"Love and War" by Paddy Welles and Dolf Harmsen


“The major purpose of our book is to get us in touch with the ways we employ aggression and passion to meet our personal needs and to achieve our ambitions, goals and dreams.  Experiencing our aliveness is our deepest psychological need from the cradle to the grave.  Feeling passionately alive is the ultimate gratification of that need.  Must we behave irrationally or violently to attain that gratification?  When does love become irrational?  Is war ever rational?”
— from “Love and War”

For most of recorded history much of the history that was recorded was about war.  This should not be surprising, as war is a big event and can mark a turning point in a nation’s history.  It’s also an exciting experience and a much stronger story than recalling days behind a plow or fishing in a river.  Everyday life can also be a bit ho-hummy, but the tedium we experience is brightened by being with those we love and who love us.  In either love or war we leave the fallow flat country and ascend into the exceptional.  But these “peak experiences” may carry their own risks: the love can be strained or transient, the war will be destructive and deadly.  To understand what makes wars so frequent and love so evasive we turn to a psychologist and a biologist.

If war is so awful and peace and love so wonderful, why has the human race had such a tough time stopping war and also making love survive?  In their new book “Love and War: Human nature in Crisis”, biologist Dr. Rudolf Harmsen and psychologist Dr. Paddy S. Welles seek the answer to these questions in a complex of social and evolutionary factors.  People can be propelled by feelings that run ahead of reason.  “We actually have an emotional mind,” the book tells us, “which preceded our rational mind in evolutionary development.”  Human society originated with family and tribal connections, and it appears that among the earliest conflicts were disputes over natural resources.

Harmsen and Welles do not shy away from critiquing the idea that love and war both fulfill a deep human need.  They endorse the 2007 “Civil Paths to Peace” recommendations of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding as pointing the way toward avoiding calamity.  In “Love and War” we find Drs. Welles and Harmsen writing in turn from their individual expertise and shared concerns.  Paddy S. Welles of Horseheads, NY  is a marriage and family therapist with a doctorate from Syracuse University.  She is the author of “To Stand in Love” and “Are You Ready for Lasting Love?” Rudolf Harmsen, a native of the Netherlands who remembers the days of the Second World War, holds a Ph.D. in insect biochemistry from Cambridge University and is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.  He has written for many scholarly journals and produced children’s television programs about the animal world.

Paddy Welles and Dolf Harmsen join Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to share their outlook on human and animal behavior, environmental threats, the quest for love and security and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

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