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The goodness paradox : the strange relationship between virtue and violence in human evolution
2019
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Author Notes
RICHARD WRANGHAM is Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University. He is the author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human and Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (with Dale Peterson). Wrangham has studied wild chimpanzees in Uganda since 1987. He has received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the British Academy.
First Chapter or Excerpt
PREFACE   At the start of my career, I would have been surprised to learn that fifty years later I would be publishing a book about humans. In the 1970s I was privileged to be a graduate student working in Jane Goodall's research project on chimpanzees in Tanzania. Spending whole days trailing individual apes in a natural habitat was a joy. All that I wanted to do was study animal behavior, and in 1987 I launched my own study of wild chimpanzees in Uganda's Kibale National Park.   My bucolic research was disturbed, however, by discoveries that were too intriguing to ignore. Chimpanzees exhibited occasional episodes of exceptional violence. To shed an evolutionary light on this behavior, I compared chimpanzees with their sister species, bonobos. In the 1990s, research on bonobos was beginning in earnest. Chimpanzees and bonobos were proving to be an extraordinary duo, bonobos being much more peaceful than the relatively aggressive chimpanzees. In various collaborations that I describe in this book, but most particularly with Brian Hare and Victoria Wobber, my colleagues and I concluded that bonobos had diverged from a chimpanzee-like ancestor by a process that was strongly akin to domestication. We called the process "self-domestication." And since human behavior has often been considered similar to the behavior of domesticated animals, the insights from bonobos suggested lessons for human evolution. The key fact about humans is that within our social communities we have a low propensity to fight: compared to most wild mammals we are very tolerant.   I was acutely aware, however, that, even if humans are in some ways notably unreactive, in other ways we are a very aggressive species. In 1996, in a book called Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Dale Peterson and I described evolutionary explanations for similarities in aggression between chimpanzees and humans. The perva­siveness of violence in human society is inescapable, and the evolution­ary theories explaining it seem sound. So how could our domesticated qualities and our capacity for terrible violence be reconciled? For the next twenty years or so, I grappled with this question.   The resolution that I describe in the following pages is that our social tolerance and our aggressiveness are not the opposites that at first they appear to be, because the two behaviors involve different types of aggression. Our social tolerance comes from our having a relatively low tendency for reactive aggression, whereas the violence that makes humans deadly is proactive aggression. The story of how our species came to combine these different tendencies--low reactive aggression and high proactive aggression--has not been told before. It takes us into many corners of anthropology, biology, and psychology, and will undoubtedly continue to be developed. But I believe that it already offers a rich and fresh perspective on the evolution of our behavioral and moral tendencies, as well as on the fascinating question of how and why our species, Homo sapiens, came into existence at all.   Much of the material in this book is so new that it has been published only in scientific papers. My goal here is to make this richly technical literature and its far-reaching implications more accessible. I approach the topic through the eyes of a chimpanzee-watcher who has walked, watched, and listened in many habitats of East and Central Africa. Those of us privileged to have spent days alone with apes have felt touched by Pleistocene breezes. The romance of the past, the story of our ancestors, is a thrill, and innumerable mysteries remain for future generations seeking the origins of the modern mind in deep time. Enlarged understanding of our prehistory and of who we are will not be the only reward. Dreams inspired by the African air can yet generate a stronger and more secure view of ourselves, if we open our minds to worlds beyond those that we know well. Excerpted from The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Peace and Violence in Human Evolution by Richard Wrangham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  Publishers Weekly Review

Wrangham (Catching Fire), a biological anthropologist at Harvard, undertakes a thorough and persuasive examination of this paradoxical observation: "we can be the nastiest of species and also the nicest." He notes that "compared with other primates, we practice exceptionally low levels of violence in our day-to-day lives, yet we achieve exceptionally high rates of death from violence in our wars." Wrangham argues that there are two types of aggression, reactive and proactive. The former reacts to an immediate threat while the latter connotes "violence that is coolly planned." Wrangham builds the case that human evolution has selected against reactive aggression, in turn causing a self-domestication process akin to how humans tamed many animal species. Its key component was the human ability to form coalitions and thus impose sanctions, including capital punishment, on the overly aggressive. While "cooperation was a key to Homo sapiens's domination of the earth," it also gave humans "war, caste, the butchery of helpless adults, and many other forms of irresistible coercion." Wrangham does not, however, propose that readers passively accept sanctioned violence as a necessary aspect of modern-day societies, concluding his well-argued treatise by rejecting the continued use of capital punishment and asserting that the "important human quest... is reducing our capacity for organized violence." (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
"A fascinating new analysis of human violence, filled with fresh ideas and gripping evidence from our primate cousins, historical forebears, and contemporary neighbors." <br> --Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature <br> <br> We Homo sapiens can be the nicest of species and also the nastiest. What occurred during human evolution to account for this paradox? What are the two kinds of aggression that primates are prone to, and why did each evolve separately? How does the intensity of violence among humans compare with the aggressive behavior of other primates? How did humans domesticate themselves? And how were the acquisition of language and the practice of capital punishment determining factors in the rise of culture and civilization?<br> <br> Authoritative, provocative, and engaging, The Goodness Paradox offers a startlingly original theory of how, in the last 250 million years, humankind became an increasingly peaceful species in daily interactions even as its capacity for coolly planned and devastating violence remains undiminished. In tracing the evolutionary histories of reactive and proactive aggression, biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham forcefully and persuasively argues for the necessity of social tolerance and the control of savage divisiveness still haunting us today.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Introduction: Virtue and Violence in Human Evolutionp. 3
1The Paradoxp. 13
2Two Types of Aggressionp. 24
3Human Domesticationp. 47
4Breeding Peacep. 65
5Wild Domesticatesp. 84
6Belyaev's Rule in Human Evolutionp. 112
7The Tyrant Problemp. 128
8Capital Punishmentp. 142
9What Domestication Didp. 168
10The Evolution of Right and Wrongp. 198
11Overwhelming Powerp. 222
12Warp. 248
13Paradox Lostp. 273
Afterwordp. 283
Acknowledgmentsp. 285
Notesp. 289
Bibliographyp. 325
Indexp. 365
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