33 pages 1 hour read

Edward O. Wilson

On Human Nature

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1978

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Chapter 5Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis: “Aggression”

In any honest survey of human history, one of the things that will stand out is the human penchant for war and violence. At the same time, the vast majority of human cultures “have invented elaborate sanctions against rape, extortion, and murder, while regulating their daily commerce through complex customs and laws designed to minimize the subtler but inevitable forms of conflict” (99). The distinction is a significant one, one that recognizes the reality of conflict and a need for self-defense of both home and tribe—and yet at the same time, a need to police violent behavior within one’s community.

In addition, it is clear that “human beings display a behavioral scale, a spectrum of responses” (101) that are exhibited or hidden based on circumstances. Violence directed at outsiders is usually always a result of attempting to defend or conquer territory, or launch a counterstrike against an enemy; violence within a community is usually due to conflict over resources, or related to discipline. The phenomenon of violence can, in a sense, be attributed to “crowding in the environment” (103). Once it seems like there isn’t enough of something to go around, the tendency toward harmony gives way to selfishness and control, often resulting in aggression or outright violence.