The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man
Ramond A. Dart, "The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man," International Anthropological and Linguistic Review 1.4 (1953).
"Of all beasts the man-beast is the worst
To others and himself the cruellest foe."
--Richard Baxter (1615-1691), Christian Ethics
- Man had emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only: because he was a killer. Long ago, perhaps many millions of years ago, a line of killer apes branched off from the non- aggressive primate background. For reasons of environmental necessity, the line adopted the predatory way. For reasons of predatory necessity the line advanced. We learned to stand erect in the first place as a necessity of the hunting life. We learned to run in our pursuit of game across the yellowing African savannah. Our hands freed for the mauling and the hauling, we had no further use for a snout; and so it retreated. And lacking fighting teeth or claws, we took recourse by necessity to the weapon.
A rock, a stick, a heavy bone -- to our ancestral killer ape it meant the margin of survival. But the use of the weapon meant new and multiplying demands on the nervous system for the co-ordination of muscle and touch and sight. And so at last came the enlarged brain; so at last came man. (29)
- . . . the predatory transition [from ape to man] and the weapons fixation explained for Raymond Dart man's bloody history, his eternal aggression, his irrational, self-destroying inexorable pursuit of death for death's sake. (31)
- Three fundamental drives, for territory, for status and for organized society became evident in the primates, those creatures closest to ourselves. And behind all three looms the vague outline of a fourth force, deep-set, unaccountable, and perhaps unprovable: a mysterious need for order. . . . Food, sex, family, survival, property, sovereignty, rank, society-order, perhaps, itself- all or some must be reckoned as interplaying needs forming the personality and influencing the conduct of any animal that lives. (118)
- Human behaviour in its broad patterns cannot with any assurance be attributed to causes lying within the human experience.
To conclude that human obsession with the acquisition of social status and material possessions is unrelated to the animal instincts for dominance and territory would be to press notions of special creation to the breaking point. To conclude that the loyalties or animosities of tribes or nations are other than the human expression of the profound territorial instinct would be to push reason over the cliff. (147)
- The contemporary revolution in the natural sciences points inexorably to the proposition that man's soul is not unique. Man's nature, like his body, is the product of evolution. (153)
- Any animal with a capacity for learning must in part be a product of his environment. Any animal with a capacity for hunger must in part be dominated by economic motives. But to believe that the fascination with war and weapons, or the imagined accomplishment of a perfect crime, or unyielding temptation to lord it over somebody or everlasting drives to acquire someone else's wealth; to believe that such as these find their source in human society and may be exorcised forever by environmental manipulation is to make of a man a most modest blackboard on which any other may write his name. (159)
- . . . that remarkable killer, Australopithecus africanus, the last animal before man...our last direct ancestor in the animal world. . . . Man is a predator with an instinct to kill and a genetic cultural affinity for the weapon. (166)
- If the contest exists between individuals only, then qualities of mercy and altruism will contribute nothing to a competitor's fortune. But if the contest is between societies, then the member of a successful society must develop two sets of emotional responses: the many facets of friendship and co-operation reserved for members of his own society ["amity"], and the many facets of hostility and enmity for members of the opposing society. (169)
- Human warfare comes about only when the defensive instinct of a determined territorial proprietor is challenged by the predatory compulsions of an equally determined territorial neighbour.
. . . the territorial drive brings about the conditions-not the motives- that give rise to war: the separation of men into groups, the alliance of men and territory, and the latent capacity for the enmity code to dominate the most civilized man in his relation to a hostile neighbour.
But it is the other side of the territorial coin that may provide the foundations for a philosophical revolution. It is the hidden, unread, animal cipher stamped on the metal of our nature that may resolve the dilemma of a [Herbert] Spencer, the doubts of a [Charles] Darwin, or the despairs of contemporary man. The command to love is as deeply buried in our nature as the command to hate. (173)
- One recollected the ease with which Adolf Hitler had brought about in a generation of German youth his education for death. Had he in truth induced a learned response? Or had he simply released an instinct? Which was the genetic cultural affinity that like a desert river could vanish for season after season, then in a flick of a thunderstorm come ripping and raging out of the inscrutable earth? Was it man's adoration of books and bridges? Or his adoration of things that go bang? (203)
- The human being in the most fundamental aspects of his soul and body is nature's last if temporary work on the subject of the armed predator. And human history must be read in these terms. . . .
Weapons preceded man. Whether man is in fact a biological invention evolved to suit the purposes of the weapon must be a matter of future debate. (312)
- Other forces of enormous power, all similarly derived from the animal world, play their instinctual roles in the drama of human conduct. We have investigated a few of them: the drive to acquire private property; social groupings based on the defense of a territory held in common; the commandment to gain and hold individual dominance within such a society; the contest between males for superior territory or superior status; sexual choice exercised by the female in terms of the male's acquistion of property or status; the hostility of territorial neighbours, whether individual or group; and the dual code of behaviour, prevailing in the members of a group, demanding amity for the social partner and enmity for individuals outside the territorial bond. All these are human instincts derived from ancient animal patterns. But to them must now be added those particular attributes of the hominid ["man-like"] line: the way of the predator, and the dependence upon weapons. (312-313)
- Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon. (316)
- The primate has instincts demanding the maintenance and defense of territories; and attitude of perpetual hostility for the territorial neighbour; the formation of social bands as the principal means of survival for a physically vulnerable creature; an attitude of amity and loyalty for the social partner; and varying but universal systems of dominance to insure the efficiency of his social instrument and to promote the natural selection of the more fit from the less. Upon this deeply-buried, complex, primate instinctual bundle were added the necessities and the opportunities of the hunting life. (316)
- The hunting primate was free. He was free of the forest prison; wherever game roamed the world was his. His hands were freed from the earth or the bough; erect carriage opened new and unguessed opportunities for manual answers to ancient quadruped problems. His daily life was free from the eternal munching; the capacity to digest high-calorie food meant a life more diverse than one endless meal-time. And his wits were freed. Behind him lay the forest orthodoxies. Ahead of him lay freedom of choice and invention as a new imperative if a revolutionary creature were to meet the unpredictable challenges of a revolutionary way of life. Freedom-as the human being means freedom-was the first gift of the predatory way. (317)
- No man can regard the way of war as good. It has simply been our way. No man can evaluate the eternal contest of weapons as anything but the sheerest waste and the sheerest folly. It has been simply our only means of final arbitration. Any man can suggest reasonable alternatives to the judgement of arms. But we are not creatures of reason except in our own eyes.
...the superior weapon, throughout the history of the species, has been the central human dream...deprived of the dream, deprived of the dynamics, deprived of the contest [for superior weapons], and deprived of the issue [of a weapons' contest], Homo sapiens stands on a darkened threshold through which species rarely return. (325)
- Society flatters itself in thinking that it has rejected the [juvenile] delinquent; the delinquent has rejected society. And in the shadowed byways of his world so consummately free, this ingenious, normal adolescent human creature has created a way of life in perfect image of his animal needs. (333)
- We and our greater philosophers must grant, I believe, that the masters of a universal society [i.e., "One World" government] with the aid of a captive science might just possibly succeed in producing, over a long period, a lasting answer to the problem of our animal nature: a universal human slave inherently obedient to other people's reason. (338)
- We are a transitional species, without doubt. We are a pioneer creature testing the potentialities of the enlarged brain. . . . And if we do not behave too badly, then we shall pass on the power of thought, one day, to a descendant species who may count it a part of their animal endowment. They, not we, can found kingdoms on its strength. (338)
- And a horrid self-doubt may overcome us: of what use is mind, and civilization, if in the end our animal endowment must determine our radiant fate? But our instincts are not that simple. And intelligence can discover allies. (339)
- I assert first the paradox that our predatory animal origin represents for mankind its last best hope . . . we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. (347-48)
- My second assertion, flying farther into the speculative sky, is that civilization is a normal evolutionary development in our kind, and a product of natural selection. . . . It rests on the most ancient of animal laws, that commanding order [?], and acts as a necessary inhibition and sublimation of predatory energies that would otherwise long ago have destroyed our species. . . . Civilization is a compensatory consequence of our killing imperative; the one could not exist without the other. (348)
- My third assertion, far less speculative, is that conscience as a guiding force in the human drama is one of such small reliability that it assumes very nearly the role of villain. Conscience has evolved directly from the amity-enmity complex of our primate past. But unlike civilization it has acted as no force to inhibit the predatory instinct. It has instead been the conqueror's chief ally. And if mankind survives the contemporary predicament, it will be in spite of, not because of, the parochial powers of our animal conscience. (349)
The limitation of conscience lies in its territorial nature. . . . Conscience organizes hatred as it organizes love. (349)
My conscience is totally amoral. I shall delude myself that it directs me to act in the interests of human good, and well it may. But with equal force it will direct me to act in the interests of human evil, if such evil is in the interests of my society. (350)
Society in its ancient wisdom does not appeal to my conscience through reason, for my conscience being of animal inheritance will respond with a minimum of force. And so conscience in human society becomes an essentially anti-rational power. (351)
- Far antedating the predatory urge in our animal nature, far more deeply buried than conscience or territory or society lies that shadowy, mysterious, undefinable command of the kind, the instinct for order. And so, when a predatory species came rapidly to evolve its inherent talent for disorder, natural selection favoured as a factor in human survival the equally rapid evolvement of that sublimating, inhibiting, super-territorial, institution which we call loosely, civilization.
It is a jerry-built structure, and a more unattractive edifice could scarcely be imagined. Its greyness is appalling. Its walls are cracked and eggshell thin. Its foundations are shallow, its antiquity slight. No bands boom, no flags fly, no glamorous symbols invoke our nostalgic hearts. Yet however humiliating the path may be, man beset by anarchy, banditry, chaos and extinction must at last resort turn to that chamber of horrors, human enlightenment. For he has nowhere else to turn. (352- 53)