March 23rd, 2007

Nature: red—and compassionate—in tooth and claw

Animals living in groups, such as the very social homo sapiens and certain other primates such as chimpanzees, must find ways to get along. We all know that this “getting along” is a relatively flawed and halting proposition. But still,there must be some basic sense of cooperation within the group for such primates to have evolved and prospered at all.

Some intriguing research on primate behavior indicates that some of the roots of compassion for others are present in those animals. The New York Times reports on the work of primatologist Frans de Waal, whose controversial assertion is that animals share with humans some rudimentary ethical behaviors that may be hardwired.

Reading the article, it’s not clear to me that the behaviors described by de Waal are actually genetic; we know that primates have traditions and ways that are passed down through example and teaching. Nor does he assert that chimps actually have ethics itself. What he does say is that “human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.”

De Waal’s descriptions of chimp behavior are touching. He noticed years ago that, after fights, other chimps would console the loser in the battle. This behavior wasn’t present in monkeys; it seemed to be an ape thing. But the emotion that could be described as compassion is even exhibited by some monkeys, it seems:

Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

The latter observation made me think of the famous Milgram “obedience to authority” experiments, in which human subjects were surprisingly willing to be talked into giving what they thought were very painful electric shocks to a total stranger (turns out the stranger was actually an actor and confederate of the researcher, but the subjects didn’t know that). The Milgram experiments demonstrated that whatever natural compassion exists in people can all too often be overridden by an appeal from an authority figure who says it’s all okay.

Other primates, being nonverbal, are unlikely to be as amenable to such appeals. It is one of the triumphs of human civilization and one of its drawbacks that human beings can be reasoned into doing something against their natural instincts, both for better and for worse. A doctor cuts into a patient’s flesh in order to heal the sufferer. A soldier fires a weapon in order to defend against those who would destroy a society or cause greater harm to innocent people.

And a murderer kills for any number of reasons: power, money, rage. A terrorist believes he’s doing the work of God when he blows a bunch of women and children into a thousand pieces.

Research indicates that all primate societies have evolved the following characteristics in order to survive: empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking. These elements are present at least within the small groups in which primates live, but in these groups all is not lightness and love. Far from it; there’s tough love as well:

Young rhesus monkeys learn quickly how to behave, and occasionally get a finger or toe bitten off as punishment.

In human society that would be considered child abuse; to rhesus monkeys it’s apparently a “spare the finger and spoil the child” philosophy.

And that is by no means the worst of it. The work of Jane Goodall, who lived among chimpanzees and studied them for decades, shows that they exhibit a surprising and extraordinary amount of violence both within and without the group.

It used to be thought that humans were the only species that warred on itself. This is untrue. Chimp violence certainly hasn’t reached the levels of human violence, but that’s apparently only through lack of technological advances. The phenomenon of inter-chimp violence is relatively newly discovered and poorly understood, but chimps seem to defend territory aggressively:

It was hard for the researchers to reconcile these episodes [of violence] with the opposite but equally accurate observations of adult males sharing friendship and generosity and fun: lolling against each other on sleepy afternoons, laughing together in childish play, romping around a tree trunk while batting at each other’s feet, offering a handful of prized meat, making up after a squabble, grooming for long hours, staying with a sick friend. The new contrary episodes of violence bespoke huge emotions normally hidden, social attitudes that could switch with extraordinary and repulsive ease. We all found ourselves surprised, fascinated, and angry as the number of cases mounted. How could they kill their former friends like that?

Human morality is not simple, and the same appears to be true of the roots of that morality in primates. But human behavior is mediated by the ability to verbalize and to reason at a far higher level than that available to any other primate. This results in (among other things) the development of tools to extend both the healing power of compassion and the lethal power of war—although in most cases, of course, the tools are not the same.

These issues about human and animal behavior and morality cut across several disciplines: philosophy, psychology, biology, sociology. And you can bet that there’s a lot of disagreement among them over how it all works:

The impartial element of morality comes from a capacity to reason, writes Peter Singer, a moral philosopher at Princeton, in “Primates and Philosophers.” He says, “Reason is like an escalator — once we step on it, we cannot get off until we have gone where it takes us.”

That was the view of Immanuel Kant, Dr. Singer noted, who believed morality must be based on reason, whereas the Scottish philosopher David Hume, followed by Dr. de Waal, argued that moral judgments proceed from the emotions.

But biologists like Dr. de Waal believe reason is generally brought to bear only after a moral decision has been reached. They argue that morality evolved at a time when people lived in small foraging societies and often had to make instant life-or-death decisions, with no time for conscious evaluation of moral choices.

I’m not sure what good such “which came first, the chicken or the egg” discussions do, other than provide a living for academics. But I believe it makes sense that societies must have evolved some sort of altruism, if only in the group, in order to function successfully and to continue to exist. It also makes sense that this fact does not preclude violence, both in order to defend that group and for other less functional reasons as well.

Those who think that compassion can be extended to all peoples and all circumstances, and that violence can be eradicated from the human heart and mind, are seriously deluded. And they can become dangerous if they make decisions about the world based on those assumptions.

I once heard a story about the Jewish attitude toward what we are describing here, the element of human and animal nature known in Hebrew as the yetzer ra, or the “evil impulse.” It’s the source of violence and selfish drives, and in the legend the evil impulse is held captive by the people for three days. At the outset, the yetzer ra utters a foreboding warning:

Realize that if you kill me, the world is finished.

The world is finished? Whatever could this mean? The people found out soon enough. With the evil inclination out of commission, the hens stopped laying. It was discovered that the impulse was what gave the drive to life itself: desire, striving, commerce, sex, all sorts of things that are necessary for life to have any vitality at all.

It can’t be eradicated, nor should one wish to do so. It can only be tamed and harnessed at times in a more positive direction.

Here’s another parable about the paradox of good and evil in the world of living things, this one based on the story of Genesis:

And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good…vehinei tov zeh yetzer hatov, vehinei tov me’od zeh yetzer hara—”good” refers to the Good Inclination but “very good” refers to the Evil Inclination. Why? Because were it not for the Yetzer ha-Ra no one would build a house, take a wife, give birth, or engage in commerce.

I can think of no better way to close than with the poet Yeats’s “Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, which comes at the same idea from another direction:”

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

32 Responses to “Nature: red—and compassionate—in tooth and claw”

  1. Cappy Says:

    The most important question about primates is, can they program, and if so, how cheaply?

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    I dunno, Cappy. But if you get enough of them together, apparently they can write the works of Shakespeare.

  3. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    I guess the thing that irritates about a lot of the silly conclusions that people will draw from a biological basis for compassion and the like, is that somehow they also forget that violence between and in the same species is a far older phenomenon. By skipping that half of the analysis (or even just considering it only in a cursory fashion) it becomes easy to delude oneself into some sort of anticipatory utopia.

  4. Terri Says:

    You might enjoy watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly movie. The Reavers fit right in there with that evil influence part.

  5. Huan Says:

    Interesting that with greater sentience comes greater ability to commit evil and actions against our nature. sure animal are also capable of violence against themselves but these tends to be for survival rather than pleasure … or ego.

  6. goesh Says:

    It, violence, is more a part of us than not. With canine teeth, frontal vision, large brains, opposable thumbs and a bipedal gait, we read a few books, write a few laws and think we can somehow be separate from it. We see the ravages of fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, mudslides, lightning strikes and even hail and cluck our tongues at corpses, believing we are not a real part of the drama. We pity the mangled bodies of industrial accidents, plane and train wrecks and the mingling of blood and steel on our highways, wishing to truly be aloof and safe from it. We get bitten by sharks, dogs and spiders, clawed by cats, gored by cattle, trampled by elephants and eaten by tigers and bears and we work hard to convince ourselves we are not a part of the drama. We rupture hymens and slap babies out of the womb. We cut into bodies by the thousands every day in the ritual of surgery. We yank teeth and otherwise pierce and mutilate our bodies. We kill by the tens of thousands cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, fish and fowl and tear at their flesh with our teeth. We kill by the billions healthy, vibrant, living plants with farm machinery. We kill magnificant trees. We rip and gouge the earth to build. We smash old buildings and implode them to make room for the new. We kill insects with our hands, feet, swatters and chemicals. We trap and poison rodents. We kill unwanted pets. We pay good money to view powerful men slamming each other around in sporting events and we spend untold millions watching violent movies. We slam doors and garbage into recepticles. We pull, tear, jerk, grip, grapple, squeeze, clutch, grab, cut and pound every day on something. We have wars and write more laws , so desperate to be above and beyond it yet have the audacity and arrogance to ponder over “social attitudes that could switch with extraordinary and repulsive ease” in some chimps.

  7. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    metacafe.comLike anything else, it’s all a mixed bag. The human capacity for displaying compassion has grown as well as the ability to wage war. Similarly, animals kill for sport as well.

    If you look to nature to understand how fully complex humans are, then you’re looking in the right place. If, instead, it becomes an exercise in finding some external justification for looking for utopia or explaining, some way or another, that it’s all just mankind’s fall from a divine state of natural grace or rejection of our inner noble savage, then you’re asking for a world of self-inflicted hurt.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    Check out Bookworm’s post, if you haven’t already. Because it has a video that explains the human construct better.


    The things from nature that I learn from is just the Pavlovian response. People will do things that they are rewarded for doing and avoid doing things they are punished for. Survival for chimps is different from survival of humans, if only because of our tools and their lack of them. The difference of power, the difference between prey and predator.

    The New York Times reports on the work of primatologist Frans de Waal, whose controversial assertion is that animals share with humans some rudimentary ethical behaviors that may be hardwired.

    That’s not surprising, Neo, since I’ve always believed that strength and victory should be part of any real and true ethical philosophy. How can you be said to do the right thing if by doing so, you fail in your goals? Wouldn’t that be wrong and self-suicidal? If survival is the goal, why is doing the “right” thing, going to lead to your destruction? Technically, that doesn’t make sense.

    It does not make sense to say that “in order to do the right thing, we must not assassinate”. Why does that make it the right thing? Why does keeping your hands clean, make it the right thing?

    Because in the end, ethics is based upon survival, and upon prosperity in a way. Animals survive, humans want something more. The best ethical model, Neo, is the one which provides the highest rate of success, survival, and prosperity. That is it. There’s nothing else to it. Epistemology, the knowing of what is right and wrong, good and evil, true and false. Metaphysics, the knowing of what is real and what is not real, what exists and what does not exist. Both combine to form Ethics. If you need to survive, do we as human not need to know what exists and what doesn’t? Which threats are real and which non-existent? In order to survive as a race, does not humans need to know what is true and false, what is good and evil, Neo? Of course we do, and that is hwy ethics should promote the good, because the good is about winning.

    The video at Book backs me up on this, but there is this sense that “winning” is bad. That fighting and killing should be avoided, that if you can avoid fighting for a belief and dieing for a belief, you can avoid warfare, and if you can avoid warfare you can avoid poverty and evil. Winning isn’t bad though. Why does evil people get to win and crush their enemies all the time, while the good act and role play victims, why is this fracking situation “good”?

    This all gets back to what Synova said. When the good wins, that is GOOD. When evil fears the good, that is also Good. But for the Left and the domestic insurgency, evil is… whenever you win, whenever you have power over another. But only in one specific sense, only when you have power and you are going to use this power for the good. This explains why the Left doesn’t care if you use power for evil, it doesn’t matter to them, because if everyone was evil, wars would stop. So they don’t really care to fight evil, they just want war to stop. Peace, you know.

    Vietnam as a war stopped, didn’t it? How is stopping war evil? The Left doesn’t get it, they learned through the crucible of punishment and reward that good things don’t matter. Good things should not matter, because if good things lead to success, then evil things must lead to failure. Success and failure then breeds warfare, a struggle between winning and losing. They wish to warfare, correct, and so they think that you can stop warfare by either killing everyone, or killing every belief system through nihilism. Click on the link and see the video for more.

  9. Synova Says:

    Can compassion exist without the opposite, peace without war? I like the end of the poem, that nothing can be whole that hasn’t been rent.

    One can’t be brave without fear. One can’t enjoy food without hunger. Success means nothing without struggle.

    Some of our most truely compassionate people are our warriors. As the one who said, about his service in Iraq, that every day he feels as though he pushed a young girl out from in front of a bus. They train and practice and learn to kill human beings but it doesn’t impact their ability to be compassionate. From appearances it may enhance it. I even read something a couple of years ago, first hand from a soldier who was sort of expecting killing to be harder than it was and was sort of expecting to harden toward all the people. He said he was surprised *himself* that he felt nothing at killing someone trying to drive a car bomb through the gate, without losing any tenderness for the Iraqi people.

    As a mother I know that my greatest potential for violence is directly related to the love I have for my children. I’d do more to defend them than I’d ever do for myself.

    Nothing to live or die for? What horror that would be. Peace? Nothing to fight for? Nothing to care about, nothing to love.

    Peace isn’t not-war. Lots of things can be not-war without being even remotely like peace.

  10. strcpy Says:

    That behavior is not only limited to primates. Many many animals do the same thing. Nearly everyone who keeps several dogs (especially ones that have house dogs) will have one that is jealous, cats play with other animals and kill for fun, and most animals will react to the sounds of another animal in pain. Most hunters will have witnessed wild animals doing all sorts of things that meet the stuff written about in this article.

    We even have a dog that likes to stare at herself in the mirror – and she knows it is herself. If she sees a blemish we have put on her (say, water based paint or something) and she notices it in the mirror she will try and remove it. She has almost always stopped at every reflective surface she walks by to look at herself (again, she changes poses in an attempt to see more of herself such as turning around and twisting herself so that her rear end is in the reflection) She is by no means a smart dog, she will have flatulence while licking herself and glare at the cats for causing it (since I pester them it would make sense if she were to blame me and she does on most other things, but no, this is the cats fault).

    And, lastly, it would be useful if everyone that ate or used animals had to kill and process their own animal from time to time. It is amazing to me the number of anti-hunters that wear leather, eat meat, and generally use animal products. I’ve been flamed on cooking boards for describing to someone how to clean and process a duck someone gave them – there is no pleasant way to end another animals life, remove it’s parts we do not eat, and create the nice looking bits of meat we purchase in the store. Some realize this without needing to go there, but many do not. I rather suspect there would be more vegetarians and less anti-hunter if people were involved in “processing” meat.

  11. douglas Says:

    “human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.”

    Really? I thought morality was our ability to go beyond our emotive instinctual responses to the things that occur in our lives, and extend consequences to the long term, and to the good of the community around us. That’s why ethics are tied to the rational mind. Chimps don’t jump into the moat to save another chimp because they value life, or they are willing to sacrifice for another. They’d just as soon kill that other chimp if it angered them. They jump in because at that moment they felt that they wanted that chimp around for whatever selfish reason- maybe that chimp was their protector. Chimps are advanced enough to seem para-ethical in that they will consider the dynamic of the troop in decision making, as they recognize the importance of the troop in their own personal survival, but it all gets back to the preservation instinct real quickly. We must realize what a gift it is that we can reach even as little beyond that as we do. That little bit is everything that is holy in this world.

    “Interesting that with greater sentience comes greater ability to commit evil and actions against our nature. sure animal are also capable of violence against themselves but these tends to be for survival rather than pleasure … or ego.”

    Not really. Violence and exhibit of superiority and dominence is as primal as it gets. Those who demonstrate superior strength and dominance get first dibs on the kill, get to sleep where and with who they like… It’s self serving and quite natural. nature’s only balance to this is that all have the same instinct, so if one relaxes, one gets demoted (the hard way, often). Violence is completely within our nature. Evil is doing what our nature desires without applying reason and ethics to our judgement process. Nothing an animal does can be evil, for the very reason that they have no moral code to violate. It takes greater sentience to be moral, to go beyond the instinctive drive. Psychopaths basically have reverted to full the fullly self centered instinct for dominance. They are only evil because they are human, and capable of being ethical. Otherwise, they’d just be another animal, and by natures standards, pretty good.

  12. Sally Says:

    Douglas: Chimps are advanced enough to seem para-ethical in that they will consider the dynamic of the troop in decision making, as they recognize the importance of the troop in their own personal survival, but it all gets back to the preservation instinct real quickly. We must realize what a gift it is that we can reach even as little beyond that as we do. That little bit is everything that is holy in this world.

    In this, Douglas epitomizes an unfortunately widespread moral confusion that is anything but rational. Earlier, he’d said that morality/ethics was associated with “the good of the community around us” — so how is that different from the chimp’s concern for “the importance of the troop”? Apparently because the chimp’s concern “gets back to the preservation instinct”. From that sort of assertion it can seem but a short step to the idea that morality and preservation are at odds — which is not just a short step, it’s a fatal one.

    It’s true that morality only applies to human behavior, but that’s solely a product of the fact that human beings are the only entities with whom we can communicate. If we ever are able to speak with other animals, or aliens, or robots, then they too would become included in the larger moral community. But such a community is based upon the idea of treating the individuals within it as agents rather than as instruments — not upon the idea of individual self-sacrifice. Of course, individuals can and do decide to sacrifice their short-term interests for long-term ones — and in the extremity will even sacrifice their lives for their long-term interest in their community — but all such decisions are based upon and arise from the vital interests of the individual self. A morality that demands such interests be surrendered is hardly the source of “everything that is holy” — instead, it’s a grotesque perversion of moral concern.

  13. sergey Says:

    The best book I have read about animal psychology is “Natural History of Aggression” by Konrad Lorentz. It has a subtitle “So Called Evil” and argues that the most cherished human emotional bonds, such as friendship and personal love, had evolved from aggressive behavior and rituals devised to harness it. Very close parallel, indeed, to Talmudic teaching about ezer ha-ra and its sublimation. It has additional value that is not focused on apes and monkeys but follows the theme from fishes to birds and wolves; Lorentz won world-wide recognition for brilliant studies of animal behavior in nature, not in zoos or labs. This is one of ten books in world science literature that worth to be read by everybody.

  14. sergey Says:

    Correction: Konrad Lorenz. The title in German is “Das sogenante Bose (Zur Naturgeschichte der Agression). I do not know exactly how the English version is named, I have read Russian translation from German. The book was written partly due to discussions the author held with American therapists of Freudian school and rich with polemics on evolutional roots of human moral and institutions.

  15. chuck Says:

    Really? I thought morality was our ability to go beyond our emotive instinctual responses to the things that occur in our lives, and extend consequences to the long term, and to the good of the community around us.

    Really? I never thought that at all. Reason without premises is a sterile exercise that goes nowhere. As to going beyond emotion, would that encompass the transcendence of bourgeois sentimentality that underlay the mass murders commited by the communists? Murder, after all, is a rational thing: if your opponents are dead they can offer no resistence.

    Re Hume. The wonderful thing about Hume is that he makes so much sense. One needn’t struggle to attain some bizarre state of mind to agree with him, rather, everything seems quite sensible and natural. He was truly one of the greatest thinkers in a time of great thinkers.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Evil is doing what our nature desires without applying reason and ethics to our judgement process.

    Evil requires free will, the knowledge of good and evil in a sense.

  17. chuck Says:

    Evil is doing what our nature desires without applying reason

    You mean, if you want to murder someone be clever about it? Reason has no moral content whatsoever, you can’t deduce morals from nothing. At the least, you have to start with being human. The morals of a cat would be quite different from those of a human, as indeed, the morals of a psychopath are different from the rest of us, even though the psychopath might be quite intelligent and reason wonderfully well.

  18. OblivionsPuppet Says:

    I just found this blog, and I want to congratulate you on it. In an online environment where thousands of useless posts flood the airwaves, your writing is a beautifully crafted piece of work. I hope you continue with it for a very long time.

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    Reason has no moral content whatsoever

    If reason has no moral content, then the reasoning of why entropy increases in a closed system would make entropy neither a bad or good thing.

    The inability to reason is the inability to use critical thinking and understand which is bad and which is better.

    Morals should be deduced from reality. And reason deals with reality.

  20. sergey Says:

    It is equally impossible to found reliable basis for morality both in reason and emotion; Hume and Kant had some valuble arguments, but the truth is that neither reason nor emotion are sufficient and both can be utterly misleading. We need something that transcends both and uses them only as tools. Such absolutes can demonstrably contradict every rational and irrational (emotional) argument, because they are not subhuman or human, but are superhuman, that is, divine. We call them commandments to underscore their absolute value, superseding any rational understanding and emotional involvement. Dostoevsky and Kirkegor gave deep consideration to these issues.

  21. douglas Says:

    “Evil is doing what our nature desires without applying reason and ethics to our judgement process.”

    “Evil requires free will, the knowledge of good and evil in a sense.”

    Okay, I’ll clarify- Evil is choosing to do what our nature desires without applying reason and ethics to our judgement process. Perhaps psychopaths aren’t quite the right example as they might not perceive good and evil as we expect people in our society to- they live under a completely different idea of what is good and evil- pretty close to natures ideas.

    “Reason without premises is a sterile exercise that goes nowhere.”

    Which is why a I have coupled reason with ethics in my comments.

    “Murder, after all, is a rational thing: if your opponents are dead they can offer no resistence.”

    Not so much- murderers eventually (with few exceptions) are on a self destructive path. Not so rational. There are always more opponents.

    “From that sort of assertion it can seem but a short step to the idea that morality and preservation are at odds — which is not just a short step, it’s a fatal one.”

    You took it, not I. I certainly would not claim that morality and preservation are at odds, I’m just making the point that you’ll rarely if ever find in nature animals with any awareness of self (as opposed to drone bees for instance) that will act in selfless ways. That is not to say that selflessness is in itself virtuous or that morality and preservation are at odds. I would only see that as having truth in the extended view – that ones preservation may be at odds with the morality and benefit of the community.

  22. Mark Says:

    Neo, is the Peter Singer of Princeton whom you cite the ethicist who is infamous for supporting the killing of handicapped infants? If so, you might want someone else whom to cite.

  23. sergey Says:

    Peter Singer is a good illustration that utilitarian approach to morality leads to acception of Nazi-like practices – eugenics, infanticide, non-voluntary euthanazia, zoophilia and so on. Singer invented “animal rights” movement which soon became terroristic; another invention of him is the term “speciesism” as analogue of “racism” and “sexism”. For short, the whole array of the most crasy leftist pathologies can result from seeing science as basis of value judgements and from complete rejection of the most ancient, time honored taboo.

  24. al fin Says:

    An overly romanticized view of nature is being taught to school children in most government schools. That is just one of many ways conventional education turns a child’s mind to mush.

    Of course you see the same simple-mindedness in much of environmentalism. Al Gore’s recent documentary about the climate was chock full of such duncity.

  25. sergey Says:


    I can not dissect this “humans equal animals” argument better.

  26. Ymarsakar Says:

    Hey Neo,

    I’ve noticed that a lot of the science fiction books, blog articles, and movies I have seen deal a lot with evil. What evil is, how it can be defeated, and what other moral ambiguities exists. David Weber in Off Armageddon Reef delved into religious totalitarianism. Weber in Hell Hath No Fury delved into the ethics of torture. The 300 delved into the problem of resistance, freedom, courage, and fighting. You are writing about evil, a basic desire. Bookworm’s got a Nihilist post about evil and destruction.

    I mean I could go on. But it just seems that “evil and good” is on the public conscience a lot these days. With Battlestar Galactica and 24 even…

    I mean in 1980, didn’t people have issues back then, Neo? Issues like race, racism, and inter-racial marriage. And I’m sure series like Star Trek and what not reflected these conceptions and worries. But this isn’t the 80s.

  27. Mark Says:

    If you are going to consider Star Trek, consider also the progression from the original series to Next Generation to Deep Space Nine: simple solutions (just accept one hard truth) to technical magic (with some problems unanswered) to serious muddying of black and white, and the need to betray an important principle to protect them all–but where is the line? What is the difference between Section 31 and Sisko’s sometime alliance with Elim Garak?

    The problem we face is that society embraced an Original Series solution to Vietnam and it was the wrong one. Maybe we were sick of the Garak/31 dilemmas that communism foisted upon us. (Russia _did_ fund a some of the more troubling anti-establishment agitation.) And we’re looking for that same shortcut now, without counting the blood and freedom that we betrayed the last time, or looking at the future.

    Prudence is one of the cardinal virtues. Call it practical wisdom if you like, but our language no longer has a good word for it, and that’s bad. We no longer teach it in schools, and that’s worse. It’s left to the courts to teach it, and without it we cannot see through the knavery that our elected officials spread in order to win for themselves the largest vote.

  28. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Goodall’s first writings had the chimps living a pre-Lapsarian idyll.
    Since, at the time (Sixties), the question of war and peace and so forth was being explored in terms of natural tendencies, the chimps’ experience got a lot of ink.
    It “proved” that nature, or at least nature’s primates, or at least our closest cousins, and by extension our pre-human ancestors, had all been hairy versions of Mr. Rogers.
    Thus, it “proved” that current social arrangements (capitalism, racism, whiteness, or some other thing the hippies hated) was what ruined humanity and made us so awful.

    (It turned out she’d been looking at kinship groups and had missed the wars between them, seeing only the usual ructions within them. She did better later.)

    How that unnatural arrangement could be imposed on nice people by nice people–or where did we get the bad people?–was never discussed.

    Robert Ardrey discussed the subject in “African Genesis” and several other books like “The Territorial Imperative”.
    I talked with a couple of anthroplogists ‘way back then and they thought he may have had the sequence of hominids wrong–certainly much has changed since–and so the conclusions based on who came first might be faulty.
    However, the books would certainly merit study, since the issues remain, if the origins are arguable.

    Only caveat. Ardrey was a professional writer and may be over-writing through his obvious skill some point or another and giving it more plausibility, without misstating anything at all, than the point deserves.

  29. sean Says:

    Is anyone on this site not a shrink? Who the hell reads a Russian translation of a German book on animal agression ceptn a shrink. I think it much simpler than previously presented. God created everything with the prevision that man obey God and no evil will enter this Paradise. Man broke this rule and evil entered the world. Read a Dean Koontz book, its much more enjoyable than animal behavior.

  30. sean Says:

    Now, finally we hear from someone who makes perfect sense. Thanks f3e63f350431b3cde091 or f for short.

  31. Lee Says:

    Well, ah, fer won, ownlee gragiaded hah skool.

  32. cartoon incest Says:

    cartoon incest…


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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


Ace (bold)
AmericanDigest (writer’s digest)
AmericanThinker (thought full)
Anchoress (first things first)
AnnAlthouse (more than law)
AtlasShrugs (fearless)
AugeanStables (historian’s task)
Baldilocks (outspoken)
Barcepundit (theBrainInSpain)
Beldar (Texas lawman)
BelmontClub (deep thoughts)
Betsy’sPage (teach)
Bookworm (writingReader)
Breitbart (big)
ChicagoBoyz (boyz will be)
Contentions (CommentaryBlog)
DanielInVenezuela (against tyranny)
DeanEsmay (conservative liberal)
Donklephant (political chimera)
Dr.Helen (rights of man)
Dr.Sanity (thinking shrink)
DreamsToLightening (Asher)
EdDriscoll (market liberal)
Fausta’sBlog (opinionated)
GayPatriot (self-explanatory)
HadEnoughTherapy? (yep)
HotAir (a roomful)
InFromTheCold (once a spook)
InstaPundit (the hub)
JawaReport (the doctor is Rusty)
LegalInsurrection (law prof)
RedState (conservative)
Maggie’sFarm (centrist commune)
MelaniePhillips (formidable)
MerylYourish (centrist)
MichaelTotten (globetrotter)
MichaelYon (War Zones)
Michelle Malkin (clarion pen)
Michelle Obama's Mirror (reflections)
MudvilleGazette (milblog central)
NoPasaran! (behind French facade)
NormanGeras (principled leftist)
OneCosmos (Gagdad Bob’s blog)
PJMedia (comprehensive)
PointOfNoReturn (Jewish refugees)
Powerline (foursight)
ProteinWisdom (wiseguy)
QandO (neolibertarian)
RachelLucas (in Italy)
RogerL.Simon (PJ guy)
SecondDraft (be the judge)
SeekerBlog (inquiring minds)
SisterToldjah (she said)
Sisu (commentary plus cats)
Spengler (Goldman)
TheDoctorIsIn (indeed)
Tigerhawk (eclectic talk)
VictorDavisHanson (prof)
Vodkapundit (drinker-thinker)
Volokh (lawblog)
Zombie (alive)

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