Phil 10.20.20

Two types of aggression in human evolution

  • Two major types of aggression, proactive and reactive, are associated with contrasting expression, eliciting factors, neural pathways, development, and function. The distinction is useful for understanding the nature and evolution of human aggression. Compared with many primates, humans have a high propensity for proactive aggression, a trait shared with chimpanzees but not bonobos. By contrast, humans have a low propensity for reactive aggression compared with chimpanzees, and in this respect humans are more bonobo-like. The bimodal classification of human aggression helps solve two important puzzles. First, a long-standing debate about the significance of aggression in human nature is misconceived, because both positions are partly correct. The Hobbes–Huxley position rightly recognizes the high potential for proactive violence, while the Rousseau–Kropotkin position correctly notes the low frequency of reactive aggression. Second, the occurrence of two major types of human aggression solves the execution paradox, concerned with the hypothesized effects of capital punishment on self-domestication in the Pleistocene. The puzzle is that the propensity for aggressive behavior was supposedly reduced as a result of being selected against by capital punishment, but capital punishment is itself an aggressive behavior. Since the aggression used by executioners is proactive, the execution paradox is solved to the extent that the aggressive behavior of which victims were accused was frequently reactive, as has been reported. Both types of killing are important in humans, although proactive killing appears to be typically more frequent in war. The biology of proactive aggression is less well known and merits increased attention.

GPT-2 Agents

  • Look at topic extraction?
  • Moving models from the data directory to the model directory and sending them to svn
  • 3:30 Meeting
    • Action items:
      • Try translating a few Chinese tweets and comparing them against Google
      • Continue with topic extraction


  • 9:00 Meeting with Vadim – good progress. Found an important bug


  • Still grappling with cults. While listening to the Drinking with Historians episode on patriotism, with Benjamin Railton. I learned about the Cornerstone Speech, which was Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens’ justification for the South’s rebellion. This line particularly stands out:
    • Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
  • Working out from the idea that a hierarchy depends on violence or the threat of violence, then all this is justified. You do slavery because you can. And the fact that you can, defines your place as superior in the hierarchy.
  • So, at the most primal (literally chimpanzee-level), violence is the most basic mechanism to determine hierarchy. Since a good place in the hierarchy has tremendous benefits, it is worth fighting for, and potentially dying for. The flip side of that is also worth killing for. And I think I can see how that can be a stable state for group activity. It could even be viewed as a behavior attractor that is wired into us as a hierarchical species. The balancing act for us is to work out how to not wind up in this state, even though it seems to be an attractive answer, particularly for those who feel as though they are loosing their high place in the hierarchy.