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Thoughtful Visitor Commentary


Given the overwhelming fact of male aggression, high rates of deviance and criminality, predatory behavior, and alarming male perspectives on how to handle anger and failure, I wonder if there is a biological reason behind it all.

Studies done in the US and UK have shown that testosterone, a male hormone, plays a pivotal role in levels of aggression and violent behavior, even in females. This could very well also influence the perspectives people hold on war and peace. No doubt, our culture-- incorporating monotheistic religion, violent pop culture, a love affair with guns, the denigration and hyper-sexualization of females, and our strict gender boundaries which emphasize that men should be assertive, strong, and aggressive, and women much less so-- plays a significant role in shaping and framing responses. It is stunning that despite the sickening daily news reports of violence all over the world, nobody is making the connection between-- or at least seriously discussing-- gender and violence which is manifested in every aspect of our lives and which contributes, to an astonishing degree, to international poverty, underdevelopment, and human misery.

This is an issue which goes beyond the endless debates surrounding gun control and public security. These debates do not address the root of the issue. What causes men, and to a lesser extent women, to be violent? Let's not get wrapped up in the nurture aspect, even though this certainly must play a role in some way. Instead, what is it within these people that causes them to think violently and act out their aggression? Can we pinpoint something biological which predisposes them to act this way and hurt others? And why does it seem to be more pronounced and normal in men? Is there something inherently violent about the male species? For instance, there has been debate about whether males, in particular, are less advantaged in terms of being able to feel empathy, an emotion which helps relate to and connect with others, which deprives them of a kind of human conscience, which in turn may excuse them from feeling remorse for their victims or in understanding the moral deficit of their behavior. [Incidentally, Frank A. Elliott, MD, (no known relation) a neurologist at Univ. of PA, had an article published in the journal, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society entitled "Biological Roots of Violence" nearly 3 decades ago. I have provided the link for further reading on the subject: Mr. Elliott had also published several other articles on the subject of violence and aggression.]

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Well conceived and nicely said. You are right on about a biological reason for it all. So also you are right about gun control, public security, and testosterone. Hormones certainly contribute to violence. And yes testosterone can indeed separate man from woman in the ways you describe, though both genders create and use the hormone.
Our take on male character is that it can also be a case of too much nature in the form of authoritarianism, which the US society fosters, and too little awareness, a result of poor to inadequate nurturing for empathy during child development. In other words, nurture in American society is no match for the biological reason behind violence. On that we could not agree more. As for our minor differences, on this end, they change by the day and are in detail rather than in general perspective.

To continue this dialogue, might I ask you which is cause and which is effect among nurture, genes, and hormones?

Posted by RoadToPeace on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 19:56:51

You asked: What causes men, and to a lesser extent women, to be violent?

kww: Violence in my opinion is simply wrong action, or even inaction sometimes. The reasons for this are either missing the truth or evil, which are really the same thing.

You asked: Instead, what is it within these people that causes them to think violently and act out their aggression?

kww: In the past when I've done violence the trigger is always the same, extreme frustration or anger, two things that testosterone allow men to feel so deeply. If only women could feel these on the same level of men, then they'd understand us. ;-)

You asked: Can we pinpoint something biological which predisposes them to act this way and hurt others?

kww: This one should be easy to answer now, but I'll give you a hint, they come in a pair and you better keep your pen away from there. :-)

You asked: And why does it seem to be more pronounced and normal in men?

kww: It's a male thing, like excessive(from a male's point of view :-) talking is a female thing.

You asked: Is there something inherently violent about the male species?

kww: Men are more "on edge" because they have more testosterone. I'm a VERY high testosterone male and know well the "high"/energy testosterone delivers. However, while I tore down a few doors in a heated debate with the wife on vasectomy :-O, I've never hit the woman. My point being: Even the most "supercharged" male can learn to control the direction/impact of his violence/outburst. Better though is to not have the outburst of coarse, but sometimes something or someone may push you past the "boiling point". Education about self and self-control are very important here, yet so overlooked and undervalued in our seemingly female dominated education system(my experience). So there's the problem, female teachers aren't teaching males self-control. ;-) In my opinion that's violence, since it's the wrong action (inaction).

Posted by kww on Saturday, November 04, 2006 at 12:06:42

kww: "Better though is to not have the outburst of coarse..."

Ed: Any ideas on how to bring this state of mind to males early enough to damp down explosive anger?

Posted by RoadToPeace on Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 12:32:19

Second reply to Ms Elliot. A year ago we were less sure, but now we posit that aggression along with conventionalism and obedience are genetic in origin. These are the traits that the Authoritarian Personalities wear on their sleeves, and we now propose they have their origins in the jungle and savanna. We are not yet in a position to say the genes controlling these features do so via hormones, but that is a very reasonable possibility, especially for violence. Speaking for my own quick temper, it can erupt in a flash, too fast to be driven by a change in hormone level. But of course hormones can "load the gun" so to speak. Understanding the conditions under which I erupt went a long way toward calming me down to my present level of relative calm. I can even laugh at them sometimes. That came about via nurturing as an adult.

As for empathy, American males tend to have that socialized out via the "stiff upper lip" and "boys don't cry" routines. If boys are not allowed to feel, how can they feel for others?

Considering the great differences in violence rates among different societies, we can only accept the fact that nurture can affect what we are all born with. My late wife, a psychotherapist, explained it this way: "We are each born with an envelope that contains our genetic potential--our temperament. After birth, our environment shapes our envelope this way and that to produce our personalities."

Considering now the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Rwandan genocide, and Abu Ghraib, one has to believe that our personalities are more like a veneer, egg-shell thin, subject to quick change in response to the situation. These are not the only such examples. So genes can over-ride and distort otherwise civilized behavior. Nature can over ride nurture; it depends on society to avoid the explosive situations. Most of us are powder kegs walking around.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Sunday, November 25, 2007 at 23:24:31

thank you everyone for the thoughtful and insightful comments to my post on the subject. recent study has shed interesting light on the aggression within groups of chimpanzees in the wild when competition becomes a feature of their environment. I wonder how competition may fuel a kind of biologically adaptive hormone response to kill or be killed, particularly in the male species.

Posted by squashymoto on Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:20:46

We do not know either. But a <a href="">consilient </a> approach might be to assume that the findings of <a href=""> Milgram </a> are in large part due to aggression, then aggression is a matter of degree and is present in most of us. This is consilient with the words. Pure aggression is one thing, a weaker form of aggression might well be expressed as mere competition. Given that many, if not most, genes act in concert with, add to, or negate the effects of other genes, aggression becomes an expression of a gene cluster whose membership, and perhaps their organization, control the level of expression. This may be only one of several possible answers to your probing question.

We post this reply only because it seems consilient with what has now been reported in the scientific literature as well as the behaviors of various cultures adopted by humanity. For an overview of our present thinking regarding the total picture, see <a href="">Peace via Nature's Way </a>

Posted by RoadToPeace on Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 17:38:12

After reading "The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, by Perry, and The Importance Of Being Little, by Christakis, we are now convinced that while genetics enables, what we become is most of all nurture within the envelop of our birth genome.

Posted by RoadToPeace on Saturday, April 09, 2016 at 16:32:54

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