Threats: Intimidation and Its Discontents

ISBN : 9780190055295

David P. Barash
216 ページ
156 x 235 mm
  • Reveals how and why social responses to threats can often make threats worse
  • Provides insight into how to understand, navigate, and overcome some of the most crucial and pressing fears (social anxiety, gun control, death, and the afterlife)
  • Debunks nuclear deterrence by pointing out inconsistencies and potentially lethal flaws

From hurricanes and avalanches to diseases and car crashes, threats are everywhere. Beyond objective threats like these, there are also subjective ones: situations in which individuals threaten each other or feel threatened by society. Animals, too, make substantial use of threats. Evolution manipulates threats like these in surprising ways, leading us to question the ethics of honest versus dishonest communication. Rarely acknowledged—and yet crucially important—is the fact that humans, animals, and even plants don't only employ threats, they often respond with counter-threats that ultimately make things worse. By exploring the dynamic of threat and counter-threat, this book expands on many fraught human situations, including the fear of death, of strangers, and of "the other." Each of these leads to unique challenges, such as the specter of eternal damnation, the murderous culture of guns and capital punishment, and the emergence of right-wing nationalist populism. Most worrisome is the illusory security of deterrence, the idea that we can use the threat of nuclear war to prevent nuclear war!
Threats are so widespread that we often don't realize how deeply they are ingrained in our minds or how profoundly and counter-productively they operate. Animals, humans, societies, and even countries internalize threats, behind which lie a myriad of intriguing questions: How do we know when to take a threat seriously? When do threats make things worse? Can they make things better? What can we do to use them wisely rather than destructively? In a comprehensive exploration into questions like these, noted scientist David P. Barash explains some of the most important characteristics of life as we know it.


A Non-Threatening Start
The Clausewitz Cop-Out What's to Come
Section 1: The Natural World
Don't Tread on Them
Warnings and Mimics
Deimatic Deeds
Hawks, Doves and Other Gamesters Shrimp Salad
Vocal Threats
Sex, Subterfuge, and Snoopers
Section 2: individuals and Society
Crime and the Threat of Punishment Permanent Punishment
Religion as Response to Threats Oh, Hell!
Dealing With Death
Gunning for Something (if not someone) National Populism and Vice Versa
Section 3: International Affairs
Conventional Deterrence Nuclear Deterrence 101
A Multitude of Myths
What Has it Done for Us Lately? Close Calls
Self-Undermining Threats
The Incredible Dilemma of Extension and Escalation Irrational Reliance on Rationality
Counterforce's Counter-Logic
An Oxymoronic Morality
How Much is Enough?
Prisoner's Dilemmas and Fried Chickens
Strategic Defense?
How Do You Solve the Problem of Korea?
Failure IS an Option
A Prescription
Appendix A: Death by Deterrence, by Gen. Lee Butler (an excerpt) 
Appendix B: Deterrence Down on the Farm


David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington. He has written more than 280 peer-reviewed articles and forty books. Barash has penned op-eds in the Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune, as well as numerous pieces in The Chronicle of Higher EducationNautilus, and aeon.

"It's a rare author who can combine literary erudition and an easy fluency of style together with expert knowledge of psychology and evolutionary biology. David Barash adds to all this a far-seeing wisdom and a humane decency that shines through on every page. The concluding section on the senseless and dangerous futility of nuclear deterrence theory is an irrefutable tour de force which should be read by every politician and senior military officer. If only!" - Richard Dawkins FRS, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford, author of The Magic of Reality and Science in the Soul

"From bared fangs to nuclear deterrence, threat is ever-present in the lives of animals, including those animals called human beings. With scintillating prose infused with deep biological knowledge, David Barashtakes us on a gripping journey into the role of risk and intimidation in the lives of living things. But Threats is not only a description of the darker side of animal life. It's a call to move beyond domination by violence and fear to secure a better, safer, and saner future for humanity." - David Livingstone Smith, award-winning author of On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It

"This brilliant book compares how animals and humans alike respond to dangers, ending with the existential threat of nuclear war. The arcane and deviant logic of deterrence that justifies and now threatens extermination literally took my breath away. If you love life and if you love this planet, you need to read this book and understand how primitive naivete and obeisance to the power of certain alpha males and their absurd testosterone-fueled aggressive ruthlessness has led too many people to accept these appalling dictates. I ended the book with the clear understanding that it is urgent for everyone—and women in particular—to step up and displace deviant threats with a commitment to nurturance and sanity." - Helen Caldicott, Founder and President Emeritus of Physicians for Social Responsibility (Nobel Peace Prize, 1985)

"This book is one of those so obviously needed that one wonders why no one before thought to write it. It is lucky for readers that David Barash is the one who did. Barash, the professor you wished you had in college, draws on his knowledge of crustaceans, Monarch butterflies, Kant, Shaw, Bentham, and even Jesus in this fascinating exegesis of the all-too-relevant subject of the threats posed by guns, right-wing populism, racism, and nuclear weapons. As Barash, one of America's most distinguished scientists, wisely observes, "threats often end up making things worse, for threatener and threatened alike." - Rick Shenkman, author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

"Loved the book. David Barash is an amazing researcher and writer; the timing of his new book could not be more propitious, and his expertise is exactly what we need. The section on deterrence is an especially gripping narrative that will keep you up at night, which is all the more reason for you to read it!" - Michael Shermer, Publisher for Skeptic Magazine, Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, and author of The Moral Arc, Heavens on Earth, and Giving the Devil His Due

"A scientific romp that reveals how threats work and why they are often carried out even when that harms everyone. Fascinating examples, from the strategies of snapping shrimp to whether the death penalty deters crime, set the stage for a powerful argument that threats to use nuclear weapons are likely to result in their use and our annihilation." - Randolph M. Nesse, MD, Author of Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry