War has become exceedingly rare in the Fifth World, though not altogether unheard of. Human beings did not become wiser or more peaceful; rather, the context of human life changed, making warfare more dangerous and less effective. Few families experience the sort of acute privation that makes war seem like an attractive option. At the same time, warfare has become more frightening as an endeavor a family must undertake personally, unable to shift its execution onto the shoulders of a professional military class. This has made most families in the Fifth World very conflict-averse. With fewer and smaller rewards to gain from fighting, this has made war vanish in all but the most extreme circumstances.
How War Ended
The history of civilization tells a story of thousands of years of nearly uninterrupted warfare. Its collapse and the following Rusting Ages hardly unfolded peacefully either, and yet afterwards war almost completely disappeared. This did not happen because human beings suddenly became gentler, wiser, or more altruistic. Rather, changing conditions forced them to live differently, and in these new conditions warfare no longer made sense.
Ultimately, gardening, hunting, and gathering provide for people's needs. Families in the Fifth World know how to live off the land, giving them the sense that their territory will provided for everything they could need or want. They see themselves as living in abundance rather than scarcity. That sense of scarcity which drove war from its earliest roots at the beginning of civilization ceased to exist when civilization ended.
Even the most ardent gardeners in the Fifth World must hunt and gather from time to time, and this has meant that nearly every family has some experience tracking. A good tracker knows the songs of birds and the calls of different animals. They may not see for miles off into the distance, but the eagle can, and they can recognize the eagle's calls and the way it flies when it sees prey. “Concentric circles” of awareness turn the whole world into an extended set of senses for a skilled tracker. Sneaking up to surprise such people in their own territory seems all but impossible. Every rodent, every bird, every insect in their territory rushes to alert them to your intrusion. To invade the native territory of such people means more than just challenging the tribe; it means challenging the whole land itself.
The end of civilization also meant the end of the professional military class so often found within it. If a family has to fight a war, the members of that family must fight it. For most of the people in the family, a war means risking one's own life, and since nearly all families use some form of consensus to reach decisions, the simple interest of self-preservation makes most of them quite conflict-averse.
Families which rely on gardening tend to go to war more frequently than those that rely more heavily on hunting and gathering since they have more to gain by it. A family that relies heavily on gardening could potentially gain control of new gardening plots and thus grow more food. Such families more often store food and other materials, such that raiding their neighbors could potentially result in stealing useful things. Even for such families, though, warfare entails significant risks and only modest rewards.
Those families that rely on hunting and gathering have even less to gain. They cannot effectively hold any land they capture. Hunter-gatherers often just recede in the face of an invasion, and then return later once the invaders have left. Unless the invader can sustain a permanent presence in the area, hunter-gatherers prove too liquid to effectively conquer. Moreover, they store very little, either food or other materials. They move often, and so value what they can carry easily, produce on the spot, and replace quickly. Raiders find little worth taking from such people, and even less that they can't quickly and easily replace.
Most families do still have scouts. These scouts often live apart from the rest of their family for long periods of time, patrolling the periphery of the family territory. Families do not think of their territory as a continuous space with clear borders so much as specific places that they have a strong relationship to. A trespasser more or less violates a family's territory as she gets closer to or further away from these places, producing more or less anxiety and anger for the family, rather than crossing a set line between violating a boundary or not. This leaves a hazily-defined hinterland between families where scouts operate.
The scouts generally wage a continuous, low-key war against one another in this space. For example, a scout from one family may try to sneak up on the scout from another family while she sleeps to leave a knife next to her head. This delivers a message of intimidation, establishing the superiority of your family's scouts. The other family may retaliate by stealing an object that your family's scouts hold sacred, which will prompt your family's scouts to mount a rescue mission.
This can break down, and sometimes does. A scout who fails a stealth mission may use violence to escape the situation, and sometimes even kill another family's scout. Violence marks a scout's incompetence — he had to fight because he lacked the skill to accomplish his mission undetected. When such a death occurs, the family may require recompense. Without deft handling, such an incident can become the starting point of a major feud and perhaps, in time, a real war.
It can also break down if one family goes too far and begins committing acts that truly enrages another family. Usually, the elders of the family will recognize that their scouts went too far and make amends, but sometimes such a situation can boil over to become a feud.
Finally, it can break down when a family cannot compete. If a family's scouts show themselves too incompetent to match their neighbors, it begins to invite speculation that perhaps in this instance war could work. As such a rare occurrence, few people think of this even when the opportunity presents itself, but someone may eventually, and if they do they may try to attack.
Wars in the Fifth World
On the rare occasion that war does break out in the Fifth World, it generally means a time of intense fear for all of the families involved — perhaps as short as a few days, or as long as several years. Everyone in the family knows that one of their enemies might attack them at any time. These wars typically involve only a handful of deaths, but with small societies where everyone knows each other — a family — they feel each individual death as a major catastrophe. Proportional to the teeming millions or even billions of their industrialized ancestors such a toll rivals the great wars of the civilized past.
People in the Fifth World have no professional fighting class to take over fighting wars for them. When wars break out, they fight them themselves. They do not have a warrior ethos that glorifies service in combat or death in battle. They fear death and pain and want to avoid it at all costs. As such, they try to avoid battle, just as they try to avoid war in the first place. Their reluctance as warriors motivates the family to find a way to end the conflict as quickly and as peacefully as possible. On the other hand, deaths in war can also motivate a family to seek revenge. Once begun, such cycles can keep wars going for years and make finding peace quite difficult.
Alternatives to War
The difficulties and dangers of war have not made it any less common for families to find themselves in conflict, though. Because of the general aversion to war, families in many areas have found alternatives to warfare.
- Song duels can call upon traditions as old as Inuit song duels or Irish bardic satires, or more recent forms like rap battles — and frequently more than one at once.
- Sports provide contests that can consume the ferocity and physical exertion of a battle, but with less danger of death and mayhem.
- Judges respected by all as arbiters in a case can hold a trial and render a verdict. Usually these judges don’t derive their authority from any outside power, but only from the consent of all parties to abide by the judge’s decision, precisely to avoid armed conflict.
- Other contests that prioritize those skills that families prize most can take the place of war.
In all such cases, the system relies on all families respecting the method of arbitration, as the loser could choose to escalate to armed violence to have their way. If this happens, it threatens to undo the entire system of conflict resolution and plunge all of the families who accept it into a new age of conflict, and so they tend to treat such abandonment as the most heinous crime imaginable. Such a family may well find themselves branded as untrustworthy traitors or blasphemers, with all of their neighbors now united against them. The threat of this possibility maintains these alternatives to war by making the outcomes binding.