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Know the West

Murder, hunting and macho men

  Dear HCN,

I should like to respond to Paul Quinnett's letter (HCN, 1/18/99) in which he says he is unaware of any science that can demonstrate hunters are "subconsciously killing other male humans because of competition for females."

There are numerous scientific publications dealing with the issue of hunting and personal aggression, but one will suffice. Primate scientist Robert Jay Russell's classic book, The Lemurs' Legacy, The Evolution of Power, Sex, and Love, (Tarcher/Putman 1993), defines our social beginnings through early primate research (c. 45 million years ago). The scientific process of cladistics enables Russell to document that warfare and hunting evolved as a mechanism to displace inter-societal male-to-male violence for estrus females. Russell ends his discourse with the statement, "Hunting (by humans) almost certainly evolved in the first place to redirect male aggression and to socially bond overly competitive males, not to provide a steady supply of food."

As for Aimee Rathburn's letter in which she describes herself as "an avid hunter," it is worth mentioning that hunting (and warfare) are the realm of the male. Anthropologists study primitive societies partially to reveal human behavioral patterns uncluttered by the complexities of modern societies. In all cases of hunter-gatherer societies, from the Amazon to New Guinea to Africa, the division of labor in regard to hunting is as definitive as a human behavior gets - hunting is performed by the males.

In First World societies, it is not uncommon to find females accompanying their male companions hunting. That, I submit, is not an innate behavior; she just wants to be with him.

Another type of female hunting is when a sonless hunting father coerces his adolescent daughter into participating in the activity. That is like putting the proverbial square peg in a round hole - it doesn't work in the long term. For a female to hunt for the joy of killing, like a male, would suggest a significant abnormality to the behavioral constant.

Much of our behavior is inherited in our primate genes and that behavior is there to help us survive, based on the previous trials of evolution. We know in evolutionary psychology that many of the decisions people think they make are not really personal decisions. The decisions were made before they were born - they were genetically predetermined to fit behavioral patterns founded on millions of years of evolution. They think they are thinking, but in many aspects they are not, it's instinct.

Modern science is beginning to explain the bases of human aggression, and it is exposing that violence against humans by humans is intertwined with violence against animals by humans. The current series of chimpanzee studies now going on in Zaire is addressing the topic. I predict new discoveries will soon be made that will change the way society views hunting, and it will not be a favorable one.

Marc Gaede

Pasadena, California

Marc Gaede has been teaching paleoanthropology for the last 10 years at the Art Center College of Design.