Social Psych | Cultural Aggression | Prehistoric Aggression | Contemporary Aggression | Biology of Aggression
Aggression in Animals | Aggression Treatment | Aggression Sources
"89%?! GRAAAAAAAH!!!" Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
"89%?! GRAAAAAAAH!!!" Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How you may experience aggression:

You've just received the Chemistry test you took last week. You know which one: the one you stayed up past midnight cramming in as much information as you could, leafing through the dogeared pages of your textbook and notes. You thought you did a rather good job, but here comes Mr. Fink putting before you evidence to the contrary.

Or maybe you're in lacrosse, playing defense. It's the last quarter in the game with thirty seconds left, and the opposing team has the ball. As they charge haphazardly towards your goal you steel yourself for the oncoming attack. Being a defensive player, you know that a good defense can be a good offense, so you set your sights on the player with the ball and make for him as quickly as you can.

Whatever the case may have been, your emotional responses and reactions to these situations were fueled by aggression.

What exactly is aggression? - What must first be clarified is that aggressive does not have to mean assertive, persistent, or forceful. As Myers puts it in his Psychology textbook, “aggression is any physical or verbal behavior intended to hurt or destroy, whether done reactively out of hostility or proactively as a calculated means to an end.” Ludwig von Mises elaborates in his book, Human Action, how in prehistoric times, aggression was a necessity for our ancestors, the neanderthals, to survive in a hostile environment that hosted predatory beasts, harsh weather conditions, and a general disarray and fierce savagery that threatened his existence. It was a world in which a man’s knowledge of his environment was as dark as the caves he slept in. As man evolved and civilization advanced, so too did his behavior develop from that of a brutish carnivore to more of a curious and insightful person of reason. Yet that did not dissipate his aggressive tendencies.
Courtesy of 'The Round Peg' @ flickr.com
Courtesy of 'The Round Peg' @ flickr.com

For centuries upon centuries man has murdered his neighbor, betrayed his brother, refuted his father, disowned his children, spread vicious venom through tongue and vial, and drawn social lines to segregate and scorn fellow humans, i.e. in a caste or feudal system, religious differences, racial barriers, and ideological clashes. Aggression is as much a part of mankind as breathing, sleeping or eating. From the murky annals of prehistory to the dawn of ancient civilization to the bright technological surge of the modern era, mankind as a whole has proven time and time again that while it has the capacity for empathy and goodwill, it is equally, if not more so, capable of enmity and destruction.

However, sometimes humanity manages to cross the threshold between aggression and sheer barbarity. It is then the line separating man and beast begins to blur, when we see the horrifying atrocities that humanity is capable of committing. Thus, we pose the question: “What truly separates us from animals? Are we more similar to these creatures than we first thought?” Indeed there are several animal traits with which humans have several similarities. Yet human behavior, in this case aggression, is not solely because of our wicked nature, nor even a result of our correlations to animals. As many other classically puzzling psychological and philosophical conundrums have been explained with modern science, the biology behind aggression sheds some light as to why we are compelled to react violently or harshly to certain stimulants and situations. Whatever it may be, however, we may regret acknowledging it, aggression, violence, hatred, and rage are all a part of what make us human.