In light of the recent U.S. intervention in Libya, Scott Atran has a new post on the anthropology of war at huffingtonpost.com. Despite human attempts to conduct war in a calculated manner, he concludes that the decision to go to war is never completely rational. That is, war is more an emotional matter of status and pride, sacred values, and defining “who we are,” than a strategic cost-benefit analysis. To support this, Atran cites his recent National Science Foundation- and Defense Department-funded research with survey participants from Israel, Nigeria, and the U.S. Results suggest that variables such as “moral outrage” are extremely difficult to quantify, but respondents know when culturally-defined rules have been broken. In cases where sacred values are violated, Atran argues, we are motivated to violent action whether or not such action makes rational sense.

Whether or not you agree with Scott Atran’s conclusions, his post is thought-provoking and well worth reading. Chris Hedges covers similar ground in his 2002 book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Enjoy, and please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

- Jay Fancher

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