Friday, October 04, 2013

Evilicious humans, hard-wired for war?

"Evilicious" is the title of a new book self published by Marc Hauser, the Harvard Psychologist forced to resign his position after it was discovered that he had been falsifying behavioral data to fit his foregone conclusions. He asks "why seemingly normal people torture, mutilate, and kill others for the fun of it — or for no apparent benefit at all." He suggests that humans uniquely evolved this capacity because "evildoers emerge when unsatisfied desires combine with the denial of reality, enabling individuals to engage in gratuitous cruelty toward innocent victims. This simple recipe is part of human nature, and part of our brain’s uniquely evolved capacity to combine different thoughts and emotions." Hauser's 'trying for a second chance' book has drawn a number of favorable reviews. One summary from Atran's review cited by Dobbs:
....“addiction to evil” – the persistent subjection of innocents to gratuitous cruelty — emerged as a by-product of the human brain’s unique evolutionary design. The ability to creatively combine all manner of thought and emotion enabled our species to produce great works of art and science, as well as to freely choose to kill and torture with a level of maliciousness unprecedented in the history of life on earth. Here we find that the most dangerous and effective evildoers are not sadists or serial killers with disordered minds, but mostly normal people who could have chosen not to kill and torture. When driven by unsatisfied desires — especially if channeled into dreams of glory for a cause — and in denying the reality and the humanity of others, even nice guys can become massively bloodthirsty.
A related issue is whether we are "hard-wired for war". Evolutionary biologist David Barash argues there is no convincing evidence for this. Despite examples such as Yanomamo ferocity, a broad survey shows that peacemaking is, if anything, more pronounced and widely distributed, especially among groups of nomadic foragers who are probably closest in ecological circumstance to our hominin ancestors.

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