In the legendary film " 2001, A Space Odyssey " (1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Arthur Clarke), there is a famous scene in which a primate - humanoid, of a herd, takes a heavy bone of a dead animal and with it threatens the primates of another herd, who are like frozen looking at him, probably not realizing the danger they have in front of them. The one who takes the bone in his hands and waves it in the air as a threatening weapon has advanced a step in the relations of domain: he has understood that, since that moment, he will dominate those of another herds, given that now he has the power to kill them. This scene would be, then, a symbolic moment of great significance in the human history.
Robert Ardrey was a screenwriter and a science writer who was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1908 and died in South Africa in 1980. He worked on scientific divulgation, specially in the areas of anthropology, pale anthropology, ethology and human evolution. In 1961 he published a book, " African Genesis; A personal investigation into the animal origins and nature of man ". His work was based on a polemic and controversial theory exposed in the 50's by Raymond Dart, an Australian anthropologist who was the first who discovered a fossil cranium of an "Australopithecus Africanus".
Though this theory is not totally accepted today by the anthropologists' community, its postulates recount to that the features of violence and aggressive instincts of the human being are an inheritance of the line of assassin predators from whom we descend; the one that could impose on the most pacific, exterminating them. That is to say, we are the descendants from the triumphant lineage, which could impose all over the rest. It's not so far from the Biblical history of Cain and Abel, provided that according to it, we descend from the killer who exterminated his pacific brother.
According to Dart, the steps that led to human evolution, have been the enlargement of the brain mass, the acquisition of the language and the bipedalism. As soon as some primates could be erected and not need any more their hands for walking, the next important step was the opposition of the thumb to the palm of the hand: it allowed to handle some tools, and also to handle aggressive weapons. In other words, they overcame in resources to the rest of the species. Dart identifies the leading "proto-human beings", at that time, as carnivorous, capable of hunting big animals, and probably, cannibals. This one would be the line that achieved the best conditions of survival, an alimentation with more proteins, which produced stronger descendants, the best defense of their territories and the safest protection of their children. To preserve these conditions, besides the development of the capacity of reasoning and the birth of the self-conscience, was necessary a great aggressiveness that allowed them always to impose their will upon the others.
Following the words of Robert Ardrey in African Genesis: "Man had emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only: because he was a killer.. "......"the predatory transition [from ape to man] and the weapons fixation explained for Raymond Dart man's bloody history, his eternal aggression, his irrational, self-destroying inexorable pursuit of death for death's sake..." "...that remarkable killer, Australopithecus africanus, the last animal before man...our last direct ancestor in the animal world.... Man is a predator with an instinct to kill and a genetic cultural affinity for the weapon..." To conclude that human obsession with the acquisition of social status and material possessions is unrelated to the animal instincts for dominance and territory would be to press notions of special creation to the breaking point.." "If the contest exists between individuals only, then qualities of mercy and altruism will contribute nothing to a competitor's fortune. But if the contest is between societies, then the member of a successful society must develop two sets of emotional responses: the many facets of friendship and co-operation reserved for members of his own society ["amity"], and the many facets of hostility and enmity for members of the opposing society.." "No man can regard the way of war as good. It has simply been our way. No man can evaluate the eternal contest of weapons as anything but the sheerest waste and the sheerest folly. It has been simply our only means of final arbitration. Any man can suggest reasonable alternatives to the judgment of arms. But we are not creatures of reason except in our own eyes..." ...the superior weapon, throughout the history of the species, has been the central human dream...deprived of the dream, deprived of the dynamics, deprived of the contest [for superior weapons], and deprived of the issue [of a weapons' contest], Homo sapiens stands on a darkened threshold through which species rarely return..." " We are a transitional species, without doubt. We are a pioneer creature testing the potentialities of the enlarged brain. . . . And if we do not behave too badly, then we shall pass on the power of thought, one day, to a descendant species who may count it a part of their animal endowment. They, not we, can found kingdoms on its strength."
A polemic, controversial hypothesis, undoubtedly. It shakes us for the crudeness of the exhibition. But it only happens because of our homo-centric vision, that does not allow us to be aware of the truth of our trends and our origins. We use the term "humans" to define something good, altruistic. And the term "animal" to define something wild. So, there is no animal who kills himself and kills his whole family in an act of irrationality, since it happens only between the human beings. In turn, amongst the animals many altruistic and cooperative behaviors can be noticed . If we do not undress our myopic anthropocentrism - even in the language-, we will never be able to be aware of what our failure as species is, and what we should correct.
These topics have been developed by many authors, like the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, " On Aggression " (1966) and the German psychologist Erich Fromm, " The anatomy of human destructiveness", in 1973. Whether we agree or not with these postulations, if we should integrate these arguments as a philosophical theory, is just a matter of discussion. What we cannot deny is that, if the solution to the eternal problem of the human aggression is a point of reflection where we could understand that the mutual cooperation is a better business than the destruction of the others, on having assumed this point of reflection, we will have given another important step forward in the human evolution.
Pablo Briand, June 23rd 2009.