[Marxism] A debate over Chimpanzee violence
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 18 06:53:54 MDT 2014
(This article cites Brian Ferguson, an anthropologist I have relied on
heavily in articles against sociobiology. His articles can be read here:
NY Times, Sept. 18 2014
Lethal Violence in Chimps Occurs Naturally, Study Suggests
By JAMES GORMAN
Are chimpanzees naturally violent to one another, or has the intrusion
of humans into their environment made them aggressive?
A study published Wednesday in Nature is setting off a new round of
debate on the issue.
The study’s authors argue that a review of all known cases of when
chimpanzees or bonobos in Africa killed members of their own species
shows that violence is a natural part of chimpanzee behavior and not a
result of actions by humans that push chimpanzee aggression to lethal
attacks. The researchers say their analysis supports the idea that
warlike violence in chimpanzees is a natural behavior that evolved
because it could provide more resources or territory to the killers, at
But critics say the data shows no such thing, largely because the
measures of human impact on chimpanzees are inadequate.
While the study is about chimpanzees, it is also the latest salvo in a
long argument about the nature of violence in people.
In studying chimpanzee violence, “we’re trying to make inferences about
human evolution,” said Michael L. Wilson, an anthropologist at the
University of Minnesota and a study organizer.
There is no disagreement about whether chimpanzees kill one another, or
about some of the claims that Dr. Wilson and his 29 co-authors make.
The argument is about why chimpanzees kill. Dr. Wilson and the other
authors, who contributed data on killings from groups at their study
sites, say the evidence shows no connection between human impact on the
chimpanzee sites and the number of killings.
He said the Ngogo group of chimpanzees in Uganda “turned out to be the
most violent group of chimpanzees there is,” even though the site was
little disturbed by humans.
They have a pristine habitat, he said, and “they go around and kill
Titan, an adult male from one of the communities included in a new
study about violence among chimpanzees and bonobos. Credit Ian Gilby
Robert Sussman, an anthropologist at Washington University who supports
the idea that human actions put pressure on chimpanzee societies that
results in killings, was dismissive of the paper. “The statistics don’t
tell me anything,” he said. “They haven’t established lack of human
Brian Ferguson, an anthropologist at Rutgers University who has written
extensively on human warfare and is working on a book about chimpanzee
and human violence, also argued that the measures of human impact were
questionable. The study considered whether chimpanzees were fed by
people, the size of their range and the disturbance of their habitat.
But, Dr. Ferguson said, impact “can’t be assessed by simple factors.”
“I’m arguing for the opposite of the method that’s being used here,” he
said, adding that a detailed historical analysis was needed for each site.
Behind the discussion of violence among chimpanzees is a long-running
dispute over whether chimpanzee behavior offers insights about human
Richard Wrangham of Harvard, the senior author of the new paper and Dr.
Wilson’s onetime doctoral adviser, is the co-author of a 1996 book,
“Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence.” Although the
issue is not mentioned in this paper, he argues that chimpanzee behavior
“is a reasonable start for thinking about primitive warfare in
small-scale societies.” But, he added, “I certainly wouldn’t want to say
that chimps have anything much to say directly about what’s going on in
Dr. Sussman, who is skeptical of drawing connections between chimpanzee
and human violence, said, “War has nothing to do with what chimpanzees do.”
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