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From the reader:

Alfie Kohn is a advocate for children in the space of parenting and educating. He has described his book “BEYOND DISCIPLINE: From Compliance to Community a modest attempt to overthrow the entire field of classroom management.” Books include Feel-Bad Education:…And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling and The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

Excerpts below are from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace. Kohn analyses the underlying premises of arguments for violence as inherent in human nature.

When we turn to human history, we find an alarming number of aggressive behaviors, but we do not find reason to believe the problem is innate.

Here are some of the points made by critics of biological determinism:

  • Even if a given behavior is universal, we cannot automatically conclude that it is part of our biological nature. All known cultures may produce pottery, but that does not mean that there is a gene for pottery-making.
  • Aggression is no where near universal. Many hunter-gatherer societies in particular are entirely peaceful. And the cultures that are “closer to nature” would be expected to be the most warlike if the proclivity for war were really part of that nature. Just the reverse seems to be true.
  • While it is indisputable that wars have been fought, the fact that they seem to dominate our history may say more about how history is presented than about what actually happened.
  • Many people have claimed that human nature is aggressive after having lumped together a wide range of emotions and behavior under the label of aggression. While cannibalism, for example, is sometimes perceived as aggression, it might represent a religious ritual rather than an expression of hostility.

An international conference of experts concluded in 1986 that war is not an inevitable part of human nature. When one member tried to convince reporters that this finding was newsworthy, few news organizations in the United States were interested. One reporter told him, “Call us back when you find a gene for war.”

“In order to justify, accept, and live with war, we have created a psychology that makes it inevitable,” says Dr. Bernard Lown, co-chairman of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which received the Nobel peace Prize in 1985. “It is a rationalization for accepting war as a system of resolving human conflict.”