Human Nature

Some Topics


Ethologists linked aggression to territory. Animals tend to define some space as home territory. The space has invisible, ephemeral boundaries that are defined by markers and defensive behaviors that deter invaders.

Robert Ardery was a poetic writer with the enviable experiences of an intellectual, curious world traveler. He wrote about human origins in Africa and the persistence of animal behaviors in human affairs. In his book, The Territorial Imperative, he described the essential features of innate territorial tendencies. In his account of Buechner's observations of the Uganda antelopes known as Kob, he provided an outline of how territorial instincts actually work: " Males compete for real estate, never for females. The Kob's territorial and sexual appetites are so profoundly intermeshed that fights generate sexual stimulation. The champion whom we watched in a twenty-minute defense of his property had an erection through most of the combat. Nevertheless, when the female arrives on a territory, she becomes the sole if momentary property of the male whose grass she crops. No rival will interfere. . Despite the hazards of his profession, the proprietor almost always bests the challenger. Possession of a territory offers some mysterious advantage usually sufficient to guarantee victory for the defender. So powerful is the proprietor's advantage that dangerous fighting is minimized. Simple ear-lowering, horn-waggling, or other stern display is frequently enough to discourage challenge. The inspiration of ownership seems necessary to stimulate sexual desire in both males and females. Away from the stamping ground copulation is only rarely attempted, and apparently never consummated. Such attachment to a piece of ground has been the subject of organized study in the natural sciences since 1920. In that year Eliot Howard published his memorable volume Territory in Bird Life and established the word and the concept in the language of science. But for many a century before Howard, observers had pondered, briefly or at length, on the notable attachment of a particular animal for a particular piece of earth. "

Konrad Lorenz wrote a popular book, On Aggression, developing the idea of territorial aggression as major determinant of animal and human behavior. Aggression is a common feature of humans and other animals and is interpreted as a feature of securing and defending territory. Lorentz suggested that fighting has survival values, such as the dispersion of competitors and the maintenance of territory. Warlike tendencies in humans can be displaced and ritualized into socially benign behaviors such as playing football and hockey.

Many animals have elaborate systems of spacing themselves so that territorial claims are not disputed with violent fights. Birds have the most creative system – they sing to each other. This is my territory chirp, chirp; please stay away from my space, chirp” Chemical secretions are good territory markers and are widely used in the animal kingdom. You can mark the boundaries of your territory with urine and feces as wolves and dogs do. You can secret chemical messengers as cats do from special glands and rub it on trees and rocks to let others know “this is my place.”

Territorial aggression has both a defensive and an offensive mode and sometimes they are the same behaviors. Every so often, an animal decides to challenge the territory of another – he wants to relocate, expend his space, or perhaps he does not have a space to call his own and wants some. You can capture another’s territory by frightening him away with warning calls and a fierce display. You might win by causing him to flee or you might kill him. He might win by getting angry and charging you with teeth and claws displayed convincingly. You lose your confidence, turn and run and he chases you, not just to his boundary but way down the street, just to let you know that his power extends beyond his domain. It may take months or years before you have the temerity to try another raid or you may go hunting for another animal who is more easily intimidated. If you do not flee from a more aggressive, stronger adversary, you will be injured or killed.

Emotions are the expressions of territorial drives. Anger can be aggressive or defensive. Fear is defensive. An aggressor will use angry displays to inspire fear in his opponent. Fear activates fight or flight responses.

Humans have evolved elaborate territorial strategies and have replaced urine and odor markers with visual markers, constructions, rituals and rules. The function of well-defined boundaries is to minimize conflict. Human also expand and shrink the territories to adapt to local conditions. A child with three siblings may lay claim to one bedroom or may shrink his claims of ownership to his bed and a small box holding valuable possessions. A rich man buys a large property, builds a large house, erects a stone boundary, complete with monitor video cameras, alarms and a guard house. Regardless of how large or small a territory, the old instincts and behaviors continue to operate. Fences make good neighbors. High rock walls and moats patrolled by crocodiles make safer cities. Property law reduces the frequency of dispute and courts replace violent aggression with negotiation and settlement.

The transition from instinctive territories that are invisible and always in flux to well defined property is relatively recent and only occurs in the most affluent of nations. Even in the 21st century the majority of humans claim ownership in the ancient way without surveyed lots and government land registries. Land surveys impose a geometric grid on otherwise irregular landscape. The grid looks good on maps, but often defies the real lay of the land. Ownership of well-defined property, is a basic premise of democratic government, civility and human rights. Defined, owned land becomes home, becomes family, becomes community, becomes wealth, becomes human rights, real state, mortgages, property taxes, municipalities offering services to land owners, law and courts. .

  • Human Nature is a 21st century description of anthropology, neuroscience, philosophy, sociology and psychology - disciplines that need to be integrated as they are in this book. The topics are essential to understanding human nature, its origins and its problems. You could treat each topic as module of a larger system that develops emergent properties as the modules interact. Each reader discovers the features of human nature in himself or herself and then discovers similar features in others. After you understand more about the dynamics of close relationships, you can look at larger groups. You can continue by applying your insights into human dynamics to governments, countries and international affairs. Other Persona Digital books describe the same dynamics but emphasize different vantage points and concerns.

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    Human Nature
    The Good Person
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    The Sound of Music
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    Language & Thinking
    I and Thou
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    Human Nature is the first volume in the Psychology & Philosophy series, developed by Persona Digital Books. We encourage readers to quote and paraphrase topics published online and expect proper citations to accompany all derivative writings. The author is Stephen Gislason and the publisher is Persona Digital Books. The most recent date of publication is 2016.