Science Overturns View Of Humans As Naturally Barbaric

herzog-boys-wrestling-1969-timeAFP on the mounting body of evidence that people and other advanced animals are, on a biological level, driven largely by empathy and caring — undermining the classic view of man possessing a nasty, violent nature tenuously kept in check by the thin veneer of civilization:

Biological research increasingly debunks the view of humanity as competitive, aggressive and brutish, a leading specialist in primate behavior told a major science conference.

“Humans have a lot of pro-social tendencies,” Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New research on higher animals from primates and elephants to mice shows there is a biological basis for behavior such as cooperation, said de Waal.

Until just 12 years ago, the common view among scientists was that humans were “nasty” at the core but had developed a veneer of morality — albeit a thin one, de Waal told scientists and journalists from some 50 countries. But human children — and most higher animals — are “moral” in a scientific sense, because they need to cooperate with each other to reproduce and pass on their genes.

Research has disproved the view, dominant since the 19th century, typical of biologist Thomas Henry Huxley’s argument that morality is absent in nature and something created by humans, said de Waal. And common assumptions that the harsh view was promoted by Charles Darwin, the so-called father of evolution, are also wrong, he said.

“Darwin was much smarter than most of his followers,” said de Waal, quoting from Darwin’s “The Descent of Man” that animals that developed “well-marked social instincts would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience.”

De Waal showed the audience videos from laboratories revealing the dramatic emotional distress of a monkey denied a treat that another monkey received; and of a rat giving up chocolate in order to help another rat escape from a trap.

43 Comments on "Science Overturns View Of Humans As Naturally Barbaric"

  1. It is time to distill and strip mankind down to the core. Remove religion, remove the monetary system, remove politics, remove all of mankind’s built up thoughts and what we are left with is the raw potency of life functioning smoothly. The new society we create on the ashes of the old will reflect this.

    • An done at the point of a gun.

    • Hadrian999 | Feb 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm |

       how do you think a peaceful cooperative society will spring from a violent revolution?

      • gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm |

         >cough!<  WHAT?!?

        you mean you CAN'T create a peaceful society with violence? ohnoes!

        who's gonna tell all the assholes in the middle east fighting for my freedom by winning hearts and minds by smartbombing the civilians and burning their holy books?
        boy are they gonna feel stupid….

        • Hadrian999 | Feb 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm |

          the funny thing is they already know, it’s a long held tenant of both the guerrilla and counter guerrilla that force doesn’t win an insurgency or counter insurgency, building your legitimacy and destroying the legitimacy is the way to win, both sides seem to let their personal feelings get in the way of executing the proper strategies, that and incompetence and poor discipline. Imagine what would happen if either side got their shit together.

    • gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm |

       “While Lenin read the book on Marx,
      (have you read it? its pretty similar to what you just said)
       the quartet practiced in the park,
      and we sang dirges in the dark….”
      –Don MacLean

      You should look into what Lenin did after he read the book by Marx, it’s really fascinating, might divest you of that naivete`….

  2. Ha.
    Ha Ha.

  3. Me want club dumb dumb who think this

  4. MoralDrift | Feb 22, 2012 at 10:32 am |

    one of the functions of the state is to shape and indoctrinate the youth in violence

  5. Misterfurious1 | Feb 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |

    Anyone interested in the topic should read Randall Collins’s “Violence.” It takes a sociological instead of a biological approach, but comes to pretty similar conclusions. 

  6. NeedyLeaders | Feb 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm |

    What society taught me. 1) Be aggressive. 2) Be competitive. 3) My fellow man is an enemy.
    What’s inside me taught. 1) Peace. 2) Cooperation, understanding. 3) My fellow man is friend, the world is an extension of self. It seems our leaders are the barbaric ones, the freaks, the outcasts, the ones that need to be special. It’s the old your bad and need our help bullshit game. The Emperor has no clothes and never did.

    • gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm |

      If our leaders are the barbaric ones and we’re the good ones, THEN WHY ARE WE LETTING THEM LEAD US?

      Because as much as we’d love to deceive ourselves as to our own moral purity and goodness, we are willing to let the most barbaric make all of our important decisions for two reasons:
      1) Letting them be the bad guys absolves US of moral accountability for the brutal decisions they make
      2) WE BENEFIT from their brutal and barbaric decisions. War means cheap gas and cheap bananas, economic oppression means we can get our electronics cheap from chinese slave-labor and nice clothes cheap from Indonesian sweatshops, etc.

      You may say “But I don’t like war and oppression.” and maybe you don’t, but it’s not an accident that we consistently choose to be led by people who enact brutal policies against others so that we benefit. It’s like telling yourself you don’t approve of brutal meat industry practices but continuing to eat hamburger. It’s just self-deceptive moralizing, or to put it more bluntly: Talk is cheap.

      Blaming our leaders is a cop-out. The only real power they have is the power we choose to give them.

      • There’s one fallacy in your argument, not everyone chooses to be led by these people, the majority yes, but that’s because to these people their favourite television show is more important to them than politics. Education is key to have these “leaders” brought down. There’s not much we can really do in the mean time.

        • Monkey See Monkey Do | Feb 23, 2012 at 1:59 am |

          I used to think it must be lack of education. But Hitler, Stalin, Mao and many of the other dominating people in everyday society (CEO’s etc) are extremely educated and intelligent. I think Its more about ethics & morals integrated with education.

          • I agree to a point, but these people are 1 in 100,000. Not everyone who’s intelligent is going to commit genocide, or abuse what power they have to get one up on another person. This also comes back to education, if everybody shared the highest quality education that is possible at one point in time then there would be no one to propagate to fight wars for you, or to brainwash into believing in a bad cause etc Becuase everyone will have the ability to sift through the BS.

      • What a laugh!  You seem to have overlooked the fact that we have no real power to vote for decent leaders because the candidates of both parties for major elected offices are bought, owned, and appointed by the super-rich.  See Ferdinand Lundberg’s THE RICH AND THE SUPER-RICH for a detailed description of the process.  And that book was written 3 or 4, or more, decades ago.

  7. Eric_D_Read | Feb 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm |

    The spin put on this study by the media outlets that have jumped on it is ridiculous. 

    Is the knowledge that humans tend to show cooperation, empathy, and selflessness among other humans within their recognized tribe (or tribes in more modern mass civilizations) while simultaneously being absolutely ruthless and predatory to any individuals or groups not in that tribe news to anyone?

    • Hadrian999 | Feb 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm |

       even if aggression isn’t in our nature does it matter, it is strongly entrenched in our culture, say someone wants to build a new society without such aggressive tendencies? it could be possible in small sequestered enclaves but a large scale realignment of the world at large would be impossible. aggressive competitive lifestyle is so heavily entrenched it might as well be our nature.

      • Eric_D_Read | Feb 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm |

        No; although I’m of the opinion that aggression IS in our nature.

        That was pretty much my point. Humans are naturally barbaric, but barbarism doesn’t exclude empathy and caring. It only restricts it to those we see as being one of “us”.

        I’d wager even the most brutal death squads walking the Earth still feel and express compassion towards their own members.

        • barbarism is the child of scarcity

        • Monkey See Monkey Do | Feb 23, 2012 at 2:25 am |

          Your “opinion” is wrong. Unless its based on some hack interpretation of evolution and you still havent elvolved past the social meme of eugenics. (Subconsciously hopefully) 
          Firstly, Humans aren’t naturally anything moral or ethical, we impose morals and ethics on things, they dont exist by themself.

          Secondly, Humans are neither naturally barbaric or civilized (but have the capablilty for both).

          Starting from the pre-natal experience, the environment a human grows up in shapes the morals and ethics of that person. The other factor that shapes a persons morals is the choices he/she makes when they haved looked within (thoughts, ideas, feelings – and the comination and transformation of these)

          • Eric_D_Read | Feb 23, 2012 at 9:03 am |

            First, what’s with the scare quotes around opinion?

            Second, while the blank slate theory (nurture) may give you a case of the warm fuzzies, studies are finding ever increasing evidence that genetics (nature) plays a far bigger role than most people would like to believe. I may have a layman’s understanding of the genetics vs socialization conflict, but understanding genetics as hardware and socialization as software seems like the most logical and likely explanation.
            Compassion towards your own tribe and brutality towards everyone else would have provided the optimum strategy for early humans to survive and thrive in a hostile world. Even after the advent of large-scale civilizations, those have remained the default settings for human behavior. What’s so horrifying about that that you can’t accept it?

      • Thats why we need a global awareness, then a global enemy, so we can kill it and be happy little multiracial babies in a new world ((controlled by newly entrenched god-humans pulling the strings of course))

    • emperorreagan | Feb 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

      This play into how I generally think of things: 

      Things are good (for people living in a country) when you pick leaders like Teddy Roosevelt.  He’s the kind of guy that thought of the entire US as his tribe and was concerned with the welfare of his tribe.  He was undeniably a prototypical alpha and had the will/stature to direct a nation.

      If you have a string of useless show pieces like we’ve had since the 70s, you end up with a lack of direction, ideas, and a string of people that are unable or unwilling to lead the entire group.  You get a load of flip-floppers who’ll listen to anyone singing in their ear.  You get fragmentation.  And eventually you’re going to end up at a point where there’s so much stratification that things become unstable and violent.

  8. JoiquimCouteau | Feb 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    This is what Wilhelm Reich was saying 50 years ago, until he was imprisoned and beaten to death while the American government burned several tons of his books. 

    Case in point?

  9. I like the theory that points to the male genitalia as proof that we are naturally a species not built for fighting, but for lovin’, 

    • gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm |

      okay, if you really believe that, why have women only become humans, as opposed to property, in the last century or so?

      The study states one of it’s conclusions as “we are cooperative because we have to be in order to breed”. BULLSHIIIIIIIIIT.
      Up until a hundred years ago, breeding was gonna get done whether the women cooperated or not.
      My theory is that male genitalia is proof that men are made not for fightin’ but for lovin’ other men…

  10. gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm |

    If we’re so fucking adorable and cooperative,  someone please tell me of any point in recorded human history where one tribe/nation was not committing a brutal oppression and genocide against another tribe/nation. Even one year where there wasn’t a brutal conquest occurring somewhere.

    Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    This study is a remarkably biased and selective view of the available data. But, you gotta publish something  to justify your grant-money, don’tcha Mr. Biologist?…gotta get that tenure! Run run run in your little mousie-wheel!

    We cooperate for as long as it benefits us, and we brutalize at the first opportunity to get away with it.

    Oh, I still love you, Disinfo. Sometimes you’re the best laugh I get all day. 🙂

    • Stupidity and arrogance in the extreme.  Still I don’t want to hit you or beat you up.  I feel sorry for you, like a good human.
      Nobody is saying that bad people do not exist or that they don’t rule us.  People are naturally kind and good to one and other.  Once wronged or hurt, all of us are capable of hurtful deeds.
      But our essence is to be good………….and in your case stupid.
      Peace and Love.

    • The human race (Homo sapien) has only existed for a fraction of time, the dinosaurs lived for hundreds of millions of years, so imagen where we could be in just a thousand years time? Because wecan type away at our fancy computers on different sides of the world doesn’t mean we’re civilised yet, doesn’t mean we’ve even remotely reached the best humans can be.

      “We cooperate for as long as it benefits us, and we brutalize at the first opportunity to get away with it.”

      I think you’re talking about a minority here, or perhaps yourself.

  11. gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm |

    this was in response to Eric D. Read’s last, i don’t know how it got in this spot.
     oh, give us some credit! we manage to do plenty of killing within our own tribes too.
    Did you know that when mass graves were found in the Bosnian/Serb conflict, both sides were so genetically similar that DNA often couldn’t tell which side the victims came from? which was very convenient for pinning blame for propaganda purposes.

    • Eric_D_Read | Feb 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm |

      I wouldn’t deny that violence doesn’t happen within any given tribe. There would certainly be violence over who gets to be the Big Kahuna, or over resources when they’re scarce, etc. I was just saying that the other side of human nature was restricted to those perceived as being “one of us”.

      When it comes to the Bosnian/Serb conflict, they still PERCEIVED each other as the “them” that needed killing.Although DNA samples couldn’t tell who was who, they didn’t appear to have any trouble figuring it out.

  12. gwen jackson | Feb 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm |

    ok i know i’m overposting now but i just have to point out one more grievous hypocrisy in these studies regarding humans and empathy.

    Humans imprison, manipulate, and vivisect other species in order to come to these conclusions.
    Yet still think of themselves as an empathetic and moral species.

    The only thing that significantly distinguishes human behavior from any other animal behavior is our massive capacity for moral hypocrisy and self-deception.

  13. Anarchy Pony | Feb 23, 2012 at 12:40 am |

    The way I see it, is that average people in general, want to keep the score even. 
    You help me, I feel obligated to help you, or maybe I help you to try to secure your aid in the future. 
    You hurt me, I wanna hurt you, to varying extremes. 
    You are indifferent to me, I am indifferent to you. 

    That’s just a sort of base line, on a more or less person to person basis. Obviously it gets more complex, when you factor in things like asset disparity and resource allocation, the dynamics of dominator hierarchies, various forms of cultural norms and customs.

  14.  “But human children — and most higher animals — are “moral” in a
    scientific sense, because they need to cooperate with each other to
    reproduce and pass on their genes”

    That’s the argument? Moral in a scientific sense? What does that even mean?

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