Posts Tagged ‘Richard Wrangham’

Reactive and Proactive Aggression

May 11, 2019

A distinction between these two types of aggression is made in a book by Richard Wrangham titled “The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution.” This is a recent, 2019, publication. For most of his career Wrangham has been intrigued by the relation between virtue and violence. Wrangham worked with Jane Goodall when she discovered war breaking out between two groups of chimpanzees in which they were killing, trying to destroy each other.

Wrangham defines reactive aggression as aggression that is fairly spontaneous in which something happens and the victim of the aggression quickly responds. In contrast, proactive violence is violence that is planned in advance for retribution or for some type of gain. Many other species are characterized by reactive violence. Something happens to one individual and that individual quickly responds with some sort of reciprocal violence.

Wrangham argues that the emergence of civilization was critically dependent upon a reduction in reactive violence. Although Wrangham does not seem to mention the difference between physical and nonphysical reactive violence, human language does provide the means of nonphysical violence and, fortunately, daily human violence tends to be of the verbal type.

Proactive violence is a matter of planning a violent response. So revenge killings, battles, and pogroms and wars are examples of proactive violence. Some non-human species engage in proactive violence, but lack the technology that humans have. While it is a reduction and changes in types of reactive violence by the human species that assisted in their success, it is proactive violence that brings out the worst in humans and presents a potential existential risk.

The holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis is an example of one of the worst types of proactive violence. The detailed planning entailed in this holocaust required the sophisticated planning only we humans can perform. A nuclear holocaust could potentially eliminate our species. Such a holocaust requires a high degree of scientific and engineering abilities as well as a lack of emotional control that allows true reasoning being overcome to achieve a pyrrhic victory.