In Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the mystery of the human attraction to violence: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind. Book review: Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich. Jenny Bunker finds a re-issued book on the passions of war more pertinent than ever. Origins and History of the Passions of War by Barbara Ehrenreich. Reviews • Buy the Book. In Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the.
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Jenny Bunker finds a re-issued book on the passions of war more pertinent than ever.
Origins and History of the Passions of Wa r may seem remarkably timely. War, the author blopd, appears to have a life of its own, shape-shifting but omnipresent.
What Ehrenreich gives us is an evolutionary account of war, eschewing the rationales offered for individual conflicts in favour of a naturalised genealogy of the phenomenon itself.
These are quasi-religious in nature: The first part of the book considers our prehistory. Overturning the truism that war is an extension of our predatory instincts, Ehrenreich argues that it is our earlier and much longer existence as prey that shaped the institution. It may offend our pride to acknowledge that our fore-runners served as meat for other creatures, but that victim status has haunted our rituals ever since, from blood sacrifices to initiation rites and, ultimately, to war.
It is to war itself, and its metamorphoses in the historical period, that Ehrenreich turns in the second half of Blood Rites. An extremely adaptive beast, war thrives just as surely among modern nation states as it did among ancient tribes.
In one era we may justify wars to ourselves as necessary to secure resources, in another as required by a deity or to convert unbelievers — the blood-letting continues.
Book review: Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich
If anything, humanity and its civilisations look to be tools used by war rather than the converse. The warrior knight required horse-handlers and weapons manufacturers; the feudal peasantry and craftsman class emerged. Mass wars of the modern era needed a much larger pool from which to draw their conscripts; the nation state was born.
Leaching our resources, devastating our populations, war is the real predator of mankind.
Her interests in class and gender find expression in Blood Rites too. She borrows from Jack Goody the addendum rktes Marx that civilisation is shaped as much by the means of destruction as by those of production.
As to the question of gender, war, she proposes, arose as a solution to the problem of finding a role for men after the decline of hunting. It has the additional virtue of initiating boys into manhood, offering a ehrenreicn birth free from the shame of dependency on women.
Detailed but never dreary, Ehrenreich has clearly chewed over a lot of turgid scholarship to save us the bother. Blood Rites is a cocktail of diverse sources and academic approaches and as such can seem to slip down a little too easily, leaving the reader with a spinning head. Reading it I sometimes felt the craving for some solid scientific analysis — less digestible but perhaps ultimately more satisfying.
Like the passions of ritds themselves, then, this book is an intoxicant: But it is a stimulant too, offering plenty of food for thought for any with an interest in evolutionary psychology, anthropology, philosophy or political science. Ehrenreich herself, though, ultimately sees Ehrenrsich Rites as a call to arms: Is the idea of ‘the sacred’ available to atheists?
Richard Norman navigates the widely differing views at a recent humanist conference. We are supported by our members.
Book review: Blood Rites by Barbara Ehrenreich | New Humanist
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