Home______The Fate of Earth, II: Genetic Predisposition to Violence

The first piece at 5 May 2004, this is the second of two articles on Jared Diamond, who is a physiologist at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award, he is a man of many interests and passions. In a 1995 video interview for Discover magazine, he revealed their range and depth. Here are some of his comments during that interview.

  • Medical ethics. Would you conduct experiments on humans with severe mental retardation whose mental capacities are less than chimpanzees? Who are so handicapped that they feel less pain and social distress? Of course not. Then why do it on chimpanzees? ( People have little problem with experiments on mice, but have difficulties with cats and dogs, and so on up the chain.)

  • Forget Rousseau, the Romantics, and others who revere the "noble savage." Living closer to the earth does not exempt a people from the same ignorance and barbarities as committed by those in advanced civilizations. In fact, they can be worse. Violent deaths are far more common in New Guinea human societies than in European or American society. In fact, per capita violent deaths are more common in tribal societies, than in modern states. Although human beings have a genetic predispostion for violence, modern states are more successful in curbing that predisposition. Of course we had genocides such as the holocaust, but they resulted from a few people without the curbs imposed on behavior by other modern societies. Modern states typically exercise more curbs. The statistical evidence comparing modern states to tribal societies consistently shows modern states dampen the genetic predisposition.

  • This genetic predisposition is not unique to man. Those species which have the physical or mental ability to inflict genocide on another of their kind will do so. Jane Goodall found one troupe of chimps committing genocide over a few years, completing wiping out a neighboring chimp troupe. Genocide has been documented in hyenas and wolves. Murder has been witnessed in Peregrine falcons. Rape has been recorded in orangutangs, which is easy because the male weighs double the female. Group rape has been documented in mallard ducks.

  • My Comment: In Iraq, the recent vile abuses at Abu Ghraid prison provide support for the evidence of biologists. We must not forget Stanley Milgram's famous experiments which suggest the torturer in everybody. Nor should we ignore Zimbardo's prison experiments with students at Stanford University. * As Walt Kelly had Pogo say in the cartoon strip, " We have met the enemy and he is us." * ( In my college classes I have assigned these experiments as required reading. To my question, What would you do?, most students say they would never stoop so low. I hope they are right, although statistics suggest that more than a few of them would be wrong.)


    Post a Comment

    Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

    << Home

    © 2018 Mind Shadows |