Saturday, 14 March 2015

On Aggression

Stephen Hawking recently commented that ...
“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression”
This is something which piqued my curiosity as an undergrad', so I felt it was worth contributing a few thoughts to the discussion in the media which Professor Hawking's comment made possible. Below is a reply to the article linked above, which summarises some key reasons for optimism about the human condition which result from the contemplation of biological knowledge, which I hope others will find interesting. 

I also plugged Konrad Lorenz's book "On Aggression" on which some of these ideas are based.

If one wishes to correct aggression one needs to understand the biological causes for it, its behavioural context and behavioural counterbalances like peacemaking, friendship and love which in the natural state inhibit aggression in appropriate circumstances.

Aggression is a part of us all. Even academics are aggressive in their own way and it would be hypocrisy to say otherwise and we all know that kind of hypocrisy is no stranger to religious fanatics either.

At the root of all our behaviours is natural selection which exists because self reproducing DNA reproduces more successfully the better it is at reproducing, obviously. OK we are competing for limited resources and winning can be a matter of life and death and that is the reality. For social animals like humans winning has a lot to do with making friends precisely because life isn't fair and contests of power between groups of equals become a numbers game. Consequently we have all that we need to solve the problems of aggression and live as friends should circumstances permit. In today's world those circumstances are of our own making.

In an aggressive world one needs to be aware of reality to survive but we can improve on the past. The numbers game is real but for example, given the right circumstances, democracy can win, because it pleases most of the people some of the time. Its not perfect but its usually better for everyone than war and revolution.

This is why I think it would help if more people understood the biological basis for our own psyches because this is as close as we have come to understanding our own reality and consequently offers us some chance of finding ways to remedy recurring patterns of violence. Such as the traps of tribal antagonism, since this is like a knee jerk reflex response for the human mind grappling with its group identity when it has no other frame of reference by which to assess its own emotions or clear understanding about the disgrace which such attitudes inflict on us today.

Nevertheless, even within a scientific context, the greatest obstacle between us and a peaceful cooperative life is ourselves, since understanding others is predicated upon such. One could do worse than starting with "On Aggression", a book by Konrad Lorenz, a noted ethologist, which is where my journey towards understanding my own and others' aggression began.