Sunday, March 23, 2003

EXCUSE FOR AGGRESSION?

Are humans hard-wired to behave aggressively?
Y chromosome could be the culprit in war But we are in process of getting domesticated

When technology has made the world smaller than ever, why does mankind still resort to settling international differences with the blunt instrument of war?

The clues may be in our genes. An emerging and controversial branch of science suggests that humans are, at least in part, hard-wired for aggression and other troublesome behaviours....

In his book Demonic Males: Apes And The Origins Of Human Violence, Wrangham argues that more aggressive men were the most successful breeders back in our dim evolutionary past....

Wrangham bases his work in part on observations of chimpanzees, one of humanity's closest evolutionary cousins. Male chimps fight one another directly for access to females, he says. But they also make group raids into neighbouring clans, killing out-of-group males without provocation or apparent immediate gain. In other words, they wage war....

In Bonbono monkeys, he said, females keep male aggression in check by travelling in packs and defending one another. While he doesn't suggest women do the same, he thinks they could use the ballot box to shift foreign policy.

But waiting for evolution to breed out our bad traits can take a long time.

Bonbono monkeys, famous for their loving societies, split off from chimpanzees some 2.5 million years ago, Wrangham said; biologists guess they evolved their peaceful leanings only about 10,000 years ago....

Not coincidentally, Wrangham said, modern humans have lost about 10 per cent of their brain mass in the last 30,000 years. While most biologists explain the difference by body size — ancient humans had larger bodies and thus larger brains — Wrangham thinks we're simply in the process of domesticating ourselves.

"We couldn't possibly live in big cities if we were chimps. We'd attack each other all the time," he said. "We are species that are learning to control our violent behaviour, at least inside groups."