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President Obama was Wrong about ‘The First Man’

Early in his Peace Prize speech Barack Obama told the world that “war, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.”

The president was wrong. And his mistake has huge consequences.

Anthropologists conclude that during roughly 90 percent of Homo sapiens’ evolution, for nearly 200,000 years, we lived as hunter gatherers in small bands. There were so few of us that it’s unlikely we would have had reason to fight over food or territory. While there are signs of individual violence, scholars have yet to find evidence of warfare during this period.

Moreover, during this long stretch as hunter gatherers, our social forms were highly egalitarian. Both food sharing and cooperative child rearing were the norm.

U.C. Berkeley Primatologist and anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, and others, argue that what most distinguishes our species, relative to other primates, is the extent of our cooperation and empathy.

Yes, of course, we humans, as Obama underscored, can also be unspeakably cruel. But, in large measure we shape ourselves according to ideas we hold. Thus, in repeating the myth that our species began in warfare, Obama reinforces res