This Course is based mainly on "Nonkilling human biology", a chapter prepared by Professor Piero P. Giorgi (University of Queensland, Australia) for Toward a Nonkilling Paradigm (Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling, 2009). The Course is part of the Interdisciplinary Program on Nonkilling Studies at the School of Nonkilling Studies.
Introduction[edit | edit source]
In the years 1960-70s scientists became aware of the need of developing new ideas about the social responsibility of science. It had in fact become clear that advances in science, like other human pursuits, are not occurring in a vacuum of independent objectivity; social and political trends channel research questions, condition support for specific fields of study as well as the application of findings. More dangerously, they also influence the interpretation and practical use of results and the decision of informing, or not, the public about new discoveries.
In this context, the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies has been undermined by prejudices and political interference. As a consequence teaching and doing research in peace and nonviolence is still considered a useless and naïve pursuit by the public at large and not a politically correct field of study by academic administrators. Moreover, most tertiary institutions that have eventually introduced courses or degree programs on Peace and Conflict Resolution have done so within the theoretical framework of negative peace, that is, accepting all form of violence (structural, direct, cultural violence and war) as unavoidable features of human life and proposing only ways of reducing their negative effects. The theoretical approach of negative peace is being accepted with increasing enthusiasm by public and private institutions, especially when it concerns military intervention in troubled regions (the so-called peace missions) or humanitarian assistance of communities disturbed by war. In fact Master programs in Peace and Conflict Resolution of this type for paying students have recently become a true business for universities.
The studies about nonviolence, and nonkilling in our case, belong, instead, to the theoretical framework of positive peace, that is the sets of proposals aiming at the prevention of all forms of violence, not just their reduction. This field of studies is rare in the teaching and research programs, probably because it implies two unpopular premises: defining human nature and changing well established life styles and socio-political models.
The aim of the present course is to deal with the first issue, defining human nature, by asking the question: are human beings compulsive killers? If they were, it would be really naïve to propose a nonkilling society. With another work we have been dealing with the second issue of positive peace, namely the possible modalities of transition from a structurally violent to a nonviolent community.
The need of defining human nature[edit | edit source]
The topic of human nature is rarely been discussed and normally only within a philosophical context. But modern findings in neuroscience and anthropology allow a revision of outdated assumptions in social and political sciences. In fact, one can not propose a project involving the introduction of nonviolent alternatives, without critically considering the widely accepted idea that human beings are congenitally violent. This old assumption has for long time justified punitive and repressive solutions against antisocial behaviour, as the only way of containing an allegedly unavoidable forms of violence; it also has justified accepting killing other human beings in war as part of human nature. In reality, the culture of violence is faithfully transmitted (cultural transmission) from one generation to the next, without being aware of its origins.
The current literature of political science, psychiatry, human ethology and sociobiology is strongly influenced by the biologically deterministic stand taken by the founders of these disciplines: Thomas Hobbes (mid 17th century), Sigmund Freud (late 19th – early 20th century), Konrad Lorenz (early 20th century), and Edward Wilson (late 20th century), respectively. In the literature of these disciplines the question about the origins of human behaviour (killing being the specific case in question here) is at best answered with the erroneous 'compromise' of a 50-50 contribution of “nature” (genetic information) and “nurture” (social influence). Modern developmental neurobiology demonstrates, instead, that no qualitative or quantitative aspect of human social behaviour can be innate (see Sections 6-12). Modern anthropology also provides evidence that the behaviour of Homo sapiens is more likely the result of a biocultural (not biological) selection for cooperation and solidarity, which very probably characterised our species since its emergence about 100,000 years ago. Much direct (human ethology) and indirect (rock art) evidence also refutes the idea of human congenital violence.
In this course the biological evidence will be discussed, in order to answer the question of whether we are killer-apes.
Definition of terms[edit | edit source]
Multidisciplinary research is the most effective approach for human biocultural studies, which provide a holistic and comprehensive understanding of human affairs. This approach necessitates explaining specific terms and their related concepts for two purposes: to communicate with a non-specialist audience and to avoid semantic misunderstanding when terminology is not clear in both the media and specialist literature.
Below is a glossary for those terms and concepts whose particular usage in this work needs to be explained. A glossary is normally offered at the end of an essay, but we think that an initial list of short definitions prepares the reader to better integrate special terms when later met in a complex text. The asterisks indicate terms listed in the glossary; in the chapter this is done only once and for the first time. This glossary does not provide references, as the same concepts will be discussed in the text of this work. If you want to explore these definitions in more detail and help provide references for them, see: Nonkilling Human Biology/Glossary.
- Aggression – A specific behaviour aiming at damaging or destroying a living being (plant or animal), normally for alimentary purpose. Hunting and gathering involve aggression. Sexual competition among males is normally a display of fitness to improve the choice to be made by females. Note that, unlike violence*, aggression is not specifically intended to damage or destroy other individuals of the same species. In the literature, aggression, aggressiveness* and violence* are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion.
- Aggressiveness – It represents a congenital predisposition* to acquire aggressive behaviour after birth. Therefore it does not represent information for a specific behaviour. In the literature, aggression*, aggressiveness and violence* are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion.
- Behavioural predispositions – In humans they are congenital predispositions*, not congenital information for specific behaviour. A behavioural predisposition only set the level of postnatal stimulation necessary to channel an individual toward a certain category of behaviours. A specific behaviour within that category will then be defined by postnatal models. Therefore behavioural predispositions do not contribute to the definition of social behaviour in any shape or form (what the individual will actually do and how). For this reason the current idea of a 50-50 contribution of genetic information and postnatal learning to define specific social behaviour is invalid. It would be like adding apples and pears. In humans social behaviour is defined only by postnatal social models and personal experiences.
- Biocultural evolution - Parallel evolution of behavioural predispositions* and specific behavioural models acquired by children and youngsters after birth from their cultural context. As a consequence of biocultural evolution, human behavioural predispositions* are common to all human beings without being specific behaviours (we have no instincts*, a part from the few ones of babies). Specific social behaviours (aggression* and violence* included) are not congenitally or genetically defined and differs in different cultures. In biocultural evolution, natural selection acts on both prenatal and postnatal information to make them change in harmony and slowly. In the late Neolithic this harmony was lost, as purely cultural changes occurred fast and in absence of corresponding changes in congenital predispositions. As a consequence we are still born with a brain suiting a hunter-gathering culture or, to be precise, for living in a nonviolent culture.
- Biocultural studies – All academic disciplines have to do with human beings, some only marginally (e.g. Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry) most of them very directly (e.g. Medicine, Sociology, Psychology, Economy). It is becoming increasingly clear that human affairs cannot be studied without a multidisciplinary approach: Sociology, Political science, History and Philosophy are not enough to understand what happened in the past, causal mechanisms and what would be better for us in the future. We cannot continue exploring human beings only partially with individual disciplines or, worst, sub-disciplinary specialisations. For the purpose of this work – answering the question of whether we are congenital killers – we suggest that both so-called scientific disciplines and so-called humanities should be involved, in particular biomedical sciences and cultural studies are necessary, hence the term biocultural studies.
- Conflict – In the general literature this term is marred by semantic vagueness. The whole field of studies dealing with conflicts and conflict management is also affected by confused terminology. For clarity and effectiveness, we suggest the following terminology. When two persons or communities are confronted with a difference of opinion or interests, but no conflict has yet materialised, they are facing a conflict of interests* (not a conflict). If the conflict of interests* is dealt with in a violent way (the stronger one will prevail) they will face a conflict, often a social confrontation, or a physical fight or a war. If the conflict of interests* is dealt with in a nonviolent way (dialogue, consultation, formulation of win-win solutions, etc.) a conflict will be prevented. This terminology, and its related concepts, allow a more sophisticated discussion and, importantly, include the concept of prevention. The strategies of conflict resolution or conflict management normally deal, instead, with situations after the conflict has occurred.
- Conflict of interests – A conflict of interests is a social situation that represents a potential conflict*, which will occur if nothing is done to prevent it. See Conflict.*
- Congenital characteristics - Congenital literally means ‘born with.’ It refers to both genetic characteristics (specific DNA sequences) and conditions experienced by the foetus in uterus. The popular literature often uses the term ‘genetic’ to mean congenital. For example, mental deficiency due to malnutrition of the pregnant mother is congenital, not genetic. Importantly, uterine congenital characteristics are not inherited by the next generation, while genetic characteristics are. For the themes discussed in this paper the important genetic/uterine congenital characteristics are behavioural predispositions.*
- Cultural violence – See violence.* A special case of structural violence* that affects the way a person thinks. Indoctrination, misleading political propaganda and commercial advertising are among the many forms of cultural violence.
- Deep culture – Important neuronal connections are formed in our brain during the first 5-6 years of life under the defining influence of post-natal experiences and non-verbal behavioural models. They define social values by establishing logical connections (cell contacts) between cultural situations and their consequences. At a later age memories of this experience settle within sub-cortical regions and escape consciousness to become the so-called deep culture operating at a subconscious level. Deep culture keeps influencing conscious behaviour throughout life via reciprocal connections with the cerebral cortex, but escaping the awareness of the subject. In this way we are convinced of carrying congenital 'drives' or 'impulses' that are beyond our control (the imaginary instincts*), while we are just influenced by very early postnatal inputs.
- Direct violence – See violence.* Aggressive behaviour displayed by a person against another person; it can be verbal or physical (wounding, torturing and killing). Intentional killing is the extreme form of man-to-man violence* and is typical of (historical) human beings. As this is not practised by animals, one needs a term (violence*) different from aggression. In this sense, animals are aggressive not violent, and hunting is aggression against other species, not violence.*
- Functional potentialities – They are functions that are eventually displayed by adult humans, but are in our congenital (genetic) developmental program only as potentialities (incomplete structures), because they need a strong postnatal input in order to complete their development as conceived by our biocultural evolution.* Examples: bipedal gait, speech and language, hand dexterity, social behaviour, etc. For example, a child can be born perfectly normal (larynx and brain regions ready to work) but the neural connections for speech must be constructed under post-natal stimulation (hearing adult speaking) otherwise the child will say nothing. Conclusion: one is not born a human being; one becomes one after birth if the necessary models are available.
- Human beings – They are individuals of the species Homo sapiens who emerged in Eastern Africa about 100,000 years ago. Therefore the study of human nature should not be limited to historical humans who lived in the last few thousand years. On the other hand, other species of the genus Homo or other Hominids or Primates are not ‘our ancestors’, as often said, because they belong to other species and survived through different adaptive strategies; we only share a common ancestry with them, as we do with all other species of animals at more or less ancient times.
- Human nature – Human nature is the set of characteristics that distinguish human beings from other species of animals, Primates in particular. Zoologists have no hesitation in defining the nature of all animal species, by describing body shape, geographical region(s) inhabited, diet, and specific behaviour. In the case of humans, however, we have stopped at their body shape (anatomy). This author has proposed (cf. note 5) that prehistoric and contemporary hunter-gatherers (their spirituality included) could be a model for human nature, because recent historical modifications have been invented and are purely cultural. Therefore the simply historical view of human beings, that has so far dominated sociological analyses and political proposals, being misleading has not promoted human progress beyond technological advances.
- Human instincts – Terms used by Sigmund Freud (together with 'drives' and impulses') to indicate specific behaviours that are built in our congenital (prenatal) characteristics. In fact this is the way zoologists and animal ethologists use the term instinct: a specific behaviour that expresses itself even in absence of specific postnatal input. As animals evolved from Fish to Herbivores, Carnivores and Primates, the repertoire of instincts gradually decreased because postnatal acquisition* and learning* turned out more advantageous than congenital behaviour to adapt to a changing environment. Human beings* have only a few instincts, all associated with babies in the first year of life: searching the nipple, suckling, orient its senses toward mother, clasping objects passing in front of their visual field and swimming around the first year of age. All other sensory-motor functions are acquired* in the first few years of life under social guidance and learned* throughout life. Therefore social behaviour, violence* and killing included, are not instincts; Freud did not benefit of modern scientific advances.
- Neurological imperatives – The human nervous system makes possible the learning and development of cultural elements such as technologies that allow humans to adapt to a wide range of physical or social environments. However, fossil and genetic evidence indicates that Homo sapiens and chimpanzees evolved by divergence from a common ancestor and that modern humans arose in Africa. Due to our evolutionary origins, are humans healthier and happier in a tropical/subtropical environment? Humans lived in a relatively small communities until recently. Are people more at ease (healthier) in a social environment where members know each other and display solidarity toward each other? Are chronic depression and other health problems made more likely when people live in high-density populations or competitive and violent societies? We can define "neurological imperatives" in terms of environmental conditions that favor healthy behavior and societies because they are a good fit with biological needs that arise from how the human nervous system evolved.
- Nonviolence – It represents a mental attitude and behavioural strategies that favours consultation and negotiation in order to set in place win-win solutions of conflicts of interests.* Nonviolent solutions are not passive or appeasing; they require action, courage and intelligence. It does not take much intelligence to resolve a conflict of interests with violent strategies, that is, with a conflict, as we have done in the last 8,000 years or so.
- Peace studies – They are multidisciplinary studies that aim at understanding the causes of violence* and war* in order to prevent (not just reduce) them and propose possible nonviolent solutions of conflicts of interests.* At the moment the theoretical bases of peace studies are weak, because academics and intellectuals still avoid dealing with the issue of human nature and the origins of human behaviour, nonviolence and violence.*
- Postnatal acquisition – The completion of functional potentialities* in parallel with the definition of neural circuitries during the first 5-6 years of life. After this initial period of basic neural construction, one begins postnatal learning* of new skills. Erect posture, hand dexterity, and speech, for example, are acquired, and not learned, as one normally says. The general literature wrongly uses ‘acquiring’ and ‘learning’ as synonyms.
- Postnatal learning – Information added to the memory bank of the brain after all functional potentialities* have been acquired. In fact, the function of transforming short-term memory into long-term memory (learning) is itself one of these functional potentialities.*
- Religion – Religion emerged after the production of food (agricultural and pastoral economies), as a superstructure of pre-existing spirituality.* Religion carried the following novelties: a priestly authority, the concept of god(s), rituals, and moral instructions. The traditional collaboration with civil authorities has often embroiled religion in structural violence* and caused a loss of spirituality.*
- Spirituality – Spirituality is a functional potentiality* typical of human beings, who are concerned with important metaphysical questions: the origins of natural features, the origins of humans, the relationship among humans and between humans and nature, and fundamental questions about life and death. The human cerebral cortex has an area in the frontal lobe that becomes particularly active during meditation and mental concentration on metaphysical issues. Prehistoric cultures and contemporary hunter-gatherers demonstrated sophisticated forms of metaphysical association with elements of nature and with other human beings. They did not consider themselves masters of nature (rather guardians of it) nor masters of other people (but as equals in society). The particular way this functional potentiality* was expressed was through their particular culture (just as language was), not separate instructions provided by clergy and political movements.
- Structural violence – Structural violence is the source of all forms of violence.* According to Johan Galtung, it is the sum of those ideas and institutions that limit the development of the human potentialities of each individual. Falling ill of a preventable disease, lacking education, being deprived of love or cultural identity, are among the many examples of structural violence.
- Violence – Violence is a term to be used only for human beings. It represents intentional oppression, wounding and killing directed toward other human beings, therefore member of the same species. Arguably other species do not display violence, only aggression*. In the literature, aggression*, aggressiveness* and violence are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion. We cannot discuss about nonviolence* without a good definition of violence, especially of structural violence.*
- War – It is a form of direct violence* against a perceived “enemy” involving a sophisticated social organisation, a culture accepting or admiring armed forces and weapons, and a dominant minority that has a vested interest in staging war, while not fighting in it.
A very different species[edit | edit source]
Homo sapiens is the only species on Earth that oppresses, maims and kills systematically and in large scale members of its own species. An ethologist from Mars landed here today to study animal behaviour – not knowing about human brain development, prehistory and history – would be excused for deducing that killing each other is part of that strange Primate's nature. He/she would however wonder about this species' chances of surviving any longer with such a non-adaptive behavioural trait. We 2008 human observers should know better. The relevant information is all written in university textbooks used by university students, but we chose to ignore it and adopt the same myopic view of the Mars analyst by thinking that we are violent by nature, just because we see violence* and war* in historic times and around us now.
Aggression* and killing is indeed a functional potentiality* of human beings*, but our biocultural evolution* selected it to kill animals and plants (hunter-gathering), not other human beings. In fact oppressing, wounding and killing human beings started only after the invention of food production and the increase in size of human settlements (cf. note 5). It is therefore a recent and purely cultural invention that has little to do with human nature.* On the contrary, there is evidence that living in a structurally violent community is not healthy for human beings. Let's see how Sigmund Freud investigated this aspect of our psychology with a great intuition and an unavoidable mistake.
The error of Sigmund Freud[edit | edit source]
Sigmund Freud addressed the question of human aggressiveness* in his 1930 book Civilisation and its discontent (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur). He should be recognised for having proposed for the first time that the cultural evolution undertaken by human beings in the last few thousand years – the period of so-called ‘civilisation’ – took a direction that was not conducive to their neurological imperatives.* Freud then suggested that this would explain our diffuse sense of malaise and the emergence of neuroses. This novel approach to the causality of psychiatric conditions should have stimulated a critical investigation of human nature in the academic world, but it did not, because the vast majority of social thinkers accepted Freud’s unsubstantiated explanation of this human malaise. He suggested that neuroses were caused by our basic needs to express aggression against each other and to satisfy unrestrained sexuality. These needs were seen as clashing with society’s repression of the behavioural traits associated with these very needs. However, his basic intuition of a mismatch between neurological imperatives and social evolution can support quite a different causal explanation, as discussed below. A critical re-assessment of Freud’s contention is warranted by advances in neuroscience and anthropology that occurred since he wrote Civilisation and its discontent.
In his essay, Freud follows an interesting line of reasoning. He starts by considering the question ‘What is the purpose of human life?’ (p. 771). This question is normally considered within the domain of religion, but Freud argues it must be addressed with scientific arguments. While the aim of life is to be happy, he held that this human aspiration is not included in the scheme of Creation (p. 772). Then Freud offers his materialistic definition of happiness: the gratification of basic instincts* (p. 773). Problems of terminology and scientific anachronism undermine his thesis.
The term ‘instinct’ refers to a specific congenital behaviour (such as the running of new-born turtles towards the sea) that is not dependent on postnatal experience. Modern textbooks of developmental psychology tell us that Homo sapiens represents the extreme case of the successful evolutionary strategy of reducing instincts to a minimum in order to adapt to specific environments through a postnatal definition of behaviour. Of course this requires high levels of learning capacity and long periods of parental care, which are typical of Primates. As a consequence, the repertoire of human instincts is limited to the specific behaviour of newborn babies in finding the nipple and knowing how to suckle, and one-year old children swimming in the absence of any teaching. No other social behaviour is based on congenital factors, i.e. is instinctive.
The list of gratifying behaviours considered by Freud – those seeking libido, eroticism, intoxication, enjoyment of beauty, etc. (pp. 773-776), which are obviously not instincts, as they all require complex postnatal experience in order to be defined and are exquisitely different in different cultures – are hardly good material to investigate the congenital character of human happiness. But we must be kind to Freud, as he formulated these ideas about one hundred years ago, when cultures, different from Judeo-Christian, had hardly been studied. At that time developmental neurobiology was not even born as a discipline and Cesare Lombroso was busy photographing prisoners to work out the phrenology of criminal behaviour.
The central argument of Freud is that the gratification of 'instincts' is happiness, but “... when the outer world lets us starve, refuses us satisfaction of our needs, they become the cause of very great suffering  … our so-called civilisation itself is to blame for a great part of our misery, and we should be much happier if we were to give it up and go back to primitive conditions.” (p. 776).
Rightly so, in presenting his explanation of human unhappiness or discontent Freud never refers to Jean Jacques Rousseau, because the Austrian psychiatrist did not deal with morality, such as the 'good, noble savage' vs. the 'bad, immoral civilised man', as Rousseau did. Freud dealt only with instinctive social behaviour – as if humans had such a thing – and considered it to be a basic characteristic of Homo sapiens, just like having one nose and two feet. The other alleged instinctive social behaviour considered by Freud – namely our 'instinct' of killing other people – is more relevant to peace theory, the origins of nonviolence and the nonkilling social project. For Freud, a person’s neighbour allegedly represents:
... a temptation … to gratify … aggressiveness on him … to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty … also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns … even indeed the horrors of the last World War, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man. (p. 787).
In the case of aggression and killing – the aspect we are interested in – Freud uses the same line of reasoning used for sexuality: ‘Men clearly do not find it easy to do without satisfaction of the tendency to aggression that is in them; when deprived of satisfaction of it they are ill at ease.” And then he concludes: “If civilisation requires such sacrifices, not only of sexuality but also of the aggressive tendencies in mankind, we can better understand why it should be so hard for men to feel happy in it. In actual fact, primitive man was better off in this respect, for he knew nothing of any restrictions on his instincts” (p. 787).
We are facing here a severe case of scientific anachronism and historical myopia. Serious studies of anthropology only started about two decades after the publication of Civilisation and its discontent. Therefore Freud could not know that Homo sapiens had inhabited the earth about 100,000 years before his ‘Huns and World War’. Moreover, modern scientists have no reason to believe that prehistoric people, our true ancestors, used violence against each other, either individually or in an organised manner similar to war. The best evidence in support of our nonviolent prehistory is the general lack of man-to-man direct violence in prehistoric rock art and the nonviolent social organisation of hunter-gatherers who were studied in the 20th century before being physically eliminated or acculturated by colonialists.
Freud’s intuition of a mismatch between human nature and modern society is interesting and worth pursuing. His subsequent line of reasoning is, however, not in agreement with recent advances in neuroscience and anthropology. Freud’s ideas of human nature were derived from Thomas Hobbes’ homo homini lupus (man as a wolf to other men, Leviathan, 1651), a 350-year old view which lacks the support of modern human biology. It is amazing that the same idea should remain today an acceptable explanation for the origins of the State in political science. The persistence of communication barriers between disciplines, particularly between sciences and humanities, is a serious limitation for the advancement of knowledge in human affairs.
In conclusion, Freud is right about one thing: human ‘discontent’ is definitively there. It currently takes the form of a dramatic increase in cases of depression throughout the world (data from the World Health Organisation). But Freud’s explanation for this discontent can be turned on its head. It may well be that the high level of structural and direct violence in modern society is not conducive to happiness for human beings, whose neurological make-up was selected to live in small, nonviolent, cooperative communities. My explanation is just the opposite of Freud’s, as he believed that ‘primitive man’ – a meaningless term in modern science – was free to kill and fornicate as his nature required, and now he suffers from prohibitions imposed by ‘civilisation’.
Let's now review what Freud did not know about human brain and evolution, which mislead him into conceiving such an anachronistic hypothesis. Unfortunately it is still influencing social sciences and lay people.
A unique strategy for brain development[edit | edit source]
Direct violence and killing is a sophisticated, complex social behaviour – not just the simple and unavoidable result of stress, impulses, level of hormones, crowding, etc. as commonly described – therefore its origins must be explained within what we know in 2008 about the definition of human social behaviour, not with ideas formulated long time ago. The strategies of the development of the human brain and behaviour belong to a well established and successful trend of reduction of instincts in favour of post-natal acquisition of behaviour, which started in Carnivores and Primates and reached its most refined version in Homo sapiens. In fact cultural transfer is more adaptive in social species than congenital behaviour. The following sections will show how genetic information is not able to define human social behaviour; therefore violence cannot be part of our congenital characteristics. For this conclusion one also needs to understand the meanings of behavioural predisposition and biocultural evolution.
Three unfortunate trends keep the so-called nature/nurture debate (the relative importance of congenital factors and post-natal learning) outside the realm of a healthy scientific speculation.
- The persistent dualism of brain and mind – While rapid advances are being made in the understanding of molecules, cells, functions and dysfunctions in all human organ systems, including the nervous system, the understanding of human behaviour is still hampered by a shroud of mystery, unjustified dualism and a general reticence of including behaviour with other biological parameters of Homo sapiens. The ideas of brain = genes, mind = social contribution represent bad science.
- The exaggerated disciplinary fragmentation of the academic world – Speculation about human behaviour is carried out separately by psychologists, philosophers, literary scholars, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists on one side (generally trained in humanities) and by ethologists, neuroscientists, clinical psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, on the other – generally trained in biomedical sciences. A multidisciplinary approach is obviously needed to have a holistic (complete) view of human beings.
- The inappropriate role assigned to genetic information – Since the 1960s-70s the biomedical world has enthusiastically elevated the genes to the role of all-powerful controllers of living beings. This genomania, with its obvious political and commercial support, will be recorded by future science historians alongside of medieval astrology, 18th century vitalism and 19th century phrenology. The belief in uncontrollable forces that determine our destiny (stars, fate, vital spirits, cranial bumps and genes) relieves us from personal and political responsibilities. The inappropriate role attributed to genetic information can be found in the theoretical basis of even the most advanced studies in developmental psychology, e.g. the school called 'Evolutionary Developmental Psychology'. These researchers talk about “gene-environment interaction” without defining the nature of such interaction beyond evolutionary mechanisms and the suggestion of a 50-50 contribution of genes and environment. The concept of behavioural predisposition (see Glossary and Section 10) would, instead, set the correct role of genetic information, which cannot define behaviour in any shape and form or proportion.
The construction and specification of our brain continues after birth[edit | edit source]
Birth is an important turning point for what concerns the vascular-respiratory and digestive systems, but most other developmental processes follow a continuum.
As during late foetal life, after birth brain neurones grow longer processes (axons), axon collaterals branch out, new synapses are formed and the established ones are strengthened, unsuccessful axon collaterals and weak synapses are eliminated, weakly connected neurones die out, and more glial cells and myelin sheets are added. Therefore the post-natal nervous system does not just increase in size, like other organ systems; it still undergoes much structural specification, substantial aspects of internal design, new connections, and acquisition of new functions. This general strategy is the most important aspect of the post-natal development of the human nervous system.
Thus, after birth, the same foetal mechanisms of spatial-temporal information continue at the cellular and molecular levels, except that now a new powerful information system is at work: the sensory input provided by the rich environment of babies, children, and adolescents. If they grow up in a killing culture, they will obviously accept killing as normal, admire those who kill, and participate in the killing society. This cultural deviation has been transmitted from generation to generation for about 8,000 years (see Sections 11-13).
The nervous system does not develop uniformly[edit | edit source]
As in other mammals, the human nervous system develops in foetal and post-natal life in keeping with a timetable of maturation. Generally speaking, the spinal cord and the brain stem (the most caudal levels of the central nervous system) differentiate earlier than the cerebrum (middle and higher levels). Within the cerebrum, functions (circuits and their connections, not brain regions) differentiate earlier than others in order to be functionally mature at appropriate stages of life. Hence certain functional aspects of smell, sucking, taste, neck movements, hearing and vision are quite mature at birth, in order to interact with the mother. Later in infant life initial functional aspects of limb and trunk motility develop, and a predictable, but individually variable, timetable of events takes place as the child grows. In humans the developmental timetable is such that the highest integrating region of the brain (the cerebral cortex) defines most of its functions well after birth, when it is exposed to appropriate environmental influences. In particular, the cortical regions in the frontal and temporal lobes concerned with memory, emotions and socialisation (most of the limbic system) are the last to reach their adult level of differentiation quite late in post-natal development. Some structures are still differentiating at 20 years of age.
This belated structural specification of the human brain and the correlation in time between environmental instructions and formation of the appropriate pathways in the cerebrum is very important for the strategy of a post-natal specification of brain and behaviour. This is particularly so in the case of the neural connections correlating memory, emotion and social behaviour. A dramatic empirical evidence that the specific wiring of brain regions mediating social behaviour occurs under specific instructions from the particular social environment experienced by children and adolescents can simply be found in the extreme diversity of human social behaviours in different cultures. Moreover, the social behaviour of children adopted at early age becomes that of the adopted culture; a similar phenomenon occurs in the case of the social behaviour of second-generation migrants. This developmental strategy turned out to be much more adaptive for a species, such as Homo sapiens, characterised by sophisticated social interactions; instinctive behaviour would not be adaptive.
In view of the above, it is very difficult to see how violence and killing, sophisticated expressions of social behaviour, could be inscribed in the congenital pre-natal program of our brain and be an unavoidable aspect of human nature. Textbooks of cell biology explain that DNA can only inform for the sequences of amino acids to form proteins, not for other complex events in development, such as behavioural acquisition or behavioural learning.
Higher brain functions are very plastic[edit | edit source]
The high level of plasticity of the brain structure subserving consciousness (the cerebral cortex) is not unique to humans. It only represents the latest – humans emerged only 100,000 years ago – expression of a very well established evolutionary strategy initially adopted by early mammals. Birds and early Mammals invest in some degree of parental care for a smaller number of offspring, rather than abandoning numerous offspring at the mercy of the environment (as fish and turtles do, for example). Parental care became particularly advantageous to social mammals (e.g. gazelles, wolves, chimpanzees), as the group also provided further protection and, importantly, post-natal information for the appropriate definition of developing brain structures and thus behaviour. These mechanisms of social information for brain development and behaviour are collectively referred to as cultural transfer.
Recent studies that sensory input is more than just a generic growth stimulus of the brain, but it is necessary to complete the differentiation of neurones and the establishment of important functional connections leading to an appropriate adult brain and behaviour. A selection of the most striking evidence is listed below.
- Binocular neurones in the visual cortex of carnivores and primates (species with frontal eyes) differentiate during a precise post-natal critical period (e.g. one week in cats, around eight months in babies) only if the two eyes are correctly aligned on the same visual field; there is no congenital information for the development of the important function of binocular vision (cf. note 29).
- Species of birds that sing during courtship need post-natal cultural transfer to acquire this appropriate behaviour necessary for mating; congenital information only provides a rough and insufficient vocalisation.
- Young carnivores need to learn from their mothers the skills necessary to capture prey; congenital information only provides the instinct to chase smaller animals, but not the specific strategies necessary to capture them.
- Young female monkeys need to see adult females nursing a newborn in order to acquire the specific behaviour necessary for maternal care; there is no congenital information (instinct) for this important reproductive behaviour.
- Babies need to be taught how to walk on two legs by encouragement, help and example: bipedal gait is not an instinct in humans.
- Babies need the opportunity to use their hands with the encouragement, help and example of adults, before completing the neuromuscular development necessary for opposing thumb and fingers: hand dexterity is not an instinct.
- Babies need rich post-natal input in order to develop verbal communication: articulate speech and language are not instincts.
Interestingly, zoologists use bipedal gate, hand dexterity and speech to tell us apart from chimpanzees, our closest Anthropomorphic Apes. This probably means that we are not born as human; we become human after birth. Even more interestingly, Homo sapiens has only about 30,000 genes, just like chimpanzee, and their sets of genes differ only by 1% in quality. Are 300 genes sufficient to explain differences between human nature and the chimpanzee's nature? These simple and easily understandable facts would be enough, besides other more complex evidence provided here, to become very suspicious about the idea of killing as part of human nature. It is much more likely that genetic information and congenital characteristics have little or nothing to do with human social behaviour.
The forbidden experiment[edit | edit source]
Zoologists and ethologists define a given behaviour of a species is an instinct, by raising newborn animals in isolation and showing that the normal behaviour is displayed even in the absence of special post-natal experience or cultural transfer. Ethical principles forbid carrying out such an experiment with newborn babies, in order to test the existence of social behavioural instincts, but we have accurate reports of a few cases of children who, by accident or cruel rejection, lived in severe isolation or in the total absence of human contacts. The ‘wild child of Aveyron’ (late 18th century France) was very well documented by Itard, the founder of speech therapy. A substantial amount of information about Kaspar Hauser (early 19th century Germany) was also collected. The case of “Genie”, a girl severely neglected and abused by her family, has been studied in many ways but it did not produce much information about basic concepts in brain development. In all these cases the poor or even zero input from other humans caused severe disability of the cognitive and sensory-motor functions of these children. They were not cases of congenitally disabled babies, because of their ability of recovering part of their normal human functions when exposed to remedial treatment. The amount of recovery was inversely proportional to the length of isolation experienced and the age of the child.
The most dramatic case of so-called wild children was the well documented findings of two girls who lived in a wolf’s den until the age of about 5 and 7. Amala and Kamala walked on all fours, howled instead of speaking and ate food on the ground without using their hands. One of them, who was subsequently looked after by a clergy, learned to walk, dress herself and use her hands, but she never learned to speak.
The question raised by these cases concerns the sources of information necessary for human behaviour. Without post-natal cultural transfer we cannot even demonstrate the very behavioural characteristics that make us human, when compared to apes: speech, bipedal gait and hand dexterity. If there is so little congenital information for these very basic characteristics, scepticism is justified about the substantial congenital information claimed for intelligence violent behaviour and even political attitudes, let alone the complex and sophisticated social behaviour associated with killing.
Functional potentiality, congenital predisposition and behaviour are different concepts[edit | edit source]
Here we use the example of speech to clarify terminology and concepts which are essential to debate about the definition of human behaviour on a scientific basis.
Human speech and languages are subserved by congenitally defined structures (laryngeal cartilages and their muscles, specific muscles for breathing, specific cerebral cortical regions) and structures defined after birth (motor neurones regulating the function of the vocal cords, specific connections within the cerebral cortex).
Speech is a functional potentiality of the human species. This function is only a potential, because if congenitally defined structures are not combined with appropriate information (hearing adult speaking) at a critical period after birth, the child does not speak. The child may have normal laryngeal cartilages, but she/he does not speak because the auditory system has not conveyed to the brain the necessary information to complete development. This post-natal information would in fact have provided a child of 1-3 years of age with a language (Bavarian, English, Cantonese, Welsh, etc.), the functional potentiality of speech not being sufficient for post-natal function.
If a functional potentiality is the characteristic of a species, congenital predisposition is characteristic of an individual. To continue the practical example of speech, a child may have a congenital predisposition to high-level articulate speech, if his/her foetal development has provided certain structural features conducive to a better-than-average skill in speech: a favourable shape of the tongue, rich innervations of its muscles, well shaped lips and teeth, richly innervated laryngeal muscles, well shaped laryngeal cartilages, appropriate brain stem and cortical areas well supplied with blood. When combined with average or above average sensory input, this favourable congenital predisposition would lead to a better articulated speech, but it would not inform the child about which language to speak and what to say.
The actual act of speaking represents a specific behaviour. The language you are using and what you are saying is a very important aspect of social behaviour, which reveals the type of information you received after birth.
What about killing?[edit | edit source]
After this example of speech, we can analyse the special social behaviour of killing.
Killing is a functional potentiality of human beings. In fact, our biocultural process of evolution designed us to kill animals and plants (hunter-gathering) to feed ourselves. For this reason we are still born with the necessary physical characteristics and, most of all, with the necessary brain to know – trough cultural transfer and personal observation – plants and animals and build implement to collect and kill living beings. As in the cases of other species, our biocultural evolution did not, however, select us to kill members of our own species.
Special features of a person's congenital predisposition can facilitate social acquisition and later learning for killing, that is hunting and gathering. That person would probably grow into a good coordinator of the hunt or a good leader in gathering, because he/she responded much faster and better to behavioural models offered by society. However, these models provided the information, not the congenital predisposition.
The specific social behaviour of killing (the actual behaviour) would reveal the particularly social and physical environment that a person experienced after birth. If he was born into a Palaeolithic band, he would never experience any social channelling toward killing members of his own species; he would have been, on the contrary, reprimanded for seeking any form of violence when confronting a conflict of interests.
Oppressing, wounding, and killing other human beings probably began quite recently, after the invention of food production. Let's us consider now the evidence for suggesting that such a cultural novelty occurred after about 90,000 years of an essentially nonviolent existence. We briefly review the evidence that, as in the case of the development of brain and behaviour already mentioned, is being kept hidden from the wider public.
Nonkilling in Palaeolithic art [edit | edit source]
In the last forty years or so palaeoarcheology has documented about 1-2 million images produced throughout the world by human beings before the invention of food production and the emergence of large human settlements. I suggest that artistic expression is part of human nature, a product of our biocultural evolution, therefore a constituent of human biology. Therefore the history of art does not start with the 'great civilisations' of the Mediterranean region and Middle East, but about 40,000 years ago when Palaeolithic people began to engrave or paint images on the surface of rocks and bones and built small statuettes made of stone or bone. These works are not only important for the history of art, but they also represent historical documents that need to be 'read' and interpreted. Such intellectual enterprise is slowly finding its methodological and theoretical bases.
For our question about the possible nonkilling nature of human beings, it is interesting that among so many visual art items only probably 50 or 100 have so far justified suggestions, though not well founded, that they would represent violence (man-to-man aggression). If the popular idea of 'brutal cave men' was correct, Palaeolithic art should be full of violence. On the contrary, it is dominated by animal hunting, representation of nature, sex, and symbolic signs. Images of weapons, warriors, and killing only begins in the late Neolithic, after the onset of agricultural and pastoral economy.
The other interesting fact is that this essentially nonviolent nature of Palaeolithic art is not being noted in specialist books, museum exhibitions, and popular press. On the contrary, when a timid suggestion is put forward by an author that one particular item may perhaps suggest violence, the popular press launches into a wide publicity of the finding in support of the idea that we have been killing each other from the very beginning of our existence. This unscientific attitude has, of course, important political implications, whose discussion goes beyond the scope of the present work.
A nonkilling Primate begins to kill[edit | edit source]
We have been accustomed to consider agriculture (domestication of plant and animals) as just another clever invention of human beings in the long sequence from simple stone implements to moon rockets. But the production of food (as opposed to hunting and gathering) has truly been a turning point for humanity. The slow process of biocultural changes that made Homo sapiens emerge among other Hominids became a very fast chain of purely cultural changes for which our brain was not suited for. Our neurological imperatives could not (still cannot) cope with life in large, hierarchical communities affected by competition, social injustice, wounding and killing each other, which soon characterised food-producing culture. In the last few thousand years the vast majority of human being have become unhappy, ill and with limited material resources, while a small minority has become apparently happy, ill and with a huge amount of material resources (goods and services). It has not been a good innovation for humanity, but we are still calling it civilisation. Killing other human beings, in particular, is a clear departure from 90,000 years of a well established nonkilling human tradition; it cannot be described in any conceivable way as a civilised advance. We solved this contradiction by convincing ourselves that human being are violent by nature and have been killing each other from the very beginning. This might have been an honest mistake when put forward 350 years ago by Thomas Hobbes, but keep perpetrating it now would look more like a convenient exploitation of public ignorance by those who benefit from violence. In 1986, the International Year of Peace, twenty academics and intellectuals met in Seville to discuss the question of whether human beings are violent by nature. They concluded their discussion with the so-called Seville Statement on Violence (issued on 16 May 1986 and adopted by UNESCO on 16 November 1989) that negated such an idea. I agree with such a position, but I consider it insufficient. It is also necessary to explain how comes that human beings are now killing each other systematically on such a large scale and, importantly, when this cultural novelty began.
In the attempt of stimulating a study about the origins of violence, I put forward a hypothesis about how structural violence started in the late Neolithic and how direct violence and war followed. This hypothesis needs to be investigated and confirmed or refuted with specific research projects. Only after having understood the causal chain of events that lead us to killing other human beings, we can suggest appropriate changes in the current killing culture in order to find again our true nonkilling nature, that is, our human dimensions. If we continue to believe that we are violent by nature, no advance will be made in that direction.
Killing: law, punishment and their contradictions[edit | edit source]
If a man is accused of having killed a person, a court establishes facts and responsibility and he may go to jail. This would seem fair and straight forward, but it involves, instead, serious problems. What are our motivations for committing a killer (or any other criminal) to jail? Ever since Cesare Beccaria's 1764 seminal book “On crime and punishment”, there has been much debating on this topic without shedding much light on the question of punishment. Unresolved contradictions in criminology and jurisprudence still leave doubts about five lines of explanations about jailing.
- The killer is given the chance for rehabilitation. The name often adopted for he government department dealing with jails, Corrective Services, would suggest that this may be the aim of jailing. But we know that jails are, on the contrary, training camps for young criminals, a reinforcing environment for mature thugs, and a corrupted institution permeated by drug and violence.
- Society needs to be protected from a dangerous person. If this was the aim of jailing, all sentences should be for life, with later revisions if clear changes in his attitude and behaviour subsequently occur.
- Harsh punishments for crime are a deterrent for potential criminals. But several studies have instead shown that harsher punishments for a given type of crime do not result in a lower incidence of the same crime. This is due to the irrational motivations of crime and/or the well-rooted hope of escaping arrest.
- Punishment is a revenge offered to the victims. This explanation is rejected by the judiciary and often by the victims themselves. But the joy and relieve externalised by the victims and their relatives and friends following a 'just' sentence would cast doubts about their real feelings.
- While in jail the criminal pays a debt to society for the damages caused. This popular belief becomes quite ironical when we consider the enormous cost paid by society to keep people in jail – often higher of the income earned by the criminal before being committed. Moreover, the alleged “payment of a debt” does not correspond to the erasing of the debt, because after his release he remains a 'previous offender' with less civil rights and less chances to find a job and rehabilitate himself.
- If a killer lacked an understanding of the consequences of his actions, he will be committed to a special psychiatric hospital. The border between criminality and insanity is scientifically unclear, arbitrary, based on subtle legal cavils, and easily manipulated by the media and political considerations.
It is obvious that the theoretical bases of crime and punishment are weak and ignoring fundamental aspects of human nature. Freudian concepts are still affecting the whole field of criminal justice: we have natural subconscious impulses to kill, which need to be suppressed by conscious moral values. As an alternative, I would suggest that killing goes against our nonviolent predisposition that was selected as our species emerged. Therefore killing is the expression of pathological postnatal experiences and violent behavioural models promoted in society. All killers should be treated as mentally insane and helped to restore their own humanity. Of course, at the same time we should stop creating killers and criminals. But this would involve a revolutionary change in everyday life style and social institutions.
Conclusions[edit | edit source]
In this course I have criticised the widespread idea that human beings are violent by nature (totally or partially) and provided scientific evidence that denies it. This new position allows us to formulate practical proposal toward positive peace and, in particular, the establishment of a nonkilling society. Without a strong understanding of the origins of nonviolence and its application in modern social contexts, these proposals would be really naïve and utopian.
I am suggesting that we are nor violent neither nonviolent by nature. We are only suffering from operating in a violent environment, as our biocultural evolution has selected a nonviolent culture in parallel with a suitable brain that operates more efficiently in such an environment, both traits being in our case successful in survival.
One can defend the concept of a nonkilling society on moral and/or scientific grounds. The moral position is by all mean justified and useful, but it is not sufficient as an argument. We have tried to explain scientifically (in terms of human biology) that nonkilling other human beings is at the moment the most convenient strategy for survival, beside being the one adopted by human beings from their very beginning (100,000 years ago). A purely cultural accident happened about 8,000 years ago; at that stage a strong minority found it convenient to transmit from generation to generation the idea of a congenital inevitable violence. Now advances in universal human values and scientific knowledge are exposing this recent, unfortunate deviation from the 90,000-year old human adventure. If all forms of violence, killing included, were removed from our modern society, we would be happier, healthier and with more material resources.
Acknowledgements[edit | edit source]
I would like to thank my teachers Johan Galtung and Ralph Summy for introducing me to the discipline of Peace Studies and to all my colleagues and students who offered healthy criticisms while I was exploring new ideas.
References[edit | edit source]
- For example, in the beginning of the 1990s a group of competent academics found much resistance among colleagues to their proposal of establishing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland (Brisbane). Interestingly, the strongest opposition came from political scientists and international relations experts, while unrelated disciplines offered a warm support. The degree course was eventually established, became popular with students, led to the acquisition of important external grants, and allowed the creation of one of the most active international centres of peace studies.
- We owe such an innovative concept to Glenn D. Paige and his enlightening teaching at the University of Hawaii and the Centre for Global Nonviolence. See Paige, G.D. (2006) Nonkillig global political science. Xlibris.
- Giorgi, P. P. (2007) “Countering with nonviolence the pervasive structural violence of everyday life – The case of small Italian townships” in Ralph V. Summy (ed) Nonviolent alternatives for social change, in Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Developed under the auspices of the UNESCO, Eolss Publishers, Oxford (UK) . Alternatively, contact the author at the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who reads Italian can visit the web site http://www.neotopia.it/download_neotopia.html and find the Italian version (updated and enlarged) of the same work, which is presented as two articles, Part One with the theoretical background and the summary of the project and Part Two with practical details of the project aiming at transforming a small town into a nonviolent community. This project is now being attempted by more townships in Italy.
- For example, see Stevenson. L. (1987) Seven theories of human nature. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- See Giorgi, P. P. (2001) The origins of violence by cultural evolutions (second edition). Minerva, Brisbane. This edition is out of print. It can be downloaded at the web site http://www.pierogiorgi.org. A third edition of this work is being prepared. Those who read Italian have a new version of this work (updated and enlarged) in Giorgi, P. P. (2008) La violenza inevitabile – Una menzogna moderna. Jaca Book, Milano.
- The evidence provided by neuroscience is only summarised in the present work. A detailed presentation for non-specialists can be found in Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Chapter 2. Detailed presentations for specialist can be found in these two works: Ellis, B. J., Bjorklund, D. F. (editors) (2005) Origins of the social mind. Guilford Press, New York. Nelson, C. A., de Haan, M., Thomas, K. M. (2006) Neuroscience of cognitive development. John Wiley, Hoboken (NJ).
- P. P. Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Chapter 3.
- Ibidem ; see also Giorgi, P.P. & Anati, E. (2004) “Violence and its evidence in prehistoric art – A comparison of ideas”, in E. Anati (editor), Prehistoric and tribal art – New discoveries, interpretations and methods, pp. 263-269. Edizioni del Centro, Capo di Ponte, Brescia (Italy).
- Freud, S. (1961) Civilization and Its Discontents (English translation by James Strachey), pp. 767-806. W.W. Norton, New York.
- It is important to note that Freud talks about human beings in general, but he then refers only to the Judeo-Christian world of Creation. Let’s not condemn him of cultural narrow-mindedness too quickly. Contemporary social psychologists draw conclusions about human psychology from analyses carried out in England or USA, not necessarily appropriate models for humans in Nepal or even Sicily.
- See Gallagher J. J. & Craig, T. R. (1987) The malleability of children. Paul H. Brooks, Baltimore. Nelson et al. (2006), cf. note 6, p. 5. The large work by Ellis & Bjorklund (2005), cf. note 6, does not even discuss instincts. In spite of such a good consensus in developmental human neurobiology, the public is not informed about such a simple but important aspect of human behaviour.
- The media have not yet digested the idea that famous historic discoveries were made by scientists who lacked modern knowledge and necessarily made mistakes on the side: the old masters are not error-free. Freud discovered the subconscious and showed that we are not totally rational beings, a great contribution to the knowledge of the human mind, but some of his other suggestions are now highly questionable. The same applies to Charles Darwin. He discovered natural selection (not evolution), but his poor knowledge of heredity led him to wrong statements about the mechanism of transformism. Even Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology, drew wrong conclusions about the origin of violence because he lacked modern knowledge of brain development.
- This Latin expression is normally attributed to Thomas Hobbes, but it was first used by the Roman playwright Plautus (Asinaria v. 495, “lupus est homo homini”).
- Popular reports often refer to other species of Hominids (Australopithecus, Homo habilis, H. erectus, etc.) as ‘our ancestors’, while our ancestors are only Homo sapiens, a species that underwent a very unique path of natural selection. We have only common evolutionary origins with other Hominids, just as we have common origins, much earlier on, with rats. Simply attributing to us behavioural traits of other Hominids, or rats as it is often done, is not good evolutionary biology.
- 15 See Giorgi, P.P. & Anati, E. (2004) “Violence and its evidence in prehistoric art – A comparison of ideas” in E. Anati (editor) Prehistoric and tribal art – New discoveries, interpretations and methods, Edizioni del Centro, Capo di Ponte, Brescia, pp. 263-269.
- See, for example, Lee, R. B. (1979) The !Kung San: men, women and work in a foraging society. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) and Lee, R. B. (1988) “Reflections on primitive communism” in T. Ingold; D. Riches & J. Woodburn (eds) Hunters and gatherers , vol.1, pp. 252-268. Berg, New York.
- This Latin expression, meaning that each man behaves like a wolf toward other men, is normally attributed to Thomas Hobbes, but it was first used by the Roman playwright Plautus (cf. note 13)
- Interestingly, anthropologists as well are still struggling with an explanation for the origins of the State. For example, (Bodley 1997, 182): “The rise of centralised state political power is perhaps the greatest anthropological mystery of all.” (Is this quote from Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States, and the Global System?) Most authors take a descriptive, historical approach, while the few attempts at a causal explanation (Spenser, Sahlins, Carnerio, Service) are based on very local, specific cases that lack the necessary general application.
- Modern population geneticists agree that Homo sapiens must have maintained its basic genetic make-up and neurological imperatives* since its emergence 50,000-100,000 years ago. In fact a species with large populations, that continuously mix would be prevented from stabilising significant genetic changes.
- After the news of a particularly brutal killing, TV programs offer interviews with high-level police officers or learned psychologists/psychiatrists, or even respected clergy, who try to reassure the worried public with 'rational' explanations. In these occasions one can hear the most unscientific propositions: “he experienced a sudden drive to kill” or “his mind became split between reality and impulses” etc. The more plausible explanation is, instead, that the killer experiences a situation of deep frustration and rage that unleashed a behavioural model build up in his subconscious after hours and hours of viewing of violent films. During these powerful experiences his brain 'really' killed many, many times (see the discussion about 'mirror neurones' in Ellis & Bjorklund, cf. note 6, pp. 387-389) and linked everything with its emotionality and subconscious behavioural models (see deep culture*).
- Ellis & Bjorklund (2005), cf. note 6.
- For this see behavioural predispositions* and biocultural evolution*, or Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Section 2.4, p. 101, or Lopreato, J. (1984) Human nature and biocultural evolution. Allen & Urwin, London.
- For a criticism of the dualistic view of brain and mind, see Damasio. A.R. (2005) Descates' error - Emotion, reason and the human brain. Penguin Books, London.
- Ellis & Bjorklund (2005), cf. note 6, especially Chapter 6.
- For simple explanations about the cellular structure of the brain, see Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Section 2.1.
26 For a non-specialist description of brain structures, see Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Section 2.1. 27 See Nelson et al. (2006), cf. note 6. 28 Ibidem. 29 The existence of instinctive behaviour in humans is a common folk belief. Statements such as “I did it instinctively”, “I was born that way”, “That’s me, I can’t help it”, etc. are not just colloquial expressions. If asked to expand on that note, a candid belief in instincts often surfaces. This belief in instincts has its basis in widespread ignorance about cultural transfer in babies and children and about non-verbal cultural transfer at all ages. This is probably the major source of confusion in the nature/nurture debate concerning human social behaviour. The basic misunderstanding springs from the difference between the popular meaning of ‘behaving instinctively’ — doing something without a strong cognitive input because of familiarity with the situation — and the scientific meaning of ‘instinct’ — a behavioural trait defined only by congenital information. Many behavioural traits and attitudes acquired early in life by imitation and without explicit verbal instruction (Barnett, S.A., 1988, Biology and Freedom - An essay on the implications of human ethology, pp. 251-253. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge) are retrieved subconsciously, hence the conviction that they are congenital or ‘instinctive’. The memory of events and situations lived in infancy (up to 5-6 years of age) is lost by the time adulthood is reached, and so is the consciousness of how information was acquired. Some authors in education call this subconscious information 'deep culture', without clarifying its ontogenetic origins. 30 See Kandel, E. & Jessell, T. M. (1999) “Development of the visual system” in Schwartz, J. H., Kandel, E. & Jessell, T. M. (eds.) Principles of neural science, pp. 1024-1027. McGraw-Hill, New York. 31 See Cherfas, J. (1979) “Learning to chirp” New Scientists, 17 May, pp. 535-539; “Singing in the brain” 24 May, pp. 649-651; “I sing therefore I am” 31 May, pp. 716-718. 32 Chesler, P. (1973) “Maternal influence in learning by observation in kitten”, pp. 389-392 in T. E. McGill (ed.) Readings in animal behaviour, pp. 389-392. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York. 33 Swartz, K. B. & Rosenblum, L. (1981) “The social context of parental behaviour – A perspective on primate socialisation”, pp. 431-432 in D.J. Gubernick & P.H. Klopfer (eds) Parental care in mammals. Plenum Press, New York. 34 A simple, terse statement about the alleged genetic basis of social behaviour can be found in a modern textbook of cell biology in the section dealing with the development of the nervous system: “Clearly, no behaviour is inherited. What is inherited is DNA” (Alberts et al., 1994, p. 985). 35 See Lane, H. (1977) The wild boy of Aveyron. Granada, London. Candland, D. K. (1993) Feral children and clever animals – Reflections on human nature. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Rymer, R. (1993) Genie – An abused child's flight from silence. Harper Collins, London. 36 Candland (1993), cf. note 34, pp. 53-68. 37 Plomin, R (1990) “The role of inheritance in behaviour” Science, vol. 248, pp. 183-188. 38 Harth, E. (1991) Dawn of a millennium. Penguin Books, London. 39 Martin, N.G., Eaves, L.J., Heath, A.C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L.M. & Eysenck, H.J. (1986)”Transmission of social attitudes” Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 83, pp. 4364-4369. 40 Jablonski, N. G. & Aiello, L. C. (1998) The origin and diversification of language. University of California Press, Los Angeles. 41 For specialists – The auditory system must convey to the cerebral cortex the information necessary to complete the development of cortical language centres (upper motor neurons), so these in turn instruct brain stem centres (lower motor neurons) responsible for innervating laryngeal muscles (nucleus ambiguus). Without such a sensory input human functional potentialities are not realised. 42 This censorship of scientific information has interesting political implications, whose discussion would go beyond the scope of this work. 43 See Anati, E. (editor) (2003) 40,000 ans d'art contemporain. Edizioni del Centro, Capo di Ponte (Brescia) 44 For a criticism of the 'reading' of violence in Palaeolithic art, see Giorgi & Anati (2004), cf. note 15 or Giorgi (2008), cf. note 5, pp. 72-74. 45 See Giorgi (2008), cf. note 5, fig. at p.70. 46 See Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, Section 3.2, note 17, pp. 137-138. 47 The domestication of animals and plants was invented independently in three places on Earth: in the Middle East about 12,000 years ago, in Southern China about 9,000 years ago and in Central America about 6,000 years ago. This led to the establishment of settled communities and nomadic pastoral communities. These practices spread into neighbouring regions at the average speed of one kilometre per year. Importantly, clear signs of structural and direct violence soon appeared, as indicated by archaeological findings. Artistic and documentary evidence of war soon followed. 48 Admittedly, professional specialisation and social injustice allowed a lucky few to develop art, science and literature. We now benefit of these acquisitions brought about by structural violence, but awareness of nonviolent strategies could bring about peace again without having to give up useful and harmless inventions. 49 See note 17. 50 The Seville statement contains five core ideas: "It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors. It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature. It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour. It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a 'violent brain'. It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by 'instinct' or any single motivation." The natural belligerence of human being has also been questioned by Van der Dennen, J.M.G. (1995) The origin of war, 2 vols. Origin Press, Groningen, Bonta, B.D. (1996), «Conflict resolution among peaceful societies – The culture of peacefulness», in Journal of Peace Research, vol. 33 (4), pp. 403-420 and Fry, D. (2006), The human potential for peace – An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence, Oxford University Press, New York. 51 See Giorgi (2001), cf. note 5, pp. 152-170; Giorgi (2008), cf. note 5, Chapter 4. 52 In this case the use of the male gender has a purpose: so far the great majority of antisocial behaviour, criminal plots, murders and general killing are perpetrated by men. This gender difference is rarely emphasised or discussed in the media, as it goes against both popular believes (human nature is evil) and scientific facts (the Y chromosome does not carry instructions for criminality). We are left wondering why we keep on creating male delinquents so efficiently and consistently. 53 Committing criminals to jail is a relatively recent solution. In the distant e close past jails were mainly used for political opponents. Criminals were killed, maimed, tortured, exposed to weather and public mockery or fined. Jail started being used systematically in the 19th century and soon saturated available space; forced labour in the colonies partially solved the problem. Now jails are overcrowded again: about 1 prisoner per 1.000 people is the average in Europe, while the United States have about 1 prisoner per 350 people, and increasing. This is one of the several signs indicating that we are facing a tragically failing social system based on violence and punitive measures. 54 The psychiatric problems experienced by war veterans are well known in USA, UK and Australia. 55 We have presented a proposal for a nonviolent transformation of society, which is being currently tested in a few small townships in Italy. See Giorgi, P.P. (2007), cf. note 3. 56 Nonviolence was first proposed by the Mahatma Gandhi and later developed by his disciple Bhave Vinoba and many more throughout the world (Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, Johan Galtung, Gene Sharp, Aung San Suu Kyi, and others) and in Italy (Aldo Capitini, Danilo Dolci, Giuseppe Lanza del Vasto, Ernesto Balducci, and others). Importantly, nonviolence should be mainly applied to correct structural violence in everyday life, the source of all type of violence, killing and war included. For references see note 3.