Psychological and biological theories of aggression and violence stem from a debate that continues to this day, whether these qualities are innate in humans or not. These contrasting views are found throughout history in the writings of philosophers and scientific thinkers. Many subscribe to the Darwinian idea that violence is at the core of human life, that through competition and fighting to survive, only the fittest of species will move forward, evolve and survive. The purpose of this article is not to examine, dispute or confirm the theory of evolution, it’s to examine the claim that humans are innately vicious, competitive and violent, that these characteristics are burned into our genes.
If we take a look at a child from birth, they are unconditionally full of joy and they constantly want to explore and examine the world around them. Human behavior like racism, violence and competition doesn’t seem to be drilled into the genes of humans, it seems to be a learned behavior, dependent on the environment one is surrounded with. Personally, I believe that humans are not burdened with an innate, viciously competitive nature that is encoded into their DNA from birth, I believe these traits are programmed into us via the environment we are surrounded with.
What evidence can we draw upon to examine this question? Recent research conducted by Stanford University biologists Robert M. Sapolsky and Lisa J found that even wild baboons, which are among the most aggressive animals on the planet are not genetically mandated to be violent. The study provides the very first field evidence that primates can go the peaceful route, and if aggressive behavior in baboons is a result of cultural traits rather than a biological factor, it could provide some insight into the same phenomenon with human beings, given the fact that our genetics are extremely similar.
Primatologists usually characterize learned behavior as cultural traits given the fact that they arise independently of genetic factors. Even though these traits arise independent of genetic factors, they can still be passed on to succeeding generations.
“Chimps, who are the closest to humans genetically, offer evidence that violence is not a necessary part of our biology. One species of chimps, the bonobos, create peaceful communities with co-dominant males and females in charge. Unlike other chimps, the community of bonobos operates not with a violence-driven ethic but an ethic that can be described as “make love, not war.” – Greg Braden
If we look at our mass media, movies and video games, violence is abundantly all around us. For most souls on the planet, violence, war and viciousness do not resonate with them, it just doesn’t seem be natural and goes completely against our conscience. If we were able to compare a human being that was raised in a loving environment with one that was raised in a violent environment, the observed behavioral characteristics would both differ.
Another argument for the position that violence is not built into our DNA is gene plasticity. This refers to the property of individual genotypes, and their ability to produce different phenotypes when exposed to different environmental conditions.(1) Basically it’s the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment. A phenotype is the organisms observable characteristics or traits, like its morphology, biochemical and physiological properties, behavior and more. In clear English, our genes are able to change themselves depending on the environment we surround ourselves with. Our entire biology and chemical processes can be changed depending on our consciousness, how we feel and how we perceive the environment around us. This is also demonstrated in multiple placebo studies that have been conducted.
This explanation has been suggested by multiple philosophers and scientists. For example, Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan (1651) that humans are naturally violent because of societal laws and their enforcement. He wasn’t the only one, Jacques Rousseau in 1762 hypothesized that the restrictions imposed by society lead to aggression and corrupt behavior. On the other hand, Sigmund Freud would believe that aggressive instincts are an innate quality within human beings.
As mentioned earlier primatologists usually characterize learned behavior as cultural traits given the fact that they arise independently of genetic factors. Even though these traits arise independently of genetic factors, they can still be passed on to succeeding generations.
“Most human violence is neither necessary nor is it an inherent, genetic, “animal” survival skill. We have the ability , and I believe an evolutionary mandate, to stop violence. The best way to stop it is to realize that we are spiritual beings who need love as much as we need food. Survival of the most loving is the only ethic that will ensure not only a healthy personal life but also a health planet” – Greg Braden
Science has yet to prove that violence is built into our DNA. In fact, most of the science available suggests that it’s not, that these are learned behaviors given the surrounding environment. Do you really think a baby born in a utopian type world, where there is no scarcity, where everybody’s needs are met, where there is no television portraying violence, and no war, that it would grow up displaying characteristics of violence?
At the end of the day, all of us have a choice. Consider yourself as a tank of gasoline, and pretend that the world is full of matches ready to light you on fire (make you angry). All you have to do is empty your gas, so there is no fuel for the flame. You’re always in control, you always have a choice, you dictate your reality with your thoughts, actions and reactions. It’s no longer survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most loving. Anger, aggression and other similar qualities are all products of the ego, the mind. Sure, violence and anger are characteristics that can present themselves within all of us, but it’s always our choice.