Civilized Ruthlessness

Perhaps most people will agree that societies have become more civilized now compared to 100, 1,000, or 10,000 years ago. During our cavemen ancestors’ days killing, stealing, and robbing must have been commonplace in their struggle for survival, but in today’s “civilized” societies such acts are being prohibited and offenders are heavily penalized.

However, while we were somehow able to curb barbaric behavior, we still display our savage tendencies in other aspects of our social lives. In business, for example, executives are hired to kill the competitors, grab their market share, steal their customers, and even pirate their key employees. And these executives – educated and civilized – actually enjoy the “killing” in the marketplace as if it satisfies some deep evolutionary urge. And maybe it does.

In the caveman days ruthlessness would be a necessary trait not only for survival but also for propagating one’s genes. Those who survived the longest got the most chances of dominating the gene pool; those who could gather the most food were most able to rear a large number of offspring; and those who gained the most territory could sustain the best security for their clan.

In today’s civilized world – a world where the rules are set by big money and influence instead of big muscles and spears, where business, politics, and religion are the battlefields for power – the people who have evolved to rise above the others must have descended from the great warriors – smart, quick, strong, adaptable, and ruthless. Today these same qualities are as important as ever although quick and strong would now refer to the mind instead of the body. People still have ruthless tendencies, although it is more of a civilized ruthlessness. So while we no longer kill each other for food, we are still trying to “kill” each other in many different ways.


2 Responses to “Civilized Ruthlessness”

  1. July 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    i’d have to agree that to this day people kill people in many different ways. some are subtle enough that their victims or prey don’t have time to realize they are being slowly drained out of life thus ending their miserable sorry lives of existence.
    name dropping would be a crime but i have to cite a particular human being (alive for now).
    I cannot directly cause him death or inflict physical pain to him (assuming he is a male) but in my own dark twisted ways, i somehow in my mind is killing him softly!! wicked webster..

  2. December 28, 2010 at 12:58 am

    That’s quite an astute observation, innerminds. I most certainly enjoyed reading this one.

    By the way, one of my favorite philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche, has a whole theory on the human sublimation of primitive urges, although he concentrates on the Greek method of sublimating inner urges towards more “civilized” means. In fact, for him, the sublimation of their desire to dominate their fellows was the driving force of the Greeks that lead them to create an enduring cultural edifice. For Nietzsche, it was their desire to dominate others that lead the Greeks to eschew mediocrity and seek excellence, whether it be in an Olympic contest or in philosophy, in rhetoric or in mathematics, in politics or in warfare. In fact, he even suggests that what modern society lacks are means to channel these urges to dominate to make enduring legacies.

    For the most part I agree with him as I agree with you. In fact, I think there is biological merit to all these thoughts. One need only closely look at the behavior of our two closest relatives, the chimpanzees and the bonobos, to confirm our suspicions.

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