Once upon a time, half a century ago and more, several authors wrote books according to which certain animals, including human beings, are, at least in certain circumstances, predisposed to aggressive behavior. Prominent among them was On Aggression, published in English in 1966 by Konrad Lorenz. Other authors included Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape, 1967), Lionel Tiger (Men in Groups, 1969) and Robin Fox (The Imperial Animal, co-authored with Tiger, 1971). The most prominent and widely read of all was the inimitable Robert Ardrey (African Genesis, 1961, The Territorial Imperative, 1966, The Social Contract, 1970, and The Hunting Hypothesis, 1976). Why were these books important, or even written to begin with? After all, the fact of innate aggression, then as now, was familiar to any child who happened to own a dog. Well, because the “men of science” disagreed. They insisted that there were no innate tendencies to aggression, in man or any of the other higher animals. It was all the fault of unfortunate cultural developments back around the start of the Neolithic era, or of the baneful environmental influence of “frustration.”
Do you think I’m kidding? By all means, read the source literature! For example, according to a book entitled Aggression by “dog expert” John Paul Scott published in 1958 by the University of Chicago Press,
All research findings point to the fact that there is no physiological evidence of any internal need or spontaneous driving force for fighting; that all stimulation for aggression eventually comes from the forces present in the external environment.
A bit later, in 1962 in a book entitled Roots of Behavior he added,
All our present data indicate that fighting behavior among the higher mammals, including man, originates in external stimulation and that there is no evidence of spontaneous internal stimulation.
Ashley Montagu added the following “scientific fact” about apes (including chimpanzees!) in his “Man and Aggression,” published in 1968:
The field studies of Schaller on the gorilla, of Goodall on the chimpanzee, of Harrison on the orang-utan, as well as those of others, show these creatures to be anything but irascible. All the field observers agree that these creatures are amiable and quite unaggressive, and there is not the least reason to suppose that man’s pre-human primate ancestors were in any way different.
When Goodall dared to contradict Montagu and report what she had actually seen, she was furiously denounced in vile attacks by the likes of Brian Deer, who chivalrously recorded in an artical published in the Sunday Times in 1997,
…the former waitress had arrived at Gombe, ordered the grass cut and dumped vast quantities of trucked-in bananas, before documenting a fractious pandemonium of the apes. Soon she was writing about vicious hunting parties in which our cheery cousins trapped colubus monkeys and ripped them to bits, just for fun.
This remarkable transformation from Montagu’s expert in the field to Deer’s “former waitress” was typical of the way “science” was done by the Blank Slaters in those days. This type of “science” should be familiar to modern readers, who have witnessed what happens to anyone who dares to challenge the current climate change dogmas.
Fast forward to 2016. A paper entitled The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature. The first figure in the paper has the provocative title, “Evolution of lethal aggression in non-human mammals.” It not only accepts the fact of “spontaneous internal stimulation” of aggression without a murmur, but actually quantifies it in no less than 1024 species of mammals! According to the abstract,
Here we propose a conceptual approach towards understanding these roots based on the assumption that aggression in mammals, including humans, has a significant phylogenetic component. By compiling sources of mortality from a comprehensive sample of mammals, we assessed the percentage of deaths due to conspecifics and, using phylogenetic comparative tools, predicted this value for humans. The proportion of human deaths phylogenetically predicted to be caused by interpersonal violence stood at 2%.
All this and more is set down in the usual scientific deadpan without the least hint that the notion of such a “significant phylogenetic component” was ever seriously challenged. Unfortunately the paper itself is behind Nature’s paywall, but a there’s a free review with extracts from the paper by Ed Yong on the website of The Atlantic, and Jerry Coyne also reviewed the paper over at his Why Evolution is True website. Citing the paper Yong notes,
It’s likely that primates are especially violent because we are both territorial and social—two factors that respectively provide motive and opportunity for murder. So it goes for humans. As we moved from small bands to medium-sized tribes to large chiefdoms, our rates of lethal violence increased.
“Territorial and social!?” Whoever wrote such stuff? Oh, now I remember! It was a guy named Robert Ardrey, who happened to be the author of The Territorial Imperative and The Social Contract. Chalk up another one for the “mere playwright.” Yet again, he was right, and almost all the “men of science” were wrong. Do you ever think he’ll get the credit he deserves from our latter day “men of science?” Naw, neither do I. Some things are just too embarrassing to admit.