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Monday, February 28th, 2005

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Psychological Effects of Combat

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman & Bruce K. Siddle  

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT OF COMBAT is a concept which encompasses a wide variety of processes and negative impacts, all of which must be taken into consideration in any assessment of the immediate and long term costs of war. This entry will address the wide-spectrum psychological effects of combat, to include:

  • Psychiatric casualties suffered during combat
  • Physiological arousal and fear
  • The physiology of close combat
  • The price of killing
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Introduction: A Legacy of Lies

An examination of the psychological effects of combat must begin by acknowledging that there are some positive aspects to combat. Throughout recorded history these positive aspects have been emphasized and exaggerated in order to protect the self-image of combatants, to honor the memory of the fallen and rationalize their deaths, to aggrandize and glorify political leaders and military commanders, and to manipulate populations into supporting war and sending their sons to their deaths. But the fact that these positive aspects have been manipulated and exploited does not deny their existence. There is a reason for the powerful attraction of combat over the centuries, and there is no value in going from the dysfunctional extreme of glorifying war to the equally dysfunctional extreme of denying its attraction.

The ability to recognize and confront danger, the powerful group bonding that occurs in times of stress, the awe-inspiring spectacle of a nation focused and aligned to achieve a single aim, selfless dedication to abstract concepts and goals, and the ability to overcome the powerful imperatives of the survival instinct and willingly die for others: these common aspects of war represent both important survival traits and a potentially positive comment on basic human nature. But if war does have a capacity for reflecting some usually hidden, positive aspects of humanity, it irrefutably does so at a great and tragic cost.

One obvious and tragic price of war is the toll of death and destruction. But there is an additional cost, a psychological cost borne by the survivors of combat, and a full understanding of this cost has been too long repressed by a legacy of self-deception and intentional misrepresentation. After peeling away this “legacy of lies” that has perpetuated and glorified warfare there is no escaping the conclusion that combat, and the killing that lies at the heart of combat, is an extraordinarily traumatic and psychologically costly endeavor that profoundly impacts all who participate in it.

This psychological cost of war is most readily observable and measurable at the individual level. At the national level, a country at war can anticipate a small — but statistically significant — increase in the domestic murder rate, probably due to the glorification of violence and the resultant reduction in the level of “repression” of natural aggressive instincts which Freud held to be essential to the existence of civilization. At the group level, even the most elite unit is usually psychologically destroyed when between 50 and 60% casualties have been inflicted, and the integration of the individual into the group is so strong that this destruction often leads to depression and suicide. However, the nation (if not eliminated by the war) is generally resilient, and the group (if not destroyed) is inevitably disbanded. But the individual who survives combat may well end up paying a profound psychological cost for a lifetime. The cumulative impact of these effects on hundreds of thousands of veterans is pervasive, with significant potential to have a profound effect on society at large.

Psychiatric Casualties in War

Richard Gabriel has noted that: “Nations customarily measure the ‘costs of war’ in dollars, lost production, or the number of soldiers killed or wounded.” But, “rarely do military establishments attempt to measure the costs of war in terms of individual suffering. Psychiatric breakdown remains one of the most costly items of war when expressed in human terms.” Indeed, for the combatants in every major war fought in this century, there has been a greater probability of becoming a psychiatric casualty than of being killed by enemy fire.

A psychiatric casualty is a combatant who is no longer able to participate in combat due to mental (as opposed to physical) debilitation. Psychiatric casualties seldom represent a permanent debilitation, and with proper care they can be rotated back into the line. (However, Israeli research has demonstrated that, after combat, psychiatric casualties are strongly predisposed toward the more long-term and more permanently debilitating manifestation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

The actual casualty can manifest itself in many ways, ranging from affective disorders to somatoform disorders, but the treatment for the many manifestations of combat stress involves simply removing the soldier from the combat environment. But the problem is that the military does not want to simply return the psychiatric casualties to normal life, it wants to return them to combat. And these casualties are understandably reluctant to do so.

The evacuation syndrome is the paradox of combat psychiatry. A nation must care for its psychiatric casualties, since they are of no value on the battlefield (indeed, their presence in combat can have a negative impact on the morale of other combatants) and they can still be used again as valuable seasoned replacements once they have recovered from combat stress. But if combatants begin to realize that insane combatants are being evacuated, the number of psychiatric casualties will increase dramatically.

Continued “proximity” to the battlefield (through forward treatment, usually within enemy artillery range) combined with an “expectancy” of rapid return to combat, are the principles developed to overcome the paradox of the evacuation syndrome. These principles of proximity and expectancy have proven themselves quite effective since World War I. They permit the psychiatric casualty to get the rest that is the only current cure for his problem, while not giving a message to still healthy comrades that insanity is a ticket away from the madness of the battlefield.

But even with the careful application of the principles of proximity and expectancy the incidence of psychiatric casualties is still enormous. During World War II, 504,000 men were lost from America’s combat forces due to psychiatric collapse–enough to man 50 divisions. The United States suffered this loss despite efforts to weed out those mentally and emotionally unfit for combat by classifying more than 800,000 men 4-F (unfit for military service) due to psychiatric reasons. At one point in World War II, psychiatric casualties were being discharged from the U.S. Army faster than new recruits were being drafted in.

Swank and Marchand’s World War II study of US Army combatants on the beaches of Normandy found that after 60 days of continuous combat, 98% of the surviving soldiers had become psychiatric casualties. And the remaining 2% were identified as “aggressive psychopathic personalities.” Thus it is not too far from the mark to observe that there is something about continuous, inescapable combat which will drive 98% of all men insane, and the other 2% were crazy when they got there. Figure 1 presents a schematic representation of the effects of continuous combat.

It must be understood that the kind of continuous, protracted combat that produces such high psychiatric casualty rates is largely a product of 20th-century warfare. The Battle of Waterloo lasted only a day. Gettysburg lasted only three days–and they took the nights off. It was only in World War I that armies began to experience months of 24-hour combat, and it is in World War I that vast numbers of psychiatric casualties were first observed.

The democratic nations of this century have been better than most at admitting and dealing with their combat psychiatric casualties, and information from non-Western sources is extremely limited, but we now know that America’s World War II experience is representative of a universal cost of modern, protracted warfare. Armies around the world have experienced similar mass psychiatric casualties, but many have simply driven these casualties into battle at bayonet point, shooting those who refused or were unable to continue. Japanese units in World War II employed a unique set of powerful cultural and group processes to delay psychiatric breakdown, but they only succeeded in temporarily delaying the cost of combat, a cost that eventually manifested itself in mass suicide. Ultimately the toll of modern combat is truly fearful, and no nation or culture has been able to escape it.

Physiological Arousal and Fear

The soldier in combat endures many indignities. Among these can be endless months and years of exposure to desert heat, sweltering jungle, torrential rains, or frozen mountains and tundras. Usually the soldier lives amidst swarming vermin. Very often there is lack of food, lack of sleep, and the constant uncertainty that eats away at the combatants’ sense of control over their lives and their environment. But, bad as they are, all of these stressors can be found in many cultural, geographic, or social circumstances, and when the ingredient of war is removed individuals exposed to these circumstances do not suffer mass psychiatric casualties.

To fully comprehend the intensity of the stress of combat, we must keep these other stressors in mind while understanding the body’s physiological response to combat, as manifested in the sympathetic nervous system’s mobilization of resources. And then we must understand the impact of the parasympathetic nervous system “backlash” that occurs as a result of the demands placed upon it. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) mobilizes and directs the body’s energy resources for action. It is the physiological equivalent of the body’s front-line soldiers who actually do the fighting in a military unit. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s digestive and recuperative processes. It is the physiological equivalent of the body’s cooks, mechanics, and clerks who sustain a military unit over an extended period of time.

Usually the body maintains itself in a state of homeostasis, which ensures that these two nervous systems maintain a balance between their demands upon the body’s resources. But during extremely stressful circumstances the “fight-or-flight” response kicks in and the SNS mobilizes all available energy for survival. This is the physiological equivalent of throwing the cooks, mechanics, and clerks into the battle. This process is so intense that soldiers very often suffer stress diarrhea due to redirecting of energies from nonessential parasympathetic processes, and it is not at all uncommon to lose control of urination and defecation as the body literally ‘blows its ballast” and redirects all available energy in an attempt to provide the resources required to ensure survival. This is reflected in World War II surveys in which a quarter of combat veterans admitted that they urinated in their pants in combat, and a quarter admitted that they defecated in their pants in combat.

A combatant must pay a physiological price for an enervating process so intense. The “price” that the body pays is an equally powerful “backlash” when the neglected demands of the parasympathetic nervous system become ascendant. This parasympathetic backlash occurs as soon as the danger and the excitement is over, and it takes the form of an incredibly powerful weariness and sleepiness on the part of the soldier.

Napoleon stated that the moment of greatest danger was the instant immediately after victory, and in saying so he demonstrated a powerful understanding of the way in which soldiers become physiologically and psychologically incapacitated by the parasympathetic backlash that occurs as soon as the momentum of the attack has halted and the soldier briefly believes himself to be safe. During this period of vulnerability a counterattack by fresh troops can have an effect completely out of proportion to the number of troops attacking.

It is basically for this reason that the maintenance of an “unblown” reserve has historically been essential in combat, with battles often revolving around which side can hold out and deploy their reserves last. Clausewitz understood the danger of reserve forces becoming prematurely enervated and exhausted (and he provides insight into the root cause of the enervation) when he cautioned that the reserves should always be maintained out of sight of the battle.

In continuous combat the soldier roller-coasters through a seemingly endless series of these surges of adrenaline and their subsequent backlashes, and the body’s natural, useful, and appropriate response to danger ultimately becomes extremely counterproductive. Unable to flee, and unable to overcome the danger through a brief burst of fighting, posturing, or submission, the bodies of modern soldiers in sustained combat exhaust their capacity to enervate. They slide into a state of profound physical and emotional exhaustion of such a magnitude that it appears to be almost impossible to communicate it to those who have not experienced it.

Most observers of combat lump the impact of this physiological arousal process under the general heading of ‘fear,” but fear is really a cognitive or emotional label for nonspecific physiological arousal in response to a threat. The impact of fear and its attendant physiological arousal is significant, but it must be understood that fear is just a symptom and not the disease, it is an effect but not the cause. To truly understand the psychological effects of combat, we must understand exactly what it is that causes this intense fear response in individuals. It has become increasingly clear that there are two key, core stressors causing the psychological toll associated with combat. These stressors are: the trauma associated with being the victim of close-range, interpersonal aggression; and the trauma associated with the responsibility to kill a fellow human being at close range.

The Trauma of Close-Range, Interpersonal Aggression

During World War II the carnage and destruction caused by months of continuous German bombing in England, and years of Allied bombing in Germany, was systematically inflicted in order to create psychological casualties among civilian populations. Day and night, in an intentionally unpredictable pattern, civilians, relatives and friends were mutilated, killed and their homes were destroyed. These civilian populations suffered fear and horror of a magnitude that few humans will ever experience.

This unpredictable, uncontrollable reign of shock, horror, and terror is exactly what psychiatrists and psychologists prior to World War II believed to be responsible for the vast numbers of psychiatric casualties suffered by soldiers in World War I. And yet, incredibly, the Rand Corporation’s Strategic Bombing Study published in 1949 found that there was only a very slight increase in the psychological disorders in these populations as compared to peacetime rates and that these occurred primarily among individuals already predisposed to psychiatric illness. These bombings, which were intended to break the will of the population, appear to have served primarily to harden the hearts and increase the determination to fight among those who endured them.

The impact of fear, physiological arousal, horror, and physical deprivation in combat should never be underestimated, but it has become clear that other factors are responsible for psychiatric casualties among combatants. One of those factors is the impact of close-range, interpersonal, aggressive confrontation.

Through roller-coasters, action and horror movies, drugs, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, parachuting, hunting, contact sports, and a hundred other means, modern society pursues fear. Fear in and of itself is seldom a cause of trauma in everyday peacetime existence, but facing close-range interpersonal aggression and hatred from fellow citizens is a horrifying experience of an entirely different magnitude.

The ultimate fear and horror in most modern lives is to be raped, tortured, or beaten, to be physically degraded in front of loved ones or to have the sanctity of the home invaded by aggressive and hateful intruders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association affirms this when it notes that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) . . . may be especially severe or longer lasting when the stressor is of human “design.” PTSD resulting from natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes is comparatively rare and mild, but acute cases of PTSD will consistently result from torture or rape. Ultimately, like tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes, bombs from 20,000 feet are simply not “personal” and are significantly less traumatic to both the victim and aggressor.

Death or debilitation is statistically far more likely to occur by disease or accident than by malicious action, but statistics have nothing to do with fear. Statistically speaking, cigarette smoking is an extraordinarily dangerous activity that annually inflicts slow, hideous deaths upon millions of individuals worldwide, but this fact does not dissuade millions of individuals from smoking, and around the globe few nations are motivated to pass laws to protect their citizens from this threat. But the presence of one serial rapist in a large city can change the behavior of hundreds of thousands of individuals, and there is a broad tradition of laws designed to protect citizens from rape, assault, and murder.

When snakes, heights, or darkness cause an intense fear reaction in an individual it is considered a phobia, a dysfunction, an abnormality. But it is very natural and normal to respond to an attacking, aggressive fellow human being with a phobic-scale response. This is a universal human phobia. More than anything else in life, it is intentional, overt human hostility and aggression that assaults the self-image, sense of control and ultimately, the mental and physical health of human beings.

The soldier in combat is inserted straight into the inescapable midst of this most psychologically traumatic of environments. Ultimately, if the combatant is unable get some respite from the trauma of combat, and if not injured or killed, the only escape available is the psychological escape of becoming a psychiatric casualty and mentally fleeing the battlefield.

The Physiology of Close Combat

An understanding of the stress of close combat begins with an understanding of the physiological response to close-range interpersonal aggression. The traditional view of combat stress is most often associated with combat fatigue and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which are actually manifestations that occur after, and as a result of, combat stress. Bruce Siddle has defined combat stress as the perception of an imminent threat of serious personal injury or death, or when tasked with the responsibility to protect another party from imminent serious injury or death, under conditions where response time is minimal.

The debilitating effects of combat stress have been recognized for centuries. Phenomenon such as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, the loss of fine and complex motor control, irrational behavior, and the inability to think clearly have all been observed as byproducts of combat stress. Even though these phenomena have been observed and documented for hundreds of years, very little research has been conducted to understand why combat stress deteriorates performance.

The key characteristic which distinguishes combat stress is the activation of the SNS. The SNS is activated when the brain perceives a threat to survival, resulting in a immediate discharge of stress hormones. This “mass discharge” is designed to prepare the body for fight-or-flight. The response is characterized by increasing arterial pressure and blood flow to large muscle mass (resulting in increased strength capabilities and enhanced gross motor skills–such as running from or charging into an opponent), vasoconstriction of minor blood vessels at the end of appendages (which serves to reduce bleeding from wounds), pupil dilation, cessation of digestive processes, and muscle tremors. Figure 2 (below) presents a schematic representation of the effects of hormone induced heart rate increase resulting from SNS activation.

The activation of the SNS is automatic and virtually uncontrollable. It is a reflex triggered by the perception of a threat. Once initiated, the SNS will dominate all voluntary and involuntary systems until the perceived threat has been eliminated or escaped, performance deteriorates, or the parasympathetic nervous system activates to reestablish homeostasis.

The degree of SNS activation centers around the level of perceived threat. For example, low-level SNS activation may result from the anticipation of combat. This is especially common with police officers or soldiers minutes before they make a tactical assault into a potential deadly force environment. Under these conditions combatants will generally experience increases in heart rates and respiration, muscle tremors, and a psychological sense of anxiety.

In contrast, high-level SNS activation occurs when combatants are confronted with an unanticipated deadly force threat and the time to respond is minimal. Under these conditions the extreme effects of the SNS will cause catastrophic failure of the visual, cognitive, and motor control systems. Although there are endless variables that may trigger the SNS, there are six key variables that have an immediate impact of the level of SNS activation. These are the degree of malevolent, human intent behind the threat; the perceived level of threat, ranging from risk of injury to the potential for death; the time available to response; the level of confidence in personal skills and training; the level of experience in dealing with the specific threat; and the degree of physical fatigue that is combined with the anxiety.

Once activated, the SNS causes immediate physiological changes, of which the most noticeable and easily monitored is increased heart rate. SNS activation will drive the heart rate from an average of 70 beats per minute (BPM) to more than 200 BPM in less than a second. As combat stress increases, heart rate and respiration will increase until catastrophic failure, or until the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered.

In 1950, S.L.A. Marshall’s The Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation was one of the first studies to identify how combat performance deteriorates when soldiers are exposed to combat stress. Marshall concluded that we must reject the superstition that under danger men can be expected to have more than their normal powers, and that they will outdo their best efforts simply because their lives are in danger. Indeed, in many ways, the reality is just the opposite and individuals under stress are far less capable of doing anything other than blindly running from or charging toward a threat. Humans have three primary survival systems: vision, cognitive processing, and motor skill performance. Under stress, all three break down.

Bruce K. Siddle’s landmark research at PPCT involved monitoring the heart rate responses of law enforcement officers in interpersonal conflict simulations using paintball-type simulation weapons. This research has consistently recorded heart rate increases to well over 200 beats per minute, with some peak heart rates of up to 300 beats per minute. These were simulations in which the combatants knew that their life was not in danger. The combatant, in a true life-and-death situation (whether soldier or law enforcement officer), faces the ultimate universal human phobia of interpersonal aggression and will certainly experience a physiological reaction even greater than that of Siddle’s subjects. The fundamental truth of modern combat is that the stress of facing close-range interpersonal aggression is so great that, if endured for months on end without any other means of respite or escape, the combatant will inevitably become a psychiatric casualty.

Even greater than the resistance to being the victim of close-range aggression is the combatant’s powerful aversion to inflicting aggression on fellow human beings. At the heart of this dread is the average healthy person’s resistance to killing one’s own kind.

A Resistance to Killing

The kind of psychiatric casualties usually identified with long-term exposure to combat are notably reduced among medical personnel, chaplains, officers, and soldiers on reconnaissance patrols behind enemy lines. The key factor that is not present in each of these situations is that, although they are in the front lines and the enemy may attempt to kill them, they have no direct responsibility to participate personally in close-range killing activities. Even when there is equal or even greater danger of dying, combat is much less stressful if you do not have to kill.

The existence of a resistance to killing lies at the heart of this dichotomy between killers and nonkillers. This is an additional, final stressor that the combatant must face. To truly understand the nature of this resistance of killing we must first recognize that most participants in close combat are literally “frightened out of their wits.” Once the bullets start flying, combatants stop thinking with the forebrain, which is the part of the brain which makes us human, and start thinking with the midbrain, or mammalian brain, which is the primitive part of the brain that is generally indistinguishable from that of an animal.

In conflict situations this primitive, midbrain processing can be observed in the existence of a powerful resistance to killing one’s own kind. During territorial and mating battles, animals with antlers and horns slam together in a relatively harmless head-to-head fashion, rattlesnakes wrestle each other, and piranha fight their own kind with flicks of the tail, but against any other species these creatures unleash their horns, fangs, and teeth without restraint. This is an essential survival mechanism that prevents a species from destroying itself during territorial and mating rituals.

One major modern revelation in the field of military psychology is the observation that this resistance to killing one’s own species is also a key factor in human combat. Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall first observed this during his work as the official US historian of the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Based on his post-combat interviews, Marshall concluded in his landmark book, Men Against Fire, that only 15 to 20% of the individual riflemen in World War II fired their weapons at an exposed enemy soldier. Specialized weapons, such as a flame-thrower, usually were fired. Crew-served weapons, such as a machine gun, almost always were fired. And firing would increase greatly if a nearby leader demanded that the soldier fire. But, when left to their own devices, the great majority of individual combatants throughout history appear to have been unable or unwilling to kill.

Marshall’s findings have been somewhat controversial. Faced with scholarly concern about a researcher’s methodology and conclusions, the scientific method involves replicating the research. In Marshall’s case, every available, parallel, scholarly study validates his basic findings. Ardant du Picq’s surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations on ancient battles, Keegan and Holmes’ numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history, Richard Holmes’ assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, Paddy Griffith’s data on the extraordinarily low killing rate among Napoleonic and American Civil War regiments, the British Army’s laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI’s studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations all confirm Marshall’s fundamental conclusion that man is not, by nature, a killer.

The exception to this resistance can be observed in sociopaths who, by definition, feel no empathy or remorse for their fellow human beings. Pit bull dogs have been selectively bred in order to ensure that they will perform the unnatural act of killing another dog in battle. Similarly, human sociopaths represent Swank and Marchand’s 2% who did not become psychiatric casualties after months of continuous combat, since they were not disturbed by the requirement to kill. But sociopaths would be a flawed tool that is impossible to control in peacetime, and social dynamics make it very difficult for humans to breed themselves for such a trait. However, humans are very adept at finding mechanical means to overcome natural limitations. Humans were born without the physical ability to fly, so we found mechanisms that overcame this limitation and enabled flight. Humans also were born without the psychological ability to kill our fellow humans. So, throughout history, we have devoted great effort to finding a way to overcome this resistance. From a psychological perspective, the history of warfare can be viewed as a series of successively more effective tactical and mechanical mechanisms to enable or force combatants to overcome their resistance to killing.

Overcoming the Resistance to Killing

By 1946 the US Army had accepted Marshall’s conclusions, and the Human Resources Research Office of the US Army subsequently pioneered a revolution in combat training that eventually replaced firing at bullseye targets with deeply ingrained “conditioning” using realistic, man-shaped, pop-up targets that fall when hit. Psychologists know that this kind of powerful “operant conditioning” is the only technique that will reliably influence the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being, just as fire drills condition terrified school children to respond properly during a fire, and repetitious, “stimulus-response” conditioning in flight simulators enables frightened pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations.

Throughout history the ingredients of groups, leadership, and distance have been manipulated to enable and force combatants to kill, but the introduction of conditioning in modern training was a true revolution. The application and perfection of these basic conditioning techniques increased the rate of fire from near 20% in World War II to approximately 55% in Korea and around 95% in Vietnam. Similar high rates of fire resulting from modern conditioning techniques can be seen in FBI data on law enforcement firing rates since the nationwide introduction of modern conditioning techniques in the late 1960s. Figure 3 presents a schematic representation of the interaction between the killing enabling factors that have been manipulated throughout history, including the key, modern ingredient of conditioning.

One of the most dramatic examples of the value and power of this modern, psychological revolution in training can be seen in Richard Holmes’ observations of the 1982 Falklands War. The superbly trained (i.e., “conditioned”) British forces were without air or artillery superiority and consistently outnumbered three-to-one while attacking the poorly trained but well-equipped and carefully dug-in Argentine defenders. Superior British firing rates (which Holmes estimates to be well over 90%), resulting from modern training techniques, has been credited as a key factor in the series of British victories in that brief but bloody war. Any future army that attempts to go into battle without similar psychological preparation is likely to meet a fate similar to that of the Argentines.

The Price of Overcoming The Resistance to Killing

The extraordinarily high firing rate resulting from modern conditioning processes was a key factor in America’s ability to claim that US ground forces never lost a major engagement in Vietnam. But conditioning that overrides such a powerful, innate resistance carries with it enormous potential for psychological backlash. Every warrior society has a “purification ritual” to help returning warriors deal with their “blood guilt” and to reassure them that what they did in combat was “good.” Features of the ritual are a “group therapy” session and a ceremony embracing the veteran back into the tribe. Modern Western rituals traditionally involve long periods while marching or sailing home, parades, monuments, and the unconditional acceptance from society and family.

Table I outlines some of the key factors in the killing experience rationalization and acceptance processes, using the example of US troops in Vietnam as a case study of an extreme circumstance in which the purification rituals broke down. For example, combatants do not do what they do in combat for medals, they are motivated largely by a concern for their comrades, but after the battle medals serve as a kind of “Get Out of Jail Free Card”: a powerful talisman that proclaims to them and to others that what the combatant did was honorable and acceptable. Although medals were issued after Vietnam, the social environment was such that veterans could not wear the medals or their uniforms in public. Similarly, the young combatant needs the presence of mature, older comrades to seek guidance and support from, but in Vietnam, especially in the peak years of the war, the average age of the combatant was probably less than during any other war in US history. Other key factors unique to the American experience in Vietnam include the absence of any truly safe, secure area in-country. Also, the individual replacement system that hampered bonding and ensured that soldiers often arrived and left as strangers. The use of aircraft to immediately return veterans to America, without the usual cool-down, group therapy period, which has been experienced for thousands of years as veterans sailed or marched home.

Killing Experience Rationalization and Acceptance Processes
A Comparative Study

Past Wars
Praise from peers and superiors (medals, citations)
Yes (not worn)
The presence of mature, older comrades
No (Reduced)
Circumstances limiting civilian kills/atrocities
No (Reduced)
Rear lines and safe areas
Presence of close, trusted friends throughout the war
Cool-down period with comrades while returning home
Knowledge of victory, gain and accomplishments
Parades and monuments
No (Delayed)
Reunions and continued commo with comrades after the war
Acceptance and praise from friends, family, and society
No (Mixed)
Support to veteran from religious and political systems
No (Mixed)

For America’s Vietnam veterans the purification ritual was largely denied, and a host of studies have demonstrated that one of the the most significant causal factors in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the lack of support structure after the traumatic event, which in this case occurred when the returning veteran was attacked and condemned in an unprecedented manner. The traditional horrors of combat were magnified by modern conditioning techniques, combining the nature of the war with an unprecedented degree of societal condemnation. This created a circumstance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among the 3.5 million US veterans of Southeast Asia. Estimations are between 0.5 and 1.5 million cases, although the results of these studies vary greatly. This mass incidence of psychiatric disorders among Vietnam veterans resulted in the “discovery” of PTSD, a condition that we now know has always occurred as a result of warfare, but never before in this quantity. Armies around the world have integrated these lessons from Vietnam, and in Britain’s Falklands War, Israel’s 1982 Lebanon incursion, and in the U.S.’s Gulf War the lessons of Vietnam and the need for the purification ritual have been closely and carefully considered and applied. In the former U.S.S.R.’s Afghanistan War this need was again ignored, and the resulting social turmoil was a one of the factors that eventually led to the collapse of that nation. Indeed, the Weinberger Doctrine, later referred to as the Powell Doctrine, which holds that the United States will not engage in a war without strong societal support, is a reflection of the tragic lessons learned from the psychological effects of combat in Vietnam.

PTSD is a psychological disorder resulting from a traumatic event. PTSD manifests itself in persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, numbing of emotional responsiveness, and persistent symptoms of increased arousal, resulting in clinically significant distress or impairment in social and occupational functioning. There is often a long delay between the traumatic event and the manifestation of PTSD. Among Vietnam veterans in the United States, PTSD has been strongly linked with greatly increased divorce rates, increased incidence of alcohol and drug abuse, and increased suicide rates. Indeed, Veterans Administration data indicate that, as of 1996, three times more Vietnam veterans have died from suicide after the war than died from enemy action during the war, and this number is increasing every year.

But PTSD seldom results in violent criminal acts, and US Bureau of Justice Statistics research indicates that veterans, including Vietnam veterans, are statistically less likely to be incarcerated than a nonveteran of the same age. The key safeguard in this process appears to be the deeply ingrained discipline which the soldier internalizes with military training. However, with the advent of interactive “point-and-shoot” arcade and video games there is significant concern that society is aping military conditioning, but without the vital safeguard of discipline. There is strong evidence to indicate that the indiscriminate civilian application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment may be a key factor in worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime rates, including a sevenfold increase in per capita aggravated assaults in America since 1956. Thus, the psychological effects of combat can increasingly be observed on the streets of nations around the world.

Conclusion: A Cultural Conspiracy

It is essential to acknowledge that good ends have been and will continue to be accomplished through combat. Many democracies owe their very existence to successful combat. Few individuals will deny the need for combat against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II. And around the world the price of civilization is paid every day by military units on peacekeeping operations and domestic police forces who are forced to engage in close combat. There have been and will continue to be times and places where combat is unavoidable, but when a society requires its police and armed forces to participate in combat it is essential to fully comprehend the magnitude of the inevitable psychological toll.

It is often said that “All’s fair in love and war,” and this expression provides a valuable insight into the human psyche, since these twin, taboo fields of sexuality and aggression represent the two realms in which most individuals will consistently deceive both themselves and others. Our psychological and societal inability to confront the truth about the effects of combat is the foundation for the cultural conspiracy of repression, a deception and denial that has helped to perpetuate and propagate war throughout recorded history.

In the field of developmental psychology a mature adult is sometimes defined as someone who has attained a degree of insight and self-control in the two areas of sexuality and aggression. This is also a useful definition of maturity in civilizations. Thus two important and reassuring trends in recent years have been the development of the science of human sexuality, which has been termed “sexology,” and a parallel development of the science of human aggression, which D. Grossman has termed “killology.” There is universal consensus that continued research in this previously taboo realm of human aggression is vital to the future development, and perhaps to the very existence, of our civilization.

©1999 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
©2000 Killology Research Group ~ All Rights Reserved.

Glossary of Terms…..”Psychological Effects of Combat”
  • Evacuation Syndrome: The paradox of combat psychiatry. Psychiatric casualties must be treated, but if soldiers begin to realize that psychiatric casualties are being evacuated, the number of psychiatric casualties will increase dramatically.
  • Fear: A cognitive or emotional label for nonspecific physiological arousal in response to a threat.
  • Midbrain: Sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain, it is the primitive part of the brain that is generally indistinguishable from that of any other mammal. During times of extreme stress cognition tends to localize in this portion of the brain.
  • Operant Conditioning: Training that prepares an organism to react to a specific stimulus with a specific voluntary motor response. Operant conditioning is highly effective in preparing individuals to respond with desired actions in highly stressful circumstances.
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System: The branch of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the body’s digestive and recuperative processes.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A psychological disorder resulting from a traumatic event. PTSD manifests itself in persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, numbing of emotional responsiveness, and persistent symptoms of increased arousal, resulting in clinically significant distress or impairment in social and occupational functioning. There is often a long delay time between the traumatic event and the manifestation of PTSD. PTSD has been strongly linked with greatly increased divorce rates, increased suicide rates, and increased incidence of alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Psychiatric Casualty: A combatant who is no longer able to participate in combat due to mental (as opposed to physical) debilitation.
  • Purification Ritual: A set of symbolic social mechanisms that help returning veterans to come to terms with their actions in combat and successfully integrate back into peacetime society.
  • Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): The branch of the autonomic nervous system that mobilizes and directs the body’s energy resources for action.

Bibliography ….. “Psychological Effects of Combat”

  • Gabriel, R. A. (1987). No more Heroes: Madness and psychiatry in war. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Greene, B. (1989). Homecoming. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Griffith, P. (1989). Battle tactics of the (American) civil war. London.
  • Grossman, D. (1995, 1996). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. New York: Little, Brown, and Co.
  • Holmes, R. (1985). Acts of war: the behavior of men in battle. New York: The Free Press.
  • Keegan, J. (1976). The face of battle. Harmondsworth, England: The Chaucer Press.
  • Keegan, J., & Holmes, R. (1985). Soldiers. London: Hamish Hamilton.
  • Marshal, S. LA. (1978). Men against fire. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith.
  • Siddle, B. K. (1995). Sharpening the warrior’s edge: The psychology and science of training. Millstadt, IL: PPCT Management Systems.
  • Swank, R. L., & Marchand, W. E. (1946). Combat neuroses: development of combat exhaustion. Archives of Neurology and Psychology, 55, 236-247.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and an Army Ranger.

Bruce K. Siddle is an internationally recognized authority on research-based use-of-force and tactical team training for criminal justice agencies. He is also the author of Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge which has been described as “the first text which examines survival and combat performance from a scientific perspective. Siddle methodically brings together 100 years of research which identifies the relationship between survival stress, the heart rate, and combat performance”.

Reposted from Killology Research Group.

Front Page

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

From the SynEARTH Archives.

Evolution of Weaponry

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Humans have proven themselves to be infinitely ingenious at creating and using devices to overcome their limitations. From one perspective human history can be seen as a series of ever-more-efficient devices to help humans communicate, travel, trade, work, and even to think. Similarly, the history of violence, peace, and conflict can be seen as the history, or the evolution, of a series of ever-more-efficient devices to enable humans to kill and dominate their fellow human beings.

The concept of an “evolution” of weaponry is very appropriate, since the battlefield is the ultimate realm of Darwinian natural selection. With few exceptions, any weapon or system that survives for any length of time does so because of its utility. Nothing survives for long on the battlefield simply because of superstition. Anything that is effective is copied and perpetuated, anything ineffective results in death, defeat, and extinction. There are fads and remnants (the military equivalent of the appendix) but, over the long run, everything happens for a reason, and a valid theory of weapons evolution must make these reasons clear, explaining all extinctions and all survivals.

Weapons as Devices to Overcome Physical and Psychological Limitations

Ultimately the nature of humans determines the nature of their weapons. There is the nature of the body and the nature of the mind; let us first examine the nature of humans’ physical limitations and the evolution of weapons to overcome these limitations.

Overcoming Physical Limitations

The physical limitations of humans are a key factor in their search for weapons. The need for force, mobility, distance, and protection have been the key requirements in this realm.

  • The Need for Force: The physical strength limitations of humans led to a need for greater physical force in order to hit an opponent harder and more effectively, resulting in the development of more-effective methods to transfer kinetic energy to an opponent. This process evolved from hitting someone with a handheld rock (providing the momentum energy of a greater mass than just a fist), to sharp rocks (focusing the energy in a smaller impact point), to a sharp rock on a stick (providing mechanical leverage combined with a cutting edge), to spears [using the latest material technology (flint, bronze, iron, steel) to focus energy into smaller and smaller penetration points], to swords (which permit the option of using a thrusting, spear-like penetration point or the mechanical leverage of a hacking, cutting edge), to the long bow (using stored mechanical energy and a refined penetration point), to firearms (transferring chemical energy to a projectile in order to deliver an extremely powerful dose of kinetic energy).
  • The Need for Mobility: Limited by the constraints of a bipedal body that could be outrun by a majority of ground-based creatures and recognizing that a human who has cast off weapons and armor is hard for a human carrying a weapon to catch and kill, humans’ cross-country speed limitations created a need for a mobility advantage. The result, a succession of weapons to provide more-efficient means to go evade or to chase an enemy. These weapons evolved from the chariots of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians (which were without horse collars, an invention of the Romans) and were thus quite inefficient [since the mounting system choked the horse]; to the cavalry of the Greeks and Romans (which, without stirrups, limited but did not completely prevent the ability to strike from horseback); to the cavalry that dominated the battlefield throughout the age of the European knights (since the introduction of stirrups made it possible to deliver a powerful blow from horseback without danger of falling off) and continued to play a key (but ever-decreasing) role up to the beginning of the 20th century; to modern mechanized infantry; tanks; and (the ultimate form of mobility) aircraft. Simultaneously, a similar evolution of ever-more-effective forms of mobility took place with ships at sea until the introduction of aircraft [originally based on ships (aircraft carriers), but increasingly ground-based, long-range aircraft] came to dominate this realm.
  • The Need for Distance: Similarly, human limited reach created a need for a range advantage in an effort to attack more people than just those in immediate reach (i.e., to increase the zone of influence) and to do so without placing oneself in danger. This need resulted in increasingly more efficient means to kill at a distance, moving from the spear, to the long spear of the Greek phalanx, to the throwing spears of the Roman legionary, to the bow, the crossbow, the English long bow, firearms, artillery, missiles, and aircraft.
  • The Need for Protection: Physical vulnerability resulted in a continuous need for armor that would help to limit an enemy’s ability to inflict harm (in the form of kinetic energy) upon one’s own forces. This evolution generally followed the latest development of material technology, incorporating leather, bronze, iron, and steel, until the invention of firearms created a degree of force so great that the human body could not carry sufficient steel to stop penetration. The only remnant of armor was the helmet, to stop fragmentation (grenade and artillery) wounds to the vulnerable and crucial brain area. Today this evolution continues in tank and ship armor. Interestingly, in recent years, human-made fiber technology (such as Kevlar) has again made body armor practical, and for the first time in centuries the average combatant, in both law enforcement and military realms, once again wears body armor.

Psychological Enabling Factors

These physical needs for force, mobility, distance, and protection interact with each other in the evolution of weapons, but man’s psychological limitations arc even more influential in this process. Lord Moran, the great military physician of World War I and World War II, called Napoleon the “greatest psychologist,” and Napoleon said that, “In war the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Meaning that psychological advantage, or leverage, is three times more important than physical advantage, and modern studies supports Napoleon’s contention.

The Resistance to Killing: At the heart of psychological processes on the battlefield is the resistance to killing one’s own species, a resistance that exists in every healthy member of every species. To truly understand the nature of this resistance to killing we must first recognize that most participants in close combat are literally “frightened out of their wits.” Once the arrows or bullets start flying, combatants stop thinking with the forebrain (which is the part of the brain that makes us human) and thought processes localize in the midbrain, or mammalian brain, which is the primitive part of the brain that is generally indistinguishable from that of an animal.

In conflict situations this primitive midbrain processing can be observed in the general, widespread existence of a powerful resistance to killing one’s own kind and in particular the fellow adult males of one’s own species. During territorial and mating battles, animals with antlers and horns slam together in a relatively harmless head-to-head fashion, rattlesnakes wrestle each other, and piranha fight their own kind with flicks of the tail, but against any other species these creatures unleash their horns, fangs, and teeth without restraint. This is an essential survival mechanism that prevents a species from destroying itself during territorial and mating rituals.

One major modern revelation in the field of military psychology is the observation that this resistance to killing one’s own species is also a key factor in human combat. Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall first observed this during his work as the Chief Historian of the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Based on his innovative new technique of post-combat interviews, Marshall concluded in his landmark book Men Against Fire that only 15 to 20% of the individual riflemen in World War II fired their weapons at an exposed enemy soldier.

Marshall’s findings have been somewhat controversial, but every available, parallel, scholarly study validates his basic findings. Ardant du Picq’s surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations on ancient battles, Keegan and Holmes’ numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history, Paddy Griffith’s data on the extraordinarily low killing rate among Napoleonic and American Civil War regiments, Stouffer’s extensive World War II and postwar research, Richard Holmes’ assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, the British Army’s laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI’s studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations all confirm Marshall’s fundamental conclusion that man is not, by nature, a close-range interpersonal killer.

The existence of this resistance can be observed in its marked absence in sociopaths who, by definition, feel no empathy or remorse for their fellow human beings. Pit bull dogs have been selectively bred for sociopathy, bred for the absence of the resistance to killing one’s kind in order to ensure that they will perform the unnatural act of killing another dog in battle. Breeding to overcome this limitation in humans is impractical, but humans are very adept at finding mechanical means to overcome natural limitations. Humans were born without the ability to fly, so we found mechanisms to overcome this limitation and enable flight. Humans also were born without the ability to kill our fellow humans, and so, throughout history, we have devoted great effort to finding a way to overcome this resistance. From a weapons evolution perspective, the history of warfare can be viewed as a series of successively more effective tactical and mechanical mechanisms to enable or force combatants to overcome their resistance to killing.

Posturing as a Psychological Weapon: The resistance to killing can be overcome, or at least bypassed, by a variety of techniques. One technique is to cause the enemy to run (often by getting in their flank or rear, which almost always causes a rout), and it is in the subsequent pursuit of a broken or defeated enemy that the vast majority of the killing happens.

It is widely known that most killing happens after the battle, in the pursuit phase (Clausewitz and Ardant du Picq both commented on this), and this is apparently due to two factors. First, the pursuer doesn’t have to look in his victim’s eyes, and it appears to be much easier to deny an opponent’s humanity if you can stab or shoot them in the back and don’t have to look into their eyes when you kill them. Second (and probably much more importantly), in the midbrain, during a pursuit, the opponent has changed from a fellow male engaged in a primitive, simplistic, ritualistic, head-to-head, territorial or mating battle to prey who must to be pursued, pulled down, and killed. Anyone who has ever worked with dogs understands this process: you are generally safe if you face a dog down, and you should always back away from a dog (or almost any animal) in a threatening situation because if you turn around and run you are in great danger of being viciously attacked. The same is true of soldiers in combat.

Thus one key to the battle is simply to get the enemy to run. The battlefield is truly psychological in nature, and in this realm the individual who puffs himself up the biggest, or makes the loudest noise, is most likely to win. The actual battle is, from one perspective, a process of “posturing” until one side or another turns and runs, and then the real killing begins. Thus posturing is critical to warfare and victory can he achieved through superior posturing.

Bagpipes, bugles, drums, shiny armor, tall hats, chariots, elephants, and cavalry have all been factors in successful posturing (convincing oneself of ones’ prowess while daunting one’s enemy), but, ultimately, gunpowder proved to be the ultimate posturing tool. For example, the long bow was significantly more accurate and had a far greater rate of fire and a much greater accurate range than the muzzle-loading muskets used up to the early part of the American Civil War. Furthermore, the long bow did not need the industrial base (iron and gunpowder) required by muskets, and the training of a long bowman was not really all that difficult.

Thus, mechanically speaking there are few reasons why there should not have been regiments of long bowmen at Waterloo and the 1st Bull Run cutting vast swaths through the enemy. [Similarly there were highly efficient, air-pressure-powered weapons available as early as the Napoleonic era (similar to modern paintball guns), which had a far higher firing rate than the muskets of that era, but were never used.] But it must be constantly remembered that, to paraphrase Napoleon, in war, psychological factors are three times more important than mechanical factors. The reality is that, on the battlefield, if you are going “doink, doink,” no matter how effectively, and the enemy is going
“BANG!, BANG!,” no matter how ineffectively, ultimately the “doinkers”lose. This phenomenon helps explain the effectiveness of high-noise-producing weapons ranging from Gustavus Adolphus’ small, mobile cannons assigned to infantry units to the U.S. Army’s M-60 machine gun in Vietnam, which fired large, very loud, 7.62-mm ammunition at a slow rate of fire vs the M-16’s smaller (and comparatively much less noisy) 5.56-mm ammunition firing at a rapid rate of fire. (Note that both the machine gun and the cannon are also crew-served weapons, which is a key factor to be addressed shortly.)

Mobility as a Psychological Weapon: Once it is understood that most of the killing (and thereby the true destruction and defeat of an enemy) happens in the pursuit, then the true utility of weapons that provide a mobility advantage becomes clear. First, a mobility advantage often permits a force to get in the enemy’s flank or rear. Combatants seem to have an intuitive understanding of their vulnerability (both psychological and physical) from an opponent in their rear, and this almost always results in a mass panic and rout. Second, it is during the pursuit of a defeated enemy that a mobility advantage is needed if a pursuing force is to kill the enemy. An opponent who has cast aside his weapons and armor can generally outrun an armed pursuer, but a man on foot cannot outrun chariots or cavalry, and it is here, in stabbing and shooting men in the back, that chariots and cavalry had their greatest utility.

Distance as a Psychological Weapon: Another key factor in overcoming the resistance to killing is distance, which has been partially addressed earlier. The utility of weapons that kill from a distance cannot be truly understood without understanding the psychological enabling aspect of distance, which, simply stated, means that the further away you are the easier it is to kill. Thus, dropping bombs from 20,000 feet or firing artillery from 2 miles away is, psychologically speaking, not at all difficult (and there is no indication of any noncompliance in these situations), but hand-to-hand combat-range firing a rifle from 20 feet is very difficult (with high incidence of nonfirers) and from a few feet away it is virtually impossible to stab an opponent. John Keegan’s landmark book The Face of Battle makes a comparative study of Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815), and the Somme (1916). In his analysis of these three battles spanning over 500 years, Keegan repeatedly notes the amazing absence of bayonet wounds incurred during the massed bayonet attacks at Waterloo and the Somme. At Waterloo Keegan notes that “There were numbers of sword and lance wounds to be treated and some bayonet wounds, though these had usually been inflicted after the man had already been disabled, there being no evidence of the armies having crossed bayonets at Waterloo.”By World War I edged-weapon combat had almost disappeared, and Keegan notes that in the Battle of the Somme, “edged-weapon wounds were a fraction of one per cent of all wounds inflicted in the First World War.” Indeed, all evidence indicates that ancient battles were not much more than great shoving matches, until one side or the other fled. This can be observed in the battle record of Alexander the Great, who (according to Ardant du Picq’s studies of ancient records) lost a total of approximately 700 men ‘to the sword” in all his battles put together, and this is simply because Alexander the Great always won, and the actual killing happened only to the losers after the battle (Fig. 1).

The only thing greater than the resistance to killing at close range is the resistance to being killed at close range. Close-range interpersonal aggression is the universal human phobia, which is why the initiation of midbrain processing is so powerful and intense in these situations. Thus, one limitation to killing at long range is that greater distance results in a reduced psychological effect on the enemy. This manifests itself in the constant thwarting of each new generation of air power advocates and other adherents of sterile, long-range, high-tech warfare and a constant need for close combat troops to defeat an enemy.

Leaders as a Psychological Weapon: Milgram’s famous obedience research demonstrated the tremendous influence that can be wielded by an unknown individual in a white lab coat in a laboratory situation, but on the battlefield the influence of a respected leader, with the trappings of true power, wielding authority over life and death, can far transcend Milgram’s results. Marshall is one of many who have noted that soldiers will invariably fire if an officer stands over them and demands that they do so, but this firing will generally decrease as soon as the officer leaves.

The modern concept of a combat leader usually calls up visions of a hardened veteran moving behind a battle line of his men, exhorting, encouraging, punishing, rebuking, correcting, and rewarding them. But combat leadership has not always been like this. Armies have always had leaders, but the Romans were the first to take proven warriors and systematically develop them into professional leaders, starting at the lowest levels. Prior to this time leaders were usually expected to get into the battle and lead from the front, but the Romans were the first to place leaders behind their men in an open order of battle. The influence of this kind of leadership was one of the key factors in the success of the Roman way of war, and this process of having a respected, proven, small-unit leader, who moves behind his men and demands effective killing activity from them (but does not himself necessarily have to kill) continued to be a key factor in effective combat in the centuries that followed. This kind of leadership initially disappeared with the Roman Empire, but it appeared again sporadically in the firing lines of English long bowmen and then as a systematically applied factor in the firing lines of the successful armies of the gunpowder era and continued into the present.

Groups as a Psychological Weapon: Konrad Lorenz observed that “man is not a killer, but the group is.”This fundamental observation of human nature has great utility in helping to understand the effectiveness of what are generally referred to as “crew-served” weapons. These are weapons that require more than one individual to use, which provides a form of mutual accountability and a diffusion of responsibility, which is very effective in enabling killing. Marshall noted in World War II that the firing rates of individual soldiers was very low, but crew served weapons (primarily machine guns) almost always fired.

Such weapons have generally done the majority of the killing throughout the history of warfare, beginning with the chariot, which was the earliest crew-served weapon. The chariot often employed a driver and a “passenger” who generally fired a bow (which added the factor of distance in the violence-enabling equation) and was most effective in the pursuit, when their mobility advantage gave them the ability to shoot large numbers of fleeing enemy in the back. The powerful group dynamics of the chariot (along with its mobility) were to show up again, over 2 millennia later, in the tanks of the 20th century.

The Greek phalanx was a mass of spearmen in tight ranks, carrying spears approximately 4 meters long and protecting themselves with overlapping shields, highly trained to move in a formation organized in depth (i.e., moving and fighting “in column” as opposed to “in line”) and trained to strike the enemy as a coherent mass. As such it was a form of crew-served weapon in which newer members were placed in the front and were thereby under direct observation and accountability by the veteran warriors behind them. The phalanx was of such utility that it has shown up repeatedly throughout history and around the world.

The first systematic military use of gunpowder was in cannons, and these crew-served weapons immediately began to dominate the battlefield. Unlike the early muskets, cannons were effective killers from the beginning. Not only did they provide the best form of posturing (i.e., noise-making) ever to be seen on the battlefield, but they were also a highly effective crew-served weapon (being generally manned by numerous individuals and directly commanded by an officer or a sergeant with sole responsibility for that gun and its crew) whose crew members almost never showed any hesitation or mercy in killing the enemy. At close range the cannon fired “grape shot” into tightly packed enemy formations, thus becoming, in effect, a great shotgun capable of killing hundreds of men with a single shot. Napoleon, that “greatest psychologist,” demonstrated his understanding of the true killing utility of the cannon (and the comparative ineffectiveness of infantry) by ensuring that his armies always had a higher percentage of cannons than his enemies and by massing those cannons at key points in the battle.

In the 20th century the cannon became an “indirect fire” system (i.e., firing over the heads of friendly combatants from a great distance away), and the machine gun (with its “gunner” and “assistant gunner” or “loader”) came to replace the cannon in the crew-served,
“direct fire” role on the battlefield. In World War I the machine gun was called the “distilled essence of the infantry,” but it was really just a continuation of the cannon in its old, crew-served, mass-killing role.

The crew-served machine gun is still the key killer on the close-range battlefield, but the evolution of group-enabling processes can continue to be seen in tanks and armored personnel carriers. At sea the dynamics of the crew-served weapon have been in play since the beginning of the gunpowder era, i.e., crew-served weapons, distance, and the influence of leaders.

Conditioning as a Psychological Weapon: By 1946 the US Army had completely accepted Marshall’s World War II findings of a 15-20% firing rate among American riflemen, and the Human Resources Research Office of the US Army subsequently pioneered a revolution in combat training that replaced the old method of firing at bulls-eye targets with that of deeply ingrained “conditioning” using realistic, human-shaped pop-up targets that fall when hit. Psychologists know that this kind of powerful “operant conditioning” is the only technique that reliably influences the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being. Just as fire drills condition terrified school children to respond properly during a fire, and repetitious, “stimulus-response” conditioning in flight simulators enables frightened pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations.

Throughout history the ingredients of posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, and groups have been manipulated to enable and force combatants to kill, but the introduction of conditioning in modern training was a true revolution. The application and perfection of these basic conditioning techniques appear to have increased the rate of fire from near 20% in World War II to approximately 55% in Korea and around 95% in Vietnam. Similar high rates of fire resulting from modern conditioning techniques can be seen in FBI data on law enforcement firing rates since the nationwide introduction of modern conditioning techniques in the late 1960s.

One of the most dramatic examples of the value and power of this modern, psychological revolution in training can be seen in Richard Holmes’ observations of the 1982 Falklands War. The superbly trained (i.e., “conditioned”) British forces were without air or artillery superiority and consistently outnumbered 3-to-1 while attacking the poorly trained but well-equipped and carefully dug-in Argentine defenders. Superior British firing rates (which Holmes estimates to be well over 90%), resulting from modern training techniques, has been credited as a key factor in the series of British victories in that brief but bloody war. Any future army that attempts to go into battle without similar psychological preparation is likely to meet a fate similar to that of the Argentines.

A Brief Survey of Weapons Evolution

Having established an understanding of the physical factors required for effective weapons (force, mobility, distance, and protection) and the psychological enabling factors required to effectively employ these weapons (posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, groups, and conditioning), an overall survey of weapons evolution becomes possible. Although parallel evolutionary, weaponry processes have occurred around the world, the process is most easily observed in the west, and it is in western civilization that the evolutionary development of weaponry achieved a degree of ascendancy that permitted western domination of the globe starting as early as the 16th century and culminating in total western domination in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Combat throughout ancient history generally involved more and more effective applications of force, moving from rock, to sharp rock, to sharp rock on a stick, to swords and spears using the latest metal technology. This aspect of close-range, hand-to-hand combat remained the same until the late 19th century when reliable, repeating gunpowder weapons replaced swords and bayonets as the weapon of choice to kill repeatedly at close range. Some aspects of distance weapons have been present, in the form of archers and slingers, since ancient Egypt, but until the introduction of the long bow the available armor (generally just a shield) was sufficient to stop these weapons from becoming decisive.

Enabling the Mind to Kill

Thus the basic, close-range killing weapon has not changed fundamentally in nearly a century, but there has been a new, evolutionary leap in the conditioning of the mind that has to use that weapon to kill at close range. The development of a psychological conditioning process to enable an individual to overcome the average, healthy, deep-rooted aversion to close-range killing of one’s own species is a true revolution. By changing from bulls-eye targets to pop-up, human-shaped targets that fall when hit, modern armies and police forces have learned to operantly condition their combatants to respond reflexively even when literally frightened out of their wits. This process has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to raise the firing rate among individual riflemen from a baseline of around 20% in World War 11 to over 90% today. This is a revolution on the battlefield, and it is a revolution that has also had an absolutely unprecedented influence on civilian violence and domestic violent crimes.

The Chariot

The chariot was introduced to ancient Egypt early in the Second Millennium B.C., and subsequently it was to become the first major, evolutionary weapons innovation. As a system it was made possible by the domestication of the horse, the invention of the wheel, and the invention of the bow and arrow–particularly the recurve bow. The chariot was a two-wheeled platform pulled by horses (usually two) generally carrying a driver and a passenger. It was of limited value for commerce due to its small cargo capacity and was primarily an instrument of war. Its mobility gave it a high degree of utility in attacking vulnerable flanks or in the pursuit of a defeated enemy, and the passenger was usually an archer who would fire from the platform while on the move or during brief halts.

The ascendancy of the chariot for well over a millennium has been called “inexplicable” by some historians, but an understanding of the chariot’s powerful psychological contribution makes its role clear. The chariot undoubtedly had many limitations: the horses were very vulnerable to archers and slingers and if just one horse was disabled the whole chariot was out of action, and the absence of a horse collar meant that the mounting system choked the horse, thus making the chariot’s effective range a fraction of that of the cavalry, which would later replace the chariot in its mobility role. And yet, in spite of these limitations, the mobility advantage of the chariot (useful primarily in the pursuit, when most of the killing occurred) combined with some group processes (driver plus archer) and some distance processes (archer firing from a mobile platform) made the chariot the dominant weapon of an era ranging from the Egyptian to the Persian Empires. Ultimately it would be defeated by the phalanx and replaced by cavalry.

The Phalanx

One limitation of the chariot (and later of cavalry) is that horses consistently refuse to hurl themselves into a hedge of sharp, projecting objects such as a phalanx, with its deep ranks of tightly packed men carrying 4-meter spears and protecting themselves with overlapping shields. The Greek phalanx required a high degree of training and organization, but starting around the 4th Century BC, the Greek city-states were able to use it to negate the impact of the chariot in battle. The tightly packed ranks of the phalanx created a group process that apparently permitted it to act as a vast, crew-served weapon. This factor, along with some distance (through the long spears) and the simplicity and economic viability of the phalanx, made it the dominant weapon system of its era. These aspects of the phalanx combined with the later Greek mastery of horseback riding (albeit absent stirrups) in order to approach an enemy from vulnerable flanks and to exploit pursuits permitted the Greek to conquer a vast portion of the world.

The Greeks were defeated by the Romans, but the inherent simplicity of the phalanx combined with its psychological fundamentals were so powerful that after the fall of the Roman Empire the phalanx again became ascendant, with the Swiss achieving the epitome of perfection of the phalanx in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The armies of the early gunpowder era continued to use phalanx formations of pikemen combined with formations of primitive, early muskets. The pikemen were replaced with the advent of the bayonet, which made every man a potential pikeman, and a remnant of the psychological dynamics of the phalanx could be seen in the great, column-based bayonet charges of Napoleon’s armies.

The Roman System

It must be remembered that the Roman Empire lasted for approximately half a millennium (and longer if we count the Eastern Roman Empire) and that to say “the Romans did this” or “the Romans did that” would generally be inaccurate when referring to a military system that evolved and changed constantly across the centuries. But certain things did stay somewhat constant over the centuries in the Roman legions, and it was these constant factors that can be generally attributed to the extraordinary military success of the Roman Empire, starting in the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC and continuing for around 500 years.

The Greek phalanx required a high degree of training to be effective, but an efficient phalanx could still he achieved, for example, as the product of a local militia who trained in their free time. But the Roman system was a highly complex professional army that devoted itself full-time to the development of its skills and to the development of a leadership structure with systematic professional advancement based on merit, taking soldiers from the ranks and placing them in charge of larger and larger groups of men as they demonstrated competence at each level. The Roman open order of battle permitted their small-unit leaders to move behind the battle line, holding their men accountable and rewarding skill and valor with advancement and reward. Today most professional armies are designed around a professional small-unit leadership drawn from the ranks with advancement based on merit, and small-unit leaders who have proven themselves in combat (except in emergencies) are expected to stay behind their men in order to directly influence their actions in battle, but it must be remembered that the Romans were the first to truly, systematically introduce these factors to the battlefield on a large scale over a long period of time.

Another key aspect of the Roman way of war was the fact that each of their soldiers carried a variety of throwing spears (the number and type varied over the years) with which they were highly proficient. An approaching enemy was greeted with a series of volleys from these spears, which served to break up an enemy’s ranks and often to strip them of their shields. These ingeniously designed distance weapons often included light javelins, which were thrown at a long range, followed by a standard heavy spear (or pilum), which was thrown at a medium range, followed by a lead-weighted pilum, which was hurled, with enormous force, as one final volley before closing with swords.

After shattering an approaching enemy force from a distance with a series of spear volleys, the Romans closed with short swords designed and intended for stabbing. These swords were often qualitatively no different from those of their opponents, but the Romans were systematically trained to use their swords to stab and thrust in a highly effective way that was largely unprecedented prior to this. Like the post-World War II training that was to be developed 2 millennia later to condition men to fire in combat, Roman training used constant, repetitive training, to the point where it could be accurately described as conditioning, in order to insure that their soldiers would thrust in combat rather than use the more natural hacking and slashing blows. This was a technique that was to be used in later centuries to train some elite warriors in fencing and swordsmanship, but never before, nor probably since, has an entire army been trained to this degree of perfection.

This combination of projectile weapons, intense training, and the presence of effective small-unit leaders who moved behind their men and demanded effective killing activities was a devastating force that smashed approaching enemy formations, including the phalanx. The final ingredient in a Roman battlefield victory was the organization of their forces into small units with reserves with dispassionate, highly trained, small-unit leaders operating behind their men, ready to maneuver their unit to exploit any exposed enemy flanks or penetrate deep into the enemy rear. Once the enemy was defeated, the final blow (and most of the killing) was executed by cavalry auxiliaries (which, still without stirrups, were little different from the cavalry of the Greeks), who would pursue and kill a broken, fleeing enemy.

The result of this complex process was the Pax Romana: hundreds of years of relative stability and peace in the western world. But it was a fragile strength, created through complexity and economic abundance, difficult to sustain in the best of times, and impossible to replicate (at least in western Europe) for almost a millennium after the Roman Empire collapsed.

The Mounted Knight

With the fall of Rome the complex Roman way of war collapsed, to be replaced by simpler systems, such as the phalanx, and one new system, which was the mounted knight. The introduction of the stirrup (coming to Europe from China and India around the 10th Century A.D) made it possible for a man on horseback to strike an opponent with remarkable force without danger of being unseated. Furthermore, horse breeding had developed increasingly larger and more powerful mounts who could carry sufficient weight of armor to make both horse and man virtually invulnerable. A devastating blow could be delivered by a spear, or lance, which could be “couched” or semi-attached to the knight. Charging at full speed, the spear point would strike an opponent with the combined momentum and weight of horse, man, and armor approaching at full gallop. After the initial blow with the lance the knight could continue to plow into an enemy formation, delivering blows from above with heavy weapons (sword, mace, flail, or morning star) assisted by the force of gravity and downward momentum. A formation of such knights, striking together, was an extraordinarily frightening and almost overwhelming force, combining high degrees of posturing, force, and mobility, which could only be stopped by a hedge of spears and the horse’s complete and consistent unwillingness to impale itself.

Thus, the answer to the knight was a phalanx, but the horse’s mobility made it possible to maneuver around a phalanx, or any enemy formation, in order to attack from a vulnerable direction and to pursue the enemy after they have been broken. This created the need for spear- or bayonet-equipped ground troops to form a “square” that faced outward in all directions while keeping other units inside the protection of the square. This was an effective defensive maneuver as long as the infantry kept their nerve (if only a few men broke and ran the knights could move into that gap and break the entire formation), but until the introduction of the long bow and (later) gunpowder the forces inside the the square were completely neutralized and could often be held at bay by a small force of knights.

The long bow (and, later, gunpowder weapons) spelled the doom of the mounted knight and, ultimately, of all individual armor until the 20th century. Cavalry would continue to exist on the battlefield for centuries, but their economic cost and their increasing vulnerability to small arms fire meant that by the late 19th century the utility of cavalry had reverted to that of the Greek and Roman era: useful for reconnaissance, to move riflemen rapidly to a key location where they would dismount and fight, and for mobility in the pursuit. During the 20th century mechanization (trucks, tanks, etc.) would almost completely supersede the horse’s mobility contribution to the battlefield.

The Age of Projectile Weapons

Humans had always thrown rocks or fired arrows, but usually these could be neutralized by armor. With the advent of the long bow (ca. 1400), for the first time the average combatant could single-handedly fire a weapon, from a distance, that would penetrate even the best of available, man-portable armor. This was a revolution that introduced a combination of distance and force that would continue in its basic format up until the present. The long bow began the process of rendering the knight extinct, but the advent of gunpowder introduced powerful posturing processes into the equation that quickly (in evolutionary terms) led to the extinction of both the knight and the long bow.

Once individual gunpowder weapons were introduced and widely distributed (ca. 1600), the evolution of close-range, interpersonal weaponry subsequently moved along a single, simple path of perfecting this weapon. The early, crude, primitive, smoothbore, muzzle-loading, gunpowder weapons were pathetically ineffective. They were almost impossible to aim, very slow to fire, and useless in any kind of damp conditions. And yet their posturing (i.e., their noise) combined with their absolutely overwhelming force (when they could hit something) was so great that they soon came to dominate the battlefield.

Gunpowder was invented in China, but China was under a comparatively centralized government that appears to have seen gunpowder weapons as a threat to the established order and made a conscious decision not to develop this weapon. (Over a millennium later the Japanese would do something similar.) A powerful argument can be made that this single decision in weapons development resulted in the eventual subjugation of the east and the inevitable domination and colonization of the world by western Europe. In Europe there were constant wars and turmoil and a complete absence of centralized authority, which created an environment that pursued a continuous development and refinement of gunpowder weapons. This process led to weapons that could be fired in wet weather (percussion caps), fired accurately (rifled barrels), loaded from a prone position (breech loaders), fired repeatedly without loading (repeaters), and fired repeatedly with no other action than pulling the trigger (automatics).

Almost all of this development of gun powder weapons occurred in the 19th century. By the early 20th century this developmental process had reached its culmination. One common myth in this area involves the increasing “deadliness” of modern small arms, which is largely without foundation. For example, the high-velocity, small-caliber (5.56 mm/.223-caliber) ammunition used in most assault rifles today (e.g., the M-16 and the AK-74) were designed to wound rather than kill. The theory is that wounding an enemy soldier is better than killing him because a wounded soldier eliminates three people: the wounded man and two others to evacuate him. These weapons do inflict great (wounding) trauma, but they are illegal for hunting deer in much of the United States due to their ineffectiveness at quickly and effectively killing game.

Similarly, since World War I and until recently the US military’s weapon of choice in pistols was a .45 automatic (approximately 12 mm). In recent years the military weapon of choice has become the 9 mm, which has a smaller, faster round that many experts argue is considerably less effective at killing.

What these new, smaller ammunitions (5.56 mm for rifle and 9 mm for pistol) do make possible is greater magazine capacity, and this has increased the effectiveness of weapons in one way, while decreasing it in another.

The point is that there has not been any significant increase in the effectiveness of the weapons available today. The shotgun is still the single most effective weapon for killing at close range and it has been available and basically unchanged for over 100 years. Long-range killing technology (missiles, aircraft, and armored vehicles) have all evolved at quantum rates, but the basic technology of close-range killing through transferring kinetic energy has apparently achieved an evolutionary dead-end in this century.

The Role of Weapons Evolution in Domestic Violent Crime

Weapons play the same role in domestic violent crime as in war. The resistance to killing also exists in peace-time, and weapons provide psychological and mechanical leverage to enable killing in peace as well as in war.

Weapons Lethality

Weapons lethality (in peace and war) is a factor of the effectiveness of the weapons used to kill and of the ability of available medical technology to save lives. Thus, weapons lethality can be thought of as a contest between weapons effectiveness (the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save you). Like weapons lethality, the difference between murder (killing someone) and aggravated assault (trying to kill someone) is also largely a factor of the effectiveness of available weapons Vs the effectiveness of available medical life-saving technology.

Advances in Weapons Effectiveness

Throughout most of human history the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence was basically stable, a relative constant. The relative effectiveness of swords, axes, and blunt objects has been basically unchanged, and killing (as an act of passion Vs a premeditated act like poisoning or leaving a bomb) was only possible at close-range by stabbing, hacking, and beating.

Bows were kept unstrung, not in a state of readiness for an act of passion. It required premeditation plus training plus strength to kill with a bow. Early, muzzle-loading gunpowder weapons were also often not kept in a state of readiness. It required time, training, and premeditation to load and shoot such a weapon. Once loaded, the humidity in the air could seep into the gunpowder and the load could become unreliable. Only in the late 19th century, with widespread introduction of breech-loading, brass cartridges, was a true “act of passion” possible with state-of-the-art weapons technology. Powerful weapons could now be kept in state of readiness (i.e., loaded), and they now required minimal strength or training to use. This achievement in weapons effectiveness has been virtually unchanged since the 1870s. Colt’s revolver or a double-barrel shotgun is basically equally effective to any small arms available today (Table I).

TABLE I: Landmarks in the Evolution of Weapons Effectiveness

ca. 1700 BC Chariots provide key form of mobility advantage in ancient warfare
ca. 400 BC Greek phalanx
ca. 100 BC Roman system (pilum, swords, training, professionalism, leadership)
ca. 900 AD Mounted knight (stirrup greatly enhances utility of mounted warfare)
ca. 1350 Gunpowder (cannon) in warfare (Battle of Crecy, 1346)
ca. 1400 Widespread application of long bow defeats mounted knights ( Battle of Agincourt, I4I5)
ca. 1600 Gunpowder (small arms) in warfare, defeats aIl body armor (30 Years War & English Civil War)
ca. 1800 Shrapnel (exploding artillery shells), ultimately creates renewed need for helmets (ca. 1915)
ca. 1850 Percussion caps permit all-weather use of small arms
ca. 1870 Breech loading, cartridge firing rifles, and pistols™
ca. 1915 Machine gun
ca. 1915 Gas warfare
ca. 1915 Tanks
ca. 1915 Aircraft
ca. 1915 Self-loading (automatic) rifles and pistols
ca. 1940 Strategic bombing of population centers
ca. 1945 Nuclear weapons
ca. 1960 Large scale introduction of operant conditioning in training to enable killing in soldiers
ca. 1960 Large-scale introduction of media violence begins to enable domestic violent crime™
ca. 1970 Precision guided munitions
ca. 1980 Kevlar provides first individual armor to defeat state-of-the-art projectiles in 300+ years

Note: Dates generally represent century or decade of first major, large-scale introduction. ™ Represents developments influencing domestic violent crime.

Thus, the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence has remained relatively stable throughout most of human history. It then made one huge quantum leap in the late 19th-century and then has not moved since, with the sole exception of the psychological conditioning to enable killing.

Advances in Medical Effectiveness

Since 1957, in the US, the per capita aggravated assault rate (which is, essentially, the rate of attempted murder) has gone up nearly sevenfold, while the per capita murder rate has less than doubled. Vast progress in medical technology since 1957 to include everything from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to the national “9-1-1” emergency telephone system, to medical technology advances is the reason for this disparity. Otherwise murder would be going up at the same rate as attempted murder (Table II).

Furthermore, it has been noted that a hypothetical wound that 9 of 10 times would have killed a soldier in World War II would have been survived 9 of 10 times by US soldiers in Vietnam. This is due to the great leaps in battlefield evacuation and medical care technology between 1940 and 1970. And we have made even greater progress since 1970. Thus it is probably a very conservative statement to say that if today we had 1930’s level road networks, evacuation vehicles, communications, distribution of medical care, and medical technology (no penicillin, etc.), then we would have 10 times the murder rate we currently do. That is, attempts to inflict bodily harm upon one another would result in death 10 times more often.

Consider, for instance, some of the quantum leaps in medical technology across the years. Just a century ago, any puncture of the abdomen, skull, or lungs created a high probability of death. As did any significant loss of blood (no transfusions) or most large wounds (no antibiotics or antiseptics) or most wounds requiring significant surgery (no anesthetics, resulting in death from surgery shock). Also consider the increasing impact of police methodology and technology (fingerprints, communications, DNA matching, video surveillance, etc.) in apprehending killers, preventing second offenses, and deterring crime.

Each of these technological developments, in their place and time, should have negated the effects of weapons evolution and saved the lives of victims of violence. When assessing violent crime across any length of time we could and should ask what proportion of trauma patients survive today and what proportion of those would have died if they had: 1940s-level technology (no penicillin), 1930s-level technology (no antibiotics), 1870s-level technology (no antiseptics), 1840s-level technology (no anesthetics), or 1600s-level technology (no doctors, no anatomical knowledge, etc.).

TABLE II: Landmarks in the Evolution of Medical Lifesaving

ca.1600 French army institutes first scientific, systematic approach to surgery
ca.1840 Introduction of anesthesia overcomes surgical shock
ca.1840 Introduction in Hungary of washing hands and instruments in chlorinated lime solution reduces mortality due to
“childbed fever” from 9.9 to .85%
ca.1860 Introduction by Lister of carbolic acid as germicide reduced mortality rate after major operations from 45 to 15%
ca. 1880 Widespread acceptance and adaptation of germicides
ca. 1930 Sulfa drugs
ca. 1940 Penicillin discovered
ca. 1945 Penicillin in general use and ever-increasing explosion of antibiotics thereafter
ca.1960 Penicillin synthesized on a large scale
ca.1970 CPR introduced on wide scale
ca.1990 9-1-1 centralized emergency response systems introduced in U.S. on wide scale

Note. Dates generally represent century or decade of major, large-scale introduction.

Increases in Worldwide Violent Crime

Thus, instead of murder, we have to assess attempted murder, or aggravated assault, or some other consistently defined attack as an indicator of violent crime, and the increase in this indicator is staggering. Between 1957 and 1992 aggravated assault in the US, according to the FBI, went up from around 60 per 100,000 to over 440 per 100,000. Between 1977 and 1986 the “serious assault” rate, as reported to Interpol:

  • Increased nearly fivefold in Norway and Greece, and the murder rate more than tripled in Norway and doubled in Greece
  • In Australia and New Zealand the “serious assault” rate increased approximately fourfold, and the murder rate approximately doubled in both nations.
  • During the same period the assault rate tripled in Sweden and approximately doubled in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Scotland, and the US; while all these nations (with the exception of Canada) also had an associated (but smaller) increase in murder.

All of these increases in violent crime, in all of these nations, occurred during a period when medical and law enforcement technology should have been bringing murder and crime rates down. It is no accident that this has generally only been occurring in western, industrialized nations because the same factor that caused all of these increases is the same weapons factor that caused a revolution in close combat (Table III).

TABLE III:International Violent Crime Rate

Serious Assault
New Zealand∫
United States

Note. All data represents incidents per 100,000 population, as reported by each nation to Interpol and recorded in Interpol International Crime Statistics, Vols. 1977 to 1994. (Except for Canadian data, as stated below in footnote 1). Different nations use different criteria to define “murder” and “serious assault,” therefore ability to use this data to compare between nations is limited, but comparisons of increases within each nation across time is valid. This information was previously reported in a different format in On Killing, © 1996, Dave Grossman.

∫ Data are only through the following dates when the indicated nations stopped reporting to Interpol: Australia, 1988; England-Wales, 1991; India, 1991; New Zealand, 1992.

π Canada does not report crime data to Interpol; Canadian data is from Canadian Center for Justice.

≤ Data begins in 1980, when Hungary started reporting to Interpol.

≥ Netherlands did not begin reporting serious assault data to Interpol until 1981, but murder data begins in 1977

Ü Scotland’s serious assault data begins in 1977, but murder data begins in 1985 (when they apparently started reporting murder under a broader definition) and both murder and serious assault data only run through 1991 when Scotland stopped reporting to Interpol.

Military Conditioning as Entertainment for Children

The tremendous impact of psychological “conditioning” to overcome the resistance to killing has been observed in Vietnam and the Falklands, where it gave US and British units a tremendous tactical advantage in close combat, increasing the firing rate from the World War II baseline of around 20% to over 90% in these wars. Through violent programming on television and in movies, and through interactive point-and-shoot video games, western nations are indiscriminately introducing to their children the same weapons technology that major armies and law enforcement agencies around the world use to “turn off” the midbrain “safety catch” that Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall discovered in World War II.

The US Bureau of Justice Statistics research indicates that law enforcement officers and veterans (including Vietnam veterans) are statistically less likely to be incarcerated than a nonveteran of the same age. The key safeguard in this process appears to be the deeply ingrained discipline that the soldier and police officer internalize with their training. However, by saturating children with media violence as entertainment and then exposing them to interactive
“point-and-shoot” arcade and video games, it has become increasingly clear that society is aping military conditioning but without the vital safeguard of discipline.

The observation that violence in the media is causing violence in our streets is nothing new. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and their equivalents in many other nations have all made unequivocal statements about the link between media violence and violence in our society. The APA, in their 1992 report Big World, Small Screen, concluded that the “scientific debate is over.” And in 1993 the APA’s commission on violence and youth concluded that “there is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior.” The evidence is quite simply overwhelming.

Dr. Brandon Centerwall, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, has summarized the overwhelming nature of this body of evidence. His research demonstrates that anywhere in the world that television is introduced, within 15 years the murder rate will double. (And remember, across 15 years, the murder rate will significantly under-represent the problem because medical technology will be saving ever more lives each year.)

Centerwall concludes that if television technology had never been introduced in the US, then there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States; 70,000 fewer rapes; and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults. Overall violent crime would be half of what it is.

Centerwall notes that the net effect of television has been to increase the aggressive predisposition of approximately 8% of the population, which is all that is required to double the murder rate. Statistically speaking 8% is a very small increase. Anything less than 5% is not even considered to be statistically significant. But in human terms, the impact of doubling the homicide rate is enormous.

Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AVIDS)

There are two filters that a human mind has to go through to kill at close range. The first filter is the forebrain. A hundred things can convince the forebrain to take gun in hand and go to a certain point: poverty, drugs, gangs, leaders, radical politics, and the social learning of violence in the media–magnified when the child is from a broken home and is searching for a role model. But, traditionally, all of these influences slam into the resistance that a frightened, angry human being confronts in the midbrain. With the exception of sociopaths (who, by definition, do not have this resistance) the vast, vast majority of circumstances are not sufficient to overcome this midbrain safety net. But, if you are conditioned to overcome these midbrain inhibitions, then you are a walking time bomb, a pseudo-sociopath, just waiting for the random factors of social interaction and forebrain rationalization to put you at the wrong place at the wrong time.

An effective analogy can be made to AIDS in attempting to communicate the impact of this technology. AIDS does not kill people, it simply destroys the immune system and makes the victim vulnerable to death by other factors. The “violence immune system” exists in the midbrain, and conditioning in the media creates an “acquired deficiency” in this immune system, resulting in “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or AVIDS. As a result of this weakened immune system, the victim becomes more vulnerable to violence-enabling factors such as poverty, discrimination, drugs, gangs, radical politics, and the availability of guns.

In weapons technology terms this indiscriminate use of combat conditioning techniques on children is the moral equivalent of giving an assault weapon to every child in every industrialized nation in the world. If, hypothetically, this were done, the vast majority of children would almost certainly not kill anyone with their assault rifles; but if only a tiny percentage did, then the results would be tragic and unacceptable. But it is increasingly clear that this is not a hypothetical situation. Indiscriminate civilian application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment has increasingly been identified as a key factor in the worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime rates outlined above. Thus, the influences of weapons technology can increasingly be observed on the streets of nations around the world.

Conclusion: The Future of Weapons Evolution

Wars are fought by one group of humans to force another group to submit to their will. Weapons are tools to help humans overcome their physical and psychological limitations in order to inflict their will upon others. Democratic nations seldom, if ever, go to war against each other, choosing instead less destructive methods of influence.

Thus, with the coming of the age of democracies, the time of wars may be coming to an end, and the passing of war may also mark the passing of some of the instruments of war. Indeed, a precedence for an end to war can be found in weapons evolution.

It has become increasingly obvious’ that each act of violence breeds ever-greater levels of violence, and at some point the genie must be put back in the bottle. The study of killing in combat teaches us that soldiers who have had friends or relatives injured or killed in combat are much more likely to kill and commit war crimes.

The world is just now recovering from the most violent and bloody century in human history, and the streets of the western, industrialized nations are the scenes of a level of violence that is unprecedented in human history. Each individual who is injured or killed by violence provides a point of departure for further violence on the part of their friends and family. Every destructive act gnaws away at the restraint of human beings. Each act of violence eats away at the fabric of our society like a cancer, spreading and reproducing itself in ever-expanding cycles of horror and destruction. The genie of violence cannot really ever be stuffed back into the bottle. It can only be cut off here and now, and then the slow process of healing and resensitization can begin.

It can be done. It has been done in the past. As Richard Heckler has observed, there is a precedent for limiting violence-enabling technology. It started with the classical Greeks, who for 4 centuries refused to implement the bow and arrow even after being introduced to it in a most unpleasant way by Persian archers.

In Giving Up The Gun, Noel Perrin tells how the Japanese banned firearms after their introduction by the Portuguese in the 1500s. The Japanese quickly recognized that the military use of gunpowder threatened the very fabric of their society and culture, and they moved aggressively to defend their way of life. The feuding Japanese warlords destroyed all existing weapons and made the production or import of any new guns punishable by death. Three centuries later, when Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to open their ports, they did not even have the technology to make firearms. Similarly, the Chinese invented gunpowder but elected not to use it in warfare.

But the most encouraging examples of restraining killing technology have all occurred in this century. After the tragic experience of using poisonous gases in World War I the world has generally rejected its use ever since. The atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty continues after two decades, the ban on the deployment of anti-satellite weapons is still going strong after two decades, the US and the former USSR have been steadily reducing the quantity of nuclear weapons for the past 2 two decades, and we have seen a Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a new movement to eliminate land mines. As we have de-escalated instruments of indiscriminate mass destruction so too can we de-escalate instruments of indiscriminate mass desensitization as entertainment in the media.

Firearms probably will not go away any time soon, but their abuse will almost definitely be strongly influenced by technology that will make guns ‘”keyed” so that they can only be fired by a designated individual and will thereby be useless to all others. Similarly, violence in the media will not go away as long as there is a market for it, but there will probably be movement away from indiscriminate violence-enabling of children through violent video games and violence in the media and toward protecting children from these things while still permitting their availability to adults, in much the same manner as alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, pornography, and guns.

Heckler points out that there has been “an almost unnoticed series of precedents for reducing military technology on moral grounds,”precedents that show the way to understanding that we do have a choice about how we think about war, about killing, and about the value of human life in our society. In recent years we have exercised the choice to move ourselves from the brink of nuclear destruction. In the same way, our society can also take the evolutionary steps away from the technology that psychologically enables killing in children. Education and understanding is the first step. The end result may be for weapons evolution to take a considered step backward and for our civilization to come through the dark years of the 20th century and enter into a healthier, more self-aware society.

Glossary of Terms

  • Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AVIDS): The “violence immune system” exists in the midbrain of all healthy creatures causing them to be largely unable to kill members of their own species in territorial and mating battles. In human beings this resistance has existed historically in all close-range, interpersonal confrontations.”Conditioning” (particularly the conditioning of children through media violence and interactive video games) can create an “acquired deficiency” in this immune system resulting in “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” As a result of this weakened immune system the victim becomes more vulnerable to violence-enabling factors such as poverty, discrimination, drugs, gangs, radical politics, and the availability of guns.
  • Conditioning: A type of training that intensely and realistically simulates the actual conditions to be faced in a future situation. Effective conditioning enables an individual to respond in a precisely defined manner in spite of high states of anxiety or fear.
  • Chariot: A two-wheeled platform pulled by horses (usually two) generally carrying a driver and a passenger. Of limited value for commerce due to its small capacity, the chariot was primarily an instrument of war and the hunt. Its greater mobility gave it a high degree of utility in the pursuit of a defeated enemy. The passenger was usually an archer who would fire from the platform while on the move or during brief halts.
  • Phalanx: A mass of spearmen in tight ranks, carrying spears approximately 4 meters long and protecting themselves with overlapping shields, highly trained to move in a formation organized in depth (i.e., moving and fighting
    “in column” as opposed to “in line”) and trained to strike the enemy as a coherent mass. First widely utilized by the ancient Greeks.
  • Physical Limitations: The physical limitations of the human body which, when overcome, will assist in physically enabling killing. These can be broken down into force, mobility, distance, and protection.
  • Posturing: In the territorial and mating battles of every species the individual who puffs itself up the biggest or makes the loudest noise is most likely to win; this process is referred to as “posturing.” Humans engaged in close-combat are invariably profoundly frightened, and in such individuals primitive, midbrain processing often causes the actual battle to be, from one perspective, a process of posturing until one side or another turns and runs, after which the real killing usually begins. Thus posturing is critical to warfare and victory can be achieved through superior posturing. Bagpipes, bugles, drums, shiny armor, tall hats, chariots, elephants, and cavalry have all been factors in successful posturing (convincing oneself of one’s prowess while daunting ones enemy), but, ultimately, gunpowder proved to be the ultimate posturing tool.
  • Psychological Enabling Factors: The processes that can be manipulated as a weapon to psychologically enable a human, or a group of humans, to kill. These can be broken down into posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, groups, and conditioning.
  • Weapon: A device or system that is designed to permit humans to overcome natural physical and psychological limitations in order to enable the killing and domination of other creatures, particularly their fellow human beings.
  • Weapons Evolution: The process of Darwinian natural selection in the development of a series of ever-more-effective weapons.
  • Weapons Lethality: A factor of the effectiveness of the weapons used to kill and the ability of medical technology available to save lives. Thus, weapons lethality can be thought of as a contest between weapons effectiveness (the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save you)


  • Dyer, G. (1985). War. New York: Crown.
  • Griffith, P. (1989). Battle tactics of the civil war. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Griffith, P. (1990). Forward into battle. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.
  • Grossman, D. (1995/1996). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. New York: Little, Brown. Holmes

©2000 Killology Research Group ~ All Rights Reserved.

Col. Grossman is a West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and an Army Ranger who has combined his experiences to become the founder of a new field of scientific endeavor, which he has termed “killology.” In this new field Col. Grossman has made revolutionary new contributions to our understanding of killing in war, the psychological costs of war, the root causes of the current “virus” of violent crime that is raging around the world, and the process of healing the victims of violence, in war and peace.

He is the author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is required reading in classes at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy, police academies worldwide, and “peace studies” programs in numerous universities and colleges. Co-authored with Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence has received international acclaim.

Col. Grossman is an Airborne Ranger infantry officer, and a prior-service sergeant and paratrooper, with a total of over 23 years experience in leading U.S. soldiers worldwide. He retired from the Army in February 1998 and has devoted himself fulltime to teaching, writing, speaking, and research.

Today he is the director of the Killology Research Group, and in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks he is on the road almost 300 days a year, training elite military and law enforcement organizations worldwide about the reality of combat.

Reposted from Killology Research Group.

Read Dave Grossman’s Aggression and Violence.

Front Page

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

From the SynEARTH Archives.

Aggression and Violence

Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman

To understand the nature of aggression and violence on the battlefield, it must first be recognized that most participants in close combat are literally “frightened out of their wits.” Once the bullets start flying, most combatants stop thinking with the forebrain (that portion of the brain that makes us human) and start thinking with the midbrain (the primitive portion of our brain, which is indistinguishable from that of an animal).

In conflict situations, this primitive, midbrain processing can be observed in the existence of a powerful resistance to killing one’s own kind. Animals with antlers and horns slam together in a relatively harmless head-to-head fashion, and piranha fish fight their own kind with flicks of the tail, but against any other species these creatures unleash their horns and teeth without restraint. This is an essential survival mechanism that prevents a species from destroying itself during territorial and mating rituals.

One major modern revelation in the field of military psychology is the observation that such resistance to killing one’s own species is also a key factor in human combat. *Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall first observed this during his work as an official U.S. Army historian in the Pacific and European theaters of operations in World War II. Based on his post-combat interviews, Marshall concluded in his book Men Against Fire (1946, 1978) that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen in World War II fired their own weapons at an exposed enemy soldier. Key weapons, such as *flame-throwers, were usually fired. Crew-served weapons, such as *machine guns, almost always were fired. And action would increase greatly if a nearby leader demanded that the soldier fire. But when left on their own, the great majority of individual combatants appear to have been unable or unwilling to kill.

Marshall’s findings were and have remained controversial. Faced with scholarly concern about a researcher’s methodology and conclusions, the scientific method involves replicating the research. In Marshall’s case, every available parallel, scholarly study validates his basic findings. One of these studies was Ardant du Picq’s survey of French officers in the Korean War when the rate of psychiatric casualties was almost seven times higher than the average for World War II. Only after the war settled down, lines stabilized, and the threat of having enemy in rear areas decreased did the average rate go down to that of World War II. Again, just the potential for close-up, inescapable, interpersonal confrontation is more effective and has greater impact on human behavior than the actual presence of inescapable, impersonal death and destruction.

Ardant du Picq’s surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations about ancient battles (Battle Studies, 1946), John Keegan and Richard Holmes’ numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history (Soldiers, 1985), Holmes’ assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War (Acts of War, 1985), Paddy Griffith’s data on the extraordinarily low firing rate among Napoleonic and American *Civil War regiments (Battle Tactics of the American Civil War, 1989), the British army’s laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI’s studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations, all confirm Marshall’s fundamental conclusion that human beings are not, by nature, killers. Indeed, from a psychological perspective, the history of warfare can be viewed as a series of successively more effective tactical and mechanical mechanisms to enable or force combatants to overcome their resistance to killing other human beings, even when defined as the enemy.

By 1946, the US Army had accepted Marshall’s conclusions, and the Human Resources Research Office of the US Army subsequently pioneered a revolution in combat training, which eventually replaced firing at targets with deeply ingrained conditioning, using realistic, man-shaped pop-up targets that fall when hit. Psychologists assert that this kind of powerful operant conditioning is the only technique that will reliably influence the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being. Fire drills condition schoolchildren to respond properly even when terrified during a fire. Conditioning in flight simulators enables pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations even when frightened. And similar application and perfection of basic conditioning techniques increased the rate of fire to approximately 55 percent in Korea and around 95 percent in Vietnam.

Equally high rates of fire resulting from modern conditioning techniques can be seen in Holmes’ observation of British firing rates in the Falklands and FBI data on law enforcement firing rates since the nationwide introduction of modern conditioning techniques in the late 1960s.

The extraordinarily high firing rate resulting from these processes was a key factor in the American ability to claim that the United States never lost a major engagement in Vietnam. But conditioning that overrides such a powerful, innate resistance has enormous potential for psychological backlash. Every warrior society has a “purification ritual” to help the returning warrior deal with his “blood guilt” and to reassure him that what he did in combat was “good.” In primitive tribes, this generally involves ritual bathing, ritual separation (which serves as a cooling-off and “group therapy” session), and a ceremony embracing the veteran back into the tribe. Modern Western rituals traditionally involve long separation while marching or sailing home, parades, monuments, and unconditional acceptance from society and family.

In the *Vietnam War, this purification ritual was turned on its head. The returning American veteran was attacked and condemned in an unprecedented manner. The traditional horrors of combat were magnified by modern conditioning techniques, and this combined with societal condemnation to create a circumstance that resulted in 0.5 to 1.5 million cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans. The mass incidence of psychiatric disorders among Vietnam veterans resulted in the “discovery” of PTSD, a condition that we now know traditionally occurred as a result of warfare, but never in such quantity.

PTSD seldom results in violent criminal acts, and upon returning to society, the recipient of modern military conditioning is statistically no more likely to engage in violent crime than a nonveteran of the same age. The key safeguard in this process appears to be the deeply ingrained discipline that the combat soldier internalizes with his military training. However, with the advent of interactive “point-and-shoot” arcade and video games, there is significant concern that society is aping military conditioning, but without the vital safeguard of discipline. There is strong evidence to indicate that the indiscriminate civilian application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment may be a factor in worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime rates, including a sevenfold increase in per capita aggravated assaults in America since 1956. Thus, the latest chapter in American military history may be occurring in the city streets.

©2000 Killology Research Group ~ All Rights Reserved.

* Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, 1963. John Keegan, The Face of Battle, 1976. Jim Goodwin, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders: A Handbook for Clinicians, 1988. Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1995. Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 8th ed., 1996. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV Movie, and Video Game Violence, 1999.

Reposted from Killology Research Group.

Read Dave Grossman’s Evolution of the Weapon

Front Page

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

From the SynEARTH Archives.

Buy/Don’t Buy Technology

Timothy Wilken, MD

As I have written elsewhere, it is a complete waste of time to expect big government and big business to help us. They are the problem. They are invested in a model of society that depends on separation and scarcity. Big government wants only to get re-elected and big business wants only to make a buck. Together they completely dominate our current political-economic system by their reality of one dollar = one vote.

They cannot solve our human crisis. They don’t have a clue. They can only make it worse. It’s up to us. We can only rely on ourselves. We need individuals of integrity to join with us to build a new model of society that depends on co-Operation and abundance. And, by abundance I am referring to an abundance of integrity, intelligence  and responsibility. Then we can begin restructuring our society in ways that will lead to a relative abundance of matter-energy even within the finite world we inhabit.

Modern society is currently ruled by a political-economic  system that is controlled and determined only by money. One dollar = One vote.

The only votes that count in our modern human society are the dollar votes you exercise by buying or not buying products.

Products found in today’s market can be divided into three categories. These are synergic products, neutral products and adversary products.

1) There are synergic products.  The use of these products makes the user more happy, more effective, and more productive than they would be without the use of the product. The product is good for the user. The user must win, but even more importantly, everyone else must win. I win, you win, others win, and the Earth wins. Synergic products are good for humanty. Vote your dollars wisely by only buying those products that help humanity. 

Buy only synergic products.

2) There are neutral products. The use of these products are without benefit or harm. The users of these products would be equally happy, equally effective, and equally productive without the use the product.

Scott Meridith writing on the Energy Research Group , an internet discussion group in March and April of 2001:

“For example, I’ve often observed that the entire global “soft drink” industry could and would be eliminated in any rational world, as this is a collossal waste of energy and resources, with only two outcomes:

– a brief and mildly pleasurable stupefaction of the senses
– tooth decay

“So, is the energy involved in the soft drink industry doing “useful work” or not? From a rational point of view, obviously no. Completely and absolutely useless. Just rots your teeth. Now calculate how much energy it uses, in all aspects, and how many people it directly indirectly employs.”

A neutral product is one that has no effect on the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the user of the product. No one wins. No one loses. Neutral products are of no benefit for humanity. Since these neutral products have no benefit, buying them is a complete waste of time, energy, and resources.

So don’t buy neutral products.

3) There are adversary products. The use of these products are harmful. The users of adversary products are less happy, less effective and less productive than they would be without the use of the product. An adversary product is one that reduces the happiness, effectiveness, and productivity of the user of the product. The user loses, and even worse everyone else loses. I lose, you lose, others lose, and the Earth loses. Adversary products are bad for humanity.

Don’t buy adversary products.

I am often asked, “What I can do to help. How can I make the world work better for all humanity.” All of us could develop our own Buy/Don’t Buy lists.

Apparently human intelligence scientist Daniel Coleman agrees with me. Read our third from a series of letters to President Bush reposted from EDGE. See: 1) Steven Pinker’s letter 2) Kevin Kelly’s letter. … The Editor of EDGE posed the question: Assume President Bush asked you the following question: “What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advise on how I can begin to deal with them?”

Dear President Bush

Daniel Goleman

One large set of pressing problems our nation and the world face—ranging from growing rates of childhood asthma to global warming—stem in large part from a shared root cause: the cumulative impacts of our habits of consumption. The asthma and global warming, for example, both stem largely from the build-up in the air of particulates from the production (through, say, coal-burning power plants) of the energy we use in our homes and the exhaust of autos. Yet most of us make little or no connection between our own buying habits and concerns like our children’s asthma or the warming of the planet.

The reason: Virtually none of us can give a precise answer to the question,”What are the impacts for health, the environment, our planet’s resources, the gap between rich and poor, of the products we buy? The answers are potentially available, but now are hidden by a fog about the consequences for ourselves and the world of our own actions as consumers.

Yet the multiplier effect—the vast number of people who buy those same products—creates a vast network of inadvertent, adverse consequences. This goes on because we have little or no information about the hidden links between what we buy, and how it impacts our world, our health, our climate, our children. So those of us who complain about or suffer from these problems still continue to be part of their very cause.

My proposal: surface the hidden links between what we buy and the consequential impacts of those products. Then let consumers make choices based on this new information—in a sense,”voting” every time we purchase goods—and let the power of the free market, rather than government policy alone, become a force for improvement.

So, Mr. President, I urge you to deploy the forces necessary to fill in the hidden links between the goods we consume and their impact in the world. Then create a website that consumers could access at the point of purchase—perhaps by passing a palm pilot-like device over the barcode to get to the product-relevant area of the website.

That website should provide immediate data comparing a product to others in its category on any of several dimensions, such as working conditions in factories where components or the product was manufactured; wages (weighted for national norms, etc.); how much energy was used in producing and transporting the product to market; impact on the environment of its production (this alone involves multiple factors, from industrial byproducts like heavy metals and other toxins, to polluting micro-particles); and so on.

Ideally, consumers could determine which of such dimensions were most important in their personal decision to purchase, and so have a built-in logarithm that would pop out the best choices as they wander down the aisles of a store.

As we’ve seen in the diamond industry—with the industry wide effort to certify the source of diamonds to keep from market “blood” diamonds that finance corrupt regimes and civil wars in Africa—consumer preferences can become forces for social, political, environmental and economic good. But this can only be only true if consumers become aware of links that are now hidden.

Such transparency could alter the buying habits of substantial numbers of consumers, and so create a new marketing advantage for some companies. Ethically driven (or simply nimble) companies could find market advantage in becoming the”good guys” in their category, and so gain market share. This could then open up an entirely new arena for competition between companies, creating a financial incentive to find ways to improve the environmental; health, and other consequences of everything from their manufacturing processes to their wage structures.

Of course, gathering the required data poses a formidable task. It can begin modestly, focusing on the easier dimensions of information. But ultimately filling in the missing links could require a Manhattan Project-like intensity of research, that would draw on findings from fields as diverse as industrial engineering and sociology, environmental sciences and economics, biochemistry and systems theory. It might also require the creation of an impartial body to gather and vet the data—something like a mega-Consumer Reports. Perhaps a new cabinet post for transparency, Mr. President?

Copyright ©2003 Edge

More about Daniel Goleman

Front Page

Monday, February 14th, 2005

From the SynEARTH Archives.

Co-Operative Trusts

Timothy Wilken, MD

Today, most humans solve their problems as individuals or at best as nuclear families. They meet their individual needs with  individual actions. At best they may meet the needs of their nuclear family through family actions, but this is rarely more than a husband and wife both working. The extended family is an organizational pattern rarely seen in modern society.

This focus on individuality results in a massive loss of opportunity to co-Operative strategies that could result in greater efficiency and economy.

Individual Actions

Even though we humans are an interdependent class of life, we choose our actions based not on what we are, but on what we think we are. Today, modern humans are convinced they are an independent form of life. This deep belief in human independence means that most modern humans seek to meet their needs as individuals and make their choices independently of their fellow humans.

In our present culture humans meet their needs by purchasing products and services as independent individuals. In today’s fair market there are providers of products and services and there are consumers. Both the providers and the consumers for the most part think of themselves as independent and make their choices without great awareness of what others are doing.

In today’s marketplace, the providers and consumers meet only in the retail space. They have little or no direct relationship with each other. In this ignorance, both are, for all extent and purposes, blind and ignorant. The provider doesn’t know his consumers, let alone what they might need or when they might need it. And often the consumer don’t know the providers.

Bird’s Eye View

Let us imagine an aerial view of our community on an average evening at 10:00pm. Looking down we notice that within one square mile there are several small convenience stores open from seven to eleven. These small stores are all competing with each other as well as with larger supermarkets now staying open 24 hours in order to compete with them. At this hour of night there are only a few available customers to be divided up among all these providers.

Each store is paying one or more clerks to staff the store, plus the costs for lighting and heating each store. From our view above our community, it is obvious that most of the clerks could be sent home and most of the stores closed and still allow every customer seeking products and services at that hour to get what they needed. This would also produce enormous savings for this group of providers. To all stay open, the providers must pass the costs of doing business on to their customers, so this means that the prices in all of these stores is higher to subsidize this inefficiency.

Why is this happening? In today’s world we mostly ignore each other. After all, we are all independent. Each individual is supposed to look out for himself. So there is little communication between provider and consumer. The providers are keeping the stores open in hopes that someone will need something. If they were communicating with their customers, they would know when to be open and when they could close. They could then operate much more efficiently.

Now imagine that this same inefficient process is going on with many different kinds of products in every community in our nation and you start to sense the enormous amount of wasted time and energy.

Let’s return for a moment to our bird’s eye view of our community. Only this time let us imagine a time lapse video camera above our neighborhood. Imagine a family of four, two adults and two older teenagers in local college, having four automobiles. If we focus the video camera on the garage and parking area next to their home we would discover that there are times when there are no cars at home. This means that the family has four cars in use. Sometimes there is one car parked, so three cars are in use. Sometimes there are two cars parked, so two cars are in use. Sometimes there are three cars parked so only one car is in use. And sometimes we will find all four cars parked, so on these occasions this family has no cars in use.

Now careful analysis of our time lapse photography will reveal that this family is, on average, making use of only only 1.8 cars. This means that on average 2.2 cars are parked and not in use. Yet this family is making payments on four cars, paying insurance and taxes on four cars, and experiencing depreciation on the value of four cars whether the cars are in use or not. And, this is without considering the expense of operating the cars. Since most modern humans solve all their problems as individuals, they have chosen the most expensive solution possible.

Now if we move our time lapse camera higher, we discovery that this same phenomenon is occurring at every home in the neighborhood. If we examine all the homes within just a few blocks we discover that there are always cars in the neighborhood that are not in use.

Now, as we continue to watch from above, we see that often times the members of this neighborhood are going to the same place. They all go to the same supermarket. They all rent from the same video store. They use the same post office and drug store. As we watch we discover that often one individual will make the same trip to the same place maybe only a few minutes earlier or later than a neighbor. Again, we see that solving our problems individually means that we have chosen the most expensive option. We are doing this because in our neutral culture we don’t even know our neighbors let alone what their transportation needs are.

Now, if we move our aerial time lapse camera high enough to see the entire community, we can now see the parking lots at stores, supermarkets, shopping centers, places of work and schools. And again at any one time most of the cars are parked.

We also discover that one individual living at the north edge of the community is driving to the south edge of the community to his work in a retail store, while another individual is passes him going in the opposite direction, this individual lives on the south edge of the community and is driving to work on the north edge of the community to a similar job. Of course neither individual knows the other, or even how similar and paradoxical their situation is.

We could also analyze these same neighborhoods and discover that each garage contains a lawn mower and numerous tools that are only being used once every two weeks and all of these tools are expensive and require maintenance. I would imagine that in the neighborhood I live in, that on any given moment, ninety five percent of the tools in our garages are not in use.

Individual Actions are Expensive

Our current reality requires that we meet our needs as individuals. This guarantees that we will pay the highest prices for the products and services we need, and with the greatest waste of time and energy.

In any average week, if we total the time and expense involved in making multiple trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, nursery, dry cleaners, video shop, post office, etc. etc. etc…, remembering to include the cost of individual transportation with each of us acquiring, maintaining, insuring, and operating our own cars, it would be hard to imagine a system that could be more expensive and inconvenient than our present reality.


While limited forms of cooperation are and have been used in the production of both products and services. Co-Operation is almost non-existent in product and service consumption. Almost all of us consume as individuals.

This has several effects. It insures that the prices we pay for products and services are much higher than they have to be. It further insures that the hidden costs we pay in time and expense related to simply acquiring needed products and services is also much higher.

Synergic relationship is the win-win relationship. We first discover synergic relationship in the microscopic universe. It is the basis of human cellular organization. Each of us has approximately 40 trillion cells organized within our bodies. These cells are related synergically, each acting in a highly co-Operative way.

Synergic relationship becomes available to human individuals because of our human intelligence. Our ability to invent and to understand new ways of doing things creates a new possibility for co-Operation which does not exist in the world of the plants and animals.

Co-OPERATION  -def-> Operating together to insure that both parties win and that neither party loses. The negotiation to insure that both parties are helped and that neither party is hurt.

Here are some examples of how co-Operative actions might be used in the future to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Co-Operative Videotape Rentals

The provider of videotape rentals operates much as do all small stores in our communities. The provider must select those available tapes which he feels will be popular and then make them available for rental. He keeps his store open long hours for the convenience of his customers, which travel on a regular basis to pick-up and drop-off tapes. This of course, results in lots of travel time and expense for the consumer, and when the consumer fails to find time to view the tape before the rental period expires, they are charged significant late fees.

Now imagine this alternative scenario: Instead of going to the video store you connect to the store via a web page on the internet. The available video tapes are listed with images from the movies, a list of actors, and even reviews.  You select the tapes you want to rent. And they are delivered to your home.

You have a locked delivery box outside your home in which you can retrieve new tapes when you order, and return for pick up when you are finished.

Co-Operative Consumption means that in addition to this scale of convenience, the provider and consumer now have a synergic and intelligent relationship. Using the same internet web page technology, the provider would query their customers as to which of the new releases of tapes they would be interested in renting. These choices could again be provided to the customer along with images from the videos, lists of actors, and reviews.

You could select one of three choices: Yes, Maybe or No.

This information would allow the provider to order an appropriate number of new tapes to fill the expected needs of their customers. Also, if your choices were popular and these tapes would be viewed many times, you could realize a rental at much lower cost. But, if your selection was unpopular, i.e. you were the only one wanting to see a particular tape, then the cost of rental would rise to could equal the full cost of purchasing the tape itself.

This is what is meant by an intelligent relationship with the provider.

The implications of this alternative are great in reducing the cost of rentals, increasing the likelihood that those tapes you are interested in are available, and with all the loss in time and inconvenience, let alone cost of picking up and dropping off tapes eliminated.

If this becomes the primary mechanism of videotape rental, the provider can close the retail Video Store in the high rent district and operate out of a low cost warehouse with delivery vans reducing the costs even more. Now imagine, how this same process could be be applied to many other products or groups of products.  

Co-Operative Neighborhood Garages

Imagine purchasing a membership in a modern community garage within easy walking distance of your home. This garage could have a variety of automobiles that would be available for your use anytime day or night. The garage would be clean, well lighted, and safe. It would be staffed 24 hours a day, the automobiles would always be clean, serviced and full of gas.

Using either computer or telephone you could reserve a car for your own personal use. The garage could easily have many different types of vehicles available to serve your particular needs. You could reserve a station wagon, sports car, utility vehicle, or limousine. The garage could also run shuttle services to those destinations that were commonly and frequently requested.

The number of automobiles needed to meet the needs of the members co-Operatively would be much fewer than the number needed for the same members individually. Total costs would be much reduced and the secondary advantages would be tremendous.

On those occasions when all the cars happened to be in use, transportation needs could be supplemented by taxies or rental cars arranged by the garage.

What would the cost of such a service be. Well first, realize that “attached garage” now a part of almost every home could be eliminated or turned into additional living space. Your cost of membership would be reflective of you use of automobiles. I would expect most families would experience major savings. Those very heavy needs for an automobile would find the costs to approach the same costs as owning their own automobile.

Now there is no reason the Co-Operative Garage should just offer automobiles. It could also provide garden tractors, lawn mowers, and tools of all kinds. The extent and value of co-Operative action is limited only by your imagination.

Co-Operative grocery shopping

Recently a new company has created a prototype for what I am recommending.

Peapod is an online virtual grocery store now available on the internet. You connect to a web page on the internet where you select and purchase items you would like delivered to your home. Peapod uses professional shoppers to go out to major supermarkets and drug stores in your community, and then delivers those items right to your door. Their supermarket partners include Jewel/Osco in Chicago, Kroger in Columbus, Randalls in Houston and Austin, Stop & Shop in Boston, Safeway in San Francisco, and Tom Thumb in Dallas. In Peapod’s own words:

You place the order …
And soon you’ll be cruising the aisles of our virtual store. Selecting from the most popular products and brands you would find if you shopped in the store yourself. You will have thousands of products to choose from, including meat, produce, drug store and specialty items.

We shop for you …
Your grocery order receives personal attention from Peapod’s professional shoppers. They make sure everything you ordered is exactly as you would expect—fresh, healthy, and temperature-controlled. At Peapod we pride ourselves on picking only the highest quality meat and produce available. In fact, we have trained Produce Specialists whose only job is to pick the highest quality produce available in the store.

We deliver your groceries when it’s convenient for you…
Peapod delivers groceries to your door any day of the week — you choose the delivery time that’s convenient for you. Peapod guarantees that your groceries will be there, and that you’ll receive friendly service every step of the way.

The same high quality groceries you would select yourself
  ïChoose from thousands of name brands — the same ones you buy at your
   local grocer and drugstore
  ïCertified professional shoppers shop for your order, including Produce
   Specialists who hand-pick only the best fruits and vegetables using Produce
   Marketing Association standards
  ïItems stay fresh (or frozen) with temperature controlled delivery containers

Convenient shopping, we guarantee it
  ïNo bad weather, no traffic, no parking, no lugging, no rushing, no stress
  ïOrder 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from anywhere
  ïPeapod promises to provide friendly and superior service to every one of its
   customers, and we guarantee every order we deliver

Never create a shopping list from scratch again
  ïYou can always review your last three grocery orders — we keep them for you
  ïCreate individual shopping lists to fit your unique household needs

You’ll never need to go to the grocery store again
  ïPeapod can take care of all your shopping needs so you never have to go to the grocery or drugstore
  ïOur professional shoppers and delivery people work together to ensure that
   your order is just what you want, when you want it

Shop for a week’s worth of groceries in about 20 minutes
  ïBrowse virtual aisles, just as you would in a conventional grocery store
  ïLocate a specific item or brand in seconds by using innovative features like
   “Find Item”

FDA nutritional information at your fingertips
  ïReview the FDA nutritional labels for thousands of items while you shop
  ïClick to sort lists of foods by criteria such as fat, cholesterol, sodium, Kosher, etc.

Choose a delivery time that is convenient for you
  ïNext-day delivery, in most cases
  ïArrange for delivery to your home, 7 days a week
  ïIf Peapod ever makes a mistake, we’ll make it right

Save money and time
  ïInstantly sort groups of items by unit price to get the best value
  ïRedeem paper, store circular, and electronic coupons
  ï Stay within budget — Peapod displays a running total of your order as you shop

Were here to help
  ïTrained Technical Support Specialists are there when you need them
  ïCustomer Care Specialists handle all customer service inquiries
  ïOne call does it all! 1-800-5-PEAPOD (1-800-573-2763), or e-mail us

You can experience Peapod for yourself. While the service is only available in few cities at this time, they have a demo store which allows you to see what it would be like. Now Peapod is an step in the right direction, but they are only going part of the way. They are just a typical business seeking to make money, but they have stumbled in the right direction. As their customer base stabilizes, they should soon be able to know exactly what their customers need and begin realizing more significant savings by purchasing scale. They could even dispense with the retail stores altogether and begin purchasing only wholesale. Most of these savings could be passed onto the consumers with the elimination of retail stores and expensive parking lots in high rent areas etc. etc. etc..

What is the size of your Biosphere?

Science defines the term biosphere as that environmental zone wherein a living organism can meet its needs and act to survive.

How large is your current biosphere?

How far do you have to travel to meet your needs. If you get out a map and place your home in the center and draw a circle with a radius large enough to enclose all of the stores and businesses you visit to meet your needs. This is your biosphere. The larger your biosphere the greater your expences in time and energy will be to meet your needs. 

If you are seeking to save time and energy, then reduce the size of your biosphere.

Co-Operative actions are powerful methods to reduce the size of your biosphere. The savings individually and collectively are enormous. This will quickly translate into a major increase in the quality of one’s life and with an enormous savings in time and energy.

Time is the most valuable commodity that any human being can have.

By this I mean time spend doing what you want do do. This does not include time spent working to accomplish the goals of others, nor time spent transporting yourself or your family, nor the time spent physically acquiring the products and services you need to survive and enjoy life.

Integrated Communities

Another prototype for future living that takes advantage of co-Operative actions is the emergence of integrated communities. Integrated communities defined as those unitary environments structured so that the residents there can live, work, and recreate in one safe and pleasant place with all activities within easy walking distance. Integrated communites will offer their residents the greatest savings of time and expense. As integrated communities becomes available, I predict they will be so attractive that humans will move almost anywhere to live in them.

GIFTegrity Defined  (PDF)
Specifications Of
Science Behind

Front Page

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005

This morning’s author writes: My favorite T-shirt looks something like this:


Use of this product may cause apathy, laziness, selfishness, ignorance, loss of identity, greed, gluttony, a false sense of empowerment, absence of individuality, self-centeredness, manipulative behavior, superficial values, lack of spirituality, environmental destruction, racial tension, murder, war, and impoverishment for others. Continuous and excessive use could render a permanent state of indifference to the welfare of those around you. Use At Your Own Risk!

Beyond Money

Carol Brouillet

Before history was written, a gift economy existed. The gifts of Nature were abundant; the relationship between people, the Earth, the animals and plants were sacred.

Western civilization has systematically disrupted and destroyed sustainable, indigenous cultures. Scientists are rushing to collect genetic materials, blood, tissues, from the world’s endangered people. They fail to recognize traditional wisdom, except in areas like medicine and agriculture where native knowledge has direct lucrative applications. A double tragedy is occurring now; indigenous people are losing their lives and land, and the world is losing the carriers of ancient wisdom, those who have lived in harmony with the Earth.

Money or wampum held a special meaning to people living within a gift economy. Feathers, stones, shells which were worked to become objects of beauty held a karmic quality, a promise, a consolation, a message far beyond their material features — weight, size or utility. Exchanges promoted relationships and bonds between individuals, families, communities, and distant cultures.

Dollars function in a very different way. In theory, money is supposed to activate the production of goods and services; to simplify exchanges and the settlement of debts, to provide a means of storing values or savings. Money has one other major function — it is a tool of empire.

The film Ancient Futures, Learning from Ladahk chronicles in detail Helena Norberge-Hodge’s observations of a nonmonetized culture, rich in Buddhist spiritual traditions, with an intricate system of family and social ties, disrupted by modern forces. In a place where ninety percent of the land was evenly distributed amongst families, where people lived ecologically and sustainably off the land, where almost everyone knew how to build a house and meet all of their basic needs — a road to India, tourism, and the monetized economy has been disastrous for the culture.. Apparently the weak link in the cultural fabric are the young men who are seduced by the toys of Western Civilization and abandon their traditions in search of the quick buck and the “surface glamour of the modern world.”Where money intrudes, greed is kindled and the gift economy languishes.

In Debt Virus Dr. Jaikaran writes: “The most pernicious of all viruses is the one that confiscates the wealth of the productive elements of society and transfers it to the hands of a nonproductive few.” The monetary system, based upon debt, functions to transfer land, money and wealth from the many to the few.

In the past, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome fell when a small percentage of the population controlled nearly all of the wealth. Today 358 people are worth the combined income of 45% of the planet’s population — 2.5 billion people. The rich have never been richer nor the poor poorer. Greed and fear are manifested in our dominant institutions, bloated military budgets, the growth of the prison and
“security” industries, the glorification of warriors. What cannot be controlled by force, is controlled by money.

The origins of modern banking can be traced back to the days when goldsmiths began giving out receipts for gold that they safeguarded. They soon realized that the receipts were more useful for business transactions than heavy amounts of gold. Some enterprising goldsmith figured out that large amounts of gold weren’t even necessary to insure the utility of receipts; the goldsmith began loaning gold and receipts at interest, hence the birth of the fractional reserve system and “debt money.”

When money is created by the banks and loaned to governments or business at interest, it is mathematically impossible to pay back all the money with interest. Not all debts can be repaid; foreclosures occur. Wealth is continually transferred from the poor to the rich.

Bankers, like magicians, do not like to reveal their secrets. Able to create money out of thin air; they have learned that belief of belief is the key to their success. When people begin to doubt the purchasing power of money, banks fail; a currency collapses.

In 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, the ruling elite decided to establish the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to smooth the way for their domination of the world economy. Working hand in hand with elites in other countries throughout the world, the “Bretton Woods Institutions” have forcibly resettled more than ten million of the poorest people on the planet, many of them indigenous minorities. This means taking away their land, destroying their production systems, weakening their community structures, dispersing kin, cultural identity, traditional authority and potential mutual help. Anthropologist Thayer Scudder insists that “resettlement is about the worst thing you can do to people, next to killing them.” The World Bank’s projects, particularly in the Earth’s forests, mineral deposits, and rivers, are the most destructive on the planet. Its support of repressive regimes has exacerbated human rights violations.

Money has flowed from the poor countries to the rich industrialized nations. The Structural Adjustment Programs forced upon nations by the World Bank and the IMF have meant shifting food production from domestic needs to export crops, devaluing the local currency to encourage exports, cutting social spending on health and education, reducing wages, privatizing national industries, selling off their natural resources, and removing tariff protections for local industries. Hunger, unemployment, hardship and inequality are the direct and calculated results of World Bank policies.

The U.S. dollar is the de facto world currency. I.M.F. and World Bank loans are in dollars and must be repaid with interest in dollars. For Argentina to trade with Chile, it needs dollars. Like a casino, dollars are chasing more dollars with 95% of the foreign exchange transactions consisting of sheer speculation. Less than 5% has to do with exchanging real goods or production and that amount is dominated by the largest 500 multinational corporations.

        According to Margrit Kennedy, author of Interest and Inflation Free Money:

We are living in World War III already, an economic war. It is a non-declared war: A war of usurious interest rates, ruinous prices, and distorted exchange conditions. Remote controlled interest rates and terms of trade have killed millions of people on a plundered planet. They are killed by hunger, sickness, unemployment and criminality… Every day the Third World pays us 300 million dollars in interest.

Interest payments used to be called “usury” and were condemned by many of the world’s religions. Only when the Catholic Church suddenly discovered that it had become the largest landowner in Europe, did it figure out a way to get around that spiritual taboo.

The Queen of England might notice the two million dollars a day that she receives in interest and the child who is sold into sexual slavery to pay off her parents debts might realize the dire straits of her family’s circumstances. Both represent the extremes of the current monetary system. However, for most of us living in industrialized nations, the cost of money is hidden, included in the price of goods and services we buy. On the average it is about fifty percent of the cost of the necessities of life. If interest rates were abolished with a more equitable monetary system, most people would be twice as rich or be able to work half as much as they currently do, to maintain the same standard of living.

The world has become divided into the “haves” and the “have nots.” While 80% must pay more than they receive in interest, 20% enjoy an “unearned” income from the wealth that they have inherited or accumulated. But money never works, people work. Under our competitive economy, for every winner, there is a loser.

However there would be no marketplace if it weren’t for the gifts of Nature. The invisible economy, the priceless work that goes on within every human household, voluntary work which creates and sustains communities, which gives life meaning; the time spent on building human relationships which weaves the social fabric, this is of primary importance. From the feminist perspective, the smallest part of the real economy has to do with money and that part is utterly dependent upon the world’s ecosystems, the unpaid work of over half of the planet’s population, the communities built upon cooperation, respect and faith in the inherent value and goodness of life.

The family existed before money did. The village grew out of interdependent relationships between families. As societies grew more complex, hierarchies developed and the “public family” or the state created institutions which took over many of the functions once met within the household, such as educating children and caring for the sick. In urban environments, many basic living skills have been lost, and people are more dependent than ever on the state or a monetized economy to meet their basic needs.

In Finland and the U.S. there have been significant “back to the village” and “back to the land” movements to regain an individual sense of competence, to rebuild community, and to reduce dependency upon the global economy. The most radical thing we can do is to exercise our power within the household, where we have the most power, to live by our values, and not by values condoned by the imperatives of a competitive destructive system.

We can choose to spend time with our children, to grow our food or support the local organic farmer, to ride a bicycle instead of taking the car, to not purchase products from industries that exploit people and cause environmental destruction. What we do with our time, our resources, our money, our energy is a reflection of our deepest values, whether we are conscious of them or not.

The power of non-violent civil disobedience is enormous. Remember Gandhi, homespun cloth, and salt; and how those simple non-violent personal acts helped to defeat the British Empire. The militarized global economy cannot continue, if we simply withdraw our support for it in millions of quiet acts of rebellion.

The largest growing movement in the U.S. today is voluntary simplicity (closely followed by involuntary simplicity.) Generosity, compassion, cooperation and love are the most powerful, invisible forces which simply cannot be quenched by frightened, power-hungry institutions fighting to maintain their credibility and some control over the system. The system is dependent upon massive propaganda, the censorship of vital information and ideas. In other words, these monstrous institutions are doomed.

Near Findhorn, Scotland, some people were walking across a newly plowed field. As they turned to observe the sunrise, the light caught the dewdrops on the fragile spider webs on the moist dark earth. Only at that moment did they realize that the entire field was covered by one enormous vastly intricate network of spider’s webs. Our own efforts, I believe, are invisible, too; only when the light of love shines clearly can we see how deeply connected we are to all people throughout the world, every liberation struggle, all people of faith, all people who strive to ease the world’s suffering and to nurture those around them.

We must remember history, and realize how each of us has a role to play at this extraordinary moment in time.

In the film, Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics, Marilyn unravels the history and mysteries of our global system. The IMF and the World Bank were created to maintain certain power relations and exercise control over the world’s resources. The U.N. System of National Accounts was based upon a pamphlet entitled “How to Pay for the War.” That system imposed upon every country that joins the U.N. enables the global elite to finance their militaries, to engage in conflicts with other nations, and to build internal security forces to control their own populations who might not agree with the expropriation of their country’s resources.

This system believes that the unpaid work of women, who are bearing children, raising them, feeding them, carrying for the sick and aged, maintaining a home or garden, is of little or no importance. Nor does the system recognize the value of forests or the natural world unless they can be chopped down and sold or monetized in some way. Monetary transactions are measured, are deemed of the greatest importance, no matter how devastating their effects are on the environment. The arms industry is the most lucrative of all industries. It is in the economic interest of the major powers that there is always a war going on somewhere. This pathological system does not recognize the value of life, peace, or the Earth, itself. It does not see anything of unquantifiable value; it only sees that which it measures — money.

The measures used in economics are more indicative of the rape of the Earth, the amount of exploitation occurring within a country, and how effectively the world’s parasites are at expropriating the labor of others and the natural world. If economic indicators were aligned with universal values, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness; they would ignore the marketplace and concern themselves with the health and well-being of the environment, the health and well being of every person, and how well basic human needs — food, water, shelter, clothing, education are being met.

It would take three or four Earths to pay off all the world’s debts. It’s not really a question of “if the global monetary system is or is not going to collapse,” but “when.” We have a rare opportunity to replace a system which depends upon greed and scarcity to a system which nurtures generosity and abundance.

Its time to change the rules of the global money game. Some of the groundwork has already been laid; we need to build upon it. The best way to predict the future is to create it. By creating opportunities for people to shift their energy, resources and time from a destructive global economy to a healthy, meaningful, nurturing economy; we could ease the transition dramatically.

In 1890 Silvio Gesell formulated a theory of money as revolutionary as the notion that it is the Earth that circles the sun, rather than the other way around — despite appearances. Gesell suggested securing the money flow by making money a governmental service subject to a use fee. Instead of paying interest to those who have more money than they need, people would pay a small fee if they kept money out of circulation. The fee would serve as an income to the government and reduce the amount of taxes needed to carry out public tasks.

Gesell’s ideas were tested by the mayor of Woergl, Austria in July 1932 when economic conditions were deplorable. The mayor proposed to substitute a local currency for the national currency. They were called work certificates and on the first of every month the holder had to affix a 1 percent stamp of the face value of the certificate. The “taxes” went into the community chest, to provide a relief fund for the invalids or elderly who were unable to work. Because of the stamp tax, taxes were paid quickly; accounts were settled without the usual delays, even the bank became eager to loan out the money, as fast as it received it.

The mayor was then able to embark upon his Public Works Program, “to alleviate want, give work and bread” which exceeded his highest hopes. The conditions of the streets of Woergl had been a standing joke of the surrounding country. In less than four months sewers and improvements were completed. Later, other streets were paved and streets outside of Woergl repaired.. Prosperity blossomed.

A meeting of 200 Austrian mayors decided unanimously to follow the Woergl example in their impoverished communities. Then the private Austrian National Bank protested against the shattering of its money making monopoly. After a legal fight, the Austrian Supreme Court sided with the bank.

In 1933 advocates of “Stamp Scrip,” abounded. There were three or four hundred scrips in circulation in the United States, Canada and Mexico. A top economist urged Roosevelt to encourage local currencies. However F.D.R opted for “The New Deal” which flooded the nation with Federal Reserve Notes, put an end to the currency experiments, and effectively centralized power.

The concentration of wealth and power that exists today is the world’s biggest problem. Aung Sung Suu Kyi wrote: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear — fear of losing power and fear of the scourge of those who wield it.”

The only cure for fear is faith — faith in oneself, faith in humanity, and faith in the meaning and purpose of life. Kahil Gibran wrote:

And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty… see first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life — while you who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

We need non-violent tools to help redistribute wealth and power, restoring the Earth in the process.

We need to reinvent money democratically at the grassroots level, along with a communications network. Then when the local community is active and aware enough to control local government — local government could issue its own currency. Ideally monetary reform encourages land reform, a shift in priorities, recognition of our interdependence with the natural world, nurturing healthy relationships between people locally and throughout the world.

The notion of the sacredness of private property was imposed with the advent of military conquest, dividing the spoils of war amongst the conquerors. The village “commons” were gradually enclosed or lost over the centuries with the increasing criminalization of poverty. In California, 1% of the population owns over 2/3 of the land. A United Nations Study of 83 countries showed that less than 5% of the rural landholders control three — fourths of the land. Susan George, in her book, How the Other Half Dies, says:

The most pressing cause of abject poverty… is that a mere 2.5% of landowners with more than 100 hectares control nearly three-quarters of all land in the world-with the top .23% controlling over half.

Community land trusts are one solution. Taxes need to be shifted from encouraging the exploitation and destruction of the world’s natural resources, including its people to encouraging a healthy stewardship and ecologically sustainable existence. There is much good work to be done — to restore the land, as well as to transform cities, towns, and schools to healthy, thriving, places of activity; and there is a global unemployment crisis. Monetary reform is but one vital step towards changing the foundation of the system.

There are already hundreds of alternative or complementary currencies. There are over 130 electronic alternative currency systems in operation in England. In France a local currency was introduced three years ago, and now there are three hundred in existence.

The most successful local currency in the United States “Ithaca Hours” was started by Paul Glover, with almost no capital, in Ithaca, New York. Paul sells a “Hometown Money Book and Starter Kit”for $25. As the economic crisis worsens, more and more places are likely to develop their own systems. The idea needs to be seeded; historical examples and successful regional debt-free alternative currencies need to be heralded as the wave of the future. The E.F. Schumacher Society just held a conference last June on local currencies and building sustainable communities; they are creating a newsletter to link all the budding local currency efforts.

My dream is to create a new global currency, an ethical currency consciously designed to encourage generosity and abundance, build community, restore the Earth, and meet basic human needs. This currency would depend upon the networking of a vibrant, local, national, and international local currency movement and the creation of a chaordic organization, which has no head, and works by cooperative, independent agreement.

We could call it Gaia Futures, in recognition of life-giving nature of the planet and the design of the currency to restore and nurture life. Gaia Futures would be backed by renewable energy and products which are environmentally sound and support basic human needs or restore the environment (as opposed to backing a currency with gold or silver, which encourage mining, or other major commodities which harm people and the environment).

Gaia Futures would have a demurrage feature, a negative interest rate, which would be used to maintain the system and fund renewable energy projects, ecological projects, and projects designed to meet the most pressing human and environmental needs, encouraging right livelihood by making it economically possible for people to live and work in harmony with their deepest beliefs. Grants or interest-free revolving loans could provide the seed money for local endeavors, as well as facilitate the transference of excess wealth to distant areas, in sister communities, or impoverished areas where the need is great. Building the infrastructure for an equitable, just, healthy world would become economically viable. By creating the various components of the currency, people and places would be creating real wealth — healthy people, healthy relationships, and a healthy world.

True security lies in the well being of every member of society and the integrity of the natural world. Eliminating the need for military force, and prisons, encouraging peace, justice, truth and beauty would be the goals of Gaia Futures. Generosity, charity, faith, love, hope, cooperation, solidarity, creativity, self esteem, community, compassion should be part of our lives and the cornerstones of the organizations we create. Let us promote appropriate technologies that benefit our communities and eliminate the need for the cancerous nuclear and oil industries.

        Schumacher wrote:

Production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life… In the simple question of how we treat the land, next to people our most precious resource, our entire way of life is involved, and before our policies with regard to the land will really be changed, there will have to be a great deal of philosophical, not to say, religious change.

Perhaps we cannot raise the winds. But each of us can put up the sail; so that when the wind comes we can catch it.

In a perfect world, money would become obsolete, and the gift economy would flourish. One’s time would be honored as the greatest gift of all — the essence of one’s brief precious life.

You may write the author here:

Front Page

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

I have recently started working with Mr. William Shanley of the newly formed Give-Get Network. We are seeking to create the world’s first Giftegrity.


How it might work…

Timothy Wilken, MD

Tensegrity is the pattern that results when push and pull have a win-win relationship with each other. The pull is continuous and the push is discontinuous. The continuous pull is balanced by the discontinuous push producing an integrity of tension and compression. This creates a powerful self-stabilizing system. The term tensegrity comes from synergic science.

The gifting tensegrity is a newly invented mechanism for the exchange of human help. Let us begin by describing how a GIFTegrity might be structured and how it could work. Every member of a synergic help tensegrity would participate in two roles. That as a giftor and that as a giftee.

The continuous pull of the giftees’ needs are balanced by the discontinuous push from the giftors’ offers  of help. Again we see as an INTERdependent life form, there will be times when we will help others and times when others will help us.

The GIFTegrity works on trust. I give help to those in need and trust that when I am in need there will be those who will give me help. Synergic Trust was discovered long ago, and was once known as: 

The Spiritual Principle Of Giving And Receiving

“When we give to one another, freely and without conditions, sharing our blessings with others and bearing each other’s burdens, the giving multiplies and we receive far more than what was given. Even when there is no immediate prospect of return, Heaven keeps accounts of giving, and in the end blessing will return to the giver, multiplied manyfold. We must give first; to expect to receive without having given is to violate the universal law. On the other hand, giving in order to receive–with strings attached, with the intention of currying favor, or in order to make a name for oneself — is condemned.”

And while, The Spiritual Principle of Giving and Receiving relies on “Heaven to keep account of giving.”, the Gift Tensegrity relies on a public database to keep account of giving.and receiving. This database of the synergic help exchange is a public space where the exchanging of help is made visable to all members who are participants in good standing.

When you join a Gift Tensegrity you sign in and register as a Giftor-Giftee. You will fill out two profiles. The first profile is for your role as a giftor. Your giftor profile is the list of the types of help you would like to give to other members of the synergic help tensegrity.

The second profile is for your role as a giftee. Your giftee profile is the list of the types of help you would like to receive as gifts from other members of the synergic help tensegrity. A third profile will develop as Giftor-Giftee members use the synergic help exchange. This is the personal history of each member’s giving and receiving. This profile is transparent. It can be seen by all members who are particpants in good standing. It shows all the gifts you have given, all the gifts you have received, and any comments made by other members of the synergic exchange tensegrity that you have interacted with in relation to the exchanging of help. Every exchange generates a Giftor’s comment rating the Giftee, and a Giftee’s comment rating the Giftor.

Now once a new member has completed their Giftor and Giftee registration and entered all their data into the data base, the computer sorts and matches gifts of help with needs for help.

Now initially within the Gift Tensegrity, the role of Giftor is active. The role of Giftee is passive. This means that once the computer has completed sorting and matching registered gifts of help with registered needs of help, the lists of matches are presented to the Giftor. These matches are not available for viewing by the Giftee.

The list of matchs are sorted with those who have the highest ratio of giving/receiving and most positive comments being sorted higher on the list than those who have lower ratio of giving/receiving and negative comments.

Freedom of Choice in the Synergic Help Exchange

However, the Giftor is free to offer his gift to anyone on the list regardless of the order presented. The Giftor is in control of his giving. Once the Giftor has made his choice and selected a Giftee to receive his offer of help, then the Giftee is notified that an offer of help has been made.

The Giftee is then presented with a list of offers of help from those Giftors that have selected them for offers. With these offers of help comes access to the profiles of the offering Giftors. The giftee is then free to examine the offer carefully, read the profile of the Giftor and decide whether to accept the offer or not.

Freedom of choice is an absolute tenant of the GIFTegrity. The Giftor decides when and to whom to offer a gift of help. The Giftee decides when and from whom to accept a gift offer of help. Giftors are unknown to Giftees unless the Giftor offers help. The Giftee is under no obligation to accept an offered gift. At this point the Giftee may contact the Giftor with questions or clarifications about the offer. If the Giftee accepts the offer, than that action is recorded as a synergic help exchange and both profiles are updated. Both Giftor and Giftee can make comments about the interaction then or at a later time if more appropriate. If the Giftee declines the offer of help, the Giftor is notified so they can offer their help to some other member.

What you might give or receive…

How do you registering the types of help you might choose to give or like to receive?. It would seem that almost any good or service could be exhanged in a synergic help tensegrity. I would suggest three general classes of Gifts as a way of organizing the data base. Also considerations of Local, Regional and Global come into play.

1) Human Knowing — KNOWLEDGE: Expertise, Consultations, Counseling, and Advise.

Those humans with expertise in almost any field can make that expertise available to others as a gift. Physicians, Attorneys, Accountants, Engineers, Scientists, Teachers, etc., etc., etc.. Location may be less important with telephone and internet communication.

This can also be available in the form or books, art, courses, online files, etc., etc., etc..

2) Human Action — WORK: Sevices, Projects, Labor (skilled and unskilled), Jobs and Tasks.

This could be as simple as baby sitting, or giving someone a ride to as complex as building a room on someone’s house or writing a custom software program, etc., etc., etc.. It could be a million and one different forms of helping provided by humans in action. Location is very important. Many services would only available locally.

For the third category, I have borrowed the term lever from synergic science. It means any device that provides the user with leverage.

3) Human Levers — THINGS: Tools, Appliances, Equipment, Automobiles, Trucks, Tractors, Lawnmowers, House Furniture, Household Goods, Furnishings, Materials, Supplies, etc., etc., etc..

And, you can give these things away fully or only gift the use of them for a specified time. Location is very important for the gift of using a tool or appliance, perhaps less important if the item is given away fully. Shipping costs might make a difference, but you can Gift an item with the provision that the Giftee pay shipping.

In fact you can gift anything with conditions. A gift is an offer of help. The giftee is under no obligation to accept the offer. Synergic exchange is fully voluntary. The giftor makes offers of help when and to whom he chooses. The giftee accepts offers of help when and from whom they choose.

Conditional Gifting

If I gift the use of a tool for a weekend, I may do so with the condition that it be returned in clean and in good condition. Conditions of gifting is both intelligent and synergic.

Things that are gifted can be new or used. Working or not working. The important thing is to describe the offered gift accurately. A television repairman might like the gift of an old TV, that he will repair and use or gift to someone else.

Since your giving-receiving profile is based not on the number of gifts offered, but rather on the number of gift offers accepted, it is of great importance to have a good relationship with the giftee. That means your discriptions of an offered gift needs to be very accurate. No one will be criticized for gifting junk as long as they describe it accurately as junk. Those seeking junk will be happy. Remember one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Status in the GIFTegrity

Your ranking on the help offer lists is determined in part by your ratio of giving-receiving. Everytime your offers of help are accepted your ratio goes up. Those who give the most to others will be the most honored members in the community of the GIFTegrity. So you will want to give as much as you can. Likewise every time you accept a gift offering from others your ratio goes down. So you will want to accept others gifts carefully and only when you truly value them.

The other factor in determining your ranking on the help offer lists is your comment mean. This the average score for comments made about you during help exchanges. Every encounter will be rated. +10 for it couldn’t have been any better to -10 if couldn’t have been any worse. To be successful in the gift tensegity you need to give and interact in a positive way with other members. This means you want to accurately describe your offered gifts and make sure those accepting your gifts get what they expect from your descriptions. You also want to be courteous and friendly in your encounters. If you have an encounter that earns you a low comment from an exchange partner, you will want to repair that encounter as quickly as possible so that that exchange partner will modify or withdraw their low comment.

For instance, if I gift a used computer to someone and it doesn’t work as described, I need to be willing to take it back at my expense if the giftee paid for shipping. Or pay for disposal and give up my credit for the gift. Remember, every exchange effects ratio of giving-receiving for both the giftor and giftee.

Gifting — Local, Regional & Global

Knowing is one of the most global of gifts. With the internet and modern communication devices, I can help people all over the world.

Human action will usually need to be local, occasionally regional, and rarely global.

Levers and especially use of levers will usually be local. However, it may make sense to gift a major appliance or automobile regionally. And rarely, smaller lighter items might be shipped globally especially if they are unusual one of a kind.

Bringing Dead Wealth to Life

One major advantage of the GIFTegrity is that it resurrects Dead Wealth. Dead Wealth is that wealth within the human community that is not being used to help self or others. Dead Wealth is found in all three forms — Knowing, Action and Levers.

Knowing — Almost all of us have significant expertise in some areas. Some knowledge of how to solve problems that we have encountered in our lifes. However, in our present world we trade the hours of our lives to others for just enough money to earn our livings. Our employers don’t want our expertise and knowledge unless it applys to the limited task they hired us to perform. Yet in the larger context of community our unwanted expertise and knowledge could help others. The GIFTegrity gives us an outlet for sharing that expertise and knowledge.

Again, this might be in the form of knowing and action joined together such as consultations, couseling, analysis and real time problem solving, or it may be available in the form of knowing and levers such as reports, books, video or audio tapes, artwork, photos, computer files, etc., etc., etc..

Action — We all have some hours in our lives that could be available to help others. The Gift Tensegrity gives me an outlet for all of those other skills and abilities that I am not currently trading to some employer for money. Some of us can do home and automobile repair, handyman work, cleaning, cooking, sewing, child and elder care, teaching, etc., etc., etc..

Or, it might be that if we knew what help others needed, we could combine their errands with our own when we are out running around anyway. The Gift Tensegrity allows you to quickly find out how you can turn those wasted hours into help for others.

Levers — And finally, we all have lots of perfectly good things we have in boxes in our garages, attics, and closets. Used tools, appliances, furniture, clothing, furnishings — things we never use but are too good to throw away. Now they can be easily liberated by simply describing them acturately and gifting them away. Or how about just gifting away the use of some those great tools you only use one day a week or one day a month.

GIFTegrity Servers — Local, Regional & Global

Because so much of our need for help is a need for local help. I see the need to establish Neighborhood GIFTegrities. This is where you will get help with household repair, automotive service, child and elder care, transportation, etc., etc., etc..

I envision this being started when someone with the time and interest decides to gift the use of their home computer and DSL line to run a neighborhood GIFTegrity Database. Then anyone in the neighborhood could use a computer with dialup connection to the internet to connect to the local GIFTegrity and enter into synergic help exchange.

These Local GIFTegrities servers would then be linked to Regional Gift Tensegrity servers which in turn would like to Global Servers. This would lead to a disseminated system with high level of redundancy.

This system will work easily with today’s home computers and off the shelf database software.

Need Help — Look First to the GIFTegrity

The GIFTegrity is a synergic help exchange. And as INTERdependent form or life, we all need help. As a synergic help exchange that means that the relations between the members of that exchange will be synergic. Remember synergic relationships are those that make me more productive, more effective, and more happy. When I need help, this is where I will look first.

In the beginning the gifting tensegrities will not instantly replace the fair market. It will begin as simple an alternative to the fair market. I will begin to meet some of my needs at the GIFTegrities. As I begin gifting and finding that some of my needs are met this way. I will have less need to sell the hours of my life for money to use in the fair market.

Once I am gifting 10 hours a week.I will then be able to reduce my working week from 40 to 30 hours. This is how the transition will occur.

Out of Work — Look to the the GIFTegrity

The gifting tensegrities can be enormously important to those individuals finding themselves out of work. When there is no market for the hours of your life. There is still no shortage of people who need your help. The gifting tensegrities acts as an immediate outlet for those with help to Gift, but no market for their help to Sell.

In fact the GIFTensegrity becomes a new type of insurance for all humans who are at risk for losing their jobs. In this society, that is all of us.

GIFTegrity — Not Just for Individuals

Synergic TeamNets are groups of individual humans that form themselves into Synergic Teams for the purpose of performing a larger and more complex task than they can perform as individuals. These individuals co-Operate through a network based on synergic relationships and synergic compensation mechanisms to accomplish those larger and more complex tasks. Barry Carter has written extensively about this concept in his book Infinite Wealth. And, I have developed a mechanism for organizing Synergic Production Teams called the Ortegrity which is available elsewhere.

TeamNets can register with a gifting tensegrity and list the Needs of their TeamNet Project. They may be able to attract the help they need thought the free synergic gift exchange, or they can attract help, by inviting others to join their team for Synergic Revenue Shares if the project produces revenue. 

Read the Scientific Basis for the GIFTegrity

Specifications for a GIFTegrity

Synergic Economist Wayne F. Perg, Ph. D writes:

“My concept and understanding of the GIFTegrity is one of a radical move away from trade-oriented or materialistic sort of exchange.

“In the GIFTegrity there is no accounting, there are no prices, there is no barter (no tit for tat), and there is no medium of exchange! For me, it is the road to a post-monetary, post-barter economy.

“Barter and monetary economies both tie together giving and receiving. One cannot be done in the absence of the other. It is this
“tying together” that is the ultimate source of “dead resources” and unemployment.

“The GIFTegrity frees giving from receiving and receiving from giving and will, as it is implemented, bring all resources to life and eliminate unemployment.

“The GIFTegrity does this by creating transparency, i.e., by creating good information on the SEPARATE giving and receiving actions of all members of the gifting tensegrity. Because there is no trading, only gifts given with no requirment of payment, there are no market prices and no accounting of trades. What there is is an open exchange of information on needs and resources available to fill those needs and ongoing individual negotiations around actions that will meet those needs.

“I see the GIFTegrity bringing the exchange relationships of a living organism to human society. As Elizabet Sahtouris has pointed out, the heart does not hold an auction for the supply of oxygenated blood and it does not withhold blood from those organs who are currently unable to pay.

“I see the GIFTegrity as a powerful new vehicle for first supplementing and then eventually replacing our present exchange economy that relies on money and barter to facilitate exchange.

“I see the GIFTegrity as a powerful step forward from money systems and barter because it separates the acts of giving and receiving whereas both money systems and barter tie giving and receiving together into formal exchange transactions. It is this tying together of giving and receiving that creates “landlocked” resources and unemployment.

“I do not see the GIFTegrity replacing informal, undocumented and recorded giving and receiving within families, groups and communities within which all participants are known to each other and within which trust is well established. In fact, I see the operation of the Gift Tensegrity increasing the number and size of the groups within which informal, undocumented giving and receiving is the norm.

“It is my understanding that, in the GIFTegrity, I do not make any commitment to giving in advance. As a giver, I have access to information on the needs of those who are seeking what I have to give, but potential receivers of my gifts have no access to me as a giver until I offer my gift to that person, organization, or community to which I decide that I would like to give.

“Also, given my big picture vision for the GIFTegrity, I see givers and receivers including organizations (including for-profit businesses) and communities as well as individuals.”

Read the Scientific Basis for the GIFTegrity

Specifications for a GIFTegrity

Front Page

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

Caroline Webb writes: Speaking at a conference in Berkeley California in November 2002, cosmologist Brian Swimme recalls his astonishment after his first meeting in 1982 with the person who has emerged as one of the leading thinkers of the world, and who became his primary mentor and co-worker: Thomas Berry. “I have been having coffee with Confucius, for heaven’s sake. This person is as giant a thinker as Confucius — and I’ve been having coffee with him!”  The description seems apt. As the seminal influence of this American monk, philosopher, cultural historian, poet and teacher continues to expand into all fields of society, it would seem that Berry’s contribution is most especially that of a visionary. Visionaries and prophets are known for their interference with complacent social beliefs and Thomas is no exception. His call to us — whatever the field we work in — is to come off the pedestal of human superiority over nature and expand our horizons far beyond our anthropocentrism, all the way out to the stars. Emphasizing time and again that the real context for all human affairs is the universe which gave birth to us, Berry’s life work has been to call humanity into a new partnership with the Earth, imbued with reverence and wonder, which he describes as `a mutually enhancing relationship and presence’. In that altered relationship and presence lies the key to a true sustainability for all life, far into the future.

Now 87, with three books to his name that address fundamental issues of our relationship with the cosmos and with Earth,(1) Berry’s creativity is undiminished. Preferring the title of `geologian’ to that of `theologian’, and having been heard many times to call for the Bible to be placed on a shelf for twenty years while attention is paid to the `primary sacrament’, namely the Universe itself, Thomas is now busy with generating ideas and principles by which our legal structures and thinking may be altered. Jurisprudence — the philosophy of law and the assumptions couched in all national constitutions, written or unwritten — has become his primary focus for tackling the deep-rooted causes of human destruction of nature.

I met Thomas Berry and discussed his work on creating an `Earth jurisprudence’ at a conference held in honour of his work in Berkeley, California called The Cosmological Imagination: Transforming World Views for the Planetary Era.(2)The following interview is reposted from Cadeus Magazine.

The Mystique of the Earth

An Interview with Thomas Berry in 2003

Caroline Webb:

As Caduceus is a magazine concerned with healing, transformation and wholeness, I’d like to start with asking how you approach the question of healing — whether for an individual, a community or the planet. What do you see as its essence?

Thomas Berry:

Healing presupposes the integral unity of things. What is the context of healing? Human health is a subsystem of the Earth’s health. You cannot have well humans on a sick planet. And that is what we are trying to do, with all our technologies: we are trying to have well humans on a sick planet. The same principle applies for economics: you cannot have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth’s economy. So a person could apply this in different ways. Everything we have is derivative from the larger community out of which we come and to which or in which we are fulfilled.

Caroline Webb:

We have a sense of spirituality that is still very anthropocentric, and your interest in an Earth jurisprudence gives me a different sense about what it means to be spiritual.

To think that we can have
a viable human economy
by destroying the Earth
economy is absurd

Thomas Berry:

We talk about spirituality but first of all humans are not spirits. That’s why I don’t use the word `spirit’ or `spirituality’ much. `Spirit’ has no inner reference to body, or to matter. We are ensouled beings. The soul is that vital principle in a living organic body, and all living beings are ensouled beings. Humans have an intelligent soul, a soul that is capable of reflecting on itself and on the deeper aspects of the universe. In the human it’s not so much that we know the universe, but the universe knows itself in us. And in a certain sense we could apply this to every aspect of things — like `governance’. The human has been trying to establish a human governance out of its own needs, or its own functioning, but in reality human governance is a function of the universe, particularly of planet Earth, so planet Earth is the unit of governance. The ecology issue emerges out of the fact that humans have been constructing a government for humans, by humans and with its destiny in developing the human — but that won’t work because if the human is looking for its own benefit rather than the benefit of the larger community, if we become predators on the natural community, then we lose in every way.

The American constitution is a disaster for everything that is not human. It may be wonderful for humans to have all these rights, including rights of property without restriction on the part of government as to what they own or what they do with it, but if there are no rights and no protections for anything that is not human, then we establish a predator relationship. And so humans in this country are just devouring everything — because that’s what this constitution stands for — for humans to devour, to manipulate, to use. So the whole idea of humans being human is gone. We’ve been caught up in a mechanistic world, because what we make, makes us. We make the automobile, the automobile makes us. We make an industrial economy, the industrial economy makes us. We are now in a weird dream world of industrial technological imagination. Who would be so destructive to the very basis out of which we exist, that we spoil our water and our air? For what? To invent an industrial economy. We are so brilliant scientifically and so absurd in any other way. We are into a deep cultural pathology — in ordinary language, we are crazy. To think that we can have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth economy is absurd.

Caroline Webb:

I see what you mean, but the whole world is currently committed to the idea that not only is an industrial economy inevitable but it is a positive benefit. It seems to be the only way we can think of `progress’.

Thomas Berry:

We have all grown up with the indoctrination of industrial processes and we don’t know anything else; we are captured by this pathology. We present our whole industrial process as benign, as a benefit, as the only way to go, when it is obviously so inhuman. It distorts education, political life, economics and all aspects of the community’s existence.

What I am proposing is the development of an integral human order within the order of the planet Earth: that we begin to think of an integral relationship of every aspect of existence with all other aspects, because in the design of Nature things are inherently supportive of other things.

It’s a question of developing a qualitative relationship instead of a quantitative one. We are so quantitatively oriented that we see the planet Earth as a natural resource to be used. That’s the basic distortion of modern times that comes from Descartes who said there is only `mind’ and `matter’ — with humans being the only ones with `mind’. So the idea arose that there is no living principle in living organisms: it’s just a mechanistic process that biologists would say is an `emergent property’ of matter. And if there is nothing `there’ then obviously it is something to be used. But as soon as the person begins to think of living beings as ensouled beings and thinks of the planet as a qualitative presence, to be communed with primarily, not simply as a natural resource to be used, then we can restore the key element in human-earth relationships that has been distorted in the West ever since the 16th and 17th centuries.

Caroline Webb:

How does one make a living, how does one survive without in some way using what’s around us? Are you saying we shouldn’t be using nature?

Thomas Berry:

We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth. It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary. We have got to say to ourselves, `Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’ Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our programme, it’s not going to work. We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.

Caroline Webb:

So being aware of that mystique would make all the difference?

Thomas Berry:

All the difference in the world. In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea — it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.

We should do away with
the light pollution in cities
so that children can see
the stars


So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work. We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars. Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways. And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us. Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs and so they do not have contact with reality — they are living in an artificial world. The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds and our emotions.

Caroline Webb:

You are developing a response to these problems with your work on creating a jurisprudence for the Earth. Can you tell me what this is about?

Thomas Berry:

It comes from the realization that we cannot carry out an environmental programme within the present legal structures of our society. We are actually re-thinking law within the context of Earth as a whole, so that we are into a world democracy, or what Vandana Shiva calls `Earth democracy‘, which means that every component of the community of Earth needs to have its say, and to find its place and needs a spokesperson. There is no such thing as a human community separate from the Earth community, and to legislate simply in relation to humans, in an isolated context, giving all rights to humans, is unrealistic. The planet Earth functions as an integral community and no part of that community can be guided in its activities except with reference to the total community. Just like a body cannot function in some parts without integration with all the other parts. That’s why in economics, human economy is an extension of Earth economy. So with political affairs, human legislation must insert itself into the structural functioning of the planet Earth. If we have a Bill of Rights for humans, we should have a Bill of Rights for the natural world because otherwise it’s a distortion.

Caroline Webb:

So the principles you have written would become a foundation for constitutions and actual laws?(3)

Thomas Berry:

Yes. The basic idea of what I have written should be in the prologue of every constitution. Instead of `We, the people of this country ordain this and that . . .’, it would be a question of: `We the people, recognizing ourselves as a member of this great Earth community, hereby do this and that, with responsibility not only to ourselves but to the integral community of the planet Earth’. This would be the prologue, the basis of everything that follows.

Practically speaking, the principles of Earth jurisprudence cover the four basic establishments that rule our lives: the government-legal, the economic, the educational and the religious. Each of these functions in this larger context. Religion is founded on this deep meaning that is conveyed by the mysterious functioning of the universe that surrounds us, by the stars in the heavens and by all the wonders of Earth. So in economics, human economy functions in integral relationship with the Earth economy. And the same with government: Government must function in relationship with the governing principles that are observed throughout the planet. And then education must be primarily an awakening in the human mind to the teachings of the universe.

Caroline Webb:

Some critics of ecological philosophy say that we are advocating that we go back to a pre-industrial stage. Are you saying it is not a technological future?

Thomas Berry:

No, it is a technological future — but with a difference from how we are doing things today. We can never go back to being pre-industrial. But we can think of being post-industrial. The way to look at it is to have human technologies that are coherent with Earth technologies. It’s the coherence — that is, the proper interplay and their mutual interaction — that fosters both the natural systems and the human systems. We need to work out patterns of interaction where the human and the natural world interact creatively. We need a mutually beneficial mode of human presence on the planet Earth. For instance, we should improve the fertility of the land rather than disimprove it by exploiting it. That’s the criminal aspect of our whole chemical cultivation of the soil.

Caroline Webb:

Are there initiatives taking place that reflect the ideas you are speaking of here?

Thomas Berry:

Yes, many. To mention a few that I know: Richard Register, an architect in California doing new designs for cities; John and Nancy Todd in Burlington, Vermont who have worked out ways for dealing with human waste through artificially constructed wetlands; Wes Jackson in Kansas who is restoring the native prairie grasses that has potential for helping with our food problem. Then religiously there is Miriam Therese McGillis and her Eco-Literacy farm, Genesis Farm in New Jersey. And there is Liz Hosken of the Gaia Foundation in London who organized a meeting in April 2001 based originally on my principles for a new jurisprudence at the Airlie Conference Center outside Washington. A group of people involved in the law and with indigenous peoples came together from South Africa, Britain, Colombia, Canada and the United States. The outcome of that meeting is Wild Law,(4) an excellent book on Earth jurisprudence written by environmental lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, which was launched at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Capetown 2002.

Indigenous people still live
in a universe, but we don’t;
we live in an economic system

Caroline Webb:

You frequently place your ideas in the context of `cosmology’, but many people I meet do not understand this word. What, in our contemporary situation, does it mean?

Thomas Berry:

Well, a better word is `comprehensive community’. The universe is a community of subjects, not a collection of objects. It is intimate. Every aspect is intimately present to all other aspects. With varying styles, various techniques, humans have always understood this. Seeing the universe as a great cosmic liturgy, they always validated the human by a ritual insertion of the human into the universe, into the cosmological order. This is done at transforming moments, and humans have always had springtime rituals, summer harvest rituals and the winter solstice at the moment of decline. This is the order of the universe and ritual is the way in which humans establish their basic rapport with the natural world in visible form.

Transformation moments are sacred moments. It’s like the day-night ritual. As the night draws on, the body quiets down and the mind and the emotions become very sensitive and aware of the more spiritual moments or the more meaningful qualitative moments in inter-human relations and in human-Earth relations and in human-Cosmos relations. We become aware of the vastness of the universe and of our relationship with it. At transformation moments the small self meets the great Self. Everything in the universe is necessary for each part of the universe. So everything in the universe has two modes: its particular mode and its universal mode, because we are present to the whole universe, as the physicist says, `without passing through the intervening space’. That’s one of the most remarkable discoveries of physics, and it’s one of the least understood, how things are present to — and influencing each other — without passing through the intervening space. So I would say, the appreciation of that makes the difference between someone who is humanly more fulfilled and more true and more developed, and those who are in some manner unfulfilled, because they cannot be fulfilled within `mechanism’. It is that subjective presence of things to each other.

The Human Venture from Thomas Berry’s inspirational writing

From The Universe Story (1992)

The narrative of the universe, told in the sequence of its transformations and in the depth of its meaning, will undoubtedly constitute the comprehensive context of the future. Already through this story the various peoples of the Earth are identifying where they are in time and space. They are also attaining a sense of relatedness to the various living and non-living components of the Earth community. Through this story we learn that we have a common genetic line of development. Every living being of Earth is cousin to every other living being. Even beyond the realm of the living we have common origin in the primordial Flaring Forth of the energies from which the universe in all its aspects is derived. (p5)

Poetry and the depths of the soul emerge from the human world because the inner form of the mountains and the numinous quality of the sky have activated these depths in the human. . . The inner depths of each being in the universe are activated by the surrounding universe. (p41)

Until the present we have not been able to celebrate properly this larger story of the universe, yet this is the high achievement of our scientific inquiry into the universe. Once we begin to celebrate the story of the universe we will understand the attraction that so draws our scientists to their work, why every detail of our scientific inquiry becomes so important. (p268)

To succeed in this task of shaping the future, the will of the more comprehensive self must be functioning. The individual will can function in this capacity only through an acknowledged union with the deeper structures of reality. Even beyond union with the human community must be union with the Earth, with the universe itself in the full wonder of its being. Only the Earth can adequately will the Earth. If we will the future effectively it will be because the guidance and the powers of the Earth have been communicated to us, not because we have determined the future of the Earth simply with some rational faculty.

Central to this process is our contact with the sacred, and the vast range of Earth’s psychic dynamism. While our sense of the sacred can never be recovered precisely as it existed in former centuries, it can be recovered in the mystique of the Earth, in the epic of evolution. (p173)

We are a pervasive presence. By definition we are that reality in whom the entire Earth comes to a special mode of reflexive consciousness. We are ourselves a mystical quality of the Earth, a unifying principle, an integration of the various polarities of the material and the spiritual, the physical and the psychic, the natural and the artistic, the intuitive and the scientific. We are the unity in which all these inhere and achieve a special mode of functioning. In this way the human acts as a pervading logos. (p174)

From The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (1999)

Our traditional spiritual values are disorienting by their insistence on the unsatisfactory nature of the existing order of things and the need for relief by reference to some transearthly experience. Religious persons are constantly asserting the high spiritual nature of the human against the lack of any spiritual dimension of the natural world. All earthly affairs are considered microphase concerns relative to the spiritual concerns that determine our destiny in some other transcendent world. (p101)

Our ethical traditions know how to deal with suicide, homicide and even genocide; but these traditions collapse entirely when confronted with biocide, the extinction of the vulnerable life systems of the Earth, and geocide, the devastation of the Earth itself. (p104)

Perhaps a new revelatory experience is taking place, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the Earth process. Humanity has seldom participated in such a vision since shamanic times, but in such renewal lies our hope for the future for ourselves and for the entire planet on which we live. (p106)

The human venture depends absolutely
on this quality of awe and reverence
and joy in the Earth and all
that lives and grows upon the Earth

It would be difficult to overemphasize the magnificence of this evolutionary doctrine. It provides a grandeur in our view of the universe and our human role in it that is overwhelming. Indeed, in its human expression the universe is able to reflect on itself and enjoy its grandeur in a special mode of conscious self-awareness. The evolutionary vision provides the most profound mystique of the universe. (p169)

Our main source of psychic energy in the future will depend on our ability to understand this symbol of evolution in an acceptable context of interpretation. Only in the context of an emergent universe will the human project come to an integral understanding of itself. We must however come to experience the universe in its psychic as well as in its physical aspect. We need to experience the sequence of evolutionary transformations as moments of grace and also as celebration moments in our new experience of the sacred. (p169)

The universe must be experienced as the Great Self. Each is fulfilled in the other: the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self. Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries. New fields of energy become available to support the human venture. These new energies find expression and support in celebration. For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration. It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself. (p170)

This story of the emergent universe is now our dominant sacred story. (p170)

Thomas Berry:

Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t; we live in an economic system. We’ve got all kinds of scientists but we don’t have a universe. There is an Earth out there, but for us it’s just a collection of resources to be exploited. It’s got no dignity. But really it is a communication of wonder.

Let me recite a poem I wrote about children. It expresses what I mean about `cosmology’:

The child awakens to the universe
The mind of the child to a world of wonder
Imagination to a world of beauty
Emotions to a world of intimacy

It takes a universe to make a child
Both in outer form and inner spirit
It takes a universe to educate a child
It takes a universe to fulfil a child

And the first obligation of any generation to its children
Is to bring these two together
So that the child is fulfilled in the universe
And the universe is fulfilled in the child

While the stars ring out in the Heavens


  1. Berry, Thomas, The Dream of the Earth, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988 Berry, Thomas and Swimme, Brian, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1992 Berry, Thomas, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, Bell Tower, New York, 1999

  2. The conference was organized by the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in November 2002. See

  3. Thomas Berry has formulated these principles in The Origin, Differentiation and Role of Rights, which is available on the website

  4. Cullinan, Cormac, Wild Law, SiberInk, South Africa, 2002. This book may be obtained through or from The Gaia Foundation, 18 Well Walk, London NW3 1LD. Telephone: +44 207435 5000. email:

Caroline Webb is a photographer and filmmaker, with a background in documentary production for British television on international environment and development issues. She is an MA student in the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness department of the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, writing a thesis on the sacred implications of the phenomenon of photosynthesis and how we may awaken a new sense of cosmology founded on the sciences. Email:

Copyright © 2003 Thomas Berry
Copyright © 2003 Caroline Webb
Copyright © 2003 Caduceus