If an innate enjoyment of domination is not the source of human evil, then neither is an innate enjoyment of killing. According to ”bio-theology”, this allegedly basic trait in human nature evolved over the past couple of million years, as man relied more and more on hunting as a major source of food. Acquiring and innate pleasure in killing animals, he also began to delight in killing his fellows according to the essential theories of Robert Ardrey, Robin Fox and Lionel Tiger among others.
There are so many things wrong with this theory that it is hard to know where to begin pulling it apart. In the first place it ignores the self-evident fact that hunting, using violence against animals, is psychologically very different from using violence against man, and that the enjoyment of one has little if anything to do with the enjoyment of the other. In everyday life, disregarding such special situations as the pilot bombing a village or the gangster doing a ”hit” on a rival, the person who deliberately kills or injures another is above all, an angry person.
”Robin Fox and Lionel Tiger put forth this “nature made me do it” theory in The Imperial Animal. Their work bolstered the “spreading your genes around” theory—postulating that human social behavior, including colonialism and the oppressive of women by men, can be chalked up to the impulse to insure that as many of our genes as possible have a future.
What I remember most about Robin Fox’s presentation at the New School where he spoke when I was a grad student there was that he entertained no critical perspectives concerning his ideas. That was hardly surprising, since he entertained no sense that we had any choices for which we might be responsible.
In this sense, Tiger and Fox’s theories had an unsavory kinship to the narrative of Manifest Destiny in which “civilized” folk were constrained by nature to overrun the world. As a pioneer in the Willamette Valley expressed it in her diary, the fact that the Kalapuya were dying as a result of her people’s taking over their land was a fact to be regretted but inevitable–for they were doomed to fade away before a superior race. On a global scale, Manifest Destiny licensed the deaths of millions of indigenous peoples as being a simple matter of nature at work. That is the implication of Robert Ardrey’s thesis that men were driven by the Territorial Imperative.” ( Madronna Holden )
This was the case with the archetypal homicide, in which Cain was angry because the Lord had accepted Abel’s offering while rejecting his own; it has been the case ever since. But, is a duck hunter angry with the ducks he is hunting? Some primitive peoples, indeed, actually apologize to the animals they have killed or are about to kill, which is hardly the tactic that is employed by the murderer, or even the mugger, when dealing with his victim.
The radical difference between killing game and killing one’s neighbors also shows up clearly in chimps and baboons. Jane Goodall’s chimps, as she has witnessed and documented, killed young animals occasionally and consumed them with such relish as to make it clear that meat was a much valued food. De Vore’s baboons, on the other hand, were far more aggressive toward their fellows, though never to the point of killing them, yet killed other animals far less often than did the chimps.
But, for the sake of argument, discard all this evidence. Let us assume that man’s long career as a hunter, on present evidence s
al million years, did somehow endow him with a delight in killing, evoked alike by the slaughter of a mastodon or of a human enemy. It still is likely not to add up. A man, or a tribe, that delighted in uninhibited killing would not have lived long, at least not once man had graduated from hunting the equivalent of rabbits to tackling really dangerous beasts.
Some of us, as Tiger and Fox say, may be turned on by violence, for whatever reasons; but most of us, when confronted by it, are timid souls, for excellent evolutionary reasons. Over nearly the whole of man’s history, before one could shoot one’s enemy from a thousand yards or bomb him from thirty thousand feet, killing inevitably involved the risk of being killed. Any man or ape-man so enamored of violence that he failed to assess such a risk and duck out if it was too great would have been gored or trampled to death by the first dangerous animal he encountered.
Today, the combat infantryman, like primitive man, must risk death if he is to kill efficiently, and his job, for all man’s alleged ”killer impulses” is seldom in great demand; the world’s ”grunts” and ”dog faces” are mostly poor men, for whom the alternative is poverty, or draftees, for whom the alternative is jail. An ”innate impulse” that has to be invoked by environmental or legal compulsion can’t be considered a primary impulse. In contrast, when we turn to a really fundamental impulse, such as the impulse to copulate, which Tiger and Fox casually couple with the ”impulse to kill”, we find that it rarely requires compulsion. At any rate, there is no record of men having to be drafted for that express purpose.
Neither by instinct nor by inherited preference, then, is man a killer. He is, as we well know, capable of murder, even of mass murder, but we can say with Horatio that ” there needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave to tell us that”. And if man is capable of violence, even very occasionally, the old ultra-violence, he is no less capable of kindness and generosity. The notion that he is an ignoble savage, as Stanley Kubrick once said, is no less nonsensical than the notion that he is a noble savage.
Man is man; noble, ignoble, violent, peaceable, contentious, co-operative, selfish, sociable, and generous. He embodies all the potentialities that he has inherited from his primate ancestors, plus many more that he has evolved on his own. And, as with other primates, which of these potentialities he actively expresses depends on the environment he inhabits and, expecially, the customs of his group. If his group celebrates violence and rationalizes it with tendentious and unscientific reconstructions of human evolution, he may be violent; if it discourages violence as the negation, not the culmination of humanity, he will for the most part follow his true, innate impulses, preferring to make love, not war.
Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, interviewed by Bernard Weinraub: ”On this level, Alex symbolizes man in his natural state, the way he would be if society did not impose its ‘civilizing’ processes upon him. ”What we respond to subconsciously is Alex’s guiltless sense of freedom to kill and rape, and to be our savage natural selves, and it is in this glimpse of the true nature of man that the power of the story derives.”
As an artist, Mr. Kubrick has a point of view that is undeniably bleak. “One of the most dangerous fallacies which has influenced a great deal of political and philosophical thinking is that man is essentially good, and that it is society which makes him bad,” he said. “Rousseau transferred original sin from man to society, and this view has importantly contributed to what I believe has become a crucially incorrect premise on which to base moral and political philosophy.”
Kubrick interviewed by Craig McGregor: “Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage,” says Kubrick, reaching for the iced water. “He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved – that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.” Like what? “Well, many aspects of liberal mythology are coming to grief now — but I don’t want to give any examples or I’m going to sound like William Buckley….”
Kubrick’s vision of society is just as bleak — it can make man even worse than he naturally is. “The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man,” he says. “But in this movie you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously social institutions faced with the law-and-order problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: it shows Alex in his precivilized state, and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him.”