Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are human beings innately aggressive?

Capitalist rule, not ‘human
nature,’ is source of war

Below is an excerpt from Sexism and Science by Evelyn Reed, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October. The book exposes and refutes a number of sexist and class-biased prejudices in branches of science—especially biology, sociology, and anthropology. Questions addressed include: Are human beings innately aggressive? Does biology determine women’s destiny as the “second sex”? The piece below, written in 1970, is titled “An Answer to ‘The Naked Ape’ and Other Books on Aggression.” Copyright © 1978 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Since the early 1960s the United States, the most powerfully armed nation on earth, has been conducting an onslaught against Vietnam, a tiny nation far from its shores. This long drawn-out, genocidal war has produced wave upon wave of revulsion among the American people.

Massive, unprecedented antiwar demonstrations have been accompanied by an intense interest in the root causes of military conflict. Many Americans who once believed that wars were waged only to “safeguard democracy” rightly suspect that they have been hoodwinked. They are coming to see that the only gainers from such conflicts are the monopolists, who seek to safeguard their empire and expand their power, profits, and privileges through them. Thus a political awakening is taking place with regard to the real causes of imperialist aggression, which are embedded in the drives and decline of the capitalist system.

In the same time period a set of writers has come to the fore whose books present a wholly different view of the causes of organized warfare. They claim that man’s biological heritage and his “killer” instincts are responsible for wars, absolving the predatory capitalist system of all responsibility. Their paperbacks are bought by the hundreds of thousands and have been high on the best-seller lists. They obviously influence the thinking of many readers who are anxiously searching for answers to the problems of war and other social evils.

The principal figures among these capitalist apologists have produced six such books in the decade. The pacesetter is Robert Ardrey, who brought out African Genesis in 1961 and its sequel, The Territorial Imperative, five years later. A third, The Social Contract, has just been published. Konrad Lorenz published On Aggression in 1963, which was translated into English in 1966. In 1967 The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris, appeared, followed two years later by its companion, The Human Zoo… .

However much these writers differ in background, training, and temperament, they agree that modern wars are not brought about for economic and social reasons but stem from the biological aggressiveness of human nature.

Their method consists in obliterating the essential distinctions that separate humans from animals and identifying the behavior of both through gross exaggerations and misrepresentations of the part played by instincts in human life. They argue that since mankind came out of the animal world, people are at bottom no better than animals; they are inescapably creatures of their biological impulses. Thus modern warfare is explained by man’s “innate” aggression.

This extension of animal aggressiveness to account for imperialism and its military interventions is absurd on the face of it. No animal has ever manufactured an atom bomb, and there are no apes standing ready to hurl them and blow up the planet. The small group of aggressive men who control the nuclear warheads are not in the zoos or the forests but in the White House and Pentagon.

To equate animal behavior with imperialist warmaking is to slander not only animals but the vast majority of humans who wish only to live in peace. The Vietnamese have not threatened or invaded the territory of the United States; the opposite is the case. And the average GI has so little warlike animosity for these distant “enemies” that it requires heavy pressure and unremitting patriotic indoctrination to convince him that he must become aggressive against them.

To the new school of writers, however, wars are not made by big business and its agents in Washington; the real culprit is the ape nature of man. With this biological fig leaf, they attempt to cover up the criminal course of the imperialists, and dump responsibility for their aggressions upon “man” in general.

These writers refuse to recognize that, while humankind has grown out of the animal world, we are a unique species which has outgrown animality. A whole series of distinctive attributes divides us from all lower species. Humans alone have the capacity to produce the necessities and comforts of life; humans alone possess speech and culture; humans, therefore, make their own history. The laws of social evolution, applicable to humanity alone, are fundamentally distinct from the laws of organic evolution applicable in nature….

Animal fights, personal squabbles, and imperialist wars are all dumped into the same sack to substantiate the falsification that humans are nothing but animals and have never passed beyond that stage of development. This theme is only a variation of the tiresome old argument that “you can’t change human nature”—another piece of capitalist propaganda designed to avert revolutionary change in our social system. Their special twist is that “you can’t change animal nature” since in their view humans are nothing but animals. History, however, demonstrates that just as the ape became man, so did man radically transform his ape nature and convert it into human nature.

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