Theyocracy II: The joy of war

The latest in the series by H. Smiggy McStudge.

The series so far:

‘The frightful landslide into Theyocracy’
Theyocracy: The argument
‘Dear verminous cretin’: Smiggy replies to a reader
I. Ants and monkeys



Violence, my lovelies, has been a main fixture of Earthly life ever since the Old Original Studge, by experiments as ingeniously cruel as they were effective, introduced predation to the ecology of the planet. There was a time when primitive animals gobbled primitive plants, and there was nothing to gobble the primitive animals, except by accident; for a filter feeder cannot be delicate or selective. The detritus of those early creatures was so copious and abundant that it forms a thick layer rich in organic matter, known as shale kerogen, lying deep in most of the sedimentary basins of the Earth. The humans have only recently discovered this mass and begun to use it as fuel. Our Technical Division is encouraging them to waste it as thoughtlessly as they wasted the other carbonaceous fuels that they have hitherto discovered; with imperfect success so far, but despair springs eternal, and we know that we shall succeed in the end.

The process that created the kerogens might have gone on until the whole planet was depleted of hydrocarbons; but the Old Studge, as I have said, intervened by giving Earth life one of those periodic nudges by which we have helped it become such an abundant source of food for our Commissary to harvest and exploit. This early intervention, as I have said, meant introducing predation: modifying some of the animals to have gaping mouths and distensible guts, so they could swallow other animals and absorb their life and strength into themselves. Our own remote ancestors started an arms race among the Earth creatures, as the predators became more fearsome, and the prey developed various dodges to protect themselves. Quite suddenly, a little over half a billion years ago, the prey reached the point of growing hard shells and other kinds of armour to make them hard to eat, and the predators developed mandibles and pincers to crack the shells with. This was what the humans call the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. Until very recently, they knew nothing of life before that epoch; they still know very little. They know their earliest ancestors chiefly by the evidence of the weapons that they left behind.

However, predation is not war. War is an activity in which a group or colony of living things kill others of their own species, not for food, but to remove competition. The earliest form of war, which dates back before the Cambrian, is still seen today. On every coral reef, you will find frontiers and battlegrounds. One colony of corals encounters another, and recognizing by their scent in the water that they are not of its own race, they begin to secrete digestive acids to dissolve the other corals. The oldest weapons are chemical weapons.

(It is a wonderful testimony to the stupidity of humans that they swam and dived over these coral reefs for centuries before they ever noticed the deadly struggle going on in plain sight. Because the fighters were small and the battle was slow, they saw only the weird complexity left behind by the shifting lines of battle, and they called it beauty. Such imbecility would be touching, if it were not so disgustingly aesthetic.)

Later organisms used the hard parts of their bodies to make war on one another: you can see it with the ants I mentioned in the previous chapter. Apes and monkeys picked up sticks and stones to use as weapons.

The humans made weapons on purpose.

This was a wonderful development. Not only did it increase the human death rate, it created a constant atmosphere of hatred, fear, and xenophobia between the different tribes or troops of humans. And because the weapons could always be improved by further inventions, the humans could never adapt. Every time they learnt to live with a new level of paranoia, we helped them discover a new toy and make things even worse for themselves. Each tribe, in its heart of hearts, wanted to kill all the others and have the world to itself; but they could not, because they had to cooperate with the others for their own survival. We have derived much profit and amusement from this conflict of basic urges.

It was, for instance, necessary to the health of the tribe that it exchange genetic matter with other tribes now and then. The simplest form of exchange was to let wandering hunters or scouts have sexual enjoyment of some of the tribe’s females.

This was after the humans had begun to develop their specialization of labour. In some species, such as the wolves and other pack animals, hunting for game and searching for new ranges are done by both sexes cooperatively. But the helpless infancy and slow maturity of the humans made this impracticable. It is very difficult to chase an antelope or bring down a buffalo with a small child at one’s breast, and dangerous to do so whilst pregnant. Moreover, the natural dimorphism of the species – the males being larger and more muscular than the females, with little overlap in their ranges – encouraged this division of labour.

So it was naturally the males that travelled about and were encouraged to rut with the neighbouring tribes; and because this gave them pleasure, they were moved to ever more strenuous competition in their hunting. The greatest and widest-ranging hunters were most likely to be rewarded with these opportunities of debauchery. So long as they stayed home, they had only their own females to breed with, and their own females were possessive, shrewish, and (as a rule) not much more numerous than the males. To this day, this form of mating behaviour – the humans call it ‘sowing one’s wild oats’ – persists among soldiers, sailors, and middle-aged men going to conventions in Las Vegas.

A later but more useful form of genetic exchange occurred when tribes would trade their young females: sometimes one female for another, but often in exchange for other goods. For the great difficulty of human life, at this period, was that they depended upon flint axes and spears to kill their game with; and the best flints were not found in the same places as the best game. Tribes that had good sources of flint and other stones would trade them to their neighbours for other things that they desired; and they always desired women. This kind of trade, where nubile females were used as a commodity, had all kinds of desirable effects. It encouraged lust, acquisitiveness, and greed; it taught the males to regard their females merely as objects of pleasure, for the imported females were outside the magic circle of 150 that their brains were able to treat as fully human. Best of all, it encouraged the formation of alliances between tribes, and gave them higher stakes to fight for than a herd of deer or a good fishing spot.

For there is a stricter sense in which the word War is used, and I shall so use it henceforth in referring to the humans. It often happens that one tribe will come into conflict with another tribe over hunting-grounds, or botched trades, or simply because the young males have vinegar in their veins and rocks in their heads, and need to express themselves by violence. You cannot have your young hunters making enemies among themselves, let alone killing one another out of hand; but you can always send them to kill the young hunters of that tribe over there, who are not (in your parochial view) really people at all. So the humans were always picking fights with neighbouring tribes, and sometimes the fights would last for generations. This behaviour still persists in backward regions, as shown by the human storyteller who called himself ‘Mark Twain’:

‘Well,’ says Buck, ‘a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in – and by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud. But it’s kind of slow, and takes a long time.’

Following this usage, I shall refer to these tribal quarrels and massacres as feuds, and reserve the term war for the wonderful invention described hereafter.

It may happen that one of the feuding parties has taken a wife from another tribe; and they, though they have sold her into slavery among foreigners, may still have some feeling for her, and even a residual tenderness towards her offspring. So they can be induced to take part in the feud as allies. The humans are, to date, the only animals that form such alliances, and the only ones that make war in the stricter sense. So two tribes combine against one, and wipe it out; or the one tribe finds allies of its own, and the allies on each side drag in still other tribes, until a whole region is aflame with general war. At this point, men who have no regard for each other’s well-being – men who are total strangers, and would happily kill one another for a pretty girl or a chunk of meat – find themselves fighting on the same side against still other strangers. This is useful as well as delightful.

Each tribe has its own war leader, or captain. The captains, who must work together to coordinate the fighting, soon learn to include one another in their magic circle. Because they are chosen from the strongest and wiliest warriors, they come to regard each other as more fully human even than their own tribe members. This is the beginning of the excellent invention called hierarchy, and another of which I shall speak later. For easy identification, the men of one tribe all take to wearing a particular symbol or totem. It is impossible for a man with a thousand allies and a thousand enemies to know them all by sight; but even a stupid man can keep track of the fact that his tribe are the Red Feathers, and the Red Feathers, White Feathers, and Wolf Pelts are on one side, and the Yellow Feathers, Deerskins, and Ram’s Horns are on the other.

Late in this period, the humans will grow clever enough with their tools to make elaborate carved masks, jewellery, and even tattoos, so that very large numbers of tribes can be uniquely identified. Of course these things become objects of emulation, and therefore of competition. The bravest warrior, or the best hunter, or the boldest trader of flints for amber, can find ways to procure the best masks or jewels or tattoos for himself, to show off his prowess, and to gain other advantages. This is the beginning of what the humans call wealth. It will be used merely for show thousands of years before, belatedly and regrettably, it is put to practical use.

When tribes grow too large and split into smaller bands, this, too, contributes to the system of alliances. From time to time, a single tribe will gain such an advantage over its neighbours that it simply overruns them. A compact group of 100 humans may, within ten or twenty generations, grow into a loose federation of tribes with as many as 10,000 members, scattered over hundreds of miles of territory. With no means of transportation except their own feet, and no means of communication except the spoken word, these are the largest groups that the humans can form. Add any more member tribes, and even the war leaders cannot all be personally acquainted; the war councils break up into factions, and the federation breaks apart in internal strife. Make the range any larger, and the natural drift of human language makes it impossible for the tribes at one end to understand the tribes at the other end.

For the time being, this puts a limit on the size of human alliances and the destructiveness of human wars. But only for the time being. Unable to enlist more allies in space, one group of humans will learn to seek allies in kind. Their new friends have been living under their noses all along; and this new kind of alliance will change the humans themselves for ever.



Coming next: ‘Cry havoc’


  1. Nice essay!

    Is “Cry Havoc” by any chance ever coming? 🙂

Speak Your Mind