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February 21, 2009, 2:30 PM

On Aggression: The Politics and Psychobiology of War

Participants: David Blight, R. Brian Ferguson, John Horgan (moderator), Dori Laub

This roundtable will examine the mechanisms by which the aggressive impulse translates into the phenomenon of violent conflict between nations and civilizations. How has the impulse within groups to assert dominion over other groups evolved over time? This collective drive has fuelled the cultivation and refinement of increasingly complex weaponry, which has grown into mankind's most consuming technological endeavor. But even as the craft of war occupies an ever-expanding portion of the world's material and intellectual resources, military science has yielded breakthroughs that have benefitted large populations, particularly in the area of medicine. This is just one of the ways in which the aggressive impulse can act simultaneously as a force for destruction and as an agency for self-preservation. A historian, an anthropologist, a journalist, and a psychiatrist will trace the evolution of warfare, addressing its tragedies and contradictions.

David Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, where he also serves as Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. During the 2006-07 academic year, he was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library. Blight is the author of A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including their Narratives of Emancipation and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

R. Brian Ferguson is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Rutgers University at Newark. He is an anthropological generalist on the subject of war, with publications on tribal warfare, ethnic conflict, the archaeology of violence, and war in ancient states. He is a critic of theories purporting to explain war as a result of evolved propensities to kill.

John Horgan is a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. A former senior writer at Scientific American, he has also written for The New York Times, Time, Discover, The London Times, and other publications around the world. He blogs for the Center for Science Writings and for Bloggingheads.tv, and writes a column, "The Last Word," for BBC Knowledge Magazine. His books include The End of Science, The Undiscovered Mind, and Rational Mysticism. His awards include the Science Journalism Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Science Writers Science-in-Society Award.

Dori Laub is a practicing psychoanalyst in New Haven, CT, who works primarily with victims of massive psychic trauma and their children. Dr. Laub is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and Co-Founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. He obtained his M.D. at the Hadassah Medical School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and his M.A. in Clinical Psychology at the Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. He has served as Acting Director of the Genocide Studies Program and is the Deputy Director for Trauma Studies at Yale. Dr. Laub has published on the topic of psychic trauma in a variety of psychoanalytic journals and has co-authored a book entitled Testimony-Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History with Professor Shoshana Felman.


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