civilization/violence/aggression thread

stephanie m huelster (huelster@STUDENTS.WISC.EDU)
Wed, 14 Dec 1994 09:31:59 -0600

While browsing the current threads I came across the violence/aggression -
civilization issue relatively late and picked up two comments that seem to
hold implicit assumptions that may lead to a circular argument. Eric
Silverman says he finds more compelling [not] ...'at what point along the
evolutionary trajectory does violence/aggression decrease, but rather what
is the relation between violence, aggression and a moral order of
society...' I also find this more compelling but first we need to define
what we mean by aggression and violence and even warfare to consider their
relation to one another and to 'a moral order of society' which also seems
to require a definition or explication ie what is moral in this situation ?
Second, linking evolution and aggression/violence whether discussing their
increase or decrease is problematic in that it suggests we are' hardwired'
for aggression, as well as assuming that aggression, violence and warfare
are dysfunctional characteristics left over from a more brutish past and
are in direct opposition to civilization and moral order. in this way
violence etc.. as a' species characteristic' (Ardrey/Lorenz argument)
becomes something to evolve away from and this implies a teleological aim
for evolution towards 'peaceful' existence. These underlying assumptions
seem to me to be at the heart of why it is so hard to reconcile a violent,
aggressive yet assumably civilized society. Ruby Rohrlich comments...'as
the city emerged so also did class stratification, warfare, and male
supremacy in feedback'. I would agree with the city and class
stratification parallel, but I don't understand the warfare and emergence
of the city parallel. What does this mean ? That warfare increased as a
result of the rise of the city(state) ? That warfare was a result of the
nucleation of populations ? I have just finished a very interesting course
on the Anthropology of War, so please excuse my dissecting anyone's
comments. I am interested to hear what the assumptions underlying these
argument are, and perhaps add to the discussion if possible.

Stephanie Huelster

UW Madison