Editor's comment

Would you feel angry if a stranger walked into your home without permission? Wilson would say you are emotionally responding to the human genetic tendency to defend territory. He explains that human aggression shows itself
in various forms.


Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1979 [abstract— 360 words] — on human aggression

Are human beings innately aggressive? From the point of view of E.O. Wilson, sociobiology’s founding father, the answer is, yes they are. Aggression, has been endemic to every form of society, from hunter-gatherer bands to industrial states. He distinguishes different forms. Among them— the defense and conquest of territory, group domination, sexual aggression and disciplinary aggression used to enforce the rules of society.

Most kinds of aggressive behavior among members of the same species are the result of crowding in the environment. Animals use aggression as a technique for gaining control over necessities, ordinarily food, shelter or mating prerogatives.

It is true that human aggressive behavior, especially in its more dangerous forms of military action and criminal assault, is learned. But the learning is prepared for. Humans are strongly predisposed to slide into deep, irrational hostility.

Human aggression cannot be explained as either a human flaw or a bestial instinct. Nor is it the symptom of upbringing in a cruel environment. Our brains appear to be programmed to the following extent: we are strongly predisposed to divide people into “us” and “them.” We tend to fear deeply the actions of strangers and to resolve threats by aggression. These learning rules are most likely to have evolved during the past hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and, thus, to have conferred a biological advantage on those who conformed to them.

The learning rules of violent aggression are largely obsolete. We are no longer hunter-gatherers who settle disputes with spears, arrows, and stone axes. But to acknowledge the obsolescence of the rules is not to banish them. We can only work our way around them. We must consciously undertake those difficult pathways in psychological development that lead to mastery over and reduction of the profound human tendency to learn violence…

With pacifism as a goal, scholars and political leaders will find it useful to deepen studies in anthropology and social psychology. To provide a more durable foundation for peace, political and cultural ties are needed to create cross-binding loyalties among people. We must find ways to eliminate the distinctions in race, language, nationhood, religion, ideology, and economic interest that separate us.