The Need for a Common Enemy

Sam Koritz, October 19, 2007

Even monkeys and apes are clever enough to use the threat of a common enemy as a way of reducing within-group tensions. Frans de Waal has seen wild baboons resolve a dispute by jointly threatening the members of another baboon troop, and chimpanzees in a zoo making aggressive “wraaa” calls in the direction of the cheetah enclosure, though no cheetah was visible. “The need for a common enemy can be so great that a substitution is fabricated,” says de Waal. “I have seen long-tailed macaques run to the swimming pool to threaten their own images in the water; a dozen tense monkeys unified against the ‘other’ group in the pool.”

In the absence of a common enemy, or of a common goal that can be achieved only if everyone pulls together, groups tend to fall apart into a collection of individuals or smaller groups.

The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris

More science here.




14 Responses to “The Need for a Common Enemy”

  1. Wow. Let’s all read this book.

  2. Quite apart from the legitimacy of Darwinism as a purely zoological paradigm, the influence of modern anthropology, both physical and cultural, on ethics has been ambiguous at best. Are we supposed to take these ethological discoveries as justifications and rationalizations of look-alike human behavior, or is this all offered in the spirit of a “cautionary tale.” In all honesty I havn’t read the book refered too…but with a background in anthropology I can testify to the fact that all to often social scientists slide insidiously from the positive to the normative, often without even reflecting on the issues involved. The best one might hope is that, in accordance with the recomendations of Richard Weaver, social scientists ought to commence their studies with an obligatory, in depth, study of the philosophy of ethics as represented by traditional Western philosophy of ethics. Yes, at some level we are apes. But we differ from the connotation of the verb “to ape” in one crucial respect. We are capable of saying “No!”

  3. Hey Sam

    Is there a chapter on the how the apes handle the threat of Islamo-Fascism? Maybe Benito and McCainiac could quote it during the next debate if it exists. Better yet, lets dress up a couple of chimps like Rudy and John, as they would probably be more credible debaters!!

  4. We are capable of saying “No!”

    I disagree. When we are caught up in the fevor of fear it is very seldom to see someone say no. And anybody who does say no is taking his life into his own hands. Their will be retribution to be paid to the collective. They might lose their head like Franz Jägerstätter or be thrown in jail like Benderman or face public humiliation and persecution like Watada. The collective always seeks to impose its will on the individual. Individuals are fine to do as they please…as long as their decisions do not interfere with what the collective holds dear.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig7/mccarthy7.html

  5. Mark,

    Yes, it is offered in the spirit of a cautionary tale. Understanding how our cognitive biases should make saying “no” when appropriate more likely. (I have a section on my blog dedicated to human cognition.)

  6. Only if the common enemy is not known do they divide. During
    all israel/ palestine peace agreements donations to israel PAC’s drop. They cannot decide who the enemy is.

  7. Well, let’s rediscover the common enemy which united us in the late 1970s – big government. Then Cheney crew took over under Reagan and beefed up the “common enemy” of the Soviet Union; now the same shady crew is back with “islamofacism.” DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT!! Rally the people at every highway and byway!! DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT!! DOWN WITH BIG GOVERNMENT!!

  8. However high on the animal scale, you are not capable of proper use of the English language, such as proper use of to vs too. I see this repeatedly. Too bad teaching of the basics seems to be a thing of the past.

  9. Yes, folks, your all correct. We have a “need” for a common enemy. I guess when I watched those towers come down in front of my own eyes that was a figment of my imagination. I must be “IslamoPhobic” and therefore I dreamed up a towering inferno where almost 3,000 of my countrymen perished.

    And the dozens and dozens of other attacks by the Muslim Nazis? They must all be just in my imagination. The bombing in Pakistan that killed 126 people yesterday? I’m sure that was a hoax too.

  10. The foundation of human is an animal. When one understands such animal instincts very well, one can judge his desires and behaviors in a more rational way.

    So that proclaiming “war on ” can by identified as an attempt to unite animals… err… people that lack common positive goal.

  11. On the bright side – when you understand this very unpleasant truth – then you actually start to HOPE for a nuclear disaster that would wipe these animals out. Unfortunately, having almost 10 billions around – there are no chances to terminate the human race.
    I mean – I hate animal in myself, imagine now much more I hate that animal in my neighbour :-)

  12. Bush had to arrange 9/11 disaster – whereas Putin just steered the US into SD expansion. A touch of class..

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