Surviving Human Nature

Some Topics

Killing as a Life Skill

Humans kill other humans for pleasure and profit and killing on a large scale represents the intelligent and systematic application of knowledge, skills and discipline. The art and technology of war has been practiced, recorded, and honored by every society that has flourished on planet earth. In the mind of a pragmatic warlord, victory goes to the side that kills the enemy swiftly and decisively. Hesitation is weakness and surrender is cowardice.

There is an innate basis to killing but that does not mean that we have instinct to kill. It does mean that there is a tendency to kill and that tendency must be understood, revealed and regulated with sustained and effective social action.

There is tendency in nice society to explain killers as sociopaths or sick people, but most killers are not sick and their destructive acts are part of the normally abnormal fabric of human society. We have to acknowledge that humans have always killed animals and other humans. Indeed, given the right circumstances, at least some humans enjoy killing and seek opportunities to fight wherever killing is lucrative or rewarded in other ways.

Humans have choices. Killing is a complex of behaviors that can involve many layers of motivation and preparation and diverse goals and purposes. The innate tendencies to kill are rooted in hunting, stealing, competition for mates, defense of social status, and ownership of territory. The hunter is a predator who succeeds when he is not aggressive, waits patiently in the shadows and pounces strategically on unsuspecting prey. The predator does better when he chooses a victim who is less capable of defending himself or herself and who is less protected by a group. A young or sick ungulate who is not keeping up with the herd is easy prey for a predatory cat.

In polite society, you may avoid physical fights but you can attack another verbally and "kill' them metaphorically. An ancient political strategy is to discredit rivals and expel them from the group. The idea is that status is the result of competition and conflict and status represents the rights off access to the necessities of life - food, shelter and sex.

While killings appear to be the acts of individuals, on closer inspection killing is a social act that only makes sense when you notice the social interactions that precede killing. Killing is routinely used to remove political opponents and to discourage fledgling opponents from challenging authority. The random killing of bad humans committing crimes is trivial when compared with the systematic, premeditated killings planned and implemented by governments. A dangerous combination is theocracy – religious leaders who control tyrannical governments and militants who will use any excuse to fight.

Killing a spouse is often blamed on jealousy and many would list "jealousy" as an "emotion." Jealousy is an emotive-cognitive complex, as are love and hate. Different emotions are involved in each complex. Jealousy is programmed into ancient modules in the brain that have essential roles to play in the survival of animals on planet earth. The following table suggests the innate programs that are commonly accepted motives for one human killing another human. Threats to the safety and status of individuals in a group are common causes of killing.

Description-Survival Issues

  1. Jealousy - Sexual Privileges, Group Status
  2. Insult - Group Status and Social Privileges
  3. Hatred - Defending group values, dominating rival groups
  4. Injustice - Group Status , privilege
  5. Fear, Anger- Survival, Defense of Territory, Self and Kin
  6. Ideology - Group status, territory

Human males are predators and naturally express the skills and interest in hunting and killing prey. Men in the United States commit 85.53 per cent of simple assaults, 87.31 percent of aggravated assaults and 88.5 percent of murders. Women may play a supportive role in by encouraging their men to hate and to kill. Women participate in the construction and maintenance of hatred and can play a decisive role in initiating and sustaining lethal conflicts among men. Men compete over women and often kill each other to gain an advantage or to revenge sexual trespass. Men and women conspire together to attack and kill rivals to gain property, prestige and ostensibly to protect their lives and property.

Anne Campbell observed: ”For males, status and toughness where this quality is a determinant of status is a route to desired resources, including females. Males seek public recognition of their status and Wilson and Daly have described how apparently trivial altercations can result in homicide when an opponent's acts are interpreted as a public challenge to a man's honor and when to back down is to accept that dishonor.”br

Anthropologist, John Patton studied the Achuar, a tribe in the Equadorian Amazon who have a high murder rate. In the 90’s after the introduction of guns, killings increased; 50% of the males die from shotgun blasts. The Achuar associate killing with prestige. They value the warrior who has strategy, skill, valor, willingness to fight and lack of hesitation in battle. There is a striking similarity between an Aschaur tribe in the Amazon and a street gang in Los Angeles or New York and an army platoon in any country you choose. Patton suggests that men have a keen sense of whom they can and cannot trust in the event of a conflict: "You want to be part of a group that is big enough to beat the other guys or at least be a threat to them, yet not so big that you can't keep everyone fed. Friendships are forged according to who can offer whom or what, as a sort of insurance policy.”

The right to employ and train killers is assumed by police, military and other government organizations. In the 20th century the scale of war escalated to involve most countries of the world and millions of combatants. The destructive scale of world war two has left surviving humans with a legacy of doubt and fear that will not be easily overcome.  While in Canada we remember and thank soldiers who fought and died in World War 2 (WW2), there is a curious dissociation between the celebration of victory and the horrors of mass destruction and killing. Every country wants its citizens to view soldiers favorably in case they are needed to fight another war to defend their homes, but at the same time we celebrate peace and distain people who kill close to home. The aggressions of Germany and Japan in WW2 were so manifestly evil that other implicated nations were motivated to fight against them.

The USA is a country that entered WW2 reluctantly, but emerged with a long-term commitment to militarism. Since 1945 US governments champion killing as a life skill and employ killers in complex, multilayered organizations that are supposed to defend the country against attack, but generally fail in their mission. In the second half of the 20th century, a large group of smart, nice, middle-class Americans spent their working week preparing for the mass destruction of enemies such as Russians and Chinese. They designed and manufactured nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles and an extensive infrastructure that enabled the USA to deliver total destruction to any country on earth, any time, any day of the week. They continued to have backyard barbecues on the week end and sent their children to school to study history, literature and geography.

Americans liked to think of themselves as good people and proposed that planning genocide on a global scale with weapons of mass destruction was something that good people did as a matter of necessity. Others disagreed.


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