View Full Version : Primate Aggression

Federico Calboli
12th April 2001, 23:24
Dear all,

let me apologize in advance for what i am going to write for it is completely off topic but I just read something that pulled a trigger ...

Mr Amdur wrote:

The same thing applies to the concept of naturalness. On one level, everything is natural, being of nature. (Of course, this tautology doesn't get us anywhere). We sometimes refer to efficient or fluid movement as natural. But a punch, by definition, is not an act "natural" to humans. The bones of the fist are not made to strike. {I recently saw a great video of a chimpanzee attacking a naturalist - ripped off an ear and a finger in the process - and the natural attack was flailing downward palm strikes, a jump on the guy's head and a lot of biting.}

Sorry to say that but apes/monkeys are not the best way to judge human aggressive behaviour, at least in its "technical" manifestation. The reason is that apes/monkeys rely heavily on biting in what is called affective aggression: an act meant to impose one's own dominance among members of the same species.

Human have a very complex facial anatomy geared toward speaking ability; one of the cost associated to that ability is a great reduction in the canine teeth. Have you ever noticed how big the canines of apes and monkeys ? Monkeys rely mostly on biting when they fight while apes use overhead strikes as well as biting, for their anatomy (they are anatomically built for a locomotion called brachiation, if my english is correct, that gives the arms greater mobility) starts to favour this "approach". Incidentally, chimps use a "smile" as a threat, for they show their teeth, and extend their lips to cover them when amicable. They also extend their arms and hands as a sign of pacification, for they put the hand at risk of being bitten.

Also the fine motory skills of the ands of apes are poor compared to humans, and our hands are free from locomotion all the time. To put it anatomically, our arms and mouths are innervated differently from chimps and this has an effect on our "spontaneous" use of them as a weapon.

Want spontaneous human aggressive "technique" ? Watch two babies fight: they push the other to the ground and use overhead strikes. Biting is a minor part of the thing if not completely absent.

A second thing that got on my nerves is the fact that the video is "great". Cannot see anything fun in a poor fellow being attaked and mutilated by a chimp, especially considering these animals are immensely strong and fast compared to ANY human being no matter training in ANY martial art.

My undercultivated sense of humor is probably missing the fun bit.

Anyway, I am among the number of the ones that read Mr Amdur's book and I think it is a really excellent work.


Federico Calboli

Ellis Amdur
13th April 2001, 00:22
Mr. Calboli -

Not off topic at all! You are obviously far more versed than I in the biology of primate aggression, and I'm grateful for the information. A few points, nonetheless.

The flailing strikes of human and primate are, I believe, quite similar. Because of our lack of agility, particularly the young, we then push and tumble rather than "roll" as chimps do.

Your point on biting is well-taken, but I think this is also due to socialization. Every nursing mother has had the experience of the baby biting her nipple. This usually engenders a rather dramatic response (I could tell a story about two teenaged girls probably scared off motherhood for life while dewy-eyed viewing my wife nurse my older kid, and suddenly get chomped - they were as scared of her reaction as the bite. She went thru the roof.). I recall Erik Erickson writing about Sioux mothers responding with, I believe, a hard rap on the head, and how the kids seemed, in his view, to have "sublimated" oral aggression - lots of teeth grinding etc. I may not be accurate here, as I must have read this 30 years ago. Erikson's thesis was that the mother's response to the baby's oral aggression, which seemed to be somewhat culturally determined, was a significant influence on the children/culture's psychological development.

Anyway, I've actually seen a fair amount of biting by young children ( worked in a day care at one point), which parents and teachers quickly stop, thereby extinquishing the behavior into more socially acceptable and less wounding ways of fighting. I've also seen abused and/or neglected children and children whose parents are delighted by their aggression, all retaining the instinctive(?) willingness to bite. (I'd also parenthetically say that my younger son, at age four, bit himself free from a kidnapper and escaped - literally as you describe by grabbing his hand and biting the web of his thumb, so I thank the Gods and DNA both for the retention of the reflex).

You are right to scold me re my amusement re the video. I was bad. I was playing with the word natural and there was a naturalist getting treated in a natural fashion. In my defense, I neglected to mention was that this man, ostensibly bright, sort of won a Darwin award. He is responsible for maintaining some sort of Chimpanzee reserve on an island, bringing food over. These chimps are, I believe, lab chimps that were set free after years of all the ugliness that happens to lab chimps, and they are known to be very aggressive. He and an assistant brought the food over, the chimps were obviously agitated and threatening, but began to drift off. This fellow, instead of letting them alone, began showing off, I believe, getting low to the ground and started making gutteral chimp noises to call them back. It was as if he was saying, "I know these people. I know how to talk their lingo!" One chimp took umbrage (Lord knows what the guy really said) and leaped on his head and whaled on him.

In so far as human arrogance was taken down a peg (Jane Goodall would have been far more respectful, I believe!), it was, honestly amusing. And in so far as being able to watch pure primate aggression, it was fascinating. But in so far as the man was hurt, that, actually was rather frightening, as is all power in the raw.

With respect

Ellis Amdur

Federico Calboli
14th April 2001, 22:54
Dear Mr Amdur,

excellent point about children biting but let me add a last thing:

I am pretty convinced that the biting attitude of small children has something to do with the fact that the mouth at an early age plays a major role in a child's life. Think about how they feed and how they explore new thing by putting them into their mouths. using the mouth as a weapon could be a natural consequence. The fact that adults tend not to bite is surely due to social education but the fact that hands are the primary "tools"of an adult can very well be playing a role, for the the neurological pathway hand-brain get more and more important as we age.

Since children lack any real offensive potential using their hands and feet (especially against an adult), biting likely goes through a positive feedback process that makes it less and less "spontaneous" and more of a voluntary self learned offensive technique.

Here I feel we are hugely off topic, considering that the thread is called "Congratulations!" (that your writing justly deserves), and anyway that is getting more and more remote from my QTL stuff.


Federico Calboli

15th April 2001, 11:04
Originally posted by Ellis Amdur

You are right to scold me re my amusement re the video. I was bad. I was playing with the word natural and there was a naturalist getting treated in a natural fashion. In so far as human arrogance was taken down a peg (Jane Goodall would have been far more respectful, I believe!), it was, honestly amusing. And in so far as being able to watch pure primate aggression, it was fascinating.
Ellis Amdur

YAMANTAKA : O Evil One! Let me confess something that I've kept hidden all those years...I do not like bull-fighting for quite a few reasons. Some time ago, I saw a bull-fight in Spain where the bull turned the tables on the "torero". The man was showing-off, at the end of the fight, moving like a pheasant or a peacock, with his head uplifted. A big macho man proud of his almost complete victory over a beast (bloodied before the fight, in order to weaken it and with eyes sprayed with pepper, in order to become half-blind).
Suddenly, the bull charged, caught the "torero" unaware and throwed him in the air, with a deadly strike that severed his femural artery.
No matter the man died, I shamefully admit that I cheered for the Bull!
Yamantaka (also going to Aiki-Hell...) :up: