Original Sin Redux
The Killer Ape Theory
|Scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey|
One of the most delicious of intellectual pleasures for Puritans is wallowing in their own sinfulness. We have had in the past thinkers like St, Augustine, who was merely the father so to speak, of generation after generation of people who wallowed in their sinfulness. The sort who constantly dwelled on their own wickedness over and over again; enjoying the narcissistic and prurient pleasure of heaping coals on their heads and luxuriating in the contemplation of their utterly wicked sinfulness.
Thus we get someone like St. Augustine who shrieked and wallowed in his own infinite wickedness and with great masochistic pleasure recalled his sexual “sins” and heaped reams of abuse upon himself. All of which gave him immense and intense pleasure.
In a previous posting1 I gave an overview of St. Augustine and the doctrine he accepted of original sin. That St. Augustine viewed himself has so irredeemably wicked that only God’s inexplicable grace could save him led him not surprisingly to the doctrine that everyone else was as irredeemably damned has he was and of course deserving of the most exquisitely painful eternal torments. This of course included infants and babies. All were damned by original sin.
Now it appears that St. Augustine seemed to have viewed original sin as sexual in nature. In fact St. Augustine seemed to have viewed sex has original sin. This of course helps to explain his hysterical writhings about carnality in his Confessions. No doubt it gave St. Augustine intense pleasure not only to continually dwell about his carnality, and thus enjoy it over and over again, but too view the entire human race has damned for what he could not stop thinking about.2 The pleasure of damning a common human activity which gives and has given pleasure to billions has evil is also clear.
To me the element of personal neurosis in all this is quite obvious.
Now St. Augustine viewed original sin has sexual other people have had other ideas.
A 20th century variation of the idea that humans are inherently damned with original sin is the “killer ape” idea.
This idea purports to be scientific and anti-romantic. Supposedly it gets away from the notion of man being naturally good and tells us the unvarnished truth about us.
In reality it is romantic anti-Romanticism. It is nothing more than a lightly scientifically dressed variation of the idea of innate human depravity and original sin.
In this case the original sin is that man is a natural killer, a blood soaked murderous fiend who delights in death and slaughter and needs and desires to kill and slay.
In the 20th century the two most important proponents of this idea were Raymond Arthur Dart and Robert Ardrey. Prof. Dart was a well known and highly respected Anthropologist who made some very important discoveries concerning man’s past in Africa. Robert Ardrey was the man who popularized Dart’s ideas in a series of well written books.3
Raymond Dart (1893-1988), is best known for his research and excavations in the area of Sterkfontein South Africa. There he made his most famous discovery that of the so-called Taung child, which was actually the skull of an Australopithecine child from c. 2 million years ago.4
Robert Ardrey (1908-1980), was a playwright for stage and screenwriter who before he got into movies had gotten a Science degree. In the field of writing plays he is best known for the play Thunder Rock which was made into a movie in 1942.5
That both Dart and Ardrey viewed humanity through the prism of original sin and natural depravity is obvious. The idea that man emerged from a carnivorous, cannibalistic and homicidal ape is of course an idea with more than strong overtones of innate depravity and evil.
Thus Dart described the ape like human ancestor has: "… murderers and flesh hunters”. Because of this inheritance it appears that we have the:
The blood-bespattered, slaughter-gutted archives of human history from the earliest Egyptian and Sumerian records to the most recent atrocities of the Second World War accord with early universal cannibalism, with animal and human sacrificial practices of their substitutes in formalized religions and with the world-wide scalping, head-hunting, body-mutilating and ecrophilic practices of mankind in proclaiming this common bloodlust differentiator, this predaceous habit, this mark of Cain that seperates man dietetically from his anthropoidal relatives and allies him rather with the deadliest of Carnivora.6In other places Dart said things that mans ancestors were:
On this thesis man's predecessors differed from living apes in being confirmed killers: carnivorous creatures that seized living quarries by violence, battered them to death, tore apart their broken bodies, dismembered them limb from limb, slaking their ravenous thirst with the hot blood of victims and greedily devouring livid writhing flesh.7
The loathsome cruelty of mankind to man forms one of his inescapable characteristics and differentiative features; and it is explicable only in terms of his carnivorous, and cannibalistic origin.8Robert Ardrey has been if anything even more scathing, albeit more poetic: To quote:
Not in innocence, and not in Asia, was mankind born. We are a fraction of the animal world, and to its subtle ways our hearts are yet pledged. We are children of Cain. And were it not so, then for humanity there would be small hope.9
Ardrey view of civilization is:
Nevertheless I believe that civilization has come to mankind as neither accident nor ornament. It reflects the command of kind. It rests on the most ancient of animal laws, that commanding order, and acts as a necessary inhibition and sublimation of predatory energies that would otherwise long ago have destroyed our species. I regard it as anything but a coincidence that the rate of civilization’s rise has corresponded so closely with man’s ascendant capacity to kill. Civilization is a compensatory consequence of our killing imperative; the one could not exist without the other.10
Ardrey states regarding man’s essential mutation to become man:
For better or for worse, for tragedy or triumph, for ultimate glory or ultimate damnation, intelligence made an alliance with the way of the killer, and Cain with his sticks and stones and his quickly running feet emerged on the high Savannah.
Abel stayed in the bush.11
Ardrey like Dart views Australopithecus africanus, as a predatory carnivore, who evolved killer instincts to survive on the savannah. This creature was a tool using, ruthless cannibalistic predator a sort of Ape wolf.12
Ardrey devotes an entire chapter to what he calls the The Romantic Fallacy,12 during which he beats up the myth that man is “good”. In this chapter his bête noire is the philosopher Rousseau whose work Ardrey rather shamefully distorts.13
To Ardrey the idea of man being originally good is “…the Illusion of Original Goodness.”(sic)14 For Ardrey we must confront the “fact” that:
…it [us, modern thought] should finally be accepted that man is a predator with an instinct to kill and a genetic cultural affinity for the weapon.15
Showing that this sort of thinking had a powerful political motive Ardrey goes on to denounce Socialism, which he conflates with the Communist regimes of his day has unnatural / contrary to nature.16
The naturalistic fallacy is one of the most annoying of human intellectual sins. Aside from the legitimate question of whether or not the Communist regimes could reasonably have been called Socialist, it is a fact that anything that can happen is “natural”. Communist regimes are as natural as Capitalist ones. It is rather obvious that Ardrey was trying to score political points here and engaging in a political battle against the “Red Menace”.
Ardrey thus thinks that:
…Man had emerged from the anthropoid background for one reason only: because he was a killer. Long ago, perhaps many millions of years ago, a line of killer apes branched off from the non-aggressive primate background. For reasons of environmental necessity, the line adopted the predatory way.
And lacking fighting teeth or claws, we took recourse by necessity to the weapon.
Far from the truth lay the antique assumption that man had fathered the weapon. The weapon, instead, had fathered man.17
For Ardrey Australopithecus africanus:
…was a carnivore and a predator. And we had this newest claim, that he was armed.18
For Ardrey a central question about humanity is as follows:
Man’s propensity for evil has long troubled both secular and advanced religious thought.19
Now two things are of interest regarding Ardrey’s view of instinct. One is that he generally views instinct has a irresistible impulse that has to be satisfied or sublimated. Thus he talks about a instinct to kill. This idea is strikingly similar to the ethologist Konrad Lorenz’s ideas concerning aggression. Further it bears a striking similarity to Freud’s idea of a death instinct. And in both cases both notions owe a lot to the idea of original sin and the innate sinfulness of human beings taught from the pulpit for over a thousand years.20
It appears that the above and Ardrey’s view of instinct is strikingly simple-minded. In effect this view ignores the question of stimuli in generating “instinctive” responses. For example Canada Geese have a “instinct” to migrate when winter comes yet here in Canada very large numbers of Geese no longer migrate because food and warmth are now available in human cities. So stimuli can both “cause” an instinctive response and cancel it. It is not necessarily an irresistible impulse.21
Buit what is utterly clear is that both Dart and Ardrey for all their protestations of being “Scientific” and ‘rational” are essentially thinking about man’s nature in a quasi-moral manner. It is interesting that Ardrey seems to view the alleged predatory behavior of Australopithecus africanus as “evil”. This indicates the essentially moral nature of Ardrey’s view. Rather than dealing with man’s essential “nature” coolly and non judgmentally; Ardrey judges man has fallen and wicked in the grasp of destructive instincts which have extracted a Faustian bargain with man.
Ardrey and Dart are “Romantics” in their own way man is, in their view, a Lucifierian creature filled with dark diabolical urges. This is a sort of anti-romantic romanticism. Man is instead of being a good angel he is a dark angel nursing within him the urge to kill and destroy. I note here that Ardrey and Dart are almost utterly male focused for it appears these developments in turning man into a diabolic species only happened to the male of the species. Like so many other thinkers concerning the evolution of man it appears they don’t think women evolved and further that women were somehow not really involved in the evolutionary process by which man became man.22
The similarity between Dart and Ardrey’s idea of man the killer and the original sin notions of many Christians is obvious. Unlike St. Augustine instead of sex it is meat gotten from a kill.
The Garden of Eden was when man was a fruit and root eating Ape who was expelled from the jungle. “Original sin” according to them is when meat was taken by men by killing in order to survive and the curse is man afflicted with violent, predatory, dark and irresistible urges to kill and destroy.
Judgment day maybe when these irresistible urges overtake man and propel him towards annihilation through violence, i.e., thermonuclear war.
There is even a Cain and Abel story in the mix when early “man” and or his ancestor Australopithecus africanus exterminated other more peaceful ape men, like Australopithecus robustus. Later when some members of the species Australopithecus africanus became early Homo they exterminated the remaining members of the species Australopithecus africanus. Later still Homo Sapiens, Sapiens exterminated the Neanderthals. Just like the Cain and Abel story “we” Cain, killed “them”, our brother, Abel.23
In fact as the quotes above indicate Ardrey and Dart explicitly accepts Biblical imagery, especially the idea of man being "Cain" or "Cain" like. Ardrey explicitly includes the Cain and Abel story has describing in some fashion human prehistory.
Like St. Augustine's myth of human depravity through sex, Dart and Ardrey’s myth of innate human depravity, cruelty and blood lust produces the delicious frisson of reducing all of humanity to a state of irredeemable sinfulness. Although here it is called “scientific” and clear eyed. Like St. Augustine the believer in the “killer ape” notion can enjoy contemplating how damned every human is and how lost we all are. He can take the dark urges he feels and contemplate the idea that not only are these urges in all of us but that we are all damned and sinful. Man is evil and therefore fighting against “evil” is foredoomed and wickedness in human life is here to stay and fighting against it is fighting against what we really are.
Thus Ardrey and Dart’s concept of the “killer ape” is a moral / religious concept a despairing view of “human nature”, that sees the darkness in the human heart and despairs. Humans just cannot help themselves, we are evil by nature. The very fact that Ardrey talks about a “propensity to evil” in humans indicates quite clearly that he is not engaged in a scientific search for “real” “human nature” but engaged in a moral polemic. A tiger is a hunter who when it hunts is not evil so why should Australopithecus africanus be called evil for hunting?
Dart’s essential quasi-religious motive is indicated by his use in one of his papers of the following quote from a Calvinist preacher named Richard Baxter, (Calvinists were great believers in essential omnipresent human depravity.):
Of all the beasts the man-beast is the worst, / to others and himself the cruellest foe.24
Ardrey saw humans as luciferian, fallen but magnificent; and that our sinful, wicked nature, i.e, predatory carnivorous nature, was what made man “man” and great. To Ardrey “…sin is good.”25, and a source of great might and “virtue”. Although it is the virtue of “Cain”.
This is the view of Hobbes ands so many theologians for well over 1000 years. However that it is religious in origin cannot be denied.
As Cartmill states, the early Christian philosophers believed that free will gave human beings the choice to be good or bad; therefore, humans can be corrupted, a distinctively Christian philosophy that extrapolates to nature itself having gone rotten. This view of the depravity of human nature is related to the idea of man’s fall from grace and of the Christian notion of original sin.
Thus in the end the “killer ape” notion is basically religious and owes much more to Christian doctrine concerning original sin, the fall of man, and innate human depravity than it does to the supposed Scientific evidence for it. That it was embraced by so many is hardly a surprise given its similarity to those Christian notions. So it had the comfort of being familiar and in a “scientific” guise resurrecting and re-burnishing those notions while at the same time having the frisson of allegedly being daring and outré which this notion was most definitely not.Although more spectacular than the claims of contemporaneous scientists, Robert Ardrey, the writer who popularized Dart’s theory, held views of human nature that did not differ greatly from the Scientists, nor from the ancient Christian beliefs of a fall from grace and original sin. To Ardrey, however, sin is good. It is a strength that “Cain’s children” possess by virtue of their enlarged brain and their carnivorous lifestyle: “Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon.” Ardrey argues that humans are not the product of special creation; they have naturally, rightfully, and nobly inherited genes that carry the “scars of the ages.”8 For Ardrey it is war and the instinct for territorial acquisition that led to the great accomplishments of Western man.26
The cultural impact of these ideas is also fairly clear. It appears for example that Stanley Kubrick, the great filmmaker, was inspired by Dart’s and Ardrey’s ideas to do his famous ape men and the monolith sequence in 2001 A Space Odyssey, further the film director Sam Peckinpah was inspired by several books he read by Ardrey.27
Sometime later I may discuss the “Science”, of which there is little, in the “killer ape” idea.
1. See Here .
3. Robert Ardrey wrote the following books putting forth the killer ape idea, African Genesis, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1961, The Territorial Imperative, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1966, The Social Contract, Dell Publishing Co., 1970, The Hunting Hypothesis, Bantam Books, New York, 1976. For Raymond Dart’s more scholarly efforts see The predatory transition from ape to man, International Anthropological and Linguistic Review v. 1, n. 4, 1953, pp. 201–217, Predatory Implemental Technique of the Australopithecines, American journal of Physical Anthropology, March 1949.
4. See Raymond Dart, Wikipedia Here, Hart, Donna, & Sussman, Robert E, Man the Hunted, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2009, pp. 6-7, 14.
5. See Robert Ardrey, Wikipedia Here.
6. Dart quoted in Hart et al, p. X, Dart, 1953, p. 205.
7. IBID, p. 209.
8. IBID, p. 207.
9. Ardrey, 1961, p. 353.
10. IBID, p. 355.
11. IBID, p. 269.
12. IBID, See the description of an alleged murder of an adolescent Australopithecine on pp. 188-190.
12. IBID, pp. 145-176.
13. Another time I may go into Ardrey’s distortions of Rousseau but not here.
14. IBID, p. 168.
16. IBID, pp. 157-160.
17. IBID, p. 31.
18. IBID, p. 32.
19. IBID, p. 154.
20. Lorenz, Konrad, On Aggression, Methuen, New York, 1966, Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in On Metapsychology, Penguin Books, London, 1991. For a critique of these ideas see Fromn, Erich, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Holt Books, New York, 1992.
21, For more on instinct see, Instinct, Wikipedia Here.
22. Ardrey, 1961, pp. 119-144.
23. IBID, pp. 31, 214, 282-284, Ardrey, 1976, pp. 170-171.
24. Dart, 1953, p. 201. Dart's quote of Richard Baxter is from Baxter's Book Christian Ethics.
25. Hart, et al, p. 194.
26. Hart et al, p. 194.
27. Killer Ape Theory, Wikipedia Here, Robert Ardrey, Wikipedia.