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Morality and Violence in Animals and Humans
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After the horrific tragedy in Newtown Connecticut, ecologist and animal advocate Marc Bekoff penned an essay in which he argued that “cruelty, violence and warlike behaviors in other animals are extremely rare” (Humanlike Violence is Not Seen in Other Animals). As evidence, Bekoff relies heavily on an essay by John Horgan critiquing the idea that “both male humans and chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, are ‘natural warriors’ with an innate predisposition toward ‘coalitionary killing’ (the so-called demonic male theory).” Both Horgan and Bekoff cite Jane Goodall‘s work in Gombe with chimpanzees, arguing that in intraspecific killing in Gombe chimps is rare. Bekoff concludes, “[t]he evidence for demonic-males theory, far from extraordinary, is flimsy.” However, not everyone agrees with this view, including Jane Goodall. In a recent essay published in the Wall Street Journal, Goodall and colleagues directly challenge Bekoff’s claim, asserting “the idea that human aggression is qualitatively different from that of every other species is wrong.” As evidence for their view, they cite a recent (2006) paper that summarized violence in five chimpanzee populations in Africa:

The average “conservatively estimated risk of violent death” was 271 per 100,000 individuals per year. If that seems like a low rate, consider that a chimpanzee’s social circle is limited to about 50 friends and close acquaintances. This means that chimpanzees can expect a member of their circle to be murdered once every seven years. Such a rate of violence would be intolerable in human society.

Read more at The Wildlife News.

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