Don’t Say “Boo” to a Goose

On Aggression

by Konrad Lorenz
Harcourt, Brace & World, 306 pp., $5.75

The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origin of Property and Nations

by Robert Ardrey
Atheneum, 390 pp., $6.95

As a mine of scientific-sounding misinformation Mr. Robert Ardrey would be hard to beat, but his application of the techniques of TV drama writing to the more musty corners of academic orthodoxy certainly livens things up. Looking up a well-known and easily accessible reference acquires the excitement of a James Bond spy story: “I at last found a copy in the guarded library of today’s Royal Anthropological Institute in Bedford Square.” Everything is black and white. Conventional professional scientists with whom Ardrey disagrees become criminal conspirators worthy only of the crudest ridicule; for his friends, the ethologists, no praise can be too high: “When Konrad Lorenz’s book appears in Britain and America” it will “take its place among the landmarks of our thought.” It has now appeared and it is no landmark, but it is modest and wise, while Ardrey’s version is only noisy and foolish. The two books have a common central theme—the function of innate aggression in man and other animals. Ardrey concentrates on what ethologists call “territoriality,” that is the drive to defend property aggressively, and he operates with very crude nineteenth-century ideas about how the evolutionary process works—“the survival of the fittest”—“Nature red in tooth and claw” and all that. Lorenz, on the other hand, is concerned to show that animal aggression is only a “so-called evil” and that its adaptive consequences are advantageous or at least neutral. Fighting between members of the same species helps to secure an even distribution of the species over its inhabitable area, and “aggression” has been responsible for all the more gorgeously dramatic, but inefficient, products of evolution, such as the Bird of Paradise and the Argus Pheasant. On which point Heinroth has remarked: “Next to the wings of the Argus Pheasant, the hectic life of western civilized man is the most stupid product of intraspecific selection”! For Lorenz, an even more striking virtue of aggression lies in its negation and control. Nature has had to ensure that aggressive animals shall not exterminate themselves by mutual slaughter. Thus behavior which signifies aggressive hostility towards enemies comes to be modified into a “ritualized” form which signals love and amity between friends. If we take fish and birds as our models, then the basic morality which allows a man to love his wife and respect his neighbor’s property has the same instinctive source as the basic immorality which leads to war and destruction.

BUT CAN WE TAKE fish and birds as our models? In observing how animals behave we can only record what they do and the circumstances in which they do it; we know nothing about their feelings and motives. But when we discuss human behavior our objectivity is fogged by subjective private experience. It may be perfectly sensible to describe the action of a baboon in baring its teeth towards an opponent as “an aggressive gesture.” For the Chinese Government to authorize the test firing of a nuclear rocket may also be properly described as “an aggressive gesture.” But…

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