“On Aggression” and the Continuing Vindication of the Unpersons

The vindication just keeps coming for the unpersons of the Blank Slate.  First Robert Ardrey’s “Territorial Imperative” is confirmed in an article in the journal International Security.  The authors actually deign to mention Ardrey, but claim that, even though their “novel ideas” are all remarkably similar to the main themes of a book he published almost half a century ago, it doesn’t count.  You see, unlike all the other scientists who ever lived, Ardrey wasn’t infallible, so he can be ignored, and his legacy appropriated at will.  Shortly thereafter, Ardrey’s “Hunting Hypothesis” is confirmed yet again, and in the pages of Scientific American, no less!  The article in question bears the remarkably Ardreyesque title How Hunting Made Us Human.  It does not mention Ardrey.

Now another major theme from the work of yet another unperson whose life work and legacy don’t count because Richard Dawkins said he was “totally and utterly wrong” has been (yet again) confirmed!  The unperson in question is Konrad Lorenz, a Nobel laureate who dared to suggest that genes might have some influence on human aggression in his book, On Aggression, published back in 1966.  According to the authors of a recent Penn State study there is now some doubt about whether Lorenz was “totally and utterly wrong” after all.  Here are some blurbs from an account in the Penn State News:

Aggression-causing genes appeared early in animal evolution and have maintained their roles for millions of years and across many species, even though animal aggression today varies widely from territorial fighting to setting up social hierarchies, according to researchers from Iowa State University, Penn State and Grand Valley State University.

If these “mean genes” keep their roles in different animals and in different contexts, then perhaps model organisms — such as bees and mice — can provide insights into the biological basis of aggression in all animals, including humans, the researchers said.

Do you think Lorenz will get any credit?  Dream on!  After all, he wasn’t infallible (what was it he was wrong about now?  The “hydraulic theory” or something), and it’s a “well known fact,” as Stalin always used to say, that any scientist who wasn’t as infallible as the Almighty should be ignored and forgotten and his work freely appropriated.  Or at least that’s the rule generally applied by the modern “historians” of the Blank Slate to scientists whose existence is “inconvenient” to their narrative.

BTW, the title typically used for articles about the study is very amusing.  In most cases, it’s simply copied from the one used in the Penn State News; “Wasps use ancient aggression genes to create social groups”.  Move along people!  There’s nothing interesting here.  It’s just a dull study about wasps.

No matter, studies on the influence of genes on human behavior continue to stream out of the Academy, demonstrating that, for the most part, such work can now be done without fear of retribution.  That, and not any vindicated or unvindicated scientific hypothesis, is the real legacy of Ardrey, Lorenz, and the other great unpersons of the Blank Slate.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

2 thoughts on ““On Aggression” and the Continuing Vindication of the Unpersons”

  1. Strangely it was a mention of Lorenz in Bruce Chatwins book ‘songlines’ that first alerted me to the genius that is Lorenz, Lorenz then lead to others, Ardrey of course being a huge source of relief.
    That academia should be so unconsciously territorial, hyper aggressive whilst on the alert for any ‘out-group’ incursions into its territory and so lacking in any ability in the human sciences to actually change anything, whilst behaving as a block for any new or challenging thought, would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.
    Academics of the professional type are so driven by pecking order, sucking up and pecking down that they actually make a great case study in the group dynamics that they so often deny. How fascinating it is, for example, to see the Marxist lecturer in Politics retire with his retirement fund full, having taught his whole life the evangelical myth of equality. His conduct, of course, supressing the aggressive tendencies of those students who wish to remain child like in submission, whilst the whole time contradicting his atheism/humanism with much unconsciously post Christian Kantian Funk.
    Thank you again for your site.

  2. I’ll have to take a look at Chatwin’s book. It’s certainly one of the crowning ironies of our day that, while it would seem the ideas of Lorenz and Ardrey have been triumphantly vindicated, and one even finds their hypotheses trotted out without a word of attribution in such unlikely venues as “Scientific American,” they are ignored. Meanwhile, one of the arch-priests of the Blank Slate, and a professor of exactly the type you mention, Richard Lewontin, continues to rake in prestigious prizes and be celebrated as a “great scientist.” History has been so bowdlerized that people are stunned if you even mention the fact that he had anything to do with the Blank Slate.

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