The concept of human violence has interested many scholars in the recent past as they try to understand the interplay of factors – biological or environmental – that qualifies man as a violent species. In early 1990’s, a researcher undertook to study the patterns of violence and sociality exhibited by primitive human societies.
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These patterns were then compared and contrasted with already documented work of the great-ape species and other multifaceted pre-state human societies. The variables used by the researcher to access the level of violence in this sample included food and resource sharing, male competition for sexual favours from females, inter-group competition, and sociality characteristics.
The study found out that simple human societies differ with both great-ape and pre-state human societies in displaying a comparative “absence of competitive male dominance hierarchies and of systematic violence between closed social groups, while being more egalitarian among adult males politically, sexually and in terms of resource sharing” (Knauft, 1991 p. 391).
This particular study also revealed that the cultural norms of sociality in simple human societies are actually strong and fundamentally prone to any lethal contravention within the grouping. Indeed, the violence that was noted to occur within these human societies was triggered by differentiated cases of territorial and property rights, ritual status and male leadership concerns (Knauft, 1991, p. 391).
An important point to note is that the male leadership wrangles were triggered more by consensually accepted status levelling than the male status elevation.
These societies were found to share food and other resources in a more structured manner. Indeed, food and resource sharing in these simple societies is viewed as a manifestation of cooperation and a fundamental symbol of the human nature. An ethic of communalism and equivalent access to resources were highly developed in these societies.
In the dominance structure, the study revealed that simple human societies do not strive to be assertive, belligerent, or powerful to their counterparts. Indeed, it was revealed that such characteristics and behaviour are abhorred, disparaged and considered extremely improper within these simple human societies.
Although this particular study has many other important insights and findings that cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs, it draws fundamental parallels and similarities with the works of Charles Darwin. The renowned scholar is known for the term ‘survival for the fittest’ though this term originated from Herbert Spencer (“Charles Darwin,” n.d. para. 3).
According to Darwin, species are continually engaged in an aggressive struggle for existence. Darwin presupposes that species are in constant and spirited competition for food to support and maintain their own growth and that of their offspring, a situation called natural selection (Stanford, Allen, & Anton, 2008 p. 130).
This presupposition goes against the findings of the study discussed above. In the study, simple human societies were found to cooperate and share food and other resources in a communal way (Knauft, 1991 p. 395). Indeed, egalitarianism rather than competition in the human species is the buzzword according to the study findings. Using Knauft’s research as a basis for decision making, it can therefore be said that Darwin’s assertions on natural selection cannot be generalized to simple human societies.
However, the study revealed that simple human societies pass various survival techniques to their offspring especially in resource sharing and general way of life. This particular finding give strength to Darwin’s assertion that any form of species must continually adapt and have the capacity to pass the adapted features to its offspring if it is to survive in the ever changing environments (Stanford, Allen, & Anton, 2008 p. 135).
The Knauft study borrows heavily from Darwin’s theory of evolution by the mere admittance that simple human societies evolved from the great-ape and pre-state human species (Knauft, 1991, p. 397). According to Darwin’s theory, life exists in its present state and form mainly as a result of many years of evolution rather than a casual series of incomprehensible miracles
Knauft, B.M. (1991). “Violence and sociality in human evolution.” Current Anthropology, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 391-. Web.
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Stanford, C., Allen, J.S., & Anton, S.C. (2008). Exploring Biological anthropology: The Essentials. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 9780132288576