Re: Going ape

From: Dace (
Date: Wed 20 Nov 2002 - 18:34:19 GMT

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    > From: "Wade T.Smith" <>
    > While this scenario may sound nothing like modern human warfare,
    > Wrangham insists that the motives for the assault were the same as those
    > that drive conflicts among human societies: the acquisition of territory
    > and resources, the enhancement of status, and the sheer will to conquer.
    > "One of the amazing things is how there are these similarities between
    > nation-states and chimpanzees in a group," he says. "We are the only two
    > species of mammals who raid territories."
    > That humans and chimpanzees display similar patterns of behavior
    > shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Recent studies have shown that
    > the two species' DNA make-up is about 99 percent identical. Indeed,
    > there are many primatologists who believe that modern-day chimps are a
    > fair representation of what our own ancestors must have looked like, and
    > acted like, six million years ago; Wrangham has often described the
    > animals as "time machines." "The underlying emotional systems that guide
    > humans," he says, "are almost certainly very similar to those that guide
    > chimpanzees."
    > The implications of this statement are troubling. If aggressive
    > chimpanzee behavior corresponds to our own aggressive behavior six
    > million years ago - and also to our behavior today - this implies that
    > our violent tendencies have persisted throughout our evolutionary
    > history. In other words, humans are hard-wired for violence. We're stuck
    > with it.

    Not necessarily. We may have radically departed from chimp mentality and then atavistically returned to it in recent times. The evidence for warfare is quite plentiful all the way back to about 12,000 years ago, when it suddenly stops. While advanced toolworking dates back tens of thousands of years, none of it appears to have been used for systematic violence against other humans. Though chimp society is dominated by an alpha male, this is clearly not the case with our more recent ancestors, such as Homo ergaster, for whom males and females were roughly the same size. This holds true for our own species, which clearly was not organized along "patriarchal" lines until about the same time war appeared. The great empires of the Near East, Alexander the Great, Rome, the British Empire, and now the USA... all of it is one giant atavism to an ape-like social organization, complete with territorial raids and the use of overwhelming force.

    > Conventional wisdom holds that man's propensity for sadistic violence is
    > a sickness, a horrible psychic quirk. Wrangham's theories, though,
    > suggest that the inclination to commit extravagant atrocities is a part
    > of our biological make-up - a mechanism of natural selection.

    It's not an either-or question. It was a psychic quirk-- our need to re-enact our transformation from prey to predator-- that triggered a biological atavism and the emergence of chimp-like mentality.

    > The fact that America is amassing forces in the Gulf region, then, may
    > be little more than an elaborate display - the equivalent of a chimp's
    > chest-thumping and dirt-flinging.

    Rumsfeld might as well have fur and a tail.

    > The current emphasis on Special Operations missions -
    > with their covert actions and quick-hit raids - is a weirdly atavistic
    > military strategy, not so far removed from the stealthy chimp patrols in
    > Uganda.

    Exactly. There's no continuous tradition of violent, male-dominated society stretching all the way back to our chimp-like ancestors six million years ago. We're dealing with an atavism. Backward jumps like this are common in evolution. Never underestimate the power of biological memory.


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