TRUISM ABOUT HUMAN NATURE
- Humans are weak. Their vulnerabilities can be divided into 2. * Physical vulnerabilities
* Personal vulnerabilities
Physical vulnerabilities: Physical needs can be frustrated by physical privations or traumas leading to acute distress experiences such as hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue, the pain of disease or accident or attack, sexual tension. In the animal realm there appear to be something like emotional distress experiences involved with some, at any rate, of the physical ones. Thus there is anger vented in defensive or offensive aggression when the issues concern mating, territory or food. There is fear leading to immobility or flight when under attack, as an alternative to counter-aggression. There is grief in some species exhibited in wailing and mourning when there is separation from parent or offspring or mate. Human beings, it is reasonable to suppose, function in similar ways, with emotional distresses of anger, fear and grief and their behaviors, tied in with physical frustrations. In animals of the same species, anger with its associated aggressive threat or fight behavior appears to have adaptive functions: it leads to social cohesion and leadership by maintaining dominance hierarchies; it makes for an effective use of available territory (and food) by separating groups out over it; it benefits progeny by selecting out the best parents; it protects the young. Nor, in natural habitats, is it necessarily highly destructive: the norm is often threat behavior or token fights rather than serious wounding and killing, although the latter does occur. Intra-specific aggression among animals seems more harnessed to the preservation of life than to its destruction. Among monkeys and apes, intra-specific aggression is stronger in baboons, weaker in gorillas and chimpanzees, but in the wild it is almost entirely reduced to threat displays with very little overt fighting. In unusual environmental circumstances however, as in captivity where there may be crowding and/or sudden disturbances, unfamiliar irritations, then all these species can be violently aggressive to their own kind. We do not know the sort of aggression that occurred among early hominids, but it does seem reasonable to suppose that the human organism, physically comparable as it is to the primates, has tendencies toward the adaptive aggression shown among primates and, when under physical duress such as overcrowding, to the more violently destructive aggression also exhibited under such conditions by primates.
Personal Vulnerabilities: But the organism is not only the locus of physical needs, it is also the medium for the fulfilment of what I have called personal needs rooted in capacities for love, understanding and choice, where these capacities have a potential reach far beyond the confines of physical survival needs. Thus any interference with physical needs, any threat to the integrity of the organism, is at the same time some kind of interference with or threat to the fulfilment of personal needs. Why, for example, do human infants and children have a grief-like crying and sobbing response to minor physical hurts? Is it because the physical pain and shock is also experienced as an immediate interruption of their need to love and be loved? Thus to understand fully human response to physical privations and trauma, we must take into account, I suggest, not only the fear, anger and grief tied in with organismic frustration but also a different order of fear, anger and grief that is tied in with the frustration of personal needs as defined. (The reverse may also be the case: frustration at the purely human level may of itself lead to distress at the physical level - fatigue, insomnia, pain, wasting.) Interrupt and restrict a child physically, then the simple angry fight response of the impeded organism can be enormously fuelled by the angry, righteous indignation of a being whose need to be...
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