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Updated 17 April 2010

We are each born with a nature shaped by eons in the jungles, savannas, mountains, and deserts fighting for survival. On the one hand aggressively taking charge of a willing group of followers could often win the day, enabling the winners to pass their genes onto the next generations.

At the same time, altruistic parents who cooperated also survived in the face of adversity and their genes too were passed on for generations to mold and enhance. What that left with each of us is an intrinsic emotional construct that exhibits two clusters of traits within each individual. These clusters are often in direct opposition to one another. In the vernacular, most of us have both our good and bad sides.

How can society best deal with this congenital conflict?

Edward O Wilson. On Human Nature, b 101-102, captures well how this came to be from an anthropological view point:

    "... Aggression in any given species is actually an ill-defined array of different responses with separate controls in the nervous system. No fewer than seven categories can be distinguished:

  • the defense and conquest of territory,
  • the assertion of dominance within well-organized groups,
  • sexual aggression,
  • acts of hostility by which weaning is terminated,
  • aggression against prey,
  • defensive counterattacks against predators, and
  • moralistic and disciplinary aggression used to enforce the rules of society." [bullets ours.]

There is irony here: aggression in at least some form is a necessary element in modern society. The more violent ones could hardly have been different in prehistory.

Nevertheless, in discussing the emergence of societies, Wilson offers hope, p96-97:

    "We can hope to decide more judiciously, which of these elements of human nature to cultivate and which to subvert, which to take open pleasure with, and which to handle with care. We will not, however, eliminate the hard biological substructure until such time, many years form now, when our descendants may learn to change the genes themselves."

That last is taboo to many ethicists. But ethics must change with the times simply because life and living become increasingly too complex over time for the one-law-fits-all approach to society ethics. So also for economics, governance, and belief systems.

Like it or not, societies evolve just as species do. If we don't influence that evolution, other societies will.

On a more narrow scale, each of us can begin by reviewing how we raise our children; for that the post on Meaningful Connections. has much to say.


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