The evidence from palaeoanthropology suggests that in the past humans were about the stature they are now, with more sexual dimporphism than now, with similar or larger brains than they have now, and used technology at the same level of sophistication as many later humans. Scientists argue over the degree to which modern day language abilities, symbolic thinking, and artistic capacity was found in these earlier humans.
Where we see physical evidence suggesting morbidity or even mortality among those humans, which included “archaic Homo sapiens” and Neanderthals and their kin, we often see violence. Some have suggested that this violence is from close quarter combat between individuals, while others have suggested it is from a hands-on approach to hunting where animals were wrangled to the ground and dispatched. Among the technologies used by these early humans we see evidence for some hand held weapons but no good evidence for projectiles.
It is possible that projectiles became widespread at some point and that this changed everything. Many scientists have suggested something like this, and each of those ideas is different and relates to a different set of evidence. We know for sure that projectiles didn’t exist then later they did, and we know for sure that high degrees of physical robusticity existed, later replaced by physical gracility. Regardless of the details, there was a time when humans needed to get up close and personal to intimidate, wound, or kill each other placing themselves at risk at the same time, and later, it became possible for a smaller, less robust person to kill pretty much anyone (with skill and luck) without taking that immediate personal risk.
I’m oversimplifying here, but this would mean that the social dynamic involved in interpersonal conflict would be very different under these two different conditions. A thrown spear, or more effectively, a bow and arrow would bring more of this dynamic into the broader social context. One might not be as likely to get killed or seriously injured if one decides to plug an enemy with a well placed arrow, but the slain enemy’s family and friends have the same separation from immediate injury when they come for you later to even things up. One could think of the social dynamic of interpersonal violence as becoming more meta, and the most likely result of this is that day to day interpersonal violence would be significantly reduced. (Larger scale conflict including warfare is a different matter we’ll skip for the present discussion, but intergroup raiding is still pertinent.)
This is where the NRA comes in. The National Rifle Association’s argument is that if many people are armed with deadly projectile shooting weapons, there would be less violence because the social dynamics of violence would change. In a society of archaic Homo sapiens or Neanderthals, this argument may work very well. The available evidence for modern humans living in Western society, however, is that more guns generally means more injury, not less. What may have been a good argument during the Paleolithic does not seem to apply today. However, even though the NRA’s argument is not valid, the principle underlying it may have been a major force in the transition of Homo sapiens away from a nasty, brutish, and short-lived species to one where death is more a product of disease than damage inflicted by enemies and frenimes, a species more heavily engaged in the food quest (made harder without projectiles) and more often engaged in the more leisurely and artistic pursuits.
The irony is this: The very thing that may have shepherded the human lineage to a state where diplomacy is an option, and even a good option, has seemingly stopped us from moving forward to the next potential state of being. We are on the verge of being a peace-loving species. But we’re stuck. We’re stuck with all these damn guns and this gun loving culture.
I’ve reposed and slightly revised an earlier post that relates to this topic HERE.
image by Flickr user Mhobi