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Demonic, Warlike Animals Are the Rare Exception, Not the Rule: Wild Justice In Animals Redux

There is no evidence that animals are inherently warlike

In a previous essay I argued that animals display emotional and moral intelligence and a good deal of fairness. Cruelty, violence, and warlike behavior are incredibly rare. A recent essay by John Horgan summarizes much of what is known about warfare in great apes and other primates and tells it like it is. Horgan is especially concerned with what is called the "demonic male" theory that states "both male humans and chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, are 'natural warriors' with an innate predisposition toward 'coalitionary killing,' which dates back to our common ancestor." Horgan summarizes what is known as follows:

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 All told, since Jane Goodall began observing chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park in 1960, researchers have directly observed 31 intergroup killings, of which 17 were infants.... researchers at a typical site directly observe one killing every seven years ... my criticism — and that of other critics I've cited — stems from science, not ideology. The evidence for the demonic-males theory, far from extraordinary, is flimsy.

People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong. So, when they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil, and warlike behavior, they're not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. Numerous species display wild justice and carefully negotiate their social relationships so that fairness, cooperation, compassion, and empathy are quite common


Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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