Lesson 11- Animal Aggression And Territorial Defense
In my last program, after describing all the methods that animals used to prevent killing members of their own species, I pointed out that, although we also possess these methods, we have one of the worst records for killing our own kind. As I ended, I was exploring the reasons why this happens. Let me quickly review some of the reasons that I have already described.
The first reason was that with our great intelligence, we have created weapons that kill instantly and at a distance and most of these mechanisms are designed to work over a period of time and close up. To use surrender signals to reduce the aggression in your attacker, you have to be close to him and allow for time for them to quiet him down. This is not possible when rifles, bombs, and artillery shells kill instantly and at a great distance.
The second reason was that we are capable of playing mental games in which we are able to convince ourselves that the enemy is not a human being like us. This is almost a universal human trait since the tribal names of most primitive people mean "the real human beings" which allows them to kill any other human being who is not of their tribe. More advance civilizations are not so obvious or direct. They play the same game but they hide it from themselves. Even though our Declaration of Independence states that we believe that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." we were able to enslave Africans by convincing ourselves that they were subhuman who deserved to be enslaved. The right lobe of our brain, which is a hot blooded killer that has to psych itself into thinking that its enemy is a disgusting and hateful subhuman, uses picturesque words like gook, nigger, honky, pig, and spic to generate the emotional base which it needs to kill. Our more rational left lobe, which is a "cold blooded" killer and doesnt need emotions, uses abstract words like "indigenous personal", VC, and fetus that dont generate any picture at all.
All countries involved in war use both of these techniques to remove or weaken the psychological barriers that we have for killing our own kind. However, if these psychological techniques should ever break down and we should suddenly see the enemy as a fellow human being, it will undermine our ability to kill him. He has to be a monster or a non-person and before every war it is the job of each countrys propaganda machine to develop these images in the minds of its people to whip up their hatred or to make the indifferent to the killing of the enemy. Some of the favorite images seem to be the desecration of something sacred, like the raping of nuns, or something atrocious, like the killing of children.
As a youngster during World War II, I remember seeing a movie in which a nun was brought before a Japanese officer, who with obvious lust in his eyes, took her into another room where her screams told the rest of the story., Being a good Catholic boy, I couldnt believe that anyone could do this and it was obvious that the Japanese were not the kind of human beings that we were. In more recent times, when we were about to enter the Gulf War, a Kuwaiti woman was interviewed on national television. With tearful eyes she told of how Iraqi soldiers bayoneted children in a Kuwaiti hospital. Years later it was reveal that she was a member of the Kuwaiti royal family and that the story was not true. It appears that when countries go to war, truth takes a backseat.
What is amazing is that years later, when former enemies becomes our current allies, they are suddenly transformed from monsters into human beings just like ourselves and few people ever wonder how it happened. Todays enemy might be tomorrows ally and vice versa. When the Taliban, a group of fundamentalist Muslim, were fighting in Afghanistan against our former enemy, the Soviet Union, they were portrayed in our press as freedom fighters and we supplied them with the arms which eventually drove the Russian out. Yet, years later, we were asking the same Russians to assist us in helping to drive out the Taliban who were using our own weapons against us. The former freedom fighters were now fundamentalist monsters and the Soviet generals, our former enemies, were no appearing on national TV as trusted advisors and, instead of being the monsters that we thought they were, they turned out to be fellow human beings who had been convinced that we were bent on destroying them as we were convinced that they were bent on destroying us. Of course, it only took fifty years and trillions of dollars spent by both sides on weapons systems that both sides claimed were built to be defensive.
But we are not alone in playing these psychological games. In World War I, the French never fought against the Germans and the Germans never fought against the French. It was the barbaric Franks against the animalistic Huns and each side sincerely believed that they were fighting against a sub-human enemy who was capable of the worst atrocities.
In the book, "All Quiet on the Western Front", which is about this war, the author describes a scene in which young German soldier jumps into a bomb crater to avoid artillery shelling. As he lays there face down in the mud, he feels another body jumping in beside him. Both men lay their motionless with their faces buried in the mud. Suddenly the shelling stops and they both look up only to discover that they belong to opposite sides of the war. The German soldier, who is the main character of the story, stares at the French soldier sitting across from him and, without thinking, plunges a knife into his chest. The French soldier, eyes wide opened in shock and amazement, sits there as his life ebbs away.
He dies in that position with his blank eyes staring at his killer. The shelling begins again and the German soldier is forced to sit there staring back at the man he has just killed. As he examines his face, he thinks to himself, "So this is what the barbaric Franks looks like. He doesnt look like the animal they told me about. In fact, he reminds me of my uncle." His curiosity gets the best of him and reaches into the French soldiers jacket and pulls out his wallet. Opening it he sees a picture of the man and his family before the war began. He is at the beach with his wife and small child. The German soldier realizes that he has a similar picture in his own wallet. Then he finds a letter that the dead French solder had written to his wife but had not yet mailed. He opens the letter and begins to read. It goes something like this:
"My darling wife, I am so sick of this war. Sometimes it seems as though it will never end. I really dont know why we have to be killing each other but those above me tell me that it is necessary. So many of my comrades have already died and I wonder if I will survive myself. All I want is to have this war end so that I can return to you and our child."
As he reads the letter, tears begin to form in his eyes as he realizes that these sentiments were identical to his own. Suddenly, it dawns on him that the dead French soldier and he are both human beings with the same needs and feelings. Remorse overcomes him and he swears to the dead French soldier that after the war he will deliver the letter to his wife and that he will assume responsibility for her and the child. Unfortunately, at the end of the book, he himself is killed after the war is officially over. He is on the battlefront when the news arrives that both sides have agreed to a cease-fire. He stands up to cheer and is killed.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and we sing "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..." but it seems obvious that this cant happen until we catch on to these little trick that we play on ourselves or that we allow others to play on us. As Christians we believe in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. I must admit that it is not always easy to see some of our fellow human beings as brother and sisters but it is what our faith calls us to do. According to the Church, even though we have a right to defend ourselves, we should always seeks peaceful and rational methods to settle disputes and we should always be aware of and respect the humanity of our opponents.
Jesus said that the Truth will set us free and we will never be free of our unconscious connections with the animal kingdom until we recognize and admit on a conscious level that such connections exist and that we often unknowingly participate in many of their instinctual patterns. The Bible says that we were made higher than the animals and a little lower than the angels and, whenever we fail to act according to our rational nature, which is what makes us in the "image and likeness of God"; we fall to the level of the animals. The more we understand our connection to the animal kingdom, the greater will be our ability to understand ourselves and others and to defuse or redirect these blind instinctual mechanism towards more rational ends. Our problem is the problem of denial. We are so convinced that we are rational animals that we would rather emphasize the rational and deny or forget the animal. But Catholic philosophy has always recognized that, aside from being rational beings made in the "image and likeness of God", we are part also of the natural world and participate in its laws and principles.
Because we share in the instinctual patterns of the animal world, it is very important that we understand these patterns so that we can recognize and understand them when they are influencing our behavior. This is especially true now that we know as a scientific fact that one half of our brain, the right lobe in most people, is intimately connected to the animal world. Thus, it should not surprise us that much of our own behavior reflects impulses and drives that come from the animal kingdom. Since we now have the power not only to destroy our enemies but also ourselves and all life on earth, war and aggression are becoming very important issues for us today. Never has it been more important for us to understand why we choose to use them to settle disputes. We have certainly reached the time in human history where "only the meek will inherit the earth" because those who resort to violence will end up destroying each other.
According to zoologist, animals are aggressive for two reasons: first, to establish a pecking order and second, to defend territory. Now since we believe that God is the creator of all things, we ought to believe that He created aggression and that it is a good thing that is necessary for the survival of life. We get confused about this when we fail to make the distinction between aggression and violence. There are some well-intended people who believe that we should look for some genetic way of weeding aggression out of the human race. This would be a horrible mistake because without aggression our chances for survival would be threatened. Aggression, when understood correctly, is a mechanism whereby we attack problems. Violence is a form of aggression whereby we try to physically destroy the problem. Sometimes it is the only form of aggression that we can use: for example if someone is threatening to kill you or a member of your family, then violence may be the only way that you can stop him. Thus, there are times when violence is appropriate and other times when it is not. I knew of a young man who owned a car that was always breaking down. One day, while returning home with his mother and sister, the car broke down a few blocks from his house. He finally got it started and, when he arrived home, he parked, ran into the house and returned with a sledgehammer that he used to beat the car to death. Obviously, this was an inappropriate type of aggression. My son-in-law, on the other hand, has been known to work all day on a car into the late hours of the evening, refusing to stop until he has solved and repaired the problem. In both instances, it was aggression that was involved: one was negative and inappropriate while the other was positive and appropriate. For some people, striking out in violence is the only way they know. However, it is not the only way and, in most cases, it is not the best way.
Animals, because they lack language, are unable to settle disputes through negotiation. Therefore they tend to use violence almost exclusively in settling disputes. In their world, "might makes right" because they have no concept of truth and, even if they did, they have no way of expressing it. In their world, the strong dominate the weak and that settles the issue. Jesus made reference to this when he asked His Apostles whether He was their Master. When they agreed that He was, He then said, "The masters of the world lord it over those who are below them but it is not to be that way with you." Then He got down on His knees and began to wash their feet while saying, "Those who wish to rule must serve those who are under them." In other words, it was a reversal of the laws that rule the animal kingdom.
Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi both are good examples of people who were extremely aggressive but non-violent. Both led a revolution against injustices that they sought to change. Yet both refused to use violent methods. In fact, both of them considered violence to be part of the problem rather than the solution. The scientists looking for a cure for cancer and the labor union leader seeking better wages and working conditions for his members are both using aggression in pursuing their goals. If they, and others like them, were not aggressive then we would never attack any problems and just accept the world as it is. Jesus, Himself was an aggressive person when it came to the Will of His Father. He challenged and chastised the Pharisees all the time and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. Yet, he would not strike back at those who wanted to crucify Him. So lets accept that aggression is a good and necessary element for all living things if they wish to survive. Now lets look at the two reasons why animals, and perhaps humans, are aggressive. The first is to establish a ranking or pecking order.
Strange as it seems to us who have grown up in a culture which values equality in all things, the natural world does not. In fact, the natural laws favor inequality because if everyone were equal, the result would be chaotic. Among many animals that live in groups, fighting is a method of establishing a ranking or pecking order that will determine the order in which each member will receive food, sex, and other perks. In a sense, they fight once, so that they dont have to fight all the time. Chicken, for example, will peck each other until the relative strength of each is determined and, after that is established, they will follow that order when it comes to receiving privileges. This is called the "pecking order" and it means that those above will receive privileges before those below. If, on the other hand, they were all to act as though they were equal, the fighting would never stop and chaos would reign. Each time the food arrived, there would be a "free-for-all" and, after awhile, none of them would be in good physical condition. So they fight once so that they dont have to fight all the time. It appears that ranking is one of natures ways of establishing order and we can see the same phenomena in human experience. I have already mentioned how our children, especially our boys, test each other strength while playing at wrestling and how teenage boys tests their fathers strength in the same way.
There is a saying that "there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians" which means that nothing is being accomplished because there are too many people directing the work and too few people doing the work. God, in His Wisdom, favors ranking over equality. Perhaps, that is why Jesus appointed Peter the head of the apostles and His Church and gave to him the "Keys to the Kingdom." If He really is the Logos that made the universe and all of its natural laws, then He would definitely understand the need for any group or organization to have a definitive leader. Martin Luther on the other hand declared that we were all equal when it came to interpreting the Bible and the result was the splintering of Christianity into thousands of diverse sects.
Karl Marx, who said that history was the story of class oppression, through which the rich dominated and oppressed the poor, decided that they only solution to the problem was to create a "classless society" in which everyone would be equal in every way. All signs of ranking would be prohibited. Titles like Your Honor, Your Excellency, Your Majesty would be outlawed and every one would call everyone else Comrade. This, of course, is a spin off of the French Revolution where all titles were eliminated and every one called everyone else "Citizen."
When Marxist Communistic theories were finally put into practice following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, they tried to eliminate all ranks in the army. The results were chaotic. Since no one was obligated to obey anyone else, nothing got done. It was an example of where human wisdom tried to replace natural wisdom. As the Bible says, "The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men." Needless to say, the Soviet Army had to reestablish ranking in order to function.
Jesus, unlike Marx, did not see class ranking as the problem but rather class oppression. That is why, while affirming the fact that He ranked over His apostles, He showed them that leadership involved service to those under you. Maybe Jesus knew something that Marx didnt.
Therefore aggressive behavior to establish ones relative position in the group seems to be one of the natural laws and we, as well as animals, seem driven to do it. Where animals use "might" to do it, we use more subtle means. I have heard millionaires, who have more money than they could legitimately spend in a lifetime, say that after a certain point, the money no longer is related to what it can buy. Rather, it becomes related to power and a way of keeping score to see who outranks whom and, of course, many of the things they buy are related to "conspicuous consumption" which, through the cars, homes, jewelry, boats and other items they symbolize their wealth and position to others.
Many years ago, "Magic" Johnson, who played basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers, signed a contract that made him the highest paid player in the National Basketball Association. A year or so later when he discovered that a highly valued draft choice who was coming out of college was being offered an even higher salary than his, he demanded that they renegotiate his contract so that he would be making $1 more. Such is the power of our instincts to outrank others in our group.
The second reason that animals are aggressive is to establish and defend territory. Since life in the natural world is a constant battle to survive not only bodily but also genetically, there is an ongoing competition to assure both types of survival by establishing territory. Thus, territorial battles are frequent among animals that live in herds or groups. Among many herd animals, just before the mating season, the males will start to battle each other to establish and defend a territory. The winners attract the females for mating purposes, thus assuring the continuation of their genes, and the females, by mating with a dominant male who was able to establish a territory, is assured first, that his strong genes will be passed on to her off-springs and that his strength and territory will assure them of a food supply for their immediate survival. Those males who are unable to establish a territory often end up living celibate lives because no female in nature can afford to mate with a subdominant male who is unable to establish a territory. It would undermine her survival and the survival of her children. Only human females, who live in developed civilizations that are far removed from the immediate impact of natural laws, have the luxury of mating with males who have no visible means of support. Primitive people, who live closer to the natural laws have to pay more attention to them.
There are groups of Stone Age people who live in New Guinea in the South Pacific who exhibit many of these instinctual patterns that are found in animals. In a book, entitled "Under the Mountain Wall", Peter Matheisan an anthropologist describes how three tribes fight territorial battle nearly every day even though there is plenty of open land for everybody and nobody really needs any more. He writes:
"At dawn that morning, the enemy began chanting, and the chanting hoo, hoo, hoo, rolled across the field towards the sky. Near the fire, Wittai warlords were grouped, their spear tips clean and sparkling in the morning sun. A larger group off to the side raised a new howling, broken by rhythmic barks. Before the sun had warmed the air, three hundred or more of the Wittai had appeared.
At the other end of the valley, the main army of the Kurulu were gathering. Over one hundred had now appeared, and at the signal, a group of these ran down the field to the pool. On the other side of the pool a group of Wittaia danced and called. The enemies shouted insults at each other and waved their spears, but no arrows flew, and after a short while, both sides went back to their camps.
Later in the morning the shouted war was increasing in ferocity, and several men from each side would dance out and fake an attack, whirling, and prancing to display their splendor. They were jeered and admired by both sides and were not shot at, for "showing off" was part of the war, which was less war than a ceremonial sport. Territorial conquest was unknown to these tribes. There was land enough for all, and at the end of the day, the warriors would go home across the fields to supper. Should rain come to chill them, spoil their feathers, both sides would quit the war. A day of war was dangerous and splendid, regardless of the outcome.
Now some anthropologist claim that wars are fought because resources are scarce and armies attack in order to obtain the necessary resources to live. Therefore, the solution to war is to provide everyone with enough resources. By the same token, these same people believe that people steal out of need and if everybody had enough, there would be no thieves. Of course, this implies that the poor steal and the rich dont which obviously isnt the case. There are other motives that go deeper than mere need and this suggests that even in a world of plenty, wars and stealing would continue to occur.
As the author suggests, these wars between the Kurulu and the Wittaia seem like ceremonial sports and, that being true, you dont have to go to the island of New Guinea to see human territorial battles. Just turn on the TV on any Sunday, or even better go down to Vet Stadium when the Eagles are playing and you can see the territorial animal in action. In fact, it appears that one of the ways that we get the need for territorial war out of our system without killing each other is through sports. It is interesting to note that sport teams are named after geographical territories, such as Philadelphia, Dallas or New York and each team takes a symbol, such as an eagle, cowboy, or giant to signify some quality about their team. Our primitive ancestors would understand this well since it is behavior that they themselves practiced.
Being a football fan myself, I know the feeling that happens when your team scores or wins and also the feeling when they fumble the ball or lose. In my younger years, I took it a lot more seriously than I do now probably because I have a better perspective on it. But there is still that joy that accompanies victory and that depression that accompanies defeat. However, there are some people who live closer to our animal instincts who take it a lot more seriously than I do.
How else is it possible to explain why a human being would paint himself half silver and green, strip half naked in subzero weather, and wear an Eagles beak on his face? Which lobe of the brain do you think is the sports fanatic that expresses itself nonverbally through symbols, cheering, and body language? Which lobe of the brain gravitates towards the seats in the 700 level where drinking and fighting are almost as important as the game itself? Which lobe of the brain threatens to harm any visiting fan of the opposing team who makes the mistake of sitting in the 700 level? Let me give you a hint by reading another passage from Peter Matheison book, "Under the Mountain Wall." He writes:
"One afternoon, four strangers came on a visit to the village. Though the men were from a tribe that was friendly with the enemies of the village, they considered themselves safe because two of them had close relatives in the village. However, the Kurulu considered the revenge for the men they had lost as incomplete. It was therefore decided to attack the two strangers who had no relatives in the village, with the excuse that the two had probably come to kill somebody.
A fierce howling burst the twilight air. One man fled and escaped into the woods. The second hid in a hut. He was dragged out to the yard and speared to death. The body was taken by the heels and dragged out along the muddy paths. Some boys had been playing in the fields and these now danced along beside the body. They jabbed the body with their cane spears."
The major reason why the expression of our animal instincts are less severe than they are among these primitive people is probably because the rational left lobe of the brain has devised techniques to redirect or defuse them.
Well, I see that my time is up and Ill have more to say about this in my next program.