It’s often said that blood is thicker than water – that family ties trump all others. But research with groups of men fighting in Libya has suggested that the bonds they formed in times of great adversity were as strong as those they had with their own kin.
During the 2011 conflict in Libya, we surveyed the civilians who had taken up arms to topple the Gaddafi-led regime and found extremely strong relationships: these men had bonded to one another as strongly as if they were brothers.
Those on the front line had the strongest bonds of all. Their ties were so profound that, in many cases, they were willing to die for one another. Such behaviour, where individuals show a willingness to offer the ultimate self-sacrifice and lay down their lives for people with whom they share no genes, has puzzled evolutionary scientists since the days of Darwin.
Our study, published in the early online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of several pieces of research we have been conducting for the project: “Ritual, Community, and Conflict”. Anthropologists, psychologists, historians, archaeologists and evolutionary theorists are working together in this project to try to understand the forces that bind and drive human groups.
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