Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Seville Statement

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Seville Statement

Article excerpt

Peace is possible. War is not a biological necessity but a social invention, and peace must be invented to replace it. This is the message of the Seville Statement, which was drawn up in 1986 by an international team of specialists (biologists, psychologists, ethologists, geneticists and others) on the initiative of the Spanish National Commission for UNESCO as part of the International Year of Peace sponsored by the United Nations. The Statement has been endorsed by many organizations of scientists around the world, and in 1989 was adopted by UNESCO, which is disseminating it worldwide in the form of a brochure published in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. The Statement attracted considerable attention at the second World Congress on Violence and Human Coexistence which was held at Montreal (Canada) in July 1992.

Salient passages from the Statement are published below.

INTRODUCTION

We, the undersigned scholars from around the world and from relevant sciences, have met and arrived at the following Statement on Violence.

In it, we challenge a number of alleged biological findings that have been used, even by some in our disciplines, to justify violence and war. Because the alleged findings have contributed to an atmosphere of pessimism in our time, we submit that the open, considered rejection of these mis-statements can contribute significantly to the International Year of Peace.

We state our position in the form of five propositions. We are aware that there are many other issues about violence and war that could be fruitfully addressed from the standpoint of our disciplines, but we restrict ourselves here to what we consider a most important first step.

FIRST PROPOSITION

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 intra-species 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.

The fact that warfare has changed so radically over time indicates that it is a product of culture. Its biological connection is primarily through language which makes possible the co-ordination of groups, the transmission of technology, and the use of tools. War is biologically possible, but it is not inevitable, as evidenced by its variation in occurrence and nature over time and space. There are cultures which have not engaged in war for centuries, and there are cultures which have engaged in war frequently at some times and not at others.

SECOND PROPOSITION

It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature. While genes are involved at all levels of nervous system function, they provide a developmental potential that can be actualized only in conjunction with the ecological and social environment. While individuals vary in their predispositions to be affected by their experience, it is the interaction between their genetic endowment and conditions of nurturance that determines their personalities. …

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