Have Humans Evolved to be Violent?

Ron Newby, a former researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, begins his book Tribal: Truth and Consequences by quoting mathematician Jacob Bronowski on the uniqueness of humans among animals.

Newby notes that 98% of the human genome is identical with that of chimpanzees. Members of both species have exhibited acts of violence. Is this the direction of evolution? Newby also notes that the close cousin to chimps, the bonobos, engage in sexual activity and avoid conflict. Despite this Newby posits determinism: “There can be little doubt that interpersonal violence is inherited from our ancient primate ancestors.” (p 14)

Tribal is an 82 page discussion of what drew humans into groupings and what effect this has had on human evolution and what are the future prospects for humans.

The book is uneven though. For example, Newby considers boys liking guns and girls liking dolls to be instinctual behaviors. (p 15) He provides no definition of instinct, but generally an instinct is considered by psychologists to be an unlearned, automatic, and fixed behavior. Thus instinctual hardly applies to liking guns and dolls.

On p 16 Newby writes, “There are likely genetic factors that influence our killer behavior, however there have been no killer gene or genes that have been linked to our proclivity toward killing.” [italics added] By writing with the pronoun “our,” Newby conveys the impression that killing, or the tendency toward killing, is widespread among…

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