The roots of human violence dive into the evolutionary tree


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Une « scène de crime » à Chicago, en avril 2016.

Two and a half centuries that these two clash. That, interposed disciples, their theories on the origin of human violence tearing philosophers and scientists. Hobbes against Rousseau, the “wolf to man” against “the noble savage” the inherently aggressive toward his human-like against the individual steeped in innocence, pushed hurt by a corrupting society. In a study published Wednesday, September 28 by the journal Nature, a Spanish team settles the debate: human lethal violence is rooted in the theory of evolution. In other words, if man “descended from monkeys”, it is the same of his tendencies loopholes.

To lead this finding without appeal, José Maria Gomez, an ecologist at the experimental station of arid Almeria, and colleagues from three other Universities Spanish, have delivered an incredible work data accumulation. For two years, they have stripped fifty years of literature: 3500 scientific articles analyzing the violence between members of the same species in mammals and 1000 articles on the causes of death among humans. For the latter, they extended their sources to testing bio-archaeological or palaeontological, ethnographic records, the autopsy balance sheets or the records concerning the causes of death (in from XVII e century). And they did turn computers.

From infanticide in primates

Of the 1024 species of mammals studied, 40% cheerfully gut theirs. “This was our biggest surprise, admits José Maria Gomez. The lethal violence is not concentrated in groups considered a priori violent, such carnivores. It also rife significantly among rhinos, marmots, horses … “ Spanish scientists deliver an average figure: the intraspecific aggression constitutes 0.3% of causes of death in all mammals. It is not “not common but widespread,” they conclude.

But it’s family by family that the review finds its wealth. “I had never seen such detailed work on violence among mammals” enthuses Michel Raymond, director of research at CNRS and head of the team of biology of Human Evolutionary University Montpellier . The study shows that the position in the phylogenetic tree species strongly explains the trend kill congeners. Fauves, ursidés, rodents few families excel. With a special mention for primates – our cousins ​​and our ancestors, it must be remember – where the weight of lethal violence reached 2%. The reason ? For me, it is the extensive use infanticide in primates. “

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The tree species evolution does not explain everything. Where chimpanzees kill wantonly, bonobos, their closest relatives, have much more peaceful manners. Perhaps we there see the preponderance of females among them. The researchers, more generally, tried to isolate other causes. Result: a species is more social and regionalised, more lethal violence is expressed. Rousseau’s followers will find a small consolation.

For the rest, review of 600 human populations through time and space blithely destroyed the myth of our original innocence. Archaeological surveys confirm that indeed pity for his brother choked or Sapiens nor Neanderthal: “In ancient times, the recorded results are consistent with the level of violence expected given man’s position in the phylogenetic tree, “ explains José Maria Gomez. “The man did not wait for the accumulation of wealth to the Neolithic be violate underlines the archaeologist Jean Guilaine, honorary professor at the College of France and author of war Trail (Seuil, 2001). It was shown that hunter-gatherers competed too. “

“robust data”

It is true that the situation is still spoils afterwards. The Age of Iron Europe and Asia (from – 1100) and the period known as “formative” in the New World (approximately – 1000) experiencing significant thrust lethal violence, well above forecasts scalable should the place at the same level as that of the great apes. And in believe data presented by the article, it will last until the late Middle Ages. What feed the theory of American psychologist Steven Pinker: In 2011, in a book which made event in the US, he had brilliantly highlighted the decline in violence since the modern period


Some are sure put into question the reliability of the old data. Can draw a statistical rule of a series of Neolithic tombs or medieval cemetery? Certainly not. But hundreds of cemeteries, distributed in multiple parts of the continent, sometimes accompanied by written or registers: the case appears far more serious . “That part is obviously the most fragile, it will be controversial, should Mike Wilson. But they have still demonstrated great care in selecting robust data. “

The study of Nature goes further. It classifies the human data by type of companies in which they bear witness. It seems this time that tribal or clan organizations displayed a significantly higher level of violence than Company s state. This time it is no longer a fight between two dead philosophers, but the war between two rival families of anthropologists that the article should awaken . For example, the work of the American Napoleon Chagnon on the extreme violence of the Amazonian Yanomami are still very controversial. The publication of Nature will not go unnoticed in this environment.

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For primatologist Elise Huchard, these results are a reminder that “whatever the approach to understand and explain intensity and patterns of our violence it does not need forget that man is a mammal, for this simple biological fact helps to explain our behavior social . A mammal neither more nor less violent than others. Simply particularly flexible in its aggression, especially since different in its social organization.

And more peaceful than ever, emphasizes that the anthropologist Mike Wilson. “At a time when Donald Trump insists that society is violent, it is public safety recall we live better in a US city, protected by Police that in the old Wild West. “ He hesitates a moment. And adds that in the case of young black men recently killed in the US by police in suspicious circumstances, “it must power to discuss …”



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