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Blood Rites: Origins and History of the…

Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War

by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Suggests an origin for the fervor humanity has for war and how its manifestation has morphed throughout our history. Ehrenreich defends that instead of our ancient role as predators forming the root of our emotional approach to war, it is our former designation as prey that has dictated it as a spiritual/religious experience: the overthrow of the beast who was simultaneously a threat and provider (before we dared to hunt, we scavenged). When massive beasts went extinct, solitary or small hunting groups became more efficient threatening the now superfluous large bands' of men exalted positions within their tribes. Instead of adopting another trade/skill (women's work) they rebranded themselves as defenders of their tribe, not against the beast, but against other men thus requiring war to validate their status. This military elite, in one form or another from its advent to present day, has propagated class stratification; the further technology advances, more underlings are required to produce weapons and relatively recently, wield them under direction from their superiors (and produce all other necessities and luxuries). Especially appreciated the chapter "Guns and the Democratization of Glory" proposing nationalism as the new world religion with later case studies on Nazism, State Shintoism, and American Patriotism. She parallels nations with the initial warrior elite, that war is ultimately necessary to maintain their status (not only among other nations, but to justify their existence). Shifting protests/efforts from specific wars/hostilities to war as a practice in general, is the initial step in a possible, but improbable future where peace is more than a temporary interlude between rampant, endorsed bloodshed. ( )
  dandelionroots | Nov 23, 2015 |
  Budzul | Jun 1, 2008 |
Original feminine study of war. Comes over as social anthropology, almost Keith Thomas but multi-cultural and inter-disciplinary in the best sense.

worthwhile view of war as mass hysteria. Prey and predator, Democratisation of war. Sacrifice. War and nationalism as a form of religion. ( )
  markajudd | May 28, 2007 |
While Ehrenreich offers some insightful observations into why human kind seems to be drawn to war, I found the level of detail to be overwhelming, making the book less readable than many of her other efforts. Well researched but often bogged down with quotes. ( )
  mamorico | Nov 4, 2006 |
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 of sacred undertaking? Blood Rites takes us on an original journey from the elaborate human sacrifices of the ancient world to the carnage and holocaust of twentieth-century "total war".

Sifting through the fragile records of prehistory, Ehrenreich discovers the wellspring of war in an unexpected place — not in a "killer instinct" unique to the males of our species but in the blood rites early humans performed to reenact their terrifying experience of predation by stronger carnivores. Brilliant in conception, rich in scope, Blood Rites is a monumental work that will transform our understanding of the greatest single threat to human life.

No summary can do justice to Ehrenreich's argument, and that if you were intrigued enough by the title to have read this far, please, read the book. Frequently, it seems more like a novel than non-fiction, with a powerful but always appropriate imaginative drive behind it. This is one of the most enthralling and enlightening works of anthropology that I have ever read.

Rather than looking to modern day psychology for innate aggressive or defensive traits, Ehrenreich begins her story with the stresses for the earliest humans of being in the middle of the food chain:

[O]ur peculiar and ambivalent relationship to violence is rooted in...being preyed on by animals that were initially far more skillful hunters than ourselves...Rituals of blood sacrifice both celebrate and terrifyingly reenact the human transition from prey to predator, and so, I will argue, does war. [p.22]

The relationship between humans and their predators must have been a very ambivalent one. On the one hand, the beasts were killers; on the other, they were providers of meat for scavengers, as the earliest human meat-eaters were. This predator-provider dichotomy is repeated frequently in early religion; allied with the beastial nature of almost all of these early deities, it does seem entirely plausible that religious ritual arose as a reaction to this. ( )
  ariefw | Jan 9, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805057870, Paperback)

In this ambitious work, Barbara Ehrenreich offers a daring explanation for humans' propensity to wage war. Rather than approach the subject from a physiological perspective, pinpointing instinct or innate aggressiveness as the violent culprit, she reaches back to primitive man's fear of predators and the anxieties associated with life in the food chain. To deal with the reality of living as prey, she argues that blood rites were created to dramatize and validate the life-and-death struggle. Jumping ahead to the modern age, Ehrenreich brands nationalism a more sophisticated form of blood ritual, a phenomenon that conjures similar fears of predation, whether in the form of lost territory or the more extreme ethnic cleansing. Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War may not offer a cure for human aggression, but the author does present a convincing argument for the difficulties associated with achieving peace.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:20 -0400)

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"In Blood Rites, renowned social critic Barbara Ehrenreich confronts a subject that has challenged thinkers from Homer to Freud: What draws our species to war and even makes us see it as a kind of sacred undertaking? Ehrenreich takes us on an original journey from the grasslands of prehistoric Africa to the trenches of Verdun, from the spectacular human sacrifices of precolonial Central America to the carnage and holocaust of twentieth-century "total war."" "Sifting through the fragile records of prehistory, Ehrenreich discovers the wellspring of war in an unexpected place - not in a "killer instinct" unique to the males of our species, nor in our Paleolithic hunting tradition, but in the blood rites early humans performed to reenact their terrifying experience of predation by stronger carnivores. It is in these ancient blood rites that Ehrenreich finds the first form of organized, socially sanctioned violence - and the spiritual antecedent of war." "Moving into historical time, Ehrenreich traces the evolution of war from the sacred undertaking of a privileged warrior caste to the central rite of the mass religion we know today as nationalism and shows the persistence of ancient fears in the most modern rituals and passions of war."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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