Hunting? Call it competition

  Dear HCN,

As an anthropologist with an active interest in primatology, I find Stephen Gies' letter of response (HCN, 10/26/98) to Ken Wright's review of David Petersen's hunting book Elkheart interesting (HCN, 9/28/98). Gies suspects that Petersen's psychological need to hunt is based on "primordial revitalized manhood." This is a pretty good intuitive generalization. A more precise view of what Gies is searching for is revealed in evolutionary psychology - which would regard Petersen's book as a textbook example of displaced primate male-to-male aggression for females.

We know from recent research of extant and extinct great apes by scientists J. Goodall, R. Wrangham and R. Russel that both chimpanzees and humans share a common origin for violent behavior. This began about 15 million years ago, when the females of our ancestors developed increasingly frequent cycles of estrus (time of sexual receptivity), resulting in a proliferation of intersocietal male-to-male competition for the rights of fertilization. All the great apes evolved different systems of dealing with these seemingly unacceptable chaotic pressures, and the chimpanzees (including humans) developed two methods to displace the violence outside the societal group.

First is the process of warfare, in which young, testosterone-laden males go out and slaughter males from other groups. During periods of peacetime, processes of ritualized war become all the rage. We know some of these activities as competition sports exemplified by soccer, hockey and football. The second method revealed by primate behavior studies for dealing with male-to-male aggression is hunting. Hunters make all kinds of excuses for killing animals, such as for food and animal control. Science can demonstrate that they are, in fact, subconsciously killing other male humans because of competition for females.

So why do Petersen and his ilk kill when most other males can simply watch football, and why is he compelled to publicly present it? Either he is uncomfortable with his social position, which would restrict his access to desired hierarchical females, or this is a question his close female companions can answer.

Marc Gaede

Pasadena, California

Marc Gaede is a photographer and adjunct professor of physical anthropology at the Art Center College of Design.

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