Aggression & Fighting
Humans are critically disputatious, opportunistic and aggressively
territorial. Human groups fight at regular intervals, often because of planned
and strategic attacks on neighboring groups. While there are different motives
for aggression, the term almost always points to fight and fight behaviors.
Predatory aggression is goal-oriented, strategic and free of anger or fear.
Angry aggression is defensive or retaliatory. Territorial aggression combined
both predatorial behaviors and threat displays, often indistinguishable from
The tendency and the skills required for fighting are innate. Fighting is one
of the four prime movers of human behavior, sometimes referred to as the “four
F’s.” In the primordial animal world, you have four options when you met another
animal. You could feed by eating the stranger; you could fight with the stranger
or you could flee. If certain prerequisites were met, you could have sex with
the stranger. The four F’s interact in interesting ways. The motives and
movements involved in fighting emerge in children’s play and continue in speech
gestures even among the most pacific people. Fighting often begins with
vocalizations, and continues with gestures, shouts and threats. The idea of the
fight display is to avoid physical injury by reaching a settlement or by
Nice people who live relatively peaceful lives will avoid fighting but retain
the tendency. Fights among family members are inevitable and, in the best case,
are limited to shouting, grabbing, pushing, shaking, punching and kicking. It is
natural for humans to pick up objects and use them to hit at close range or to
throw them to injure at a distance.
The tendency to fight merges with tool making. Human ancestors become more
formidable fighters when they deliberately selected objects such as sticks and
stones to fight with. Fighting on an interpersonal or tribal scale involved
deliberately fashioning and carrying tools that were used primarily as weapons.
Early weapons combined sharpened stones, attached to wood handles and shafts
with leather thongs. Warriors are humans who have well developed fighting
skills. Their goal is to kill other humans. Good hunters tend to make good
warriors, but not always. Both hunting and fighting were required for the
success of human groups and warriors have always been regarded with high esteem.
A natural warrior had to be brave and strong, cunning, determined and tolerant
of deprivation and adversity. Warriors fought each other, face to face, with
hand-held weapons, strategy and skill. To specialize in fighting, warriors have
to be physically fit and trained daily in the skills of combat. Without advanced
training, even an unusually large and fierce warrior could be defeated by a
smaller, weaker foe with well-practiced skills and superior weapons.
As local groups became larger, nation states emerged and warriors were
replaced by anonymous soldiers who participated in anonymous combat that
involved large numbers of combatants, with hand held weapons and machines
designed to destroy property and kill other humans. If you combine hierarchy,
territorial competition with weapon manufacture, you create war. The human
fascination with weapons and the strategies of fighting have created a complex
of militaristic activities and preparations for fighting that are incentives to
fight and have provided reasons to fight.
You could argue that human history is the history of war with brief
interludes of peace. Wars have a few instigators and many victims. Humans now
fill the air with high velocity metal projectiles and use explosive devices to
annihilate other humans and their property. Victors deploy larger numbers of
more lethal weapon-machines than the losers. Soldiers and civilians perish when
their weapon-machines are inferior.
The Second World War was a festival of atrocities, murder and mayhem,
dominated by increasing horrors inflicted by large numbers of more elaborate
machines designed and deployed to kill humans on an enlarging scale. The
distinction between civilians and soldiers diminished and disappeared. The
industrial basis for war continued to develop in many countries after the Second
World War. The 21st century began with local wars erupting in many parts of the
globe. The United States dominated the world by having well-funded industries
dedicated to making weapon-machines. Electronic devices evolved rapidly leading
to “smart weapons” that could find targets using satellite-based guidance
The US and Russia dominated the world with stockpiles of nuclear weapons and
delivery systems on alert, ready to destroy any and all nations on the planet.
War planning for the 21st century imagines combat with smart machines and
aircraft operated by remote control. The few soldiers left on the ground are
transformed into robots by adding camouflage clothing, bullet proofing, makeup,
body armor, electronic sensors, computers, communication equipment, 3 days of
food and water, to their fragile bodies. The idea is that technologically
superior victors can demolish property and kill others from a distance in
In addition to good guys and bad guys, some humans are hawks who advocate and
enjoy the idea of war and others are doves who abhor war and make conspicuous
efforts to promote peaceful solutions for disagreements. Some readers might link
the hawks with the bad guys. Without a doubt, doves are challenged by
belligerent neighbors and friends and need to arrive at more effective ways of
expressing their point of view, not as pacifists but as activists who seek to
restrain their belligerent neighbors with tools such as persuasion, vaccination,
social policy, law and the pragmatic enforcement of laws. Perhaps the planet
could be divided into two halves with the doves enjoying a peaceful existence on
their half and the hawks enjoying battle on their side. The trick would be to
invent an impermeable membrane that could keep the groups separate.