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December 16 2007

Buffy illustrates an article about violence by girls. Buffy is wielding Faith's knife in the photo. A BtVS fan wrote the article.

Interesting, but really? Girls have always been violent. Consider the Bible story of the girl who drove the tent peg through the guy's head.
Girls, Guys- both pretty violent.
Or that other Bible story about the girl that's being chased by a deadly machine sent from the future to kill her unborn child. That might not be The Bible though, admittedly (think I have a "fixed" version ;).

I don't think violence among women is particularly on the rise but I do think rowdier, more seemingly aggressive behaviour might be, the so-called "girl gangs" (which might just be a result of women's changing place in society and them finding ways to deal with it - in other words, it'll settle down).

(and of course, as the article mentions, violence among boys/men is likely to lead to more injuries because we are, unfortunately, better "designed" for brawling)

It's the same with victimhood BTW. Violence against women is (rightly) pointed out to be a real and serious problem BUT, at almost all ages, it's still much more dangerous to be a man from a violent attacks perspective (in some categories 2-3 times more dangerous).
Yes, Saje, but the people who commit injurious violence are overwhelmingly male. What's up with you guys?
Us guys?

ETA: No.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-12-16 16:10 ]
Yeah, not big with the injurious violence me ;).

Like everything to do with people, it's a combination of genes and culture - genetically we still have a lot of "stone age" in us and that's obviously also reflected in the culture we create (while we're against violence on one hand, on the other most of the fantasies we entertain ourselves with are full of it - even a show as progressive as Buffy placed a very high premium on being good at combat).

It's possible we're caught in a bit of a vicious circle too - while "stone age" behaviour is rewarded (and even if violence isn't, aggression certainly is) we'll be pulled in that direction by both influences (these days it's only really culture I reckon that - slowly - changes genes, a lot of selective pressures having been reduced). Up to us to change of course, whether we can before we self-destruct is another matter (and the trick is to not throw the achievement baby out with the violence bathwater).
Keyboarding of violence and culture, one of the things I love most about Firefly and Buffy is Joss's variation on/departure from the mainstream approach to violence, which is to demonize some human character as the embodiment of evil and have the hero kill him. By making the demon metaphor more literal in Buffy and creating sci fi demons in the Reavers (who are no more than killing/raping/cannibalizing incapable of moral choice) he managed to meet whatever ritualistic/psychological/dramatic need we have to see evil get the crap kicked out of it/stabbed/burned/blowed up and to dramatize the importance of not taking human life.

To me (and I hope I'm not just projecting my own preoccupations onto his work) this is best illustrated in the parallel climaxes of Serenity, where River slaughters dozens of Reavers in truly balletic violence while Mal has an argument-cum-fisticuffs with the Operative, pointedly not killing him, but converting him by (here comes another metaphor) showing him a video dramatizing the evils of his belief system. To paraphrase him, this guy brings us the best violence.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-12-16 17:05 ]
That's true Pointy, he's struck a sort of middle ground BUT to play Satan's Solicitor (yet again ;), since the year dot we've been making a case that those we wish to commit violence against are somehow less than human so that it's OK to do it to them, they're not like us, not proper people. Later on in Buffy's run (primarily after Clem came along) I started to wonder about the morality of just killing vampires, demons and other clearly sentient beings because they didn't have the magic soul card to play.

You could make a case that Reavers for instance (who, let's not forget, started out as innocent people) were monstrified just so that the crew did have someone they could kill with impunity. The ultimate in dehumanisation of an enemy.

It's a fine line to walk though, catering to what excites us (and like it or not, for now violence does - after watching the ride of the Rohirim in LoTR: RoTK for instance, I could totally understand the Charge of the Light Brigade, even if the bit after the charge was brutal and horrific) while still reminding us that in 99.999% of situations, that sort of behaviour is completely out of order.
I was disturbed by some of the same things, but then I considered the artistic choices facing him. He starts with a dramatic and cultural tradition whose worst aspects are built around demonization, with whatever need we have to imagine a bad guy getting killed by a hero, and subverts/redeems it by calling into question its premises. Yeah, most of the vampires are just stake-fodder, but he makes sure we see some of them as redeemable, has the slayer herself stand up for some of them, shows us the humanity in the designated non-humans (like Clem, or Spike).

The Reavers remove the racism of the source myths for Firefly. The frontier myths dumped the evils of murder, rape and cannibalism on the human beings inhabiting the land that settlers wanted, and settlers used that imagery of evil to rationalize the evil they wished to do (take their lives, take their land, take everything). The Firefly mythos draws a big distinction between the Reavers, who are clearly products of the imagination and of a created sci fi universe, and the other characters, who are granted their moral complexity and humanity.

As Willow says in Season 8, magic is like improv. So is story. You start with what you got and you make something new out of it. Joss's work is a vasty improvement on corrupt source materials.

ETA: A lot of shows (and politicians and pundits) do all they can to make you view a human character as a demon, as the incarnation of evil, fit only for extermination -- and to deny that any demonization is taking place. To make demonization appear as simple realism.

Joss's shows lead you to see the human in the designated demons. The genre-mashing leads the viewer to ask questions like, what does this demon mean, what's it dramatic purpose, and that leads you to consider the whole process of demonization. One approach closes hearts and minds, the other opens them.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-12-16 18:21 ]
The article states that violence by girls is NOT on the rise. I was being flip when I asked about "you guys," but the issue remains that most violence is committed by men.

Anthropological evidence indicates there wasn't that much violence among stone age people against each other. Saje, when you say "we" are rewarded for aggression, do you mean men? Because women don't get that many rewards for being aggressive.
"Anthropological evidence indicates there wasn't that much violence among stone age people against each other"


(citation needed)
The article states that violence by girls is NOT on the rise.

It certainly does ;).

Which anthropological evidence Suzie ? Links ?

(because Googling "stone age violence" returns this link at the very top of the page)

And if you accept that human violence has a genetic component then it surely arose during the Pleistocene epoch, the so-called "environment of evolutionary adaptedness" for humans. Why would it if "stone age" people were all peaceable folk living in an agrarian paradise ? Also, we can cautiously examine current so-called "primitive" societies (remembering that any comparisons have to be treated with suspicion) where we often see very high rates of homicide.

I also disagree that women aren't rewarded for aggression. Any successful female executive for instance will have had to "play the game", part of which is sometimes being as aggressive (or moreso, due to bigotry) than the men around her competing for the same position. I do agree though that aggression is generally encouraged a lot more in men/boys than it is in women/girls.
Suzie, isn't the bulk of the "old stone age" spent as hunter gatherers? I can imagine there's little aggression to spare; the small tribe is spending all their aggression during the trials of actually staying alive. Imagine passing another tribe, "Hey, how are ya?"

"Cold and hungry, you?"

"Us, too."

And they pass each other. The special note to this is they have to pass each other as a precursor for violence. And, I submit, passing each other was rare back in the day.

New sedentary wealth springs up with agriculture, what about 12,000 years ago? With settlement comes the ability to reliably find other people. And if I can reliably find other people, why don't I enslave them or steal their goods? Or so says my midbrain that I've consulted for this post.

Perhaps it isn't that the Paleolithic peeps were less violent, perhaps they had less opportunity to focus their violence on other humans.

I'm not sure where aggression and competition are separate. Can I be an aggressive chess player? And if I'm not an aggressive chess player, in some form or another, am I any good?

Maybe women are becoming more competitive. Certainly some men would see that, in a variety of forms, as aggression, wouldn't they? And if so, aren't the men more likely to draw attention to the crazy new, horrifying, soul-sucking, morally deprived, competitive trend?

...but I've not proved the supposition that competition is twinned with aggression. Thoughts?

[ edited by RhaegarTargaryen on 2007-12-17 02:04 ]
Rhaegar, I agree with much of this. Even as people became more plentiful, our "midbrains' might have said, "Run away!" or "Be really nice to them and maybe they'll share their food." Violence is not necessarily the best strategy for getting ahead.

Also, violence got easier as humans developed better weapons.

I don't think competition and aggression are always linked. The Latin root of "aggression" is "attack."
I just attacked my eggnog shake (I won) and wasn't in competition, so that yoke's broke.

Agreed, violence got easier as humans developed better weapons. Better weapons were developed to make violence more effective.

Violence is not necessarily the best strategy for getting ahead. Agreed. Sure can be effective, though. Sigh. Our propensity for shortsightedness, fore and aft, is damning to us. If we only had tree memory. Woodn't that be nice. Sigh.
The things you learn by reading whedonesque, never cease to amaze.

So far none of you seems to have mentioned the whole, competition for scarce resorces reason for aggression, why ?
Being a peaceful caveman is probably a good thing as long as there is plenty of food around, though when there is ten cavemen in the cave but only food for five, a healthy dose of aggression might help you to live to fight another day :)

[ edited by jpr on 2007-12-17 18:11 ]
jpr, you're picturing the result of a non-cooperative hunt. Where would that come from?
Saje, I can't cite any research for this, but from personal observation, I'd say that rewards for aggression in women are considerably less than those for men, and continue to be so. "Playing the game", often involves behavior which, while not physically violent is not, in my view, commendable,attractive, or even excusable in either sex. But women get a lot of social criticism for "take no prisoners" type career behavior which is frequently admired, or at least respected in men. So they may win in the business world, or whatever, being more aggressive- but tend to get punished for the success in a way men usually don't.
Hi dream, non-cooperative or cooperative hunt doesn't come into it, if the result of the hunt is that there is only one rabbit to share between 10 cavemen/cavewomen, someone is going without supper.
Since I doubt the cavedwellers spent much time discussing the finer points of negotiation tactics, I picture the negotation as
- Me bigger than you, give ...

Things havent changed much, though that whole chest thumping and screaming thing, way more efficient over the internet.

[ edited by jpr on 2007-12-17 10:22 ]
There is a school of thought that suggests it is a myth that hunter gatherers were mostly struggling to survive. It is likely they had a much more comfortable lifestyle than the early farmers. The idea that they were sharing a single rabbit in a world of plentiful food is surely an erroneous idea. The hunter gathers we see now are pushed to the margins but back in the day they were living next to the teeming lakes, rivers, seas and woods. Jared Diamond’s "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" is good introduction to this theory.
Toast: You said what I was thinking much better than I could, and it also fits my experience and observation. In general, an assertive man is seen as a respected businessman; an assertive woman is seen as a "ball-buster" or a "bitch."
Yeah I think that's fair comment toast and beck, like a promiscuous man is a jack-the-lad and usually admired by his peers but a promiscuous woman is a slut. Still, the rewards do exist, even if they come with disincentives too.

Thanks Suzie that's exactly what I was after. Well, kinda ;).

Saje, in reference to your link: Maybe the British are more violent. Just kidding ...

It'd explain football hooliganism at least ;).

... ... your link talks about the New Stone Age. I'm talking about the Paleolithic period, the Old Stone Age. It appears humans became more violent as conditions changed.

Or is it just that more violence occurred as conditions changed ? You could make a case for instance that people talk on the telephone more now than they did e.g. 20 years ago (because of mobile phones) but obviously we were still able to talk on the phone 20 years ago, we just didn't have as many opportunities.

(and the article, and others about the same paper, makes it clear that they were surprised by their findings i.e. they had thought Neolithic humans were more peaceful, along the lines of your thinking about earlier populations. I strongly suspect the same would be found for Paleolithic people if a large scale survey was done of their skulls - assuming there are enough around to make that possible)

1st Link:

Firstly i'll reiterate the old mantra (thanks Mr Hodgkinson ;) "Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence". Second, that author is (largely) talking about evidence for war. It seems fairly sensible to think that large-scale warfare wouldn't arise until the rewards for it outweighed the risks (i.e. until some had a lot more than others) or competition for scarce resources makes it unavoidable which takes settlement and agriculture, as RhaegarTargaryen says. Lack of war doesn't mean lack of violence though and intragroup violence isn't different in principle to intergroup violence - only in scale.

(i'll note that the book dates to 2005, Before the Linked Survey or BLS ;)

2nd Link:

I haven't read Riane Eisler's book so can't comment on the actual reference or her evidence for her position. The linked article makes a lot of claims though, at least some of which appear to be politically motivated (which rubs me up the wrong way but doesn't mean the author's wrong ;). The conclusion

We have found, through Eisler’s research on the culture of our Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestors, that humans are not innately violent.
(my emphasis)

seems, given the new skull evidence, to actually be incorrect though.

(Eisler's book was written in 1987, long BLS)

3rd Link:

Again I can't read the actual article so i'll leave it at, written in 2004 so again, BLS. What Freud has to do with anything i'm not sure though ;).

4th Link:

Written in 1969 and again seems to be talking about warfare. I hope I haven't given the impression that humans have been engaged in war for millions of years, I certainly don't think that. Small, mobile bands of hunter-gatherers would indeed be better served running away to, well, run away another day ;) - there's no real (evolutionary) percentage in them engaging in war.

To me, war is what happens when a small scale propensity for aggressive posturing and violence (when necessary) is transferred to a larger scale, where people don't know each other (so out-group demonisation is possible) and can have their instincts essentially hijacked to serve some (supposedly) higher purpose.

5th Link:

Skimmed only but again, BLS, and again, largely talking about war or intergroup violence. You've piqued my interest enough that i'd like to know about Paleolithic population density, because it again seems sensible to assume that intergroup violence would be rarer when groups meet more rarely.

And of course we also have a capacity for cooperation, i've previously posted to that effect on here, don't disagree at all (in fact, i'd say it's more powerful than our tendency to violence - despite what the papers would have us think, i'm actually constantly amazed by how non-violent most people are, given what could be seen to be the almost constant provocations of modern life - [comparative] overcrowding, stress etc.).
Kicking myself for just doing a "quick check in" at 2AM. now I'm too tired to contribute anything brilliant (or even coherent;-) So I'll just compliment everyone else on being so brilliant and coherent. This thread was the most fascinating read I've had all week. You guys rock, sexy brain wise.

And of course we also have a capacity for cooperation, i've previously posted to that effect on here, don't disagree at all (in fact, i'd say it's more powerful than our tendency to violence - despite what the papers would have us think, i'm actually constantly amazed by how non-violent most people are, given what could be seen to be the almost constant provocations of modern life - [comparative] overcrowding, stress etc.).


Ooh! I remember reading something about a study that showed that humans deal with crowding better (with less aggression or panicking) than any other observed animal species. I can't even remember the context, unfortunately, so my chances of backtracking to it are slim. But, yay humans!
Thanks, Shey! I agree, Moley. Also, few of these early people lived in caves. I dreamed I was defending a dissertation. No, wait, I'm just answering Saje:

1st link: Did humans "become" more violent? I didn't mean this as a comment on their psyche, but rather their actions. In other words, they appear to have committed more violent actions against other humans as time went by. I agree that "absence of evidence" is no guaranteed proof. But even physical evidence is no guarantee. Evidence can be interpreted differently. Judging from the literature I've already cited, scientists disagree on the meaning of skeletal evidence. Here are my own examples: If people did a lot of biting and slapping, that's still violence, but it wouldn't show up in skeletons unless they were really, really forceful. If people believed that they had to bash open the skull of a dead person to let his soul escape, that might be interpreted later as violence if scientists didn't know about their spiritual belief.

My first link is talking about an era before the Neolithic of your link, and so, it doesn't really matter that the book was published a year or two earlier. It's still apples and oranges. Although my first link addresses warfare, it also says, "... there is virtually no indication from late Paleolithic skeletons of murderous violence."

2nd link: You say this source is political. I don't believe any scientist can be objective. People bring their beliefs, experiences, etc., to their work. Good writers on science and objectivity include K.C. Cole and Donna Haraway.

That being said, I agree that the linked author is wrong about the Neolithic, at least in some geographical areas at some times. I also think humans have an innate ability to be violent, just as they have an innate ability to be cooperative or to flee from conflict. I think Riane Eisler would agree with me (or vice versa). I read "The Chalice and the Blade" and "Sacred Pleasure" by her.

3rd link: You still seem to be conflating the Neolithic and the Paleolithic. One study of the Neolithic in an area of Britain does not refute all authors on the Paleolithic. Once I get back into the university library, I can send you the full article off-list, if you'd like.

4th link: This article talks about "sporadic intrahuman" violence, in addition to warfare.

5th link: This talks about propensities for avoidance and cooperation.

Saje, my comments started when you called aggression and violence "stone age behaviour" and used "stone age" as shorthand for violence. Later, when you say humans have a "propensity for aggressive posturing and violence," it sounds like you mean that's our first instinctive reaction. In your most recent post, however, you say that you believe our tendency for cooperation is stronger than the inclination toward violence. It looks like we agree, more or less.
Moley75, I was just reading in "Your Money Or Your Life" that working hours have steadily increased as human civilisation has become more complex. Granted, it's just a personal finance book, but it made sense to me. Hunter/gatherers worked a few days a week, spending the rest of the time in recreation, social maintenance, etc. Agrarian societies have to spend more time in the field, and it's hard to take a day off when you're tending livestock, but at least there is seasonal ebb and flow. Come industrialism, especially with electric lights artificially lengthening the workday, and there's almost no limit to how much a member of this society can be expected to work.
Lots of quotes so this is a frikkin' monster, sorry folks (I say that like there's someone still reading ;).

I agree that "absence of evidence" is no guaranteed proof. But even physical evidence is no guarantee. Evidence can be interpreted differently.
(my emphasis)

No, it isn't proof of anything, guaranteed or otherwise. You seem to be saying that not having any evidence in some way "proves" the null hypothesis, which of course it doesn't. Comparable evidence would be a large scale survey of Paleolithic skulls (similar to the Neolithic one) but which found no (or few) wounds consistent with violence. I agree evidence can be interpreted differently (that's why we have the current situation with global warming for instance) but solid evidence that can be interpreted in different ways is much better than none at all (you seem to be asserting they're of comparable usefulness).

"... there is virtually no indication from late Paleolithic skeletons of murderous violence."

It does also say that, conceded (note "virtually no"). This, however, is a simple assertion, not evidence (I can't get to the references section for that book, wherein the author presumably cites a paper which looks at a - hopefully large - set of Paleolithic skeletons (or many papers that each look at a different one) ? Because that's exactly the sort of evidence we need to compare claims, a reference to something like that would be great - preferably one available to the public since i'm not at a university and don't have access to many academic publications ;).

(it's not apples and oranges BTW, it's more apples and newer apples - the quote specifically says "late paleolithic" i.e. not necessarily that distant time-wise from neolithic. Obviously there wasn't a morning when everyone woke up and was radically different to how they were the day before ;) - development from one era to another is on a continuum)

You say this source is political. I don't believe any scientist can be objective. People bring their beliefs, experiences, etc., to their work.

Absolutely agree but when I see stuff like: "The central place given to women in the art of the Paleolithic and the role in which she is depicted, as priestess, indicates that they recognized the life-giving force of the feminine." I sense a specific axe to grind (I know they're kinda weedy but hey, sperm are also "life-giving" ;).

My point about the Neolithic comment is, if the paper accurately represents Eisler's position (as it claims to) then, due to new evidence, it turns out she was (at least) half wrong, which makes me wonder about the other half. That's not her fault, it's just the way science works. If it's not an accurate representation then it's more "mere" assertion.

You still seem to be conflating the Neolithic and the Paleolithic. One study of the Neolithic in an area of Britain does not refute all authors on the Paleolithic. Once I get back into the university library, I can send you the full article off-list, if you'd like.

Not conflating, more acknowledging that the difference between Paleolithic and Neolithic is arbitrary and represents a difference in lifestyle, not necessarily a difference in our innate propensity for violence. And if you can't post a link (so others can read it) then by all means send the article over, thanks ;) - i'm particularly interested in the references which will hopefully be to (publicly available ;) papers that actually look at skeletons or other direct evidence, rather than papers that only talk about (and hence possibly misinterpret) others that do so.

And "all authors" on the Paleolithic ? So scientists routinely disagree over evidence (I agree) except where the Paleolithic's concerned ? (I disagree ;). And after all, it seemingly refuted a lot of authors on the Neolithic (my point being, has a similar large scale survey of Paleolithic skulls/skeletons been carried out ? If not i'd bet when it was it might similarly refute a lot of Paleolithic authors too - if your position is actually the consensus).

4th link: This article talks about "sporadic intrahuman" violence, in addition to warfare.

Yeah, sorry, like I say i'm not at a university so I was trying to read it by leaning in very close to the unmagnified text - that's hard as it turns out ;).

5th link: This talks about propensities for avoidance and cooperation.

Between groups (the paper's stated objective is "... to specify the major turning points in the evolution of lethal intergroup violence ...").

It also says: "However, low population density also entails little or no competition for food resources and infrequent encounters between members of neighboring groups so that conflicts rarely occur and those that do are peacefully resolved". Isn't this closer to the Paleolithic situation than the Neolithic one ? So that, as mentioned, even lack of evidence of violence (or rather, evidence of non-violence, not the same thing remember ;) is possibly only actually evidence for lack of opportunities to commit it ?

The author goes on to say: "The potential for lethal intergroup violence is an ambient condition of existence in both cases, and we can conclude that this potentiality has been an integral contextual feature of human (hominid) evolution from the beginning of the Paleolithic period to the ethnographic present." (my emphasis). It's an interesting paper BTW but it's based either on chimpanzee/bonobo behaviour OR on extrapolating backwards from current "unsegmented" societies, both methods being indirect evidence which need cautious treatment (as far as I can tell he doesn't refer to actual Paleolithic remains once).
I don't think anybody's reading anymore, either. So I'd like to let go on some quibbles that have been bothering me forever about this kind of speculation.

1) Assuming that the current state of "less evolved" species of the same line as humans can reveal the human prehistoric past. All genetic analysis can do is give a very approximate date for the last common ancestor. It's silly to assume that the cousins haven't been evolving, too, just because they haven't evolved into us. Plus, mammal species as distant as rats have been shown to have culture, i.e. significant, clearly taught differences in behavior between colonies of rats of the same species. Like us, animals have history as well as heredity.

2) Chimpanzees/bonobo's as a slash. I could be well behind the literature, here, because I haven't been reading about it for a while, but has it been proven that these species are actually subspecies, or even much more closely related to each other than they are to us? They have extremely disparate social behavior and neither is very similar to ours. And they look a lot different.

3) Human nature as revealed by the fossilized bones. Let's look at what forensic anthropologists are working on with cases within living memory. Largely mass graves, because that is what their services are required for, to distinguish between individuals. But mass graves, whether of human or natural disaster making, contain much larger volumes of bones and personal effects than are generally the case, and are therefore more likely to be discovered. Especially more likely than the more dispersed and diverse and often more shallowly buried thus more destructible remains of those who died peacefully. Those who weren't buried, but mummified (accidentally outside of a few cultures) - were not buried. That's not a comment on their moral character, but people who have been ostracized may have been violent, or treated with violence for the same reason they were ostracized. What would future people who found remains from our mass graves and pauper's graves conclude about us? Well, yeah, that would be pretty accurate about us. But we don't necessarily have to project the present back to the past and assume that that's human nature.
Reading yes, learning things yes, something to add no.
1) Yep, agreed dreamlogic, that's one of the most basic fallacies anti-evolutionists trot out about our "grandparents" being apes etc. They're much more like cousins and looking how far we've come in the last 5-7 million years, there's no reason to suppose they haven't also OR that what they're like now bears much relation to what they were like then (behaviourally at least).

2) Also true, I "slashed" them (and a million fan-ficcers perk up. OK, maybe one or two though ;) purely in relation to the article but the author is, in fairness, only talking about a specific behaviour, intergroup violence/avoidance, which he at least claims has similarities between chimps, bonobos and humans (in other words, he's saying that evolution would "reward" similar behaviours in a similar way i.e. with improved fitness or not).

3) Again, agreed, which is why isolated cases should be treated with caution (as an interested layman, i'm sometimes amazed at the wide-ranging conclusions drawn from a single piece of skull). The relative rarity of remains does mean that the balance of probability suggests that those that are found represent an average type but not for sure by a long way (you sometimes see it in the news that there's some controversy over whether a new species has been found due to a difference in stature - I always think "What if they were just really short ?" ;).

And clearly the farther back in time we go, the less evidence (usually) so the shakier our conclusions which is why, to me, it's wise not to "multiply entities beyond necessity" (ever but certainly here). If remains have trauma consistent with violence we have a choice of possibilities from the more plausible (IMO) "they were caused by violence" to "it was done to release spirits" (also plausible but adds a religious "entity" for no reason and also wouldn't you then expect all remains, at least from the same geographical area, to have the same damage, rather than e.g. "only" 5% ?) to "God stuck his finger in their head and sucked their soul back to heaven" (adds God and souls) or "ancient astronauts did it" (adds Erich Von Daniken - aaargh, runaway, runaway ;).
Oh merciful Zeus.

I was wondering why this thread had gotten so long (I had read the first two posts when it was first started), but I had no idea of the eloquence I would find here! The article bothered me because I don't like to see Buffy used as an example of girls being violent, but people who are not familiar with popular culture love to site it to support their theories.

But with regards to the current conversation: I am particularly intrigued by Saje's ancient astronaut theory, so I must assume I would need to do some studying to catch up with all you guys.
Still reading and enjoying. Thanks!
Dreamlogic: Great points.

Saje, so that you and I aren't arguing this into the new year, I propose a compromise. You used "stone age" as a synonym for violence. I said there wasn't that much violence. Let's see if we can agree on these points: 1. SOME scientists think there wasn't that much violence in the earliest human history, while others think there was, and they disagree about the physical evidence. 2. Violence is just one of various instinctual behaviors in humans.

I concede that my links are not the best possible evidence, and I hope anyone interested in this subject would do real research, as opposed to a brief search of the Internet. Perhaps you will concede that your link is not sufficient to prove that the "stone age" should be synonymous with violence. The study involved 350 skulls from 4,000-3,200 BCE in southern England. "I don't think this makes this period particularly unpleasant or violent, but it makes it a bit more realistic perhaps," the archaeologist who did the study said in another article. He also noted that cracked skulls can occur during sports.

Back to specific points: When I mentioned "absence of evidence," I was referring to the lack of marks on skulls and the rest of the skeleton that might indicate violence from human hands (as opposed to being killed in an accident or by an animal, for example). An unmarked skull has an "absence of evidence" that it was bashed in. Or, to phrase it another way: There is no evidence that someone bashed in this skull. On the other hand, the person could have been smothered, a violent death that leaves no mark on the skull, for example.

I can't argue whether or not humans had violent thoughts/feelings, but simply lacked opportunities to express their violence on others. All I can discuss is whether there's evidence that "stone-age" people in different places and over millennia were so much more violent than current humans that we can equate "stone-age behavior" with violence.
For those interested in further research ... I asked a friend who teaches in the anthropology dept at our local university. She says: "You might look for literature by Laura Fedigan - a primatologist who has disputed gendered stereotypes of primates and early humans. The intro text I'm using now at least points out that violence was only sporadic until the last 10,000 years, since development of food production techniques. It cites 1991 Knauft, B.M. "Violence and sociality in human evolution." Current Anthropology 32, 391-409."
Think you may mean Linda Fedigan Suzie ? Yeah, good advice though, Google ain't cutting it (that said, just how cool is Google books ? Only very, that's all ;), my interest is piqued enough that I might take a longer look at the subject.

Schulting (or "Neolithic Skull Guy" as he might not mind being known ;) also says here
"We generally think of Neolithic people as living peaceful lives - they were busy looking after cereal crops and rearing livestock," Mr Wysocki told the BBC News website.

"But it was a much more violent society."

(i'm pretty sure he means "more violent" than they had thought BTW, not more violent than now so i'm not particularly claiming it supports my case). He notes too that it could be a result of domestic violence.

(ETA: Except it wasn't Schulting that said that, it was one of the other authors. D'oh ! ;)


Let's see if we can agree on these points:

Yep 1 and 2, no issue ;). My thinking is we didn't suddenly all become much more violent between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, just that we had more chances to exercise our instincts (granted, caused by a change in living arrangements). I accept that's hard to prove (though as i've said, a comprehensive survey of paleolithic remains that found no or little evidence of violence would be progress towards disproving it). I wonder if there's something about living in groups above the "magic" 150 (ish) people limit ?

Bias on the table: generally i'm distrustful of "people in the past loved the Earth and lived peaceful lives" style thinking, because a few times we've assumed this "noble savage" idea, only to have it disproven or at least called into serious question.

Perhaps you will concede that your link is not sufficient to prove that the "stone age" should be synonymous with violence.

Yep, agreed, one link isn't enough to prove that. It's also true that it's only 350 skulls but then, are the paleolithic samples for the counter argument any bigger ?

When I mentioned "absence of evidence," ...

Ah, OK, got you (no offence though but I don't think that was very clear from what you posted ;).

I can't argue whether or not humans had violent thoughts/feelings, but simply lacked opportunities to express their violence on others.

Yep, fair point, just as we can't argue whether they had belief systems requiring the release of spirits from heads (I guess no-one's gonna shoot us for speculating a bit wildly though ;).

Few more links:

"Evidence for interpersonal violence in the St. Césaire Neanderthal".

"Constant battles: the myth of the peaceful, noble savage"

"Combat & Unexplained Musculofacial Pain" (more pertinent than the title may suggest ;).

"Troubled Times: Violence And Warfare In The Past".

"The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory".

"Is Primatology a Feminist Science ?" (by Linda M Fedigan).

I don't offer these because they support my case BTW (in fact most of them don't, quick skims of a few suggest the balance of evidence at the moment is for a comparative lack of violence in the old stone-age) just in case people find them interesting. In retrospect, where I say "stone age" in my second post, please do me the kindness of reading it as "new stone-age" or "late stone-age" ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2007-12-20 16:12 ]

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