forgiving fairness was one of the most successful models, but it still involves destroying the opponent if you think they're a danger to you.

Pure altruism is (obviously) a disadvantage. Im willing to bet the healthiest populations have a diverse array of social strategies from altruistic to greedy.
 
  • #11
Nothing much to contribute but it sickens me.

People that do not hate each other to the point of kill another being. It's idiotic to kill someone else just because of a government interest or a misguided creed/belief.

Im embarrassed that I was born on the same century that the WWI, WWII. I wonder what other stupid wars lie ahead of us.
 
  • #12
russ_watters
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Im embarrassed that I was born on the same century that the WWI, WWII. I wonder what other stupid wars lie ahead of us.
Take heart: you were born in one of the most peaceful centuries between world powers since humanity arose -- probably the most peaceful half-century+ following WWII!
 
  • #13
Drakkith
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Consider this. Someone you don't know and never met doesn't have the same values and ideals as you do. Perhaps their religious beliefs, which they have been BORN into, cause them to think of you as less than a person. Maybe they are simply easy to manipulate. Whatever the reason, they attack you, your property, your friends and family, or your community. Would you not fight back?

How about when the person leading people like this openly threaten to attack you and your community AND pose a real threat to you. Is it better to sit back and wait for them to prepare, or to take precautions and prepare ahead of time, even possibly attacking first. You can try to negotiate, but what happens when they want half of your property or money? Is it fair? Would you give it to them just to avoid bloodshed? If so, that only opens yourself to constant harassment and subjugation.

My dad was a cop for years. One day he told me a story of a court case where the jury found the defendant not guilty. Afterwards he asked one of the jurors about how they could find the defendant not guilty even after being presented with, what he thought, was overwhelming evidence of guilt. The juror told him "I just can't see how someone would do that". THAT was the reason the man was found not guilty. Because the juror couldn't understand how someone could commit that kind of crime. The reality is that unless you are of that mindset, or you have a very open mind and can make the leap between different points of view, you WILL NOT understand it. It's the same with war. How could you possibly understand how a suicide bomber sacrifices himself to kill a hundred innocent people? You CANNOT. I myself can barely understand it and I try very hard to understand people of all types and many different viewpoints.
 
  • #14
Boy@n
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When human(s) firmly believes in idea(s) they can do what might seem unimaginable to others not knowing or accepting that idea(s).

Add mass of people going in one direction, pulling others along (willingly or not), then it's not that hard to imagine/understand why mass violence happens, not just wars, which is violence outwards, but mass suicides too, which is violence inwards.

Ideas might arise with various reasons and motives of course, it might be political, greed for money and/or power, personal convictions, and others, mostly is a mix of all of those.

Violence like rape and murder might also depend on ideas, but more often it's about imbalance of brain hormones and/or psychological imbalance.
 
  • #15
We're naturally competitive creatures and we'll express that nature through sports, business, relationships, and if it comes to security, then on the battlefield as well. When we've socially progressed to the point of creating a utopian society where competitive conflict is effectively balanced out with cooperative compromise, then we will have evolved beyond the use of violent war to settle our differences.
 
  • #16
WhoWee
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Consider this. Someone you don't know and never met doesn't have the same values and ideals as you do. Perhaps their religious beliefs, which they have been BORN into, cause them to think of you as less than a person. Maybe they are simply easy to manipulate. Whatever the reason, they attack you, your property, your friends and family, or your community. Would you not fight back?

How about when the person leading people like this openly threaten to attack you and your community AND pose a real threat to you. Is it better to sit back and wait for them to prepare, or to take precautions and prepare ahead of time, even possibly attacking first. You can try to negotiate, but what happens when they want half of your property or money? Is it fair? Would you give it to them just to avoid bloodshed? If so, that only opens yourself to constant harassment and subjugation.

I think most people understand this type of conflict. Unfortunately, it's not always this basic when outside influences are at work.
 
  • #17
Drakkith
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I think most people understand this type of conflict. Unfortunately, it's not always this basic when outside influences are at work.

Really? Name me a major war in the last century where at least one side wasn't under those circumstances or similar.
 
  • #18
Ryan_m_b
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Really? Name me a major war in the last century where at least one side wasn't under those circumstances or similar.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding how you mean to apply this but what about wars where a third party has got involved even though it wasn't threatened? Or a war over a political disagreement e.g. control of a territory? Regarding the latter the Falklands war springs to mind, Argentinians didn't want to kill Falklanders or British people and vis versa. The brief conflict was fought due to the historical controversy over who has the right claim to the islands, only three civilians were killed with the vast majority of the dead only soldiers. From one side's perspective they were re-occupying (relatively peacefully*) a territory, from the other was an invasion.

*By relatively peacefully I mean that the aim of the conflict was not to inflict casualties on another people but to correct a historical controversy.
 
  • #19
russ_watters
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Take heart: you were born in one of the most peaceful centuries between world powers since humanity arose -- probably the most peaceful half-century+ following WWII!
Note: I measure this in perhaps a non-obvious way:

The severity of wars measured across time is more usefully measured by deaths per population than by gross deaths. This faction gives a better indication on the effect of the war on society. As a result, WWII (for the US) while being the 2nd deadliest in total number killed is the 4th deadliest by fraction of the population and a long way from the worst (0.3% vs 2.0% for the Civil War). If you cut up the American timeline into 50 year blocks from 1750 to today (putting the last 11 years in the previous block), the order of severity is:

1850-1900
1750-1800
1900-1950
1800-1850 (almost equal with the previous)
1950-2011

And the last time segment is on the order of 1/20th as deadly as the previous. Data here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war

Caveat: The 10 wars on the list were based on total deaths, so there may be some early wars missing that would have tilted the stats toward the earlier wars.

Things don't look quite as good for Europeans in the early part of the 20th century since more European civilians were involved in the wars, but otherwise the trend should hold there as well -- and further back.

I think the question of why things for the US have gotten 95% more peacful since the first half of the 20th century is an important related issue to why people go to war. Something must have changed in why people go to war or in the stakes of war for that to have happened.
 
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  • #21
WhoWee
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Really? Name me a major war in the last century where at least one side wasn't under those circumstances or similar.

I can't think of any major conflicts that didn't have outside influences - what is your point?
 
  • #22
AlephZero
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Something must have changed in why people go to war or in the stakes of war for that to have happened.
One change has been "mission creep" in the terminology.

Up to WWII, war and the infrastructure to support it was usually called "war". After WWII, it was rebranded as "defence" (or "defense" on your side of the Atlantic). Now, it's being rebranded again as "Homeland Security". Same technology, but "security" sounds much more warm and cuddly and self-evidently necessary than "war".

I wonder when the wheel will turn full circle and "Homeland Security" gets rebranded as something that could translate as "lebensraum" ... :devil:
 
  • #23
WhoWee
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One change has been "mission creep" in the terminology.

Up to WWII, war and the infrastructure to support it was usually called "war". After WWII, it was rebranded as "defence" (or "defense" on your side of the Atlantic). Now, it's being rebranded again as "Homeland Security". Same technology, but "security" sounds much more warm and cuddly and self-evidently necessary than "war".

I wonder when the wheel will turn full circle and "Homeland Security" gets rebranded as something that could translate as "lebensraum" ... :devil:

Isn't the US pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan - walking away from invested blood and treasure? This does not translate to "lebensraum" or any other word that describes expansion of a nation or empire - does it?
 
  • #24
Drakkith
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I can't think of any major conflicts that didn't have outside influences - what is your point?

My point is that my statement addresses the OP's topic, IE how people can go to war. Of course there are "outside influences", there always are. I'm not arguing against that in the slightest. If the debate is about going to war on other circumstances than what I presented, that is beyond my argument.
 
  • #25
atyy
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Note: I measure this in perhaps a non-obvious way:

The severity of wars measured across time is more usefully measured by deaths per population than by gross deaths. This faction gives a better indication on the effect of the war on society. As a result, WWII (for the US) while being the 2nd deadliest in total number killed is the 4th deadliest by fraction of the population and a long way from the worst (0.3% vs 2.0% for the Civil War). If you cut up the American timeline into 50 year blocks from 1750 to today (putting the last 11 years in the previous block), the order of severity is:

1850-1900
1750-1800
1900-1950
1800-1850 (almost equal with the previous)
1950-2011

And the last time segment is on the order of 1/20th as deadly as the previous. Data here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_casualties_of_war

Caveat: The 10 wars on the list were based on total deaths, so there may be some early wars missing that would have tilted the stats toward the earlier wars.

Things don't look quite as good for Europeans in the early part of the 20th century since more European civilians were involved in the wars, but otherwise the trend should hold there as well -- and further back.

I think the question of why things for the US have gotten 95% more peacful since the first half of the 20th century is an important related issue to why people go to war. Something must have changed in why people go to war or in the stakes of war for that to have happened.

That s interesting. I wonder if the same quantity calculated for all wars and the world population would show the same?
 
  • #26
Pythagorean
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Isn't the US pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan - walking away from invested blood and treasure? This does not translate to "lebensraum" or any other word that describes expansion of a nation or empire - does it?

You make it sound like they're actually removing every single US entity from these places. Every foothold we get around the world is a chance to plant more sensors (officially, as part of the IMS for the CTBT); another set of ears that can help to identify and source-locate aircraft, explosives, and other intelligence-related activity. Intelligence is worth more than "blood and treasure" today.

If you're curious to explore the possibilities, check out the link below; particularly interesting is the infrasound sensor array around the world. Infrasond travels far and characterizes large sources (explosion, aircraft, very well). Higher frequencies get stopped by everything in its path, so you need to be much closer to your source. Up around 250 Hz, you can pretty much characterize a whole camp's activities, but you need to be a lot closer for 250 Hz.
http://www.ctbto.org/map/
 
  • #27
Pythagorean
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That s interesting. I wonder if the same quantity calculated for all wars and the world population would show the same?

Steve Pinker actually did a TED talk on this, in an attempt to quash the myth perpetuated by some that we are becoming more barbaric and savage in modern day.

 
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  • #28
atyy
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Steve Pinker actually did a TED talk on this, in an attempt to quash the myth perpetuated by some that we are becoming more barbaric and savage in modern day.



Fascinating. I watched the first 6 minutes, but I'm having lunch at the moment and had to switch it off to prevent myself throwing up!

Since I'm too chicken to watch the rest, although violence is less common now, does he say whether it is now more possible for a rare man-made event like a world war or stock market crash to take out civilization?
 
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  • #29
Ryan_m_b
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Since I'm too chicken to watch the rest, although violence is less common now, does he say whether it is now more possible for a rare man-made event like a world war or stock market crash to take out civilization?
The fact that we are fast becoming a global economy with so http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1107/1107.5728v2.pdf" [Broken] would suggest it is. I find it hard to imagine that at any other point throughout history would there have been a time where disasters both man made and natural had such an effect across the globe.
 
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  • #30
Pythagorean
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@atty: not sure I remember anything about that, but I agree with Ryan. We make the infrastructure we live in nowadays and we don't do it with the fractal redundancy that nature does. So instead, we have what Ryan calls "nodes" in our infrastructure.
 
  • #31
Ryan_m_b
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@atty: not sure I remember anything about that, but I agree with Ryan. We make the infrastructure we live in nowadays and we don't do it with the fractal redundancy that nature does. So instead, we have what Ryan calls "nodes" in our infrastructure.
It is truly quite worrying. A recent example is how the floods in the far east resulted in all the stores around me to cancel all deals on computer products. Apparently because amongst the floods some factories and warehouses that supply a significant fraction of the worlds hard drives were ruined and there may be a supply problem.

Such a network might be highly efficient but it makes us vulnerable, I'd hate to think what would happen if a number of key locations around the world were disrupted because of man-made or natural disasters and large industries started to unravel (the by-the-skin-of-our-teeth food distribution we run in the first world seems very vulnerable). We wouldn't be able to restructure over night or even in a short time.
 
  • #32
Pythagorean
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We have a researcher here, David Newman, that looks at the US power grid as a complex system (he worked on the monumental east coast power failure) and that's essentially the problem. Too many nodes in the current power distribution scheme.
 
  • #33
Bobbywhy
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Humans are not the only social animals that wage war. Here are two excerpts from the article "Ants & the Art of War" by Mark W. Moffett in Scientific American magazine, December, 2011:

“Scientists have long known that certain kinds of ants (and termites) form tight-knit societies with members numbering in the millions and that these insects engage in complex behaviors. Such practices include traffic management, public health efforts, crop domestication and, perhaps most intriguingly, warfare: the concentrated engagement of group against group in which both sides risk wholesale destruction. Indeed, in these respects and others, we modern humans more closely resemble ants than our closest living relatives, the apes, which live in far smaller societies. Only recently, however, have researchers of ants begun to appreciate just how closely the war strategies of ants mirror our own. It turns out that for ants, as for humans, warfare involves an astonishing array of tactical choices about methods of attack and strategic decisions about when or where to wage war.”

“Viewed from the ant perspective, the human practice of conscripting healthy youngsters might seem senseless. But anthropologists have found some evidence that, at least in a few cultures, successful human warriors tend to have more offspring. A reproductive edge might make combat worth the personal risk for people in their prime – an advantage unattainable by ant workers, which do not reproduce.”
 
  • #34
Ryan_m_b
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Talking about ants makes me think of the Argentinian ant. It's rapidly spreading across Europe because instead of fighting each other they cooperate, making a large supercolony.
 
  • #35
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If you look at the Instinct chapter in Charles Darwins 'The Origin of Species' you will find nearly 4 pages on ants. It's an interesting perspective with several major differences, he observed soldier ants etc that he theorised were neuters because he argued that there would be too much variation in the community if the soldiers were fertile (which was not the case in any individual ant community where all of each class were physically identical). He also covered ant slavery in another chapter.
 

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