Lorenz and Human Aggression

[Konrad Lorenz.  ‘On Aggression’. Chapter on ‘Ecce Homo’. 203-236.]

Konrad Lorenz is quite preoccupied with concepts derived from Kantian philosophy. His vulgar biological determinism concerning social behaviour is apparent when he says: “…human behaviour and particularly human social behaviour, far from being determined by reason and cultural tradition alone, is still subject to all the laws prevailing in all phylogenetically adapted instinctive behaviour.”  This is vulgar biological determinism of social behaviour. Lorenz then extrapolates to say “…of these laws we possess a fair amount of knowledge from studying the instincts of animals.”

Again on an anti-historical ‘ratomorphic’ note he states that “…the conclusion that man’s social organisation is very similar to that of rats which, like humans, are social and peaceful beings within their clans, but veritable devils towards all fellow members of their species not belonging to their community.” He concludes with the nonsense that “All the great dangers threatening humanity with extinction are direct consequences of conceptual thought and verbal speech.”

Lorenz says “There is evidence that the first inventors of pebble tools, the African Australopithecines, promptly used their new weapon to kill not only game, but fellow membrs of their species as well.” What evidence? These creatures were not ancestral to the genus Homo, and that their limited technology militated against killing each other – they were too few and too vulnerable as scavengers and collectors to dare reduce their numbers by intra-familial violence.

This statement by Lorenz is not proven – to be true it is not likely [see Lewis & Towers Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens?]. Lorenz echoes Ardrey’s erroneous and pessimistic (unqualified) views concerning Australopithecines in African Genesis = another conjectural and unlikely area for anthropogenesis.

Again – “Pekin Man, the Prometheus who learned to preserve fire, used it to roast his brothers; beside the first traces of the regular use of fire lie the mutilated bones of Sinanthropus pekinensis himself.” Lorenz ignores the dawning of funeral ritual – bodies were often interred near the hearth – tended by women – as the centre of the family unit or dwelling. Why not a naive attempt to revive, to rewarm a departed individual?

Evidence of fire – yes. Evidence of anthropophagy – possibly. In scarce times why waste freshly dead meat? After all – with dawning naïve magic and primitive ideology the ‘spirit’ of the dead family member would remain with the group if he or she was ingested? There is no evidence of internecine strife. No justification to declare that Pekin man killed his fellows for food.

Again Lorenz says – “Anthropologists concerned with the habits of Australopithecines have repeatedly stressed that these hunting progenirors of man have left humanity with the dangerous heritage of what they term ‘carnivorous mentalities.”. This nonsense. Australopithecines were not progenitors of humans. [See Le Gros Clark in Man Apes or Ape men?]. Furthermore – “Not that our pre-human ancestor, even at a stage as yet deprived of moral responsibility, was a fiend incarnate, he was by no means poorer in social instincts and  inhibitions than a chimpanzee which, after all, is – his irascibility notwithstanding – a social and friendly creature.” Since when have chimps killed chimps except by pure accident?

[Quoting from Lorenz’s 1955 paper On the Killing of members of the same Species.].

“I believe – and human psychologists, particularly psychoanalysts should test this – that present day civilised man suffers from insufficient discharge of his aggressive drive. It is more than probable that the evil effects of human aggressive drives, explained by Freud as the result of a special death wish, simply derive from the fact that in prehistoric times intra-specific selection bred into man a measure of aggressive drive for which in the social order of today he finds no adequate outlet.”

Again – an unscientific, anti-historical, as well as anti-human pessimistic argument. Anthropomorphic mythology. Then Lorenz is used to myth – he was, after all, a doctor in the Nazi Wermacht. [See Harry K. Wells in Freud, a Pavlovian Critique and The Failure of Psychoanalysis.].

Lorenz on north American Indians – another wrong analysis. Takes no account of the socio-economic political situation or of the history of native Americans. No appreciation of the results of repression and reservation confinement. Completely misguided concept of the development of neuroses in reservation Utes.

Lorenz goes on to say – “It is self-evident that intra-specific selection is still working today in an undesirable direction.” Further – “Commercial competition today might threaten to fix hereditarily in us hypertrophies of these traits as horrible as intra-specific aggression evolved by competition between war-faring tribes of stone age man.” Very odd. Lorenz, it seems states they are innate and immutable traits – then proceeds to affect mock horror that such “…traits may become ‘fixed'”.

Later echoes of such corrupt thinking appeared in Jay’s Corporation Man in the chapter The Hunting Band. Thus – “…much of our behaviour is not the logical response of the intellect to the facts of the situation, but an emotional reflex set off by some primitive survival mechanism.”, and “…defend its territory to survive.” In Jay’s own words this is the “…acceptance of the irrational.”.

“It is hard to believe that a Man will refrain from a certain action which natural inclination urges him to perform only because he has realised that it involves a logical contradiction.” Are we to assume that there is a conflict between consciousness and instinct? This is the basis of Freudian dogma. This is id versus ego versus super ego. Thus – “Man as a purely rational being, divested of his animal heritage of instincts, would certainly be an angel – the opposite.”

“Even the first compensatory function of moral responsibility preventing the Australopithecines from destroying themselves with their first pebble tools, could not have been achieved without an instinctive appreciation of life and death.” Man is the only organism to contemplate life and death – if this were instinctive then animals too would realise the inevitability of death – which they do not. Lorenz’s arguments on Australopithecines are also contradictory and inconsistent.

“It is no daring speculation to assume that the first human beings who really represented our own species, those of Cro-Magnon, had roughly the same instincts and natural inclinations as ourselves.”  Also – “Nor is it illegitimate to assume that the structure of their societies and their tribal warfare was roughly the same as can still be found in certain tribes of Papuans in central New Guinea.”

Cro-Magnon tribes? They were obviously totemic – yes, this indicates clans not tribes. It is an illegitimate argument – most eclectics such as Lorenz do resort to ‘bastard’ ideologies. He continues – “Incidentally, it is quite typical of man that His most noble and admirable qualities are brought to the fore in situations involving the killing of other men, just as noble as he is.” This reactionary concept attempts to justify ideas that to kill, to make war, is a noble act. Synonymous with Nazi ideology.

Man thus becomes “…the target at which to discharge phylogenetically programmed aggression.” In other words for Lorenz “The purely instinctive response to a physically abnormal individual…is absolutely identical, as far as overt behaviour is concerned, with discrimination against a person who differs from the group in culturally developed social norms…”. This is overt Lorenzian racism. Are we to assume that intolerance, prejudice, and racism are instinctive?


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