Just how feeble the grip of instinct is, even on human’s near relatives, can be seen by examining the mating behavior of the chimp. Considering the vital role of mating in the survival of any species, one might expect that chimp mating would be instinctive, as it is in many other mammals. But it isn’t. Jane Goodall has described how young chimps watch intently while their elders copulate. A male chimp raised in captivity with no opportunity to observe copulation shows strong interest in a receptive female, but, like the country boy in the old story, he doesn’t know what to do about it.
Since killing is far less vital to chimp survival than mating, plant foods make up 90 per cent or more of a chimps diet, we should expect it to be learned, not instinctive, and so it is. Goodall’s chimps killed and ate animals, not often, but fairly regularly, yet other chimps observed in the wild have never been seen to kill. The only reasonable conclusion is that one group had, in some fashion, learned to kill, while the other had not. Indeed, killing must be learned even by some animals for which it is quite as vital an activity as mating. The lion, for example, must kill in order to live. Yet, it must still learn to kill, as did Elsa, the famous lioness of born free.
The conclusion then, is that if lion’s are not born killers then neither are men ”natural born killers”. The killing of humans by other humans is not species wide; only a small minority of men ever kill, and if we exclude those who do so more or less under compulsion, such as the soldier whose alternative to killing is to be killed himself, this minority shrinks even further. To the limited extent that man does kill, moreover, he is not stereotyped about it. There is almost endless variation in whom he kills, and how, and under what circumstances.
But proving that man is not an instinctive killer does not prove that there is no unlearned, genetic component in human violence. Learning, in any species, does not depend only on the experience of the individual, shaped by the traditions or practices of this group. We learn most easily actions that we find pleasant, or that are followed by pleasant consequences, while unpleasant actions are learned with difficulty or not at all. Again, just as eating nourishing things is crucial to the survival of the individual, so sex is crucial to the survival of the species. Accordingly, evolution has endowed us with another notable incentive plan; sexual pleasure ensures that most of us will learn about sex, though perhaps not everything we always wanted to know about it, and will devote considerable effort to seeking it out.
If there is any evolutionary impulse to evil, some built in propensity to violence in the human animal, it must surely be of this type; not an instinctive command to kill but the derivation of some pleasure or satisfaction from violent encounters with other human beings. This presumably what Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox are talking about in ”The Imperial Animal” when they claimed that we are ”turned on” by violence, as most of us are turned on by sex, and what Robert Ardrey is talking about in “The Social Contract” when he declares that “we enjoy the violent”. Interestingly, these authors couched their generalizations in terms of the anonymous, evasive, “we”. Neither Tiger nor Fox is will to admit that they are turned on by violence, and even Ardrey, while intimating that he would enjoy violence if he weren’t a timid soul, conceded that in fact he has ” no great taste” for it. But let that pass.
“We enjoy the violent. We hurry to an accident not to help, we run to a fire not to put it out, we crowd about a schoolyard fight not to stop it. For all the Negro’s profound and unarguable grievances, there has not been a racial outbreak in America since the days of Watts in which a degree of carnival atmosphere has not prevailed. I myself may have no great taste for Molotov cocktails; it is because I am timid, not because I am good. Suttles, in his work with juvenile gangs in the Chicago slum, found that an expectation that gang members would join in an action could be
yzed: stealing might attract a fair number, but the prospect of a fight would enlist almost all. Few studies of violent crime or violent gangs show neurosis as significant motivation. Were we truly sick societies, then I suggest that the violent way might be more easily containable; it is because we are healthy that we are in trouble.” ( Robert Ardrey )
To understand the roots and the role of violence in primate affairs, including human affairs,it must be considered that the most central fact about them is that they live in groups. There are, of course, strong evolutionary reasons for the communal living. Collectively, its members can spot a potential threat far more readily than could a solitary primate. Under threat, the usual response is flight into treetops, but in the absence of trees, the group can take on a defense function. This job falls chiefly to the adult males, who are not encumbered with young and are often, as with baboons, much bigger and stronger than the females.
One or more adult males will confront the source of danger and by threats, erecting their fur, baring their teeth, and so on, or by actual violence will seek to eliminate it. More important than the threat of death, is the facts of life. Just as a young male chimp learns to copulate by watching his elders, a young female learns to take care of infants by watching adult females do it, and often, as she grows older, “baby sits” for them. Outside the group, few primates would reach maturity, and any that did, as Harry F. Harlow’s famous experiments with isolated infant monkeys have shown, would be, in human terms, stark crazy.
“Love is a wondrous state, deep, tender, and rewarding. Because of its intimate and personal nature it is regarded by some as an improper topic for experimental research. But, whatever our personal feelings may be, our assigned mission as psychologists is to analyze all facets of human and animal behavior into their component variables. So far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in this mission. The little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists. But of greater concern is the fact that psychologists tend to give progressively less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives. Psychologists, at least psychologists who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or affection, but they seem to be unaware of its very existence.” ( Harry F. Harlow )