What it is: Intent Load Theory (ILT) is a theory on human violence. It covers the hypothetical origins of human violence, its unique tendency to escalate to extremes, and how language functions as an outlet.
Who I am: I’m a stuntman, filmmaker, action designer and motion capture performer of over 20 years. Part of my work in making compelling action design is researching the anthropology, history, and neuroscience of human violence.
What makes ILT different: Theories on violence tend to be either zoological, in which human violence is incorrectly compared to animal violence, and/or political, with a normative view to violence that condemns some violence while defending others. By contrast, ILT is a generative and mechanical theory of violence; generative in that it posits a real origin of human violence, as opposed to the gradual transition from animal to human violence in zoological theories; and mechanical in that it is universal and does not differentiate between different types of violence as in political theories.
Why this theory matters: In today’s world of 24-hour news, social media, and non-stop streaming content, the reality of violence is obscured behind a cloud of images and politics. The situation makes it difficult to create a scientific theory around human violence, despite the preponderance of data surrounding it. ILT casts off all media narratives, giving way to a simple, mechanical and generative theory of human violence.
Table of Contents
- The Dawn
- Eden (or Utopia)
- The First Homicide
- The Mirror Neuron System (MNS)
- Humanity Emerges
- Other Gradual Theories
- Symbolic Conversion (SC)
- The Mark of Deferral (Cain)
- Delta Vio (ΔV)
- The Internal Motor Representation (IMR)
- Delta Vio (ΔV) Increases
- Escalation to Extremes (E2E)
- Action Understanding (AU)
- Delta Concealment (ΔC)
- The Un-Solvable Violent Crisis
- Ritual Games
- Observational Catharsis
- The Innate Desire for Peace
- The Nuclear Issue
- Mass Media
- Return to Utopia
INTENT LOAD THEORY (ILT)
For the purposes of this theory, we want to imagine what we looked like in the hypothetical moments before becoming “fully human.” We can call this the “Dawn.” First, I’ll set the stage with some fundamentals:
1. Humans used tools for hunting during the Dawn. Since chimps use sticks to fish for termites, and crows manipulate tools to access hard-to-reach food, we will assume that humans used tools for hunting back then too. A minimum hypothesis would be that humans used blunt sticks and rocks for hunting during the Dawn.
2. Intraspecific social aggression (adult lion vs. adult lion, etc.) among animals is not geared toward killing the opponent. By nature, animals are uniquely outfitted with weapons and defenses that do not cause death during social aggression. Bear skins resist bear bites, hawks are too flighty to be bitten to death by hawks, etc. An exception to this is animals restricted to confines imposed by humans, in which they will destroy one another through social aggression that is afforded no escape (aquariums, zoos, etc.). In their natural environments, however, animals will escape before they can be killed. The concepts of social aggression and predation, or social aggression and death in general, must therefore be separate in the animal brain. Interestingly, chimps don’t even seem aware of the dangers of cliffs during social aggression. Konrad Lorenz backs up this point:
“Though occasionally, in territorial or rival fights, by some mishap a horn may penetrate an eye or a tooth an artery, we have never found that the aim of aggression was the extermination of fellow members of the species concerned. This of course does not negate the fact that under unnatural circumstances, for example confinement, unforeseen by the “constructors” of evolution, aggressive behavior may have a destructive effect.” (Lorenz, On Aggression, p. 44).
3. Animals do not use tools in intraspecific aggression. We have some examples of chimps swinging sticks, but this is not a skill as it 1) never amounts to warfare and 2) is not passed down to other chimps genetically nor via mimesis. An orangutan can drive a golf cart, but if he were prompted to social aggression he would jump out of the golf cart and start swinging.
4. During the Dawn, we will assume that man has not yet used tools for social aggression. The Dawn is a hypothetical time period that might have lasted millennia, weeks, days, or seconds. The length of time is irrelevant. It’s the onset of tool-based aggression (TBA) among humans that ultimately poses the fundamental shift in who we are.
Eden (or Utopia)
One characteristic of the typical Edenic myth is the harmonious existence of man and animal. I will draw upon these Edenic (and sometimes Utopian) myths as well as modern zoology to paint a picture of the hypothetical “man” during the Dawn.
We will imagine two skilled hunters, Crow & Elephant, chasing an ibex with their tribe. Crow, the smaller of the two, pitches a rock at the ibex and hits it in the leg. Elephant pushes a boulder down a cliff and brains the animal.
Elephant takes half the carcass, leaving the rest for Crow and the others. Crow wants more and engages Elephant in a fist fight, an attempt to gain status via social aggression. Elephant, being twice his size, bashes his nose and Crow withdraws from the fight. This fight only serves as an example of human social aggression before tool-based aggression (TBA). It’s possible that this fight never happens, and instead Crow immediately uses a stone, as the next section will show.
The First Homicide
We’re still within the hypothetical era of our Dawn of humanity. On another hunt, Crow takes down a wild goat with a stone throw and claims the carcass, but Elephant asserts himself as the alpha and will take it instead. Crow disputes with Elephant over the carcass. Crow takes a swing at Elephant, only this time he has a rock in his hand. The rock cracks Elephant’s skull open, killing the alpha then and there.
I’ve made the case that social aggression and predation (or hunting) are totally separate functions within the animal brain. During the hypothetical Dawn era, it’s safe to say that the two concepts are separate in the human brain as well. So how did Crow bridge them?
One explanation is that Crow simply realized that he could use a rock for social aggression. Why did he realize it before Elephant or anyone else? Was his brain more evolved than those around him, just enough to realize he can use a rock for social aggression? While this might be true, it opens the doors for a gradation of cognitive abilities.
The realization might have been assisted by other factors in the scenario. For example, the cry of the goat dying at the scene, sounding like that of a man, might have elicited the realization that aggression and predation could be combined.
Another option is that Crow hits Elephant with a rock by accident, forgetting the rock was in his hand. This explanation must then account for the post-hoc realization that aggression and predation can be combined in an innovative way, since we’ve seen that monkeys attacking with sticks never realize anything new after the attack. Otherwise, we’d see a lot more monkeys swinging sticks.
Crow’s weapon might not have been a rock. It could have been a stick or a flint ax, but for the sake of building a minimal hypothesis I will assume it was a blunt stone because 1) it’s the most basic weapon next to a stick, 2) it’s more lethal than a stick, and 3) any sharp weapons would have been innovated necessarily after the use of this most basic weapon. I will admit, though, that this deserves investigation.
However it happens, we can safely assume that someone killed someone else with a weapon. The introduction of the weapon in human aggression makes such killing totally novel because such violence 1) is unprecedented, since empty handed social aggression practically never kills, 2) allows the attacker to overcome his or her natural limitations against bigger or faster opponents, and 3) causes death quickly. The novel nature of the killing due to tool-based aggression (TBA) demands a more neutral term: homicide.
The word for homicide in Hebrew is ratzah. It’s an ancient, neutral term. Murder is “intentional homicide”, while manslaughter is “accidental homicide.”
The Mirror Neuron System (MNS)
In order to move from empty-handed social aggression to TBA, we need to understand how this information is transmitted from Crow to the crowd. The mirror neuron system (MNS) is the part of the brain which might be responsible for such instant transmission. Giacomo Rizzolatti discovered the MNS when mapping the brains of macaque monkeys. Whenever the macaque performed an action, such as grasping a banana, it registered a beep on a computer. When the macaque witnessed someone else grasping a banana, the same neuron cluster fired in its brain. The MNS not only helps the monkey understand the banana-grasping action but also allows it to interpret the other’s intention to grasp a banana before the grasping even occurs. The MNS does this by loading the intents of the model and devising a virtualization of the action, which Rizzolatti calls an Internal Motor Representation (IMR). Rizzolatti discovered a similar, but much more complex, MNS within the human brain.
Crow’s murder of Elephant effects a shift in social dynamics that must, ultimately, bring us to becoming the humans we are today. I will hypothesize this shift happening in a few different ways, but they fall into two categories: gradual, and immediate. Gradual theories, like that of Darwin, argue that beneficial variations in a species will be selected in the interest of the species. In this case, the gradual theory would be that we slowly learned how to use weapons. (I would also assume that Darwinists would not consider the use of weapons to be the critical point of transition from animal to human.)
An immediate theory, by contrast, implies a sudden shift. In this case, the MNS of some members of the group would have been established enough so that the group could download the “operating system update” of Crow’s TBA at the same time, as if upgrading from MS-DOS to Windows 3.1.
There is no conceptual transition from the states of empty-handed aggression and TBA any more than there’s a transition from DOS to Windows. Either you can use a tool for social aggression, or you can’t. But we might imagine that there is a gradual transition in the number of people who have this ability.
In the first option, following Crow killing Elephant, the crowd beats Crow to death with their fists, and they relapse into the old style of social aggression. Such mob behavior was not beyond the purview of man during the Dawn. Lorenz notes that brown rats will mob and bite a stranger to death. And the Gombe Civil War showed that chimpanzees mob. Death can sometimes result from animal mobs, but the goal in animal mob aggression is merely aggression, not death or predation.
In this case, the MNS of the crowd is advanced enough to fuel an angry mob, but not advanced enough to mimic Crow’s use of tools in social aggression. So here Crow is a man before his time. If Crow is killed this way, then his novel innovation dues along with him, as does his more advanced MNS. We might expect that the next episode of social aggression went on without tools again, until someone similarly “advanced” came upon the same innovation.
Here again we have a gradual hypothesis, in this case resulting in a relapse into animal-like social aggression, which would transition again into a genius who uses weapons, then back again into animal-like social aggression, on and on. Trying to discern when and how we escaped this loop is beyond the scope of this hypothesis, but it must have eventually happened for us to be where we are now. For this reason, this explanation is unnecessary for a minimal hypothesis.
2. Gradual Learning
Crow is stoned to death by 1 or more people in the crowd. The crowd now sees Crow as a hostile outsider, and in mimicry (blind mimicry perhaps) these people attack Crow the same way Crow attacked Elephant. The MNS of these people is now “advanced” enough to do this. When Crow lies dead, these “advanced” members realize they have the advantage of using stones for social aggression too. So in the next episode of social aggression, there might have been a war (a very unbalanced war) between the “more advanced” and the “less advanced” members who couldn’t use stones. These people would spread out and either destroy the “less advanced” people, or teach them how to use weapons. Eventually we come to today’s situation where every person has this bare minimum ability to use tools for social aggression.
2B. Crow the Scapegoat
Followers of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory (specifically his Scapegoat Theory) follow a variation of #2 above, which they believe occurs at the Dawn of culture. In Girard’s view, the first murder is not Crow bludgeoning Elephant, but rather the crowd murdering a human scapegoat, onto whom they had placed the blame for some crisis. It’s this scapegoating that inaugurates human culture and all its ritual forms, and in the future scapegoating will continue to be the release valve for human apocalyptic violence. Girard’s Violence and the Sacred details this theory in depth.
Being a follower of Mimetic Theory myself, I would argue to my fellow Girardians that his Scapegoat Theory has two major problems: 1) it can’t explain how human mob behavior creates ritual and culture, whereas crow, chimpanzee, and brown rat mob behavior do not; and 2) it can’t bridge the divide between empty-handed social aggression and TBA, since the crowd must acquire the idea of TBA in order to perform a human sacrifice and emerge culturally “human.” Girard left a gaping hole in the “murder” part of his theory.
And as I will show, this is the same hole that Generative Anthropology suffers from today. But before going on, I want to discuss other gradual theories.
Other Gradual Theories
Most leading theories today which trace the transition from animals to humans are gradual. I’ll only respond to two of them: the cooking hypothesis, and the Killer Ape Theory.
The Cooking Hypothesis
The cooking hypothesis links the onset of homo erectus with the use of fire, which allowed us to cook, spend less time grazing, etc., gradually shifting us away from being animals and into being a new species. However, mythologies on the origin of fire around the world retain memories of humans not having fire. This memory was enforced by situations in which we would find ourselves suddenly without fire, even into the 1800s. Still, Native American, African, and Melanesian myths often recount the moment fire was acquired, and they even detail life before fire. In Africa we find horror stories of eating raw taro, Melanesian stories of the awful smell of fish cooking in the sun, and Northwestern Native American myths of the frigid cold before fire. Myths embellish, but they never erase the crisis at the foundation of culture, and these myths seem to show that man existed before he acquired fire.
When we read myths of war gods and the origins of human violence, we expect to find an Edenic picture of humanity before we started killing each other. These myths should pine for the days when fist-fighting was the way to settle disputes and nobody died, and we would also expect to read how they acquired such-and-such weaponry from some god, animal, or stranger. Instead, “pre-violence” myths like those in Greece and Rome are vague in their recollections of this Golden Age, or the Age of Saturn, Cronus, etc. Occasionally they make mention of the absence of iron, rarely a mention the lack of weaponry, and no clear difference between weapon-based violence and animal violence. Mostly they yearn for a return to living off the land without agricultural labor, equality of man, and the redistribution of property. These myths seem to indicate that humanity is inextricably linked to its TBA.
Killer Ape Theory
The Killer Ape Theory (or the Warrior Gene) claims that we progressively developed cognitively to overcome our aggression. Therefore, outbursts of aggression are attributed to a lapse in or lack of cognitive ability. Proponents will claim either that 1) certain groups of people have higher levels of aggression and are therefore less evolved, or 2) there’s no genetic difference in levels of aggression and therefore we all gradually evolved the same way, stemming from a common ancestor.
With ILT, being a non-gradual theory of the origins of human violence, I am arguing that differences between human populations do not stem from our relative evolutionary distances from an animal ancestor. Instead we come from a common source, where we attained full humanity with the advent of TBA, wherever that origin was.
The Seville Statement on Violence repudiated the Killer Ape Theory in 1991:
IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY INCORRECT to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors. Although fighting occurs widely throughout animal species, only a few cases of destructive intraspecies fighting between organized groups have ever been reported among naturally living species, and none of these involve the use of tools designed to be weapons. Normal predatory feeding upon other species cannot be equated with intra-species violence. Warfare is a peculiarly human phenomenon and does not occur in other animals.
Seville Statement on Violence, edited by David Adams, 1991, p.20
The Statement unfortunately misses the mark with an earlier statement:
We need to clear away the myth which claims that war and violence are intrinsic to human nature and therefore inevitable.
ibid. p. 12
This quote demonstrates that the Seville authors were possibly more interested in dispelling the racist implications of Killer Ape Theory (good) but threw the baby out with the bathwater, writing off the very idea of intrinsic human aggression (bad).
So much for gradual theories of human violence and aggression. Back to our Crow vs. Elephant story.
Symbolic Conversion (SC)
The other option for what happened following Crow’s murder of Elephant is, I believe, the minimal hypothesis needed to transition our hypothetical ancestors into humanity:
3. The First Sign
The crowd, whether a few or all of them, threatened to stone Crow to death. Crow, realizing that the tribe generally has the new “wisdom” of TBA, fears being killed by the mob out of retribution. This threat might have been overt, in that they lifted stones over their heads in a threatening gesture, or it might have been implied, a glint in the eye of the crowd, an “a-ha” moment that signaled certain doom for Crow if he didn’t do something fast. Here, Crow emits the first linguistic sign to defer the violence of the crowd.
In his Originary Hypothesis of Generative Anthropology, Eric Gans hypothesized that the first linguestic sign was emitted (the beginning of language!) when the threat of violence became so apocalyptic point that, without the sign, the tribe could have wiped itself out. However, there are no specifics regarding this threat. Standard animal aggression with fists, claws, and teeth never results in such a linguistic sign. Why would the threat of fist fighting do so among humans?
ILT proposes that the threat of tool-based aggression (TBA) necessitated the first linguistic sign, which means that the defining moment of mankind isn’t the use of the sign itself, but the use of TBA. It’s possible, however, that the faculties of language (the mouth, larynx, brain, ear, etc.) were waiting dormant until the threat of overwhelming violence emerged in this scene and demanded the fulfillment of language. This sign was what converted the crowd’s TBA into language. I call this transition symbolic conversion (SC).
It’s also possible that another member of the crowd issued this first linguistic sign. Such a character might fit the profile of humanity’s first priest. The threat of apocalyptic human violence could justify the usage of a first sign from anyone, but a minimum hypothesis would state that the person who first used tools for aggression would be most ready to produce this first linguistic sign.
When attempting to tease out human violence from the human gene pool, the progressive and the eugenicist alike must proceed with caution, because if TBA and human language spring from the same well, as they sprung from our hypothetical Crow, then eradicating one could eradicate the other.
The Mark of Deferral (Cain)
Crow’s linguistic sign allows him to be “marked” so that he is saved from the mob’s violence. Perhaps this is the same “mark” that Cain received after killing Abel. How this agreement between Crow (or Cain) and the crowd came to be, or whether it literally happened, we can’t be certain. As a storytelling mechanism, the mark allows Crow/Cain to go on without fear of reprisal, and we can learn the implications of his actions through his story. The alternative is that Crow is killed by the crowd, despite his linguistic sign of deferral, but then we’re basically at a modified form of Girard’s Scapegoat Theory in which we’ll have to wait for another Crow-like figure to perform a murder worthy of capital punishment and then issue the sign again. For the sake of a minimal hypothesis, we’ll assume Crow succeeded in escaping stoning via his symbolic conversion (SC).
Stoning also emerges here as the originary capital punishment, even though it didn’t necessarily have to happen. The crowd knows they can all engage in TBA, and they’ve seen what TBA does to Elephant, so the threat of capital punishment is there regardless of whether it takes place.
Delta Vio (ΔV)
The known potential for violence has now changed. First it was only fists (a state denoted as V0). The difference in known potential violence, the”Delta Vio” (ΔV), between Crow and Elephant in the Dawn era was 0.
Dawn Era (no TBA)
ΔV = V0 – V0 = 0
Now that Crow has introduced the potential of the stone as a weapon of aggression (V1), Delta Vio (ΔV) is 1.
Stone Era (stones as weapons)
ΔV = V1 – V0 = 1
This updated Delta Vio (ΔV) will factor into all future conflicts. Even those who are unable to use stones for weapons, being too weak, etc., must understand that ΔV is 1, or they will likely die.
The Internal Motor Representation (IMR)
Despite the mark which saves Crow from capital punishment, Elephant’s son Wolf isn’t satisfied. He wants revenge against Crow for killing his father. When Crow is alone one day, Wolf approaches Crow with his hand behind his back. Crow sees him coming. Now Crow will attempt to construct a virtualization of Wolf’s intentions and create a solution.
Before the onset of TBA at the Dawn, when ΔV was 0, someone like Wolf hiding his hand behind his back would be interpreted as someone just holding his hand behind his back, the same way a monkey would assume another monkey has its hand behind its back. But now, with the new “operating system update” and ΔV equaling 1, Crow wonders, “Does Wolf have a rock behind his back? Or is his hand empty? Is he bringing me flowers?” Based on Wolf’s flared nostrils, the concealed hand, and the fact that Crow killed his father, Crow assumes he has a rock.
Crow’s MNS will now built an “internal motor representation,” or IMR, a simulation of Wolf’s intentions. The IMR is a key element in Intent Load Theory.
- Crisis/Model(Stimuli) – The crisis at hand, or the model (Wolf). Here we have Wolf’s nostrils flaring, his hand behind his back, his aggressive posturing, the fact that there are no witnesses, and all other variables of the situation. (Stimuli in different situations might be the crisis of a smoking volcano, a hungry crocodile, etc.)
- Sensory – The stimuli enter Crow’s brain through his sensory organs.
- Action Understanding and Symbolic Conversion – These are Crow’s physical and symbolic abilities which will help determine what Wolf’s intentions are. They are applied to the creation of the IMR.
- IMR of Crisis/Model’s Intentions – The Internal Motor Representation (IMR) is a virtualization, within Crow’s head, of what he thinks Wolf is trying to do. In this case, the IMR says that Wolf wants to kill Crow with a rock.
- Desire – Crow’s desired outcome: “Stop Wolf.” Note that this desire is created directly from the IMR. Depending on other factors, this would vary. If Crow assumed Wolf had a gift, the desire might be, “Thank Wolf.” If Wolf had his new album behind his back then the desire might be, “Tell Wolf no thank you.”
- Solution (Action / Symbols) – This is the solution to the IMR that allows Crow to reach his desired outcome. Crow solves for this based on his action understanding and symbolic conversion history. When holding up his hand earlier, he had stopped the crowd from showering stones on his head. This factors into play. His Action Understanding also tells him that Wolf is hot-headed and likely won’t heed a deferential response. He also knows that if he kills another man, the tribe will stone him to death. So he decides to grab a rock and hold it up in a threatening manner. If given the option he might have grabbed a fake rock (or a fake gun) to both deter violence and avoid a second, accidental death.
- Performance – Crow holds up a rock threateningly to stop Wolf.
- Outcome – Wolf also knows that Crow won’t attack him with a rock. The risk is too great for the manslayer. Wolf ignores Crow’s threatening gesture and smashes him over the head with a rock, killing him.
- Sensory – There are no other witnesses here, but Crow’s family will notice that he isn’t home for dinner, and a passer-by will find Crow’s foot sticking out of the ground. This stimuli then back their brains, creating new IMRs. The cycle repeats.
Delta Vio (ΔV) Increases
We have been in the era of rocks as weapons. Rocks kill with blunt force trauma. They require strength (Elephant), a good throw (Crow), or stealth (Wolf).
The next stage of human weaponry is the sharpened flint. Now, rock’s killing efficiency could be multiplied by sharpening its edge. Flint knapping allowed for the creation of the knife, a deadly weapon that even a child could use. Strength was no longer required for killing, only accuracy and stealth. Though the time scale between Crow killing Elephant, and the introduction of flint, was likely massive, we’ll assume that flint knapping arrives quickly so we can stick with our cast of characters.
Crow’s young son Kangaroo, just now becoming a man, hears through the grapevine that Wolf bragged about killing Crow. Without witnesses, the tribe can’t stone Wolf, so Kangaroo will take personal revenge against Wolf. Being much smaller than Wolf, Kangaroo can’t use a rock for a weapon, but lo! a boulder one day rolls down a hill, smashing into sharp fragments at the bottom. The tribe thus discovers flint knapping. ΔV becomes 2.
ΔV = V2 – V0 = 2
Kangaroo acquires a sharp blade and cuts Wolf’s throat in the middle of the night.
Escalation to Extremes (E2E)
Wolf’s brother Armadillo and his tribe plot a revenge raid against Kangaroo and his tribe. Kangaroo hears about the raid and ensures everyone is armed with flint axes, knives, and spears. He builds an IMR of Armadillo’s raiding party in his head as they prepare and assumes, correctly, that they will also have flint weapons. Both sides maximize their level of violence in order to ensure victory against the other. When they get to the battle field, blood is shed, bodies go down, scalps and heads are taken.
Girard’s Escalation to Extremes (E2E) says that human mimic the violence of their adversaries and thereby escalate violence. However, mimicry alone can’t explain escalation. Instead, if the rivals simply mimicked one another, then it would be assumed that they would just mimic the weapons of the other. Had Armadillo attacked Kangaroo with blunt stones, Kangaroo wouldn’t have mimicked this: he would have counter-attacked with flint weapons. Girard’s E2E can’t account for changes in ΔV due to the introduction of new weapon technologies.
ILT proposes instead that the MNS loads the intentions (the violent intentions in this case) of the adversary into an IMR, and the solution available to the IMR is based on ΔV, not merely the desires of the rival. The subject is incentivized to reach for the deadliest weapon necessary to ensure victory. If ΔV is 0, then the IMR can only be satisfied with fist fighting as a weapon. If ΔV is 1 (stones era) then the IMR will assume that the opponent can use also rocks, even if they don’t have one. Nonetheless the subject will likely reach for a rock to ensure victory. If ΔV is 2, one assumes that the other party will bring cutting weapons to the fight, so the subject brings a cutting weapon, even if the adversary only brings a rock to the fight. Escalation can also happen between different eras. If ΔV=2, then the escalation can entail bringing more people to the fight, or engaging in new tactics. Escalation is always variable, even when humans are between innovations in weaponry.
All these situations are purely hypothetical. I’m merely distilling violence down to its most raw forms, which means negating other options like de-escalation, incorrect interpretations, PTSD, etc. Girard’s E2E theory ultimately can’t explain the escalation to higher orders of violence in humans.
Action Understanding (AU)
The bloody feud between Kangaroo and Armadillo might go on for years. Both sides learn the ins and outs of fighting using flint weapons. Various martial art schools open up to teach flint spear throwing, how to scalp a man using a flint knife, and a flint ax throwing hall opens up on the corner for the hipsters.
One warrior, Emu, fights so many battles that he can practically read the enemy’s mind before they make a move. Emu has acquired substantial action understanding, a skill acquired only by doing action. The more Emu performs successful blade attacks, the more easily he’s able to interpret the intentions of enemies with blades. In other words, Emu builds the most accurate IMRs of his enemies because of the sheer number of hours he puts in with the knife. This allows him to develop economical “solution” to these IMRs. Muhammed Ali could read the intentions of his opponents not because he had studied boxing, but because he had thrown so many punches in the ring and knew every way to throw a punch possible.
On the other side of town, a con artist named Dodo has opened a knife school without having been in any knife fights of his own. Dodo has watched lots of flint knife fights on YouTube, but even 100 years of watch knife fights without ever partaking in one won’t bring Dodo to Emu’s 2 years of very dense experience. This is why boxers make better boxing commentators than people who just watch boxing. Action understanding builds the bridge from problem to solution in the IMR.
Delta Concealment (ΔC)
There are more factors than simply the shared knowledge of potential violence. There’s also the difference in knowledge of violence (ΔC for “concealment”), access to that violence (ΔA for “access”), and difference in access to violence (ΔH for “hierarchy”).
ΔC: When ΔV is 3 for Me, But 2 for You
After much bloodshed, Kangaroo and Armadillo agree to a truce. Later the tribes begin disputing hunting rights on the river between them. Suddenly, lo! a foreign tribe brings new weapons to Armadillo’s tribe: copper swords. Copper is easy to mold with low heat, can be reformed without destroying it, and it shatters flint. Armadillo trades some goods and gets all the copper swords he can.
ΔV = 3
For Armadillo, ΔV is now 3, but as Kangaroo’s tribe is still knapping flint, ΔV is still 2. The difference creates a difference in concealment, ΔC:
Copper vs. Flint
ΔC = ΔV3 (Armadillo, Copper) – ΔV2 (Kangaroo, Flint) = 1
Armadillo attacks Kangaroo’s tribe with copper blades, shattering their flint weapons. Kangaroo now knows about copper blades, so their ΔV now is 3.
ΔA: Access to Violence
Since native copper is nowhere to be found nearby, Armadillo prevents Kangaroo from acquiring copper, maintaining an advantage over the less-armed adversaries and putting them to forced labor. Armadillo now knows of the threat of copper weapons and can form an IMR with them (ΔV=3), although they have no access to copper weapons (ΔA=2, assuming they’re still able to craft flint under forced labor).
ΔH: Difference in Access
The difference in access to weaponry between produces a hierarchical imbalance between Armadillo and Kangaroo.
Subjugation of Kangaroo
ΔH = ΔA3 (Armadillo, access to Copper) – ΔA2 (Kangaroo, limited to Flint) = 1
Historical Examples of ΔV, ΔA, ΔC, and ΔH
Henry Reynolds wrote of the difference in concealment between Europeans and Australian Aborigines during the Frontier Wars of the 18th century in The Other Side of the Frontier. Muskets gave Europeans an advantage over the natives, who were still knapping flint. For the sake of argument I’ll say that, with the introduction of firearms, we we well past the iron, bronze, and copper ages, so we’ll say the ΔV of firearms as a whole is 6.
At first, the Aborigines were at a severe loss as to nature of these fire sticks that could kill them from far away.
Beginning of Australian Frontier Wars
ΔC = ΔV6 (Europeans, Guns) – ΔV2 (Aborigines, Flint) = 4
Soon the natives regrouped and rethought their tactics, applying a more stealth-based approach to attacking Europeans. Their understanding of the risk of firearms allowed them to make accurate IMRs of the intentions of their enemies and develop stealth techniques. Tasmanian natives were no different.
Delta Concealment after Beginning of Australian Frontier Wars
ΔC = ΔV6 (Europeans, Guns) – ΔV6 (Aborigines, Guns) = 0
The hunter’s skills – expert tracking, stealth, self-control and patience – could be turned to effect when attempting to execute individual Europeans.
ibid. p. 100
[Tasmanian natives were] seldom pursued by the settlers… from a despair of finding them in the almost inaccessible fastnesses.
ibid. p. 102
However, the Aborigines’ access to firearms was negligible, so ΔA=2 for most of the Aborigines, compared to ΔA being 6 for the Europeans, creating a hierarchical imbalance of violence.
Australian Frontier Wars Hierarchy
ΔH = ΔA6 (Europeans, Guns) – ΔA2 (Aborigines, Flint) = 4
But not all Aborigines were without firearms. The settlers employed natives in para-military units such as the Queensland Native Mounted Police, feared for their combined knowledge of hunting and, now, firearms. (Note also that there were no “IQ” problems here; the Aborigines seem to have adapted to firearm training relatively quickly.) They were arguably deadlier than the settlers, so for the sake of argument we’ll say their ΔV was 6.5, but since they depended on ammunition supplied by the settlers, their ΔA was lower than that of their masters, perhaps at 5.5. The colonial authority was smart to strike a balance between accessibility and good faith with these native para-military units.
Tasmanian natives also acquired guns, but without a means of manufacturing ammunition, their ΔA was also lower than 6, increasing the ΔH in Tasmania between natives and the colonists:
‘[The Tasmanian natives] intended using [the guns] against the whites as soon as they could get ammunition, and that they often practiced with them.’ But while guns were used by Aboriginal groups in various parts of the country they were never adopted on a large enough scale seriously to alter the balance of power…
ibid. p. 106
Similarly in South Africa, during the Battle of Vegkop King Mzilikazi sent 5000 Matabele warriors (without firearms, ΔA<6) to attack 35 voortrekkers (with firearms, ΔA=6). The voortrekkers were outnumbered 150 to 1, but their firearms gave them victory. The Boers maintained their higher hierarchical state for a century and a half due to their advantage in access to firearms. When access to firearms changed for the natives, the hierarchy changed. The ending of Apartheid was aided with such a change in access to violence. What other major shifts in hierarchy are due to changes in access?
The Un-Solvable Violent Crisis
We’ve been caught up in interactions between groups. Armadillo used its advantage in hierarchy with copper weapons (ΔH = 1) to put Kangaroo under its thumb. While Kangaroo’s tribe are not content with their lot, there are no violent outbreaks and there’s relative equilibrium. If Kangaroo manages to create swords in the iron mines (“I told them they were supposed to be making farm tools with the iron, sir!”), then Armadillo better draft up a peace agreement.
There are also crises that don’t allow for immediate mitigation. Human violence isn’t the only crisis that the IMR attempts to mitigate. If we go back to Armadillo’s tribe, they were also attempted to mitigate plagues, famines, threats of animal attacks, volcanoes, floods, heatstroke, angry ghosts, and fertility collapse threatened to destroy tribes at every turn. Just like us today! They couldn’t help but create IMRs of the crises, which threatened to explode violently in the tribe. Shamans emerged to mitigate these crises with magical charms, extispicy, bloodletting, human sacrifice, possession, music, incense, and exorcism.
Nonetheless, shamans can’t prevent all outbreaks of asocial violence (to use Tim Larkin’s term). Some guys just crack.
Armadillo is enjoying relative peace, subjugating Kangaroo, when a cannibal tribe under a brutal leader named Shark moves in across a gorge. Shark threatens to devour the entire camp if they can get across. The IMRs of the tribe imagine being eaten alive, a horrific thought. Some might resolve this through suicide. One man, Koala, resolves his crisis IMR by adopting the enemy’s cannibal appetites and eats a poor Kangaroo man.
Mitigating this cannibal crisis might take many forms, depending on how much blood the tribe is willing to shed. Here’s a spectrum of rituals, ranging from the bloody to the formal, which might be engaged in to mitigate this crisis:
- At the far end of the blood-ritual spectrum, Armadillo allows a blood feud system (like that of the Icelandic Commonwealth), allowing Koala’s victims to kill him. At the very least, they can sell their claim to a blood avenger who will kill him and reward himself with Koala’s property. But with no external constraints on revenge, the feud could continue perpetually.
- Armadillo might opt for a dueling system where Koala and the plaintiff fight within the confines of an arena, with revenge for either of their deaths being forbidden. Still, this threatens to “contaminate” the viewers with a bloodlust, and we might see a pandemic of dueling as we saw in 1700s France.
- A fist fighting system might level the playing field and shed a lot of blood without causing any deaths, further reducing the risk of revenge.
- A free fighting system allows the combatants to use their bodies more freely and might reduce bloodshed with gloves.
- A boxing system reduces the legal moves to 4 and outlaws the shedding of blood, reducing any blood frenzy that might follow from seeing the red fluid flowing.
- Wrestling eliminates striking almost entirely, which might prevent the audience from getting riled up as they might in a boxing fight.
- Contact sports eliminates fighting and channels all combat into sportsmanship, further reducing audience volatility.
- The war dance, the cleanest of the combat rituals, is a choreographed set of movements that simulate a solution to the IMR.
In the midst of hostile cannibals, the blood-ritual spectrum helps resolve the IMRs of those performing the routines, but the average person needs their IMRs resolved as well. If a civilian is unable to perform the rituals, or is prohibited due to their class, they can at least observe the ritual actions above. In the past it was going to a coliseum. Today it’s watching sports or singing shows. They might also listen to myths and legends told by the local bard or priest. Today they’ll watch Netflix.
Cathartic media might satisfy the IMR puzzle, but the viewer now risks being too far removed from the actual crisis. A story of a legendary warrior destroying a crocodile might help get us to sleep at night, but the cannibals will still be there in the morning. The story merely lays a temporary IMR into our brains and gives us a perfectly crafted solution, but in general it offers no real mitigation. Observational catharsis often risks not actually resolving one’s IMR.
The Innate Desire for Peace
With the number of crises at hand, and the increasing number of ritual obligations that one must participate in to mitigate these crises, the average person is inundated with a constant state of dread. Even if the cannibal tribe were to walk away, the IMRs of the tribe would imagine them coming back. And even if we There is a constant hope for an end to the inundation.
At first, all the tribe can do is mitigate crises with magic. When they realize that their magic can’t control the elements, they might adopt a religious system with gods who have their own wills, despite their magic. And when they begin to trace the patterns of the cosmos and natural forces of the earth, they might abandon religion altogether for a scientific method. But none of this can really remove the threat of a crisis. The tribe will always be anticipating a day of reprieve.
The Nuclear Issue
The access to violence (ΔA) increases and decreases due to alliances, resources, etc. ΔA could easily drop below 6 if a government restricted firearms. ΔA dropped below 4 (bronze) during the tin shortage, but went up to 5 once iron became the new standard. But ΔA can never drop below 1. Everyone, notwithstanding physical disabilities, can always pick up a rock as a weapon.
ΔV functions differently. Once ΔV increases, it will not decrease. Even after the American Civil War, ΔV remained at 6. Everyone still integrated the risk of firearms into their IMRs. After WWI, ΔV remained at 7-8 (assuming these were vehicular upgrades). And after the bomb dropped, ΔV = 9. There is no longer a world where ΔV can be less than 9. Even if all powers were to agree to disarmament, the potential for a nuclear bomb still exists, the same as the potential for fire exists even after one is extinguished. The knowledge of pottery, fire kindling, flint knapping, boat-making, and nuclear fission, once attributed to the mythical gods, will not die with the mythical gods. The wisdom remains in ΔV as an arbitrary, global variable that can be known to everybody, especially in a world of globalized, mass media. And it affects everybody’s IMRs, whether we realize it or not.
Thanks to the printing press and now the 24 hour news cycle and social meida, the IMRs of the entire world are inundated with global, violent intents. From Aeschylus’s Persae to any of today’s Marvel franchises, producers work to “catch” these shared intent loads using innovative media techniques. Crisis is good for media, but bad for everyone else. The question is whether a storyteller can help the audience overcome a crisis, or whether they exacerbate the crisis. This is a topic for a later write-up.
Return to Utopia
It’s late at night. A father puts his children to bed amidst the gunfire outside in the crime-ridden streets of their neighborhood, the news of immanent nuclear war, social media posts about the sky falling. The father tells his children a story of a time long ago when we lived at peace with each other, before murder and war. He hints at a future when we can return to this Dawn of mankind from which our ancestors came, when we were at peace (save for the occasional fist fight). Men have tried to recreate this utopia with disastrous results every time. They were the idealists. I am only a mechanic, and looking under the hood, I’d say she needs a lot of work.
Copyright 2022 Eric Jacobus
Rene Girard’s Battling to the End, 2009
Giacomo Rizzolatti’s Mirrors in the Brain, 2008
Eric Gans’s Girardian Origins of Generative Anthropology, 2012
William Ridgeway’s Origin of Tragedy, 1910
Tim Larkin’s When Violence Is The Answer, 2017
Henry Reynolds’ The Other Side of the Frontier, 1982