Genes, Violence, Love, Egalitarianism
(Top Posts - Social/Legal - 043002)

The following offers interesting background on genetic
theories of human behavior, not really touching on how
those origins translated themselves into the sophisti-
cated forms of culture, languages, and memetic activity
(among the most prominent being religions) present in
current societies, but nevertheless offering tempting tid-
bits which might lead one to ponder what the naturalistic
consequences of evolution would be on a species which
has had to literally fight for its very survival for the better
part of its long harsh struggle against death.

In essence, the human species has gone through a multi-
million year violence-filled survival-of-the-beings-most
likely to control resources phase (with violence being a
key element of that control, along with other more pleas-
ant emotional traits given little mention in this article) ...

... Violence remains deeply embedded within the human
genetic code, and, as such, an evolutionary "burden" of
the human species, expressed in assorted forms through
behavior and constructs such as icons of ultimate power/
revenge/justice (god) still haunting humankind in the cur-
rent day and age ...

Important to note, however, given little mention in the fol-
lowing (until the brief discussion of the bonobos), also
embedded are naturalistic inclinations towards kindness and
love and egalitarianism which, in a resource-rich environment,
can act in a way in which sharing and caring leads to species
optimization and success of the many rather than merely the
enrichment of the few at the expense of the many ...

Friday, March 22, 2002 - 12:09 a.m. Pacific
Are our genes 'wired' for violence?
Expert thinks it's a primal instinct

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... Harvard author and anthropologist Richard Wrangham,
in Seattle this week, says that human beings, particularly
young men, have a biological predisposition for violence
and that such behavior stems in part from a primal survival

This predisposition, he says, "is written in the molecular
chemistry of DNA," which is a technical way of saying
it's hard-wired into us.

... Wrangham is also a primatologist.

... Wrangham's ideas, presented in his book, "Demonic
Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence," are
based on studies of chimpanzee communities in the wild.
Although released several years ago, the book continues
to make its way through scientific and academic circles,
and not without loud dissent.

One critic called the book's thesis "titillating and simplistic."
Others deemed it dangerous, opening the way for a legal
defense of ruthless killers. After all, how can society blame
any individual if violence is a genetic imperative of our

The Harvard professor is part of an increasingly influential
web of scientists who trace all aspects of human behavior
to evolutionary selection. Their basic premise: People be-
have the way they do because their ancestors made behav-
ioral adaptations to survive that then were passed on.

Wrangham writes that modern humans are "the dazed sur-
vivors of a continuous, 5 million-year habit of lethal aggres-

... "Demonic Males," co-authored by evolutionary biologist
Dale Peterson, argues that on the most basic level, primate
(and therefore human) violence is driven by the need to sur-
vive and procreate. The best fighters, the ones who wield
violence most successfully, are the most likely to reproduce.

Because humans and chimpanzees share nearly the same
genetic package — their DNA are 99 percent identical —
Wrangham and a growing number of scientists see chimp-
anzees as windows to the origins of human behavior. How
chimps behave, the theory goes, is probably how early
humans behaved.

But this is exactly where many scientists disagree. Jonathan
Marks, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina,
says Wrangham and Peterson make an incredible — and
ultimately unscientific — leap by linking the behaviors of
chimps and humans.

Marks says the "connection," upon which the whole book
is based, should be seen as merely an "imaginative projec-
tion" by Wrangham and Peterson of human characteristics
onto chimpanzees. The authors, Marks says, never prove
the connection.

Waging war

Nevertheless, chimps, like the other great apes, have been
widely shown to have the capacity to feel and communicate
complex thoughts and emotions, to exhibit loyalty and
affection as well as cruelty. Only in the past three decades
have researchers documented the kind of violence among
chimps traditionally ascribed only to humans — namely,
waging war.

Wrangham and Peterson contend that homicide committed
by roving bands of young males can be seen as a primitive
form of war, one that humans have practiced for eons. The
scientists refer to it as "raiding." It's committed by one
group as a way of weakening a rival community.

... "Demonic Males" describes in vivid detail raids by
groups of young chimpanzee males who randomly select
and beat to death isolated members of other bands.

The Sept. 11 attacks, Wrangham says, conforms to the
definition of a raid. They occurred by surprise, made no
immediate material gains and killed members of the enemy.
The goal was to weaken the United States.

Wrangham disparages as "nave" attempts by U.S. leaders
to characterize the enemy, in this case Osama bin Laden
and al-Qaida, as "evil."

"It is to a large extent just name-calling," he says. "Each
side calls the other evil. Both sides invoke their own gods.
This explains nothing about the roots of the conflict."

From an evolutionary biologist's point of view, the conflict
is a consequence of resource competition and power bal-
ances (and imbalances): Each side wants to secure more
resources and more power.

- - -

}} ---editorial aside---
}} Hence, the heavy reliance on "god" by both the perpetrators
}} of the 9-11-01 horror and by the victims of the horror, god
}} being the representation of the ultimate icon of authority,
}} power, justice. Wrangham's dismissal of memetic factors
}} seems to reveal a disconnect between his theory of genetic/
}} evolutionary forces and the way in which those forces have
}} shaped ideas/memes, with ideas/memes acting as a "force
}} multiplier" for those elements which originated due to evolu-
}} tionary pressures.
}} Reference twin studies for revelation of behavior which is
}} substantially influenced by environment rather than solely as
}} a reflection of genes.
}} --- end editorial aside ---

- - -

- - - continue excerpts from article - - -

Make love, not war

Wrangham does offer a way out of our genetic bind by
citing the example of another primate, the bonobo, also
known as the pygmy chimpanzee.

The bonobo is the make-love-not-war sibling of the primate
family. This primate rarely fights with its own kind or with
other animals but instead makes love constantly and freely
with friends, family and strangers.

Food was more abundant in the areas where bonobos lived,
allowing the species to evolve into a life of less struggle and
isolation. In addition, females are equal in stature and status
to males, creating a more egalitarian society, and tempering
testosterone-driven (read: male) impulses toward aggression.

The hope lies in that primate societies, including our own,
have the ability to structure communities in a way that effect-
ively checks violent behavior.

Some examples of human success: early 17th-century New
England, early 20th-century Iceland and mid-20th century
Malaysia among Semai tribal members. All of these societies
experienced strikingly low levels of violence.

Besides having great uniformity in genes and ideology, the
other main key was "controlling the young males" and not
allowing them to become emotionally and socially detached
from the rest of the community.

These examples, Wrangham says, have been rare exceptions.

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