January 14, 2011
Useful forms of aggression
But do you realize this form of "show aggression", exemplified both by hurling epithets at other teams and actual play on the field -- is a very helpful thing for men to do?
Sports provide a harmless outlet for the aggression that evolution built into us. That aggression is still with us, still a part of our lives though there is little call for it in modern life.
Without a receptacle for their aggression, many men spend their lives getting in trouble. This instinct rides around inside us (and by us, I mean men) although there are no longer any mastodons to bring down, or giant, predatory birds to chase. There is nothing constructive for aggression to do in modern life. And so it bursts out in emotional moments, bringing bloodshed, mayhem and sorrow to the world. This is mankind's greatest problem and it has dogged us for millennia.
Sports provide a way to channel this aggression into non-violent games or challenges. They are a proxy for our aggressive instincts, a remedy, a way out of a hole that even now pulls young people into gangs, men of all ages into jealousy and rage, jilted male suitors into murder, and politicians into endless wars.
These thoughts are flooding my mind lately because I reread "On Aggression" by Konrad Lorenz last month. Although written in the 1970s, it is an illuminating book with an urgent message for our times. Lorenz takes us on a tour of aggression in the "lower species", particularly fish, and does so in lovely prose reminiscent of Dawkins. He presents a panoramic view of how non-human creatures handle aggression, especially in situations where the aggressor (almost always a male) should not attack. So what do these animals do instead?
They engage in formal aggression meant only for show. This serves to release the aggression without endangering either "combatant". This is what modern men must learn to do. If we truly understood this principle and took steps to re-channel our aggression into acceptable venues, we might no longer find ourselves engaged in perpetual wars.
Politicians, above all, should be forced to read "On Aggression". And we should quiz them afterward on the subject matter -- and if they fail the test they should be removed from office. This is a principle that must be learned.
In the meantime, maybe they could watch some sports -- and think about the lessons they are seeing play out before their eyes. We don't always have to kill. There are other options.