Robert Ardrey

Territorialism and War
from The Territorial Imperative




In this text we can find confirmation that territorialism (state  monopolistic sovereignty) and war (state violent behaviour) are strictly interlinked. The author does not hide this fact and wants to show that the existence of territorialism and war are inevitable components of the human experience and of human nature. However, even a superficial observation of historical reality tells us that this is not the case otherwise all non territorial individuals (e.g. migrants) should be considered non-human, the existence of deserters and state court-martial for deserters should be inconceivable, and the manifestation of psychic troubles for combatants an invention of psychologists. All these are factual realities that do not fit into Robert Ardrey’s discourse. And that is why not only territorialism and war are not inevitable but the sooner we get over territorialism the better the prospects for eliminating war.



I suggest that there are three beginnings - three faces of Janus - psychologically motivating the behavior of all higher animals including man. They are these same needs for identity, for stimulation, and for security. How low and how ancient they may be evidenced in the evolutionary scale we have no means as yet to guess. For all we know, they may be the primordial psychological necessities of life itself. Let us restrain ourselves now to the suggestion that they are the inward and frequently conflicting impulses lending both unity to the behavior of higher beings and continuity to the higher evolutionary processes. They provide the final refutation of human uniqueness.

I am grateful to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow for the concept which he first presented to describe needs universal to a species. He used the phrase "instinctoid needs." I find difficulty with the word "instinctoid," which for some reason or other presents me with the immediate need for either a surgeon or a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. It is an entirely personal affliction, and both Dr Maslow and the reader must forgive me if I use the term no further. Maslow's thesis stemmed from his radical approach to psychology, the analysis of healthy people. To find out what was wrong with us, his was the heretical impulse to find out what was right with us. He assumed that just as the lack of a needed vitamin will spread disorder through the body, so the starvation of a basic psychological need will spread disorder through mind and emotion. Only through the study of healthy personalities, who through a variety of means have found satisfaction for basic needs, can one discover what the needs consist of.

As a psychologist, Maslow confined his observations to the human being and so came up with answers different from mine. He regarded love, for example, as an instinct-like human need. I should regard it not as a human need but a human answer, satisfying demands of an older and wider order. As specific patterns originating in the evolutionary past characterize the behavior of four-dimensional man, so the more general psychological needs, which they serve have seen their beginnings in the time before man was born.

Identity, stimulation, security: if again you will think of them in terms of their opposites their images will be sharpened. Identity is the opposite of anonymity. Stimulation is the opposite of boredom. Security is the opposite of anxiety. We shun anonymity, dread boredom, seek to dispel anxiety. We grasp at identification, yearn for stimulation, conserve or gain security. And brood though I may over Janus' three faces, I have yet to discover a fourth.

The extent of a given need, of course, will vary from species to species, population to population, group to group, individual to individual. The need for security must be greater in prey animals than in predators, in the female than in the male, in the ill than in the well, in the unpropertied than in the propertied, in the omega fish than in the alpha, in the unstable society than in the stable. It is characteristic of an innate need, however, that it is never absent, and never more than temporarily satisfied. Like a vitamin, there must be a daily dose.

Also, there is a definite hierarchy of value among the three needs. Some needs are more pressing than others, and these too must vary from species to species, individual to individual. But curiously enough there is not the variation that one might expect. There are few exceptions to the rule that the need for identity is the most powerful and the most pervasive among all species. The need for stimulation is not far behind. And security, normally, will be sacrificed for either of the other two.

A behavior pattern or a cultural tradition is successful if it satisfies a maximum of innate need. Human war, for example, has been the most successful of all our cultural traditions because it satisfies all three basic needs. Our struggle for identity is the endless quest to achieve recognition of oneself as an individual in one's own eyes and the eyes of one's kind. War provides glory for some, the ultimate identity in the eyes of a maximum number. But the dread of anonymity does not imply a necessary tussle for fame; it is a tussle for recognition, even self-recognition, for knowing who one is. Rank satisfies identity. In a subtle fashion, war provides identity for all, from commanding general to private, through squads and companies, regiments and divisions, functional association with air or infantry or naval disposal, artillery, communications, supply, a thousand satisfying pigeonholes. All are identifications which the anonymity of civilian life can less successfully provide.

The stimulation of warfare is the most powerful produced ever in the history of species. The flight from boredom has never been presented with such maximum satisfactions for maximum numbers. No philosopher, viewing the horrors of war through the astigmatic lenses of the pain-pleasure principle, can grasp the attraction which war presents to civilized men. It is the ultimate release from the boredom of normal existence. This was what William James so well understood when he wrote that a permanent peace economy can never be based on a pleasure economy. Pain may be far more stimulating than pleasure; death and disaster may present hypodermic charges more potent than life at its fullest, success at its most resounding. In all the rich catalogue of human hypocrisy it is difficult to find anything to compare with that dainty of dainties, that sugared delicacy, the belief that people do not like war.

Finally, there is the need for security. The rewards are equivalent. The predator fights for a net gain in security, whether in loot, land, slaves, or the confusion of enemies. The defender, on the other hand, fights to conserve security, and to destroy those forces that threaten it. A certain local anxiety may be generated, the anxiety of mothers and wives. But it is a small force as compared to the anxiety of losing the war itself.

War has suffered few sacrifices of appeal in this century. As it has gained in size and techniques of terror, it has gained in stimulation. As it has gained in participating numbers, it has gained in identification. The only real loss has been to the security of the predator through the rise of the organized territorial nation, and to the suicidal consequences of nuclear argument. While general warfare has in our time become something too fissionably hot to handle, the result has been not so much to reduce war's basic appeal as to introduce frustration into our lives; we are denied what we want. Under a pax atomica, a program for peace which does not include substitute satisfactions for those basic, innate needs satisfied in past times by our most popular diversion is a program of controversial validity.

As we may understand the popularity of human war, we may understand the popularity of territory. There are few institutions, animal or human, that satisfy all three needs at once. Besides the security and the stimulation of border quarrels which it provides with equivalent largesse among species, it provides identity. "This place is mine; I am of this place," says the albatross, the patas monkey, the green sunfish, the Spaniard, the great horned owl, the wolf, the Venetian, the prairie dog, the three-spined stickleback, the Scotsman, the skua, the man from La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Alsatian, the little-ringed plover, the Argentine, the lungfish, the lion, the Chinook salmon, the Parisian. I am of this place which is different from and superior to all other places on earth and I partake of its identity so that I too am both different and superior, and it is something that you cannot take away from me despite all afflictions which I may suffer or where I may go or where I may die. I shall remain always and uniquely of this place.

I can discover no argument of objective worth which can effectively counter the claim that the psychological relationship of a lungfish to a piece of muddy water differs in any degree from the psychological relationship of the San Franciscan to the hills and the bay that he loves so well. Several hundred million years of biological evolution have altered not at all the psychological tie between proprietor and property. Neither have those unimaginable epochs of evolutionary time altered the psychological stimulation which enhances the physiological energies of the challenged proprietor. Nor have we reason to believe that the sense of security spreading ease through a troop of black lemurs in their heartland has changed a least whit throughout all of primate history in its effect on the sailor, home from the sea, or the businessman, home from the office.

War may be the most permanent, the most changeless, the most prevalent, and thus the most successful of our cultural innovations, but the reasons differ not at all from the prevalent success of territory. Both satisfy all three basic needs. And we have few other institutions to rival them.


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