An article by our junior writer, Nicholas Teo, serves as food for thought as we reflect on the very basics of human nature, specifically on the topic of human aggression.
The question of whether the gains would outweigh the losses if aggression ceased to be a central feature of the human behavior has been hotly debated in the annals of time. However, on discussing this question, it is paramount to ask ourselves: What do we want to achieve through the cessation of aggression? Is it world peace? Is it to secure a better future? Or is it just for our own personal selfish gains? Through that, we can deduce whether an end to violence and conflict would lead to a more cohesive society through the absence of aggression.
Throughout history, we have learned that violence has always been a prevalent solution to our problems. For instance, the Pacific War. A main factor for the war was the Marco Polo Bridge incident. The Bridge is situated near Beijing. Various studies after the war have shown that the incident, indeed, was not planned, but was in fact an accident.
On 7th July 1937, some Japanese soldiers accidentally ran into conflict with Chinese troops while the two groups were carrying out a joint search for a missing Japanese. The Japanese were denied entry to a suburb area in Beijing. Fighting broke out, and the Japanese accused the Chinese of opening fire on them. The top military leaders in Japan did not want this incident to escalate into a crisis and lead to a war, hence it ordered the local commanders in China to seek out a peaceful resolution. However, the Japanese field commanders prevented the carrying out of the instructions.
Through this case study, we can analyze that the pride and arrogance of the Japanese field commanders had directly influenced their actions in which they disobeyed the direct orders of their superiors, in order to seek “justice” for their fellow countrymen. Their arrogance caused them to abuse the authority laid upon them and lead the two nations in an open conflict. Hence, we can conclude that with the absence of aggression as a primal instinct, the Japanese field commanders could have taken a more leveled approach towards the incident and cooperated with their counterparts to clear the hair splitting misunderstandings and prevent further escalation of the incident. This would definitely ensure that the two nations’ ties would remain close and hence prevent the escalation of violence during the Pacific War.
Another prominent issue is Hitler’s Foreign Policy in the 1930s, which directly contributed to the outbreak of World War Two. In the 1920s to 1930s, Hitler openly declared his hatred of the treaty of Versailles and his desire for revenge. He aimed to bring Germany back to her zenith through rearmament and massive building up of the army and navy. Lastly, he wanted to establish a Greater Germany by “uniting” all the German speaking people in Europe. He intended to achieve this through regaining territories lost at the treaty of Versailles, (This included Saar, the Polish Corridor, and the union with Austria.) and by capturing other countries to achieve Lebensraum. With Hitler’s idealistic and ambitious plan, he proceeded to carry out his aggressive foreign policy through systematically building up his army and navy. He achieved this even before pulling out of the Disarmament Conference by building an air force called Luftwaffe which produced Dornier twin-engine bombers. This was on the pretense of allowing its trainees to fly alongside civil airlines such as Deutsche Luft Hansa, since the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have an airforce.
As part of his aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, he regained the Saar Coalfield in 1935, which was a piece of industrialized land on the French border, reoccupied and re militarized Rhineland, assisted Italy in sending huge amounts of military supplies and aid to contribute to the Spanish Civil War in 1936. These are just some of the actions Hitler took as part of his aggressive and expansionist foreign policy.
Through this case study, we can learn that Hitler, although idealistic and patriotic, resorted to violence and aggression to achieve his aims, instead of using diplomatic means. Hitler is a disillusioned, yet charismatic, man who saw violence and aggression as the only means to regain his beloved country’s lost pride.
Aggression is widespread, and can be seen throughout our daily lives. We rely on aggression to resolve an escalating argument. The society engages in a constant battle to weed out those who do not make the cut to the depth of hell in order to achieve progress. On the international level, nations fight with one another on controversial issues such as nuclear power, right to territories and places of religious importance.
The repercussions if aggression continues to be a central feature of human behavior would be catastrophic. Countries might possibly resort to nuclear war to resolve issues. This could potentially wipe out human existence from the face of earth. Society will become even more defiled through the widespread use of violence. Even for one self, we would take a more narrow perspective in life and not see the extent that our action could lead us.
It is hence imperative that we abolish aggression as a central feature of our human behavior. Although some may argue that with the presence of our aggression, there is a level of competitiveness in the society which will contribute to its economic progress in the short term. However, it is detriment to our overall fulfillment as a global citizen and result in the defiling of the human spirit, undermining our character and hence destroying the world’s dream of unity and peace.
In conclusion, with the absence of aggression as a central feature of human behavior, the gains would most definitely outweigh the losses as there would be an end to violence and conflict leading to a more open minded society which consists of balanced view points that are essential for a more cohesive body of a global citizen.
Photo courtesy of Alienwatch, Flickr Commons
I must disagree. There is a sense in which every instance where a human strives to achieve something, he or she is powered by the very primal force which is aggression. Whether one aggressively pushes physical limits in one’s first marathon or doggedly works to drive back intellectual fog obscuring knowledge, one is tapping that primal source of energy.
The balanced human being, a core precept of Chinese metaphysics, comes to mind: Energy channelled towards a well selected purpose, rather than running wild enslaving the self to indulging it. 比劫生食伤. Somehow this analogy illustrates the point pretty well…
First of all, thank you very much for your comment! It was certainly very insightful and refreshing. I agree wholeheartedly with your analogy of the Chinese metaphysics of how energy should be channeled towards a well selected purpose, rather than having it run wild and enslaving the self who indulges it. As youths in the current generation, I feel that sometimes our energies are spread more towards a whimsical direction rather than a purposeful one. Technology has pampered us and we sometimes let technology control us, instead of us controlling the technology (For example, letting our habit of checking Facebook and Twitter dictate our daily routine, instead spending our 24 hours doing things which are more constructive and fulfilling.)
However, I do not quite agree that every instance where a human strives to achieve something, he or she is powered by the primal force of aggression. As a student and writer myself, I find that what really drives me to continue studying and writing is the passion and the motivation. These emotions are in fact what keeps me waking up every day to go to school and completing my assignments. I do think that there is a separate and distinct difference between the two (Passion versus aggression) which drives the way we think and act.
Hence, in this case, I do feel that passion is the primary force which drives us in life, as without passion, one will not have the motivation to continue doing whatever it is we love doing, like running marathons or constantly educating and re-evaluating ourselves.
I guess my point was aren’t these the same thing if only differentiated by subject.
If you do not mind, could you perhaps elaborate on that? What do you mean when you say that passion and aggression are the same things, if only differentiated by subject?
If one is very much driven to attack some one out of anger, it is clearly aggression.
If one is very much driven to find logical arguments to prove a mathematical theorem, one might say it is passion.
If one is very much driven to lash out verbally at some one, it is perhaps aggression.
If one is very much driven to prove a point which will support one’s core interests, is it passion or aggression?
I have not sketched out much of a continuum, but it is unclear that they are distinct, passion and aggression.
You may be putting the cart before the horse here. Aggression is a primary drive, as fundamental as hunger or thirst. Basic drives are the cart. We (that is, our conscious selves) are the horse. We don’t get to tell the cart where to go, we merely function to fulfil the needs of the driver in the cart.
Aggression can never be eliminated: a society composed of individuals with no capacity for aggression will always be wiped out by a more aggressive group.
What we can do, however, is to produce more robust mechanisms to redirect aggression and ritualise it.
Besides nukes (which endanger the entire planet), modern warfare has actually done a pretty good job of ritualising aggression: modern war is largely a ritual between countries, with a far smaller proportion of casualties than tribal battles between ancient societies or groups of social animals. Body counts are higher because the population of countries is larger in modern times.
(Argument mainly from Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression)