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From this Perch Column: Hardwired

John Bolton's office is just down the hall from the President's office in the White House.

You may have heard of Mr. Bolton — he's the National Security Advisor.

The National Security Advisor holds a powerful position: the President's go-to person on national security matters.

John Bolton has an interesting, if fearful, worldview: "Homo sapiens are hardwired for violent conflict. We're not going to eliminate violent conflict until Homo sapiens cease to exist as a separate species."

Let's say "hardwired" refers to something that seems like automatic behavior.

Are we hardwired for violent conflict?

Maybe. I mean, if I'm walking down the street and am suddenly attacked, I'll bet I would automatically react with some version of a violent response — pathetic as that might be for this aging guy.

The fight or flight instinct has been part of human behavior since our species first appeared on the Savannah Plain 200,000 years ago.

How hardwired are humans when it comes to violence? Among other things, it probably has something to do with a person's sense of security.

A boy raised in Baldwin, Wisconsin in the 50's and 60's, for instance, would probably have a very different inclination toward violent conflict than, say, a kid being raised today in an inner-city, gang-ridden neighborhood.

In any event, I wish Mr. Bolton would have gone further. He stopped at violent conflict, as

if that's the only "hardwired" quality of humans. If that were the case, we would have been doomed a long time ago.

I believe fear precedes violence. And as poet Charles Simic says, fear is contagious:

Fear passes from man to man

Unknowing.

As one leaf passes its shudder

To another.

All at once the whole tree is trembling

And there is no sign of the wind.

Thankfully, we have capabilities other than fear — and the violence that goes hand-in-hand with it. I'm referring to qualities that can make the difference between war and peace:

Love; reason; self-control; empathy; abstraction; compassion; cooperation; the ability to communicate; a sense of justice; self-reflection.

Each of us, I believe, has a storehouse filled with traits that seem hardwired — ranging all the way from violence to love.

So, what do we do with all that hardwiring? Do we just leave it to the whims of time and see how things shake out — a rolling of the proverbial dice?

I think it's about the qualities we cultivate, which leads to another form of hardwiring: the ability to choose.

True, for some people the pathway to smart choices can be filled with obstacles, but the potential is there. Hardwired.

So with all of this hardwiring, how does a human being know what to cultivate?

The world's great religions provide the answer: it's all about love — not hate and violence.

May our National Security Advisor, of all people, be reminded that our tendency toward violent conflict is far outweighed by the positive, healthy aspects of our hardwiring.

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