The myth of humanity as naturally violent

Howard Zinn debunks the myth that it is human nature to be aggressive, kill and initiate wars.

This short answer wouldn’t be even half as powerful if Zinn himself hadn’t been a participant in WWII and had come to the hard conclusion on his own that even the putative ‘good war’ was less than good and his part in it, was less than heroic.

10 Responses to “The myth of humanity as naturally violent”

  1. 1 Toe 27 June, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Great find, thanks for that. Even ‘training’ couldn’t remove the natural humanity in Lt. Watada.

  2. 2 Canadian Tar Heel 27 June, 2007 at 7:12 pm


    I’d like to express a couple notes of caution. First, I wouldn’t call this video as “debunking” anything. It simply expresses an opinion. Second, regardless of the merits of Zinn’s words in this video, Zinn’s historical works leave much to be desired.

    Aside from my obvious skepticism towards Zinn, I still appreciate you sharing this.

  3. 3 paulitics 27 June, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Tar Heel – I would have to agree with you that Zinn himself does not ‘debunk’ anything. However, in this video Zinn does quote from and point to sources which DO ‘debunk’ this fallacy in my opinion.

    The sources Zinn cites are not the only ones, however they do suffice. If some group of people generally are aggressive based on their environment (ie. living in a forest) and another are generally non-aggressive based on their environment (ie. living in a mountain) then, by definition, aggressiveness is not an innate part of human nature.

    Both Marx and Rousseau posited much the same hypothesis, however Marx, in my extremely biassed opinion, did a much more thorough job of sustaining this notion.

  4. 4 Jacob 30 June, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    If you want to reduce violence, then you must reduce poverty, tensions, stress and killing devices.

    Do what the Norweigians do… tax the extremely rich at 50%, give the revenue to the poor, reducing poverty rates as much as possible. Give everyone basic guaranteed rights re: income, shelter, food, health care, education.

    Ban guns and weapons to the farthest possible extent… ESPECIALLY handguns.

    Do this all while allowing as many personal freedoms and as much behavioural liberty as possible.

  5. 5 Jacob 30 June, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    What’s interesting, is that Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul BOTH have a pacifist foreign policy. Every single politician in North America should seriously look at their transparent & benevolent policies re : war & the military.

  6. 6 John Galt 27 September, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Aggression is synonymous with competition, and nature is inherently competitive. A blade of grass competes for sunlight with every other blade of grass, and the pattern is the same with every living thing. Aggression takes many forms, and it will always be a part of the natural world. Pacifism is an abstract which cannot survive the real environment. Rather than focus on an impossibility, man should try to understand the forms aggression takes, and govern himself accordingly. For starters, I recommend reading John Keegan on War.

  7. 7 paulitics 28 September, 2007 at 9:23 am

    John – If we take your initial premise that “Aggression is synonymous with competition”, then one has no choice but to agree with the remainder of your Nietzschean ‘will-to-power’ formulation.

    The only problem is that aggression is not synonymous with violence and is also not synonymous with competition. (As an aside, I just realized that I did use the word ‘aggression’ in the first sentence when I should have used the word violence.)

    There is a lot of work being done in evolutionary biology discussing the omnipresence in virtually every single species of animals (and in absolutely every one of the great apes) of a so-called “Violence Inhibitor Mechanism” (sometimes shortened down to VIM). Thus, there does appear to be some sort of innate psychological mechanism in humans as well as other animals which makes mortal violence profoundly UNnatural — contrary to your assertions.

    Thus Zinn’s account describes the psychological conditioning necessary to silence the Violence Inhibitor Mechanism in soldiers; and his account is perfectly compatible with the academic research in evolutionary biology discussed above.

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