On Agression (parte 1) | Konrad LORENZ

| domingo, 1 de novembro de 2009
A friend of mine, who like a true friend had taken upon himself
the task of reading through the manuscript of this book
critica[y, wrote to rle, when he was already more than halfway
through it: "This is the second chapter I have read with
keen interest but a mounting feeling of uncertainty. Why?
Because I cannot see its exact connection with the book as a
whole. You must make this easier for m,e." His criticism was
no doubt fully justified, and the puqpose of this introduction
is to make clear to the reader from the start the direction
taken by the book as a whole and the way in which the individual
chapters are related to its ultimate object.











Other Books by Konrad Lorenz
King Solomon's Ring
Man Meets Dog
The Foundations of Ethology
Studies in Animal and Human Behavior
Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins
Behind the Mirror:
A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge
Evolution and Modification of Behavior
The Waning of Humaneness
Here Am I - Where Are You?:
The Behavior of the Greylag Goose
On Life and Living
N
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ToMy Wife

Contents
Introduction
ix
One . Prologue in the Sea
3
Two . Coral Fish in the Laboratory
t2
Three . What Agsession Is Good For
23
Four . The Spontaneity of Aggression
49
Five . Habit, Ritual, and Magic
57
Six . The Great Parliament of Instincts
85
Seven . Behavioral Analogies to Mordity
109
vii
Contents
Eight ' AnonYrnitY of the Flock
139
Nine . Social Organization without Love
150
Ten Rats
r57
Eleven The Bond
165
Twelve . on the virtue of Humility
2?O
Thirteen Ecce flomo!
236
Fourteen Avowal of OPtimism
275
Bibliography
301
a a a Ylu
Introduction
A friend of mine, who like a true friend had taken upon himself
the task of reading through the manuscript of this book
critica[y, wrote to rle, when he was already more than halfway
through it: "This is the second chapter I have read with
keen interest but a mounting feeling of uncertainty. Why?
Because I cannot see its exact connection with the book as a
whole. You must make this easier for m,e." His criticism was
no doubt fully justified, and the puqpose of this introduction
is to make clear to the reader from the start the direction
taken by the book as a whole and the way in which the individual
chapters are related to its ultimate object.
The subject of this book is aggressiont,h at is to say the
fighting instinct in beast and man which is directed agairct
members of the same species. The decision to write it came
about through a chancec ombination of two circumstancesI.
was in the United States, first in order to give some lectures
to psychiatrists,p sychoanalystsa, nd psychologistsa bout some
comparable behavioral theories and behavioral physiology and
secondly to verify through field observation on the coral reefs
of Florida a hypothesis I had fonned, on the basis of aquarium
observationsa, bout the aggressiveb ehavior of certain fish and
Introduction
the function of their coloring in the preservation of the species.
It was at the clinical hospitals that for the first time in my
life I fell into conversationw ith psychoanalystsw ho did not
treat the theories of Freud as inviolable dogmas but, as is
appropriatei n every scientificf ield, working hypothesesV. iewing
them in this way, I came to understand much in Sigmund
Freud's theories that I had previously rejected as far too &udacious.
Discussions of his theories of motivation revealed
unexpectedc orrespondencesb etween the findings of psycho'
analysisa nd behavioral physiology,w hich seemeda ll the more
significant because of the differences in approach, method,
and above all inductive basis between the two disciplines.
I had expected unbridgeable differences of opinion over
the concept of the death wish, which, according to one of
Freud's theories, is a destructive principle which exists as
an opposite pole to all instincts of self-preservation.I n the
eyes of the behavioral scientist this hypothesis, which is foreign
to biologl, is not only unnecessaryb ut false. Agtression,
the eftects of which are frequently equated with those of the
death wish, is an instinct like any other and in natural conditions
it helps just as much as any other to ensure the survival
of the individual and the species. In man, whose own efforts
have caused an over-rapid change in the conditions of his life,
the agsessive i*pulse often has destructive results. But so,
too, do his other instincts, if in a less dramatic way. When f expressed
these views on the theory of the death wish to my
psychoanalytical friends I was su{prised to find myself in the
position of someone trying to force a door which is already
open. They pointed out to me many passagesin the writings
of Freud which show how little reliance he himself had placed
on his dualistic hypothesis, which must have been fundamentatty
alien and repugnant to him as a good monist and
mechanistically thinking natural scientist.
It was shortly afterwards, when I was making n field study
Introduction
of coral fish in wann seas,a mongw hich the function of aggressionin
the preservationo f the speciesis plain, that the
i*pulse to write ttris book came to me. For behlvioral science
really knows so much about the natural history of aggression
that it doesb ecomep ossibleto make statementsa bout the
causeso f much of its malfunctioningin man. To achievei nsighti
nto the originso f a diseaseis by no meanst he samea $
to discovera n effectiveth erapy,b ut it is certainlyo ne of the
necessarcyo nditionsfo r this.
I am aware that the task I have set myself makes excessive
demandsu pon my pen. It is almosti rpossible to portray in
wordst he functioningo f a systemin which everyp art is rolated
to every other in such a way that each has a causal influence
on the others. Even if one is only trying to explain a
gasolinee nginei t is hard to know wheret o begin,b ecauseth e
persont o whom one seekst o explaini t can only understand
the natureo f the crankshafitf he hasf irst graspedth at of the
connecting rods, the pistons, the valves, the camshaft, and
so on. Unlesso ne understandsth e elementso f a complete
systema s a whole,o ne cannotu nderstandth em at all. The
morec omplext he structureo f a systemis , the greatert his difficulty
becomes-and it must be sunnounted both in onds
research and in one's teachirg. Unfortunately the working
structure of the instinctive and culturally acquired patterns of
behavior which make up the social life of man seems to be
one of the most complicateds ystemsw e know on this earth.
In order to make comprehensiblteh e few causalc onnections
which I believe I can trace right through this tangle of reciprocal
effects,f must,f or goodo r ill, Bob ack a long way.
Fortunatelyt he observedfa cts which are my starting point
are fascinatingi n themselvesI . hope that the territorial fights
of the coral fish, the "quasi-moral" urges and inhibitions of
sociala nimals,t he lovelessm arrieda nd sociall ife of the night
heron, the bloody mass battles of the brown rat, and many
il
Introduction
other remarkable behavior patterns of animals will engage the
readet's interest up to the point when he reaches an understandiog
of the deeper connections between them.
I intend to lead him to it by following as close$ as possible
the route which I took myself, and this is for reasons of principle.
Inductive natural science always starts without preconceptions
from the observation of individual cases and proceeds
from this toward the abstract law which they all obey. Most
textbooks take the opposite course for the sake of brevity and
clarity and set down the general before the particular. The
presentation is thereby made more lucid but less convincing.
It is only too easy first to evolve a theory and then to underpin
it with examples, for nature is so diverse that with diligent
searching one can find apparently convincing examples
to support wholly abstruseh ypothesesM. y book would really
be convincing if the reader reached the same conclusion as
myself solely on the basis of the facts which I set before him.
But as I cannot expect him to follow such a thorny path, let
me offer in advance, by way of a signpost, a brief account of
the contents of each chapter.
I start in the first two chapters with the description of
simple observations of typical forms of aggressive behavior.
Then in the third I proceed to the discussion of its function
in the preservation of the species. In the fourth I say enough
about the physiology of instinctual motivation in general and
the aggfessiveim pulse io particular to explain the spontaneity
of the irresistible outbreaks which recur with rhythmical regularity.
fn the fifth chapter I illustrate the process of ritualization
and show how the instinctive i*pnlse newly created by
it is made independenl-i1 so far as is necessaryfo r the later
understandingo f its effects in inhibiting aggressionT. he sixth
chapter serves the same purpose: here I have tried to Fne a
general picture of the way instinctive impulses function. In
the seventh chapter concrete examples are grven to show what
Introduction
mechanisms evolution has "invented" in order to channel aggression
along harmless paths, the role played by ritual in this
process, and the similatity between the patterns of behavior
which arise in this way and those which in man are guided
by responsible morality. These chapters grur the basis for an
understanding of the functioning of four very difterent qrpes
of social organrzation. The first is the anon)mous crowd, which
is free of all kinds of agglession but also lacks the personal
awareness and cohesion of individuals. The second is the family
and social life of the night heron and other birds which
nest in colonies, the only structural basis of which is territorial-
the defense of a given area. The third is the remarkable
"large family" of rats, the members of which do not
recognize one another as individuals but by the tribal smell
and whose social behavior toward one another is exemplary,
while they attack with bitter factional hatred every member
of the species that belongs to a difterent tribe. The fotrrth
type of social organization is that in which it is the bond of
love and triendship between individuals which prevents the
membeni of the societyfrom fighting and harming one another.
This form of society, the structure of which is in many ways
analogous to that of men, is shown in detail by the example
of the geylag goose.
After what has been said in these eleven chapters I think I
can hetp to explain the causes of many of the ways in which
aggression in man goes wrong. The twelfth chaptor, "On the
Virtue of Humility," should provide a further basis by disposing
of certain inner obstacles which prevent many people
from seeing themselves as a part of the universe and recogni-
ing that their own behavior too obeys the laws of nature.
These obstacles come first of all from rejection of the idea
of causality, which is thought to contradict the fact of free
s/ill, and secondly from man's spiritual pride. The thirteenth
chapter seeks to depict the present situation of mankind oba
a a xru
Introduction
jectively, somewhat as a biologtrt from Mars mlght see it. In
the fourteenth chapter I try to propose certain counter-measures
against those malfunctions of aggression, the causes of
which I believe I have identffied.
On Aggression

Chapter One
Prologuein the Sea
My childhood dream of fly.g is rcalaed: I am floating
weightlessly in an invisible medium, gliding without effort
ovei sunlit fields. f do not move in the way that Man, in philistine
assurance of his own superiority, usually moves, with
belly forward and head upward, but in the age-old manner of
vertebrates with back upward and head forward. If I want to
look ahead, the discornfort of bending my neck reminds me
painfully that I am really an inhabitant of another world. But
I sehom want to do this, for my eyes are directed downward
at the thiogs beneath Do, as becomes an earthly scientist.
Peacefully, indolently, fanning with my fins, I glide over
fairy-tale scenery. The setting is the coast of one of the many
little islands of coral chalk, the so-called Keys, that stretch in a
long chain from the south end of the Florida peninsula. The
tandscape is less heroic than that of a real coral reef with its
wildly cleft living mountains and valleys, but jrtst as vivid. All
over the gFound, which consists of ancient coral nrbble, can be
seen strange hemispheres of brain coral, wavy bushes of
Gorgonia, and, rarely, richty branched stems of staghorn
coral, while betrveen them are variegated patches of brown,
red, and gold seaw@d, not to be found in the real coral reefs
On Aggrcssion
further out in the ocean. At intervals are loggerhead sponges,
man-broad and table-high, almost appearing rn&o-made in
their ugly but symmetrical forms. No bare surfaces of lifeless
stone are visible, for any space between all these organisms is
filled with a thick growth of moss animals, hydroid polypr and
spongesw hosev iolet and orange-reds peciesc over large areas;
anong this teeming assortment I do not even know, in some
cases,W hethert hey belong to the plant or the animal kingdom.
My eftortless prosess brings me gradually into shallower
water where corals become fewer, but plants more nurnerous.
Huge forests of decorative algae, shaped exactly like African
acacia trees, spread themselves beneath me and create the
illusion that I am floating not just man-high above Atlantic
coral ground, but a hundred times higher above an Ethiopian
steppe. Wide fields of turtle grass and smaller ones of eelgrass
glide away beneath me, ild now that there is little more than
three feet of water beneath Eo, a glance ahead reveals a long,
dark, irregular wall stretching as far as I can see to each side
and completely filliog the space between the illuminated seabed
and the mirror of the surface: it is the border between sea
and land, the coast of Liguum Vitae Key.
The number of fish increases rapidly; dozens shoot from
under rtro, remindiog me of photographs of Africa where
herds of wild animals flee in all directions from the shadow of
an aiqplane. In some places, above the fields of thick turtle
EFas, comical fat puffers remind me of partridges taking oft
from a cornfield, zooming up only to glide down to land again
in the next field or so. Other fish, many of which have incredible
but always harmonious colors, do the opposite, di"iog
straight into the girass as I approach. A fat porcupine with
love$ devifs horns oyer ultramarine blue eyes lies quite
quietly and gnns at me. f have not hurt hinrr but fos=o1 one
of his kind-has hurt me! A few days ago I thoughtlessly
touched one of this species, the Spiny Boxfish, and the needlePrologue
in the Sea
sharp parrot-beak, formed by two opposing teethr pinched me
andiernoved a considerable piece of skin from my right fot€-
finger. I dive down to the specimenju st sighteda nd, using the
labor-saving technique of a duck in shallow water, leaving my
backside above the surface, I seize him carefully and lift hirn
up. After several fruitless attempts to bite, he starts to take the
situation seriously and blows himself up; my hand clearly feels
the "cylinder strokes" of the little pump formed by the
pharyngeal muscles of the fish as he sucks in water. When the
elasticity of his outer skin has reached its limit and he is lloog
like a distended prickly ball in my hand, I let him go and am
amused at the urgency with which he squirts out the PumPedin
water and disappearsin to the seaweed.
Then I turn to the wall separating sea from land. At first
glance one could imagine it to be made of volcanic tufr, so
fantastically pitted is its surface and so many are the cavities
which stare iite the eyeholes of skulls, dark and unfatholroble.
In fact, the rock consistso f coral skeletons,r elics of the
pre-ice age. One can actually see in the ancient formations the
structure of coral species siiU extant today and, pressed between
them, the shells of mussels and snails whose living
counteqparts still frequent these waters. We are here on two
coral reefs: an old one which has been dead for thousands of
years and a new one growing on the old, as corals, like culiures,
have the habit of growing on the skeletons of their forebears.
I swim up to and along the jugg.d waterfront, until I find a
handy, not too spiky projection which I grasp with my right
hand as an anchorage.I n heavenly weightlessnessc,o ol but
not cold, a stranger in a wonderland far removed from earthly
cares, rocked on gentle waves, f forget myself and am all elo,
a blissful breathing captive balloon!
Atl around me are fish, and here in the shallow water thty
are most$ small fish. They approach me curiously from a disOn
Ag$ession
tance or from the hidiog places to which my coming had
driven them; they dart back as I clear my snorkel by blowing
out the water that has condensedin it; when I breatheq uietly
again thry come nearer, swaying up and down in time with me
in the gently undulating sea. It was by watching fish that, still
with a clouded vision, I first noticed certain laws of animal behavior,
without at the time understanding them in the least,
but ever since I have endeavored to reach this understanding.
The multiplicity of the forms surrounding me-many so
near that my far-sighted eyes cannot discern them shaqplyseems
at first overwhelming. But after a while their individual
appearancesb ecomem ore familiar and my gestaltp erception,
that most wonderful of human faculties, begins to achieve a
clearer, general view of the swarms of creatures. Then I find
that there are not so many species as I thought at first. Two
categories of fish are at once apparent: those which come
swimming in shoals, either from the open sea or along the
wall, and those which, after recovering from their panic at my
presenco, come slowly and cautiously out of a cave or other
hiding placa-4ftryays singly. Of the latter I already know that
even after days or weeks the same individuals are always to be
found in the same dwelling. Throughout my stay at Key Largo
I visited regularly, every few days, a beautiful ocellated butterfly
fish in its dwelling under a capsized landing stage and I
always found it at home. Among the fish wandering hither and
thither in shoalsa re myriads of little silversides,v arious small
herrings which live near the coast, and their untiring hunters,
the needlefish, swift as arrows. Then there are Say-green
snappersl oitering in thousandsu nder landing stages,b reakwaters,
and cliffs, and delightful blue-and-yellow-striped
gruntsn so called because they make a grunting noise when
removed from the water. Particularly numerous and particulurly
lovely are the blue-striped, the white, and the yellowPrologue
in the Sea
striped grunts, misnomers because all three are blue-andyellow-
striped, each with a different pattern. According to my
observations, all three kinds swim frequently in mixed shoals.
These fish have a buccal mucous membrane of a remarkable
burning-red color, only visible when, with widely opened
mouth, a fish threatens a member of its own species, which
naturally responds in the same manner. However, neither in
the aquarium nor in the sea have I ever seen this impressive
sparringl ead to a seriousfi ght.
One of the charms of these and other colorful grunts, and
also of many snappers, is the fearless curiosity with which
thty accompany the snorkel diver. Probably they follow harmless
large fish and the now almost extinct manatee, the legendary
sea cow, in the same wB], in the hope of catching little fish
or other tiny creatures that have been scared out of cover by
the large animal. The first time I swam out from my home
harbor, the landing pier of Key Haven Motel in Tarvenier on
Kty Largo, I was deeply i*pressed by the enormous crowd of
grunts and snappers which surrounded me so densely that it
obscured my view, and which seemed to be just as strong in
numbers wherever f swam. Gradually I realized that f was always
escorted by exactly the same fish and that at a modest
estimate there were at least a few thousand. If I swam parallel
with the shore to the next pier about half a mile away, the
shoal followed me for about half this distance and then suddenly
turned around and raced home as fast as it could swim.
\Mhen the fish under the other landing stage noticed *y corting,
a startling thing happened: from the darkness of the stage
emerged a monster several yards high and wide, and many
times this length, throwing a deep black shadow on the sunlit
sea bottom as it shot toward De, and only as it drew very near
did it become resolved into a crowd of triendly grunts and
snappers. The first time this huppened to oe, I was terrified,
but later on thesef ish becamea source of reassurancer ather
On Ag$ession
than fear, because while thry remained with me I knew that
there was no large barracuda anywhere near.
Entirely different arc those daring little predators, needlefish
and halfbeaks, which hunt in small bands of five or six just
under the surface. Their whiplike forms are almost invisible
from my submarine viewpoint, for their silver flanks reflect the
light in exactly the same way as the under surface of the air,
more familiar to us in its Janus face as the upper surface of the
water. Seen from above, they are even more dfficult to discern,
since they shimmer blue-green just like the water surface.
In widely spread flank formation thry comb the highest layers
of water hunting the little silversidesw hich frequent the water
in miilions, thick as snowflakesin ablizzard and gleamingl ike
silver tinsel.T hesed warfs,t he silversidesa, re not afraid of me,
for fishes of their size would be no prey for fishes of mine. I
can swim through the midst of their shoals and thry give way
so little that sometimes I hold my breath involuntarily to avoid
breathing them in, as if I were passing through an equally
dense cloud of mosquitoes. The fact that I am breathiog
through my snorkel in another medium does not in the least
inhibit this reflex. If even the smallest needlefish approaches,
the little silversidesd art at lightning speedi n all directions,u p.
ward, downward, and even leaping above the surface, producing
in a few seconds a large clear space of water, which only
graduully fills up again when the predator has passed.
Although the shapes of the fat-headed grunts and snappers
are so different from those of the fine, streamlined needlefish,
they have one thing in common: they do not deviate too
much from the usual conception of the term "fish." Among
the resident cave-dwellers the situation is difterent: the blue
angelfish, decorated in youth with yellow vertical stripes, can
still be called a "normal fish," but this thiog pushing its way
out of a crevice between two coral blocks, weaviog with hesitating
backward and forward movements, this velvet-black
Prologue in the Sea
disk with bright yellow semicirculart ransverseb ands and a
truninous ultramarinetlue border to its lower dgt, is tltis
really a fish? Or those two round little things, the size and
shape of a bumblebee, hurrying by and displaying on the rear
end a round eye bordered with blue? Or the little jewel shining
from that hollow, whose body is divided by a diagonal line
from the lower anterior to the upper posterior end into a deeP
viotettlue and a lemon-yellow half? Or this unique little Piece
of dark-blue starry rky, shewn with t*y pale blue lights,
which in paradoxical inversion of space is emerging from a
coral block below me? On closer examination, all these fairytale
fiSrtrs are of course perfectly ordinary fishes, not too distantly
related to my old friends and collaborators, tre cichlids.
The starry sky, the Marine Jewel Fish, and the li$le fish with
the blue head and back and the yellow belly and tail, called
Beau Gregory by the Floridians, are in fact close relations.
The orange-redb umblebeei s a baby of the "Rock Beau$,n'and
the black and yellow disk is a young black Angelfish. But what
colors, ild what incredible designs: one could almost imagine
thry were planned to create a distant effect, like a flug or a
lnster.
The great, rippliog mirror above me; starry sldes'-if only
tiny snss-fuelow; swaying welghtlessly in a translucent rlledium,
surrounded by angels, lost in contemplation and awed
admiration of the creation and its beaut/, I thank the creator
that I am still able to observe essential details: of the dullcolored
fishes or the pastel-colored gnrnts I nearly always see
several of the same species at once, swimming in close shoal
formation; but of the brightly .olored species within my field
of vision, there is one blue and one black angelfish. Of the two
baby rock beauties that have just raced by, one is in furious
pursuit of the other.
I continue to observe, although, in spite of the warmth of
the water, Fy captivetalloon position is making me feel cold.
On Agscssion
Now in the fat distance-that is, only ten or twelve yards even
in clear y3[g1'-t see a beau Segory approaching, in search of
fd. The other beau, which is close to trIe, sees the inrudcr
Iater than I do from my lookout post, and he only notices him
when he is within about four yards. Then he shoots toward
hirn furiously, whereupon the stranger, although he is a little
bigger than his adversurft switches around and flees with
vigorous strokes in wild ngagS, trying to avoid the ramming
novements of his pursuer; these, if thty met their mark, could
inflict severe wounds, and indeed one of them does for I see a
glinting rcale flutter to the bottom like a wilted leaf. As soon
as ttre stranger has disappearedi nto the duky blue-greend istance,
the victor returns to his hollow, threading his way
catmly through a dense shoal of young grunts who are in
search of food in front of the entranco, and the absolute
equanimity with which he passes through the shoal gives the
i*p*ssion that he is dodging stones or other inanimate obstacles.
Even the little blue angelfish, not unlike himself in shape
and color, rouses not the least sign of aggression.
Shortly afterward I obserrre a similar altercation between
two black angelfish, scarcety a finger in length; but this time it
is even more dramatic. The anger of the aggressor and the
panicry flight of the intruder are even more aPParslltthough
perhaps this is because my slow human eye is better
able to follow the movements of the angelfish than those of ths
far swifter beau gFego{Is, whose perfonnance is too quick for
me.
f now rcahze that I am rather cold, and as I climb the coral
wall into the wann air and golden sun of Florida, I formulate
my observations in a few short sentences: the brilliant "Postercolored"
fish are all local residents, and it is only these that I
have seen defendirg a territory, Their furious attack is directed
toward members of their own species only, except, of
10
Prologue in the Sea
course, in the case of predatory fish in which, however, the
motive of the pursuit is hunger and not real ag$essiveness.
Never have I seen fish of two different species attacking each
other, eveni f both are highly aggressiveb y nature.
1 l
Chapter Two
Coral Fish
in the Laboratory
In the previousc hapteIr madeu seo f poeticl icenseI: did not
mentiont hat I alreadyk newf rom observationisn the aquarium
how furiously the brightly colored coral fish fight their
own speciesa, nd that I had alreadyf ormeda n opiniono n the
biologrcaml eaningo f thesefi ghts.I wentt o Floridat o testt his
hypothesisa,n di f thef actsd isprovedit t wasr eadyt o throw it
overboard .or rather to spit it out through my snorkel, for
one can hardly throw somethiogo verboardw heno nei s swimming
underw ater.f t is a goodm orninge xercisefo r a research
scientistt o discarda pet hypothesise veryd uy beforeb reakfast.
It keeps him young.
Some years ago I began to study brightty colored reef fish in
the
"goutium,
ihpellei not only-Uy riy iestheticp leasurein
their beauty but also by my flair for interestingb iologrcal
problerruiT. he first questionth at occurredt o mew as:W hy are
these fish so colorful? When a biologist asks "What is the ain
or puqposeo f something?h" e is not tqnng to plumbt he depth
of meaning of the universe or of this problem in particular,
but he is attempting much more humbly to find out somethiog
quite simple aod, in principle, open to solution. Since
we have learned, through Charles Darwin, about evolution
12
Coral Fish in the LaboratorY
and even something about its causes, the question "What
for?'has, for the biologist,a sha{Plyc ircumscribedm ean'
ing. \lVe know that it is the function of an organ that alters
its form, in the sense of functional improvement; and
when, owing to a small, in itself fortuitous hereditary change,
an organ becomesa little bettera nd more efficient,t he bearer
of this character,a nd his descendantws,i ll set a standardw ith
which other, lesst alentedm emberso f his speciesc annotc ompete;
t hus in the courseo f time thosel essf it to survive\ dU dis'
appear from the earth's surface. This ever present phenome'
non is called natural selection and is one of the two great
constructorso f evolution.I t is mutation,p lus the recombination
of hereditary factors in sexual reproduction, which pro'
vides the material for natural selection.T hough the process
of mutationh ad not yet beend iscoveredin his time, and even
the word had not been coined in its present connotation, Darwin,
with remarkablefo resight,p ostulatedm utation as a ne'
cessity although he never used the word.
All the innumerablec, omplex,a nd expedients tructureso f
plant and animal bodies owe their existence to the patient
work performed in the course of millions of years by mutation
and selection.W e are evenm ore convincedo f this than Darwin
was,a nd,a sw e shalls oons eew, ith morej ustificatiooT. o \
somep eoplei t may seemd isappointingth at the many formso f I
life, whoseh armoniousla ws evokeo ur awea nd whoseb eauty I
delightso ur aesthetics ensesh, aveo riginatedi n sucha prosaic I
and causallyd eterminedw ay. But to the scientistsit is a con- I
stant source of wonder that nature has created its highest I
worksw ithoute verviolatingit s ownl aws. )
Our question "What for?" can receive a meaningful answer
only in casesw hereb oth constructorso f evolution have been
at work in the mannerj ust described.O ur question simply
asks what function the organ or character under discussion
performsi n the interestso f the survivalo f the speciesI.f we
T3
On Aggftssion
ask, "What does a cat have sharp, curved claws for?" and
answer simply by sayingn "To catch mice wift," this does not
imply a profession of any mythical teleology, but the Plain
statement that catching mice is the function whose survival
value, by the prrocesso f natural selection,h as bred cats with
this particular form of claw. Unless selection is at work, the
question "What for?" cannot receive an answer with any real
meaning. If we find, in a central European village, a poPulation
of mongrel dop some of whom have straight tails and
others curly ones, there is no point whatever in asking what
thry have such tails for. This random variety of femlsmostly
more or less ugly-is the product of mutation working
by itself, in other words, pure chance. But whenever we come
upon highly regular, difterentiated, and complicated structures,
such as a bird's wing or the intricate mechanism of an
instinctive behavior pattern, we must ask what demands of
natural selection caused them to evolve, in other words, what
thry are for. We ask this questionw ith assurancei,n the confident
hope of an intelligibte answer, for we have found that we
usually get one provided the questioner perseveres enough.
This is not disproved by the few exceptional cases where scientific
research has not yet been able to solve some of the most
i*Fortant of all biological problems, such as the question of
what the wonderful forms and colors of mollusk shells are for,
as the inadequate eye of these animals cannot see them, even
when thry are net-as thty often sre'--ffidden by the skin-fold
of the mantle and in the darkness of the deep seated.
The loud colors of coral fish call loudly for explanation.
What species-preservinfgu nction could have causedt heir evolution?
I bought the most colorful fishes I could find and, for
comparison ) a few less colorful and even some really drab
species. Then I made an unexpected discovery: in the case of
most of the really flamboyant "poster"-colored coral foh, it is
quite impossible to keep more than one individual of a species
t4
Coral Fish in the Laboratoq"
in a small aquarillm. If I put several members of the same
speciesin to the tank, there were vicious fights and within a
short time only the strongesfti sh wasl eft alive. Later, in Florida,
it i*pressed me deeply to watch in the sea the same scene
that I had alwayso bservedio *y aquariuma fter the fatal battles:
severafl ish, but only one of eachs peciese, achb rightty
coloredb ut eachf lyiog a different flag, living peaceablyto -
gether.A t a small breakwatern ear my hotel, one beau grego{
I, one small black angelfisha nd one butterfly fish lived in
peacefula ssociationP. eacefulc oexistenceb etweent wo individualso
f a "poster"-coloreds pecieso ccurs,i n the aquarium
or in the sea,o nly amongt hosef ishest hat live in a permanent
conjugals tate.S uchc ouplesw ereo bseryedi,n the sea,a mong
Blue Angelfish and Beau Grego{I, and in the aquarium among
white-and-yellowB utterflyF ish. The partnema re iosrparable
and it is interestingt o note that thry are more aggressiveto -
ward memberso f their own speciesth an singlef ish are. I shall
explaint he reasonfo r this later.
In the s€, the princrpt" "Like avoids likd' is upheld without
bloodshedo, wing to the fact that the conqueredfi sh flees
from the territory of his conqueror who does not pursue him
far; whereasin the aquarium,w heret here is no cscsperth e
winner often kills the loser, or at least claims the whole container
as his territory and so intimidates the weaker fish with
continual attacks that thry grow much more slowly than he
does;a nd so his dominancein creasesti ll it leads to the fatal
conclusion.
In order to observe how territory "owrers" nonnally behave,
one needs a container big enough for at least two territories
of a size norm"Uy commanded by the species under
examination. We therefore built an aquariurn six feet long,
hotding more than two tons of water and big enough for ssveral
sucht erritorieso f various specieso f smaller,c oastalf islt
In the "postet''-coloreds peciest,h e young are nearly always
15
On Aggtession
not only more colorful and fiercer but also morc firmly &ttached
to their territories than the adults are. Since the young
are small, we could observe their behavior in a comparatively
limited space.
Into this aquarium my coworker Doris Zumpe and I put
small fish, one to two inches in length, of the following: seven
species of butterfly fish, two species of angelfish, eight species
of demoiselles (the group to which the starry skies and the
beau gregoryb elong), two specieso f triggerfish,t hree species
of wrasse, one species of doctorfish, and several species of
nonposter-colored, nonaggFessivefi sh, such as trunkfish,
puffers, and others. Thus there were about twenty-five species
of "postet''-colored fish, with an average of four per species,
more of some, only one of others, a total of roughly a hundred
individuals. They settled in very well, with almost no losses;
th"y started to flourish-and according to prosam, thty began
to fight.
Now came the chance of counting something. When the
"exacf' scientist can count or rneasure something, he experiences
a pleasure which, to the outsidef, is hard to understand.
Admittedly we would know only a little less about intraspecific
aggressionif we had not countedb ut our resultsw ould
be much less convincing if we could only st{, "Btightly colored
coral fishes hardly ever bite any other species than their
own"; however, we, or to be more exact, Doris, counted the
bites, with the following result: since there were about one
hundred fish in the aquarium and each species was rePresented
by an average of four, the chances of a fish biting one
of its-own species were three to ninety-six; but the ProPortion
of bites inflicted on members of the same species to the bites
glven to other species was roughly eighty-five to fifteen. And
even this small number of fifteen was misleading, because
these bites came almost entirely from the demoisellesw hich in
the aquarium stay in their caves all the time, invisible from
Coral Fish in the Laboratory
without, and attack every intruder regardlesso f the species.f n
nature, they, too, ignore fishes of other species. l,ater on we
omitted this group and obtained much more impressive figures.
A further proportion of the bites inflicted on fishes of difterent
species came from those individuals which had no members
of their own speciesin the container and therefore had to
discharge their anger on other objects. Their choice of objects
confirmed the correctness of my supposition as convincingly
as did the more exact figures. For example, there was a single
member of an uncertain species of butterly fish whose form
and markings were so exactly intermediate between the whiteand-
gold and the white-and-black butterfly fish that we called
him the white-gold-black, and he evidently shared our opinion
of his classification for he divided his attacks almost equally
between the representativeso f those two species and was
nevers eent o bite a membero f the third speciesT. he behavior
of our single blue trigger (Odonus niger) was even more interesting.
The zoologist who gave this fish its Latin name can
only have seen it as a co{pse in formalin, for the live fish is
not black but luminous blue, suffused with a delicate violet
and pink, particularly evident at the edges of the fins.
I bought only one specimen of this fish because I rcalaed,
from the fights in the dealer's tank, that my own tank would
be too small for two of theset wo-and-a-half-inchfi shes.f n the
absenceo f a fellow membero f his speciesm, y blue triggerfish
behaved peaceably for a time, administering only a few bites,
significantly distributing them between two quite different species.
Firstly he pursued the so-called blue devils, near relations
of the blue gregorf , which had the same beautiful blue color
as himself; and secondly he attacked the two members of
another triggerfish species, the so-called Picasso fish. As
its name indica,tes, the markings of this fish are extraordinarily
colorful and brzarr:e, but it resembles the blue trigget
17
On Aggre.sion
in its outward form if not in its color. After a few months,
the stronger of the two Picassos had dispatched the weaker
into the realm of formalin, and a strong rivalry sprang up
between the survivor and the blue trigger. Doubtless the
increased ag$ession of the latter toward the Picasso was
influenced by the fact that his old enemies, the blue devils,
had meanwhile changed from the bright blue of their youth to
their drab, dove- $ay adult dress which had a less fighteliciting
effect. Finally, the blue trigger killed the Picasso. I
could quote many more such cases where, in similar experiments,
only one fish survived. In cases where, 8s a result of
pairing, two fishes behaved as one, one pair remained, as in
the brown, ild the white-and-gold butterfly fish. Numerous
cases are also known where other animals, besides fish, in the
absence of a member of their own species discharged their
aggressiono n other objects,c hoosingf or the purposec loser elations
or speciesw ith coloring similar to their own.
These aquarium observations,c onfirmedb y ty seas tudies,
prove the rule that fish are far more aggressive toward their
own speciesth an toward *yother.
Now there ile, as I have already described, a number of
speciesw hich are not nearly so agglessivea s the coral fish of
my experiments.W hen one examinest he aggressivea nd the
more or lessn onaggfessives peciesi,t is evident that there is a
connection between coloring, agsessiveness, and sedentary
territorial habits. Among the fish that I examined in the free
state, extreme agsessiveness, associated with territorial behavior
and concentratedo n memberso f the same species,is
found almost exclusively in those forms whose bright posterlike
color patterns proclaim their species from afar. In fact, it
was this extraordinary kind of coloring that aroused my curiosity
and drew my attention to the existence of a problen.
Fresh-nrater fish can also be bcautifully colorful, and in this
respect many of them can hold their own with marine fish, but
l8
Coral Fish in the Laboratory
apart from their beauty they contrast oddly with the coral fish.
The charmo f the coloringo f mostf resh-waterfi sh lies in its
changeability:C ichlids, Labyrinth Fish, the red, green,a nd
blue male Stickleback,t he rainb.ow-coloreBd itterling of our
home waters, and many other forms well known to us through
the home aquarium, illurrinate their jewels only when thry are
glowing with love or anger. In many of these fish the degree of
their emotionc an be measuredb y their coloring, which also
showsw hethera ggressivenessse,x uale xcitemento r the flight
urge is uppemost. Just as a rainbow disappearsw hen a cloud
coveni the sun, so the bt"oty of the fish fades when the emotion
that producedi t waneso r is supersededb y anotherc onflicting
emotion, such as fear, which quickly covers the fish
with drab protective coloring. In other words, the colors of all
thesef ish are a meanso f expressiono, nly appearingw hen thty
aren eededC. orespondingly,t he young and often the females
of theses peciesh avep lain camotrflagec oloring.
The situation is difterent among the agsessive coral fish.
By day, their glorious dress is as constant as if it had been
painted on them in fast colors. ft is only before going to sleep
that most of them show their capacity for changng color by
putting on a nightdress whose desigu is amazingly different
from their day attire; but as long as they are awake and active,
thry keep their flamboyant colors at all costs, whether they are
hotly pursuinga fellow membero f their specieso r are the,nselvese
scapingin witd ngzagsf rom a pursuer.T hey would
no more think of lowering their flag than would an English
battleshipi n a novel by Forester.A nd even in transport cootainers,
where thry are certainly not at ease, tnd during illness
their gorgeousc olorsr emainu nchangede; vena fter deathi t is
a long timeb eforet hry disappeaer ntirely.
In all typical poster-coloredc oral fish, not only are male
and fenale both brightly colored but even the tiny babies
show brilliant colors urhich, shangely enough, are often quitc
On Aggression
difterent from those of the adults, and sometimese ven more
striking. Most amazing of all: in seyeral forms, only the babies
are multicolored, for example the starry skies mentioned on
page g, and the blue devils (page l7), both of which change
with sexual maturity into drab dove-Say fish with pale yellow
tail fins.
The coloring of coral fish is distributed in large, sharply
contrasting areas of the body. This is quite difterent from the
color patterns not only of most fresh-water fish but of nearly
all less ag$essive and less territorial fish, whose charm lies in
the delicacyo f their designs,t he harmony of their soft coloring,
and the careful "attention to detail." When you see a
grunt from a distance, you see an insignificant, greenish-silver
fish, and only when he is right in front of you-a thing that
may easily happen with these inquisitive creatulss' ds you
notice the gold and sky-blue hieroglyphs clothing his body like
an attractively designed brocade. Without any doubt these
patterns are signalsf or the recognition of the speciesb y its
own members, but their design is such that it can be seen only
at very close quartersb y *embers of the speciesin the immediate
vicinity. Conversely, the poster colors of the territorially
aggressivec oral fish are so arrangedt hat they can be seena nd
recognized from the greatest possible distance, and we know
only too well that recognition of their own speciesp rovokes
furious agg3essioinn thesef ish.
Many people,e ven thosew ith an understandingo f nature,
think that we biologists show a strange desire for superfluous
knowledge when we want to know what functions every single
colored patch on an animal fulfills in the preservation of the
species, and what causes could have led to its evolution. fndeed
this curiosity is often attributed to materialism and a distorted
senseo f values.B ut every questiont hat has a reasonable
answer is justifiable, and the value and beauty of a natural object
is in no way affected by our finding out why it is made in
20
Coral Fisb in the laboratory
this, and no other way. The scientist'sa ttitude cannotb e better
expresed than as William Beebe once formulated it in his
quaint manner: 'nThe isness of things is well worth studying;
but it is their whlmessth at makest ife worth living." The rainbow
is no lessb eautiful becausew e have learnedt o understand
the laws of fight refraction to which it owes its existence,
and the beau$ and grmmetry of design, color, and movement
in our fishes must excite our admiration even more when we
know that their purposeis preservationo f the speciesth at they
adorn. We know, with tolerable certainty, the qpecies-preserying
function of the glorious war paint of coral fish: it elicits
furiousl eactionso f territorial defensein everyf ish of the same
qpecies-end only of the same qpecies-when the reacting individual
is in its owa territory; and it proclaims fear-inspiring
readiness to fight to the intruder on foreign
ground.B oth functionsa le pnacticallyid entical with thoseo \
another natural whose beauty has inspired our )
poets---birds ong. _/
ff we test this throry by comparing the fighting behavior of
poster-colored and nonlnster-oolored fishes of the same
geNreraan d in the sane environmenti,t provesi tself particularly
impressivelwy hena poster.coloreda nd plain+oloredf ish
belongt o the sameg enus;f or example,t he SergeanMt ajor,
with iB ptain tranwerse bands, is a peaceful schooling fish,
while its generic relation, the sharptoothed Abudefduf, a
gorgeousv elvet-blackfi sh with bright blue stripeso n heada nd
thorax and a yellow transverseb and on its body, is about the
fiercest of all the ferce tenitoqy owners that I met with during
my coral fish studiesO. ur latge aquarhrmp rovedt oo smallf or
two tiny youngsterss,c arcelya n inch long, of this specieso; ne
claimed for itself the whole container and the other eked out
its existerce in the left upper front corner behind the bubbles
of the air generatowr hich hid it from the view of its disagreeableb
rother.A notherg ood exampleis providedby comparing
2t
On Aggfession
fish of the butterfly fish genera. The only peaceful one I know
is the four-eyed buttetfly, and this is the only one whose characteristic
design is broken up into such small details that it can
be recognlzedonly at very close quarters.
The most remarkable thing of all is that coral fish which are
poster-colored in youth and plain-colored at sexual maturity
show the same correlation between coloring and aggression:
as babies they are furious defenders of their territory but as
adults thry are far more peaceable;in some,o ne has the impression
that th.y are obliged to divest themselves of their
fight-eliciting colors in order to make friendly contact between
the sexes possible. This certainly applies to the demoiselle
Soup; several times I saw a brilliantly black and white species
spawning in the aquarium, for this pu{pose changiog their
striking color for a monotonous dull gral, only to hoist the
flag again asi soon as spawoitg was over.
22
Chapter Three
WhatA g$essionIs
Good For
TVhat is the value of all this fighting? fn nature, fighting is such
an ever-presenpt rocess,i ts behaviorm echanismsa nd weaPons
are so higtrly developed and have so obviously arisen under
the selectionp ressureo f a species-preservinfgu nction, that it
is our du$ to ask this Darwinian questioll.
The layman,m isguidedb y sensationalismin pressa nd film,
imagines the relationship between the various "wild beasts of
the jungld' to be a bloodthirsty struggle, all against all. In a
widely shown film, a Bengal tiger was seen fighting with a
python, and immediately aftenrard the python with a crocodile.
With a clear conscience I can assert that such things
never occur under natural conditions. What advantage would
one of these animals gain from exterminating the other?
Neither of them interferes with the other's vital interests.
Darwin's expression, "the struggle for existencer" is sometimes
erroneously inteqpreted as the struggle between different
species. In reality, the struggle Darwin was thinking of and
which drives evolution forward is the competition between near
relations.W hat causesa speciesto disappearo r becomet ransformed
into a different species is the profitable "inventiod'
that falls by chance to one or a few of its members in the everOn
Aggfession
Iastingg ambleo f hereditaryc hangeT. he descendantosf these
tucky ones gradually outstrip all others until the particular
speciesc onsistso nly of individualsw ho possestsh e new *inventioll."
There &f€, however, fightlike contests between members of
different species: at night an owl kills and eats even wellarmed
birds of prelr in spite of their vigorous defense, and
when these birds meet the owl by day thry attack it ferociously.
Almost every animal capable of selfdefense, from the
smallest rodent upward, fights furiously when it is cornered
and has no means of escape. Besides these three particular
types of inter-specific fighting, there are other, less typical
cases;f or instancentw o cave-nestingb irds of different species
may fight for a nesting cavity. Something must be said here
about these three types of inter-specffic fighting in order
plain their peculidtty and to distinguish tHem from the intraspecific
aggression which is really the subject of this book.
The sun'ival value of inter-specific fights is much more evi'
dent than that of intra-specific contests. The way in which a
predatory animal and its prey influence each othet's evolution
is a classicale xampleo f how the selectionp ressureo f a certain
function causes corresponding adaptations. The swiftness of
the hunted ungulate forces its feline pursuers to evolve etrormous
leaping power and shaqply armed toes. Paleontologrcal
discoveries fiave shown impresiive examples of such evolutionary
competition between weapons of attack and those of
defense. The teeth of grazing animals have achieved better
and better grurding power, while, in their parallel evolutionn
nuhitional plants have devised means of protecting themselves
against being eaten, 8s by the storage of silicates and the d€-
velopment of hard, wooden thorns. This kind of "fighf' between
the eater and the eaten never goes so far that the
predator causes extinction of the prey: a state of equilibrium is
always established between them, endurable by both s1recies.
What Aggression h Good For
The last lions would have died of hunger long before they had
killed the last pair of antelopes or zebras; or, in terms of
humanc ommercialismt,h e whaling industry would go banknrpt
before the last whales became extinct. + tat-{UgJly
{ueatens the e.istenee of n
rqg enemy''bot ftr_lt*pttito&__In prehistoric times mau took
th o!, to Australia. It ran wild
there,b ut it did not exterminatea singles pecieso f is quarry;
instead,i t destroyedth e large marsupialb eastso f prey which
ate the same animals as it did itself. The large marsupial
predators, the Tasmanian Devil and the Marsupial Wolf,
were far superior to the Dingo in strength, but the hunting
methods of these *old-fashiotrd,' relatively stupid and slow
creatures were inferior to those of the "modern" mammal.
The Dingo reduced the marsupial population to such a degree
that theirm ethodsn o longer'?dd," and todayt heye xisto nly
in Tasmaniaw, heret heD ingoh asn everp enetrated.
In yet another respect the fight between predator and prey
is not a fight in the real sense of the word: the stroke of the
paw with which a lion kills his prey may resembleth e movementst
hat he makesw henh e strikesh is rival, just as a shotgun
and a rifle resemblee acho ther outwardly;b ut the inner motives
of the hunter are basically differcnt from those of the
fighter. The buffalo which the lion fells provokes his aggression
as little as the appetizing turkey which I have just seen
hangingi n the larder provokesm ins. The differencesin these
inner drivesc an clearly be seeni n the expressionm ovements
of the animal: a dog about to catch a hunted rabbit has tho
samek ind of excitedly happy expressiona s he has when he
Seets his master or awaits some longed-for treat. From many
excellent photographs it can be seen that the lion, in the
dranatic moment before he springs, is in no way angry.
Growling, layng the ears back, and other well-known expression
movementso f fighting behavior are seeni n predatory
On Aggfession
animals only when they are very afraid of a wildly resisting
prelr and even then the expressions are only suggested.
The opposite process, the "counteroffensive" of the prey
against the predator, is more nearly related to genuine aggfession.
Social animals in particular take every possible chance to
attack the "eating enemy" that threatens their safety. This
process is called "mobbiog." Crows or other birds "mob" a cat
or any other nocturnal predator, if thry catch sight of it by
day.
The survival value of this attack on the eating enemy is selfevident.
Even if the attacker is small and defenselessh, e may
do his enemy considerable harm. All animals which hunt
singty have a chanceo f successo nly if they take their prey by
surprise, If a fox is followed through the wood by a loudly
screaming juy, or a sparrow hawk is pursued by a flock of
warniog wagtails, his hunting is spoiled for the time being.
Many birds will mob an owl, if they find one in the daytime,
and drive it so far away that it will hunt somewhere else the
next night. fn some social animals such as jackdaws and many
kinds of geese,t he function of mobbirg is particularly interesting.
In jackdaws, its most i*portant survival value is to teach
the young, inexperienced birds what a dangerous eating
enemy looks like, which they do not know instinctively.
Among birds, this is a unique case of traditionally acquired
knowledge.
Geese and ducks "know" by very selective, innate releasing
mechanisms that anything f,roy, red-brown, long-shaped, and
slinking is extremely dangerous, but nonetheless mobbiog,
with its intense excitement and the gathering together of geese
from far and wide, has an essentially educational character as
well as a survival value; anyone who did not know it already
Iearns: foxes may be found here! At a time when only part of
the shore of our lake was protected by a foxproof fence, the
geese kept ten or fifteen yards clear of all unfenced cover
TVhat Aggression Is Good For
Iikely to conceal a fox, but in the fenced-in area they penetrated
fearlessly into the thickets of young fir trees. Besides
this didactic functioD, mobbing of predators by jackdaws and
geese still has the basic, original one of making the enemy's life
a burden. Jackdaws actively attack their enemy, and geese ap
parent$ intimidate it with their cries, their thronging, and
their fearless advance. The great Canada geese will even follow
a fox over land in a close phalalxr, and I have never
known a fox in this situation try to catch one of his tormentors.
With ears laid back and a disgusted expression on his
face, he glances back over his shoulder at the trumpeting flock
and trots slowly-se as not to lose f4ss-.way from them.
Among the larger, more defense-minded herbivores which,
en masso, are a match for even the biggest predators, mobbing
is particularly effective; according to reliable reports, zebras
wiil molest even a leopard if they catch him on a veldt where
cover is sparse. The reaction of social attack against the wolf
is sti[ so ingained in domestic cattle and pigs that one can
sometimesla nd oneselfi n danger by going through a field of
co\ils with a nervous dog which, instead of barking at them or
at least fleeing independently, seeks refuge between the legs of
its owner. Once, when I was out with my bitch Stasi, I was
obliged to j*p into a lake and swim for safety when a herd of
young cattle half encircled us and advanced threateningly;
and when he was in southern Hungary duing the First World
War my brother spent a pleasant afternoon up a tree with his
Scotch terrier under his arm, because a herd of half-wild
Hongarian swine, distubed while graz,rngin the wood, encircled
them, and with bared tusks and unmistakable intentions
began to close in on them.
Much more could be said about these efiective attacks on
the real or supposed enemy. In some birds and fishes, to serve
this special pu{pose brightly colored *aposematic" or warning
colors have evolved, which predators notice and associate with
27
On AggFession
unpleasante xperiencesw ith the particular species.P oisonous,
evil-tasting, or otherwise specially protected animals have, in
many cases, "chosen" for these warniog signals the combination
of red, white, and black; and it is remarkable that the
Common Sheldrake and the Sumatra Barb, two creatures
which have nothing in common either with each other or the
above-named groups, should have done the same thiog. It has
long been known that Common Sheldrake mob predatory
animals and that they so disgust the fox with the sight of their
brightly colored plumage that they can nest safely in inhabited
foxholes.I bought some SumatraB arbs becauseI had asked
myself why these fishes looked so poisonous; in a large corlmunal
aquariuffi, they immediately answered my question by
giant predators from
mobbiog big Cichlids ssoo persistentlyt hat I had to save the
the only apparently harmless dwarfs.
There is a third form of fighting behavior, and its survival
value is as easily demonstrateda s that of the predator'sa ttack
on its prey or the mobbing by the prey of the eating enemy.
With H. Hedigern we call this third behavior pattern the critical
reaction. The expression "fighting like a cornered rat" has
becomes ymbolic of the desperates trugglei n which the fighter
stakes his all, because he cannot escape and can expect no
mercy. This rnost violent form of fighting behavior is tnotivated
by fe?t, by the most intensef light furtpulsews hosen atural
outlet is prevented by the fact that the danger is too near;
so the animal, not daring to turn its back on it, fights with the
proverbial courage of desperation. Such a contingency may
also occur when, 8s with the cornered rat, flight is prevented
by lack of space, or by strong social ties, like those which forbid
an animal to desert its brood or family. The attack which a
hen or goose makes on everything that goes too near her chicks
or goslings can also be classified as a critical reaction. Muoy
animals will attack desperatelyw hen suqprisedb y an enemya t
less than a certain critical distance, whereas thty would have
28
What Aggression Is Good For
fled if they had noticed his coming from farther away. As
Hedigerh asd escribedl,i on tamersm aneuverth eir greatb easts
of prey into their positions in the arena by playing a dangerl
ouJgamew ith the marglnb etweenf light distancea nd critical
distance;a nd thousandso f big gameh unting storiest estify to
the dangerousnesosf large beastso f prey in densec over.T he
reasoni s that in such circumstancesth e flight distance is
particularly small, becauseth e animal feels safe, imagining
inat it will not be noticed by a man even if he should penetrate
the cover and get quite close; but if in so doing the man oversteps
the animafs critical distance, a so-called hunting accidenth
appensq uickly andd isashously.
All the casesd escribeda bove,i n which animalso f different
speciesfi ght againste acho ther, have one thiog in common:
everyo ne of the fightersg ainsa n obviousa dvantageb y its behavior
or, at least, in the interestso f preservingt he speciesit
"ouglt to" gain one. But intra-specifica ggressiona, ggression
in the proper and narrower sense of the word, also fulfills a
species-preservinfugn ction.H ere,t oo, the Datwinian question
"What for?" may and must be asked. Many people will not see
the obvious justffication for this question, and those accuF
tomed to the classicalp sychoanalyticawl ay of thinking will
probably regard it as a frivolous attemPt to vindicate the lifedestroyingp
rincrple or, purely and simply, GVil.T he average
normalc ivilized humanb eingw itnessesa ggresiono nly when
two of his fellow citizenso r two of his domestica nimalsf ighq
and therefore sees only its evil eftects. In addition there is the
alarmingp rogressiono f aggressivaec tionsr angingf rom cocks
fighting in the barnyard to dogs biting each other, boys thrashing
each other, young men throwing beer mugs at each other's
headsa, nd so on to bar-roomb rawlsa boutp olitics,a nd finally
towars and atombombs.
With humanityi n its presentc ultural and rcchnologicasl ituation,
we have good reason to consider intra-specific agOn
Aggreasion
gresion the greatesto f all dangersW. e shall not improve our
chanceso f counteractingit if we accepti t as somethingm etaphysical
and inevitable, but on the other hand, we shall perhapss
ucceedin finding remediesif we investigateth e chain of
its natural causation. Wherever man has achieved the power
of voluntarily guiding a natural phenomenonin a certain direction,
he has owed it tb his understandingo f the chain of
causes which formed it. Physiology, the science concerned
with the normal life processeasn dh ow theyf ulfill their speciespreservingfu
nction, forms the essentiaflo undationf or patholory,
the sciencein vestigatingth eir disturbancesL.e t us forget
for a momentt hat the aggressiodnr ive hasb ecomed erailed
underc onditionso f civilization,a nd let us inquirei mpartially
into its naturalc ausesF. or the reasonsa lreadyg rven,a s good
Darwiniansw em usti nquirei nto thes pecies-preservfiunngc tion
which, under natural-



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