“… the clever demagogue, well versed in the dangerous art of producing supra-normal stimulus situations, gets hold of young people at the susceptible age [late teens to early twenties], he finds it easy to guide their object-fixations in a direction subservient to his political aims. At the post-puberal age some human beings seem to be driven by an over-powering urge to espouse a cause, and, failing to find a worthy one, may become fixated on astonishingly inferior substitutes. The instinctive need to be a member of a closely knit group fighting for common ideals may grow so strong that it becomes inessential what those ideals are and whether they possess any intrinsic value. This, I believe, explains the formation of juvenile gangs whose social structure is very probably a rather close reconstruction of that prevailing in primitive human society”.
Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression (1963).
Lorenz grew up in Austria in the 1930s and was possibly thinking here about the Hitler Youth movement. He was reticent in mentioning Nazi subjects as he himself, like may others at the time, had felt obliged to join the Nazi party.
Konrad Lorenz imagined what an unbiased observer on another planet would make of human behaviour when observing Earth by telescope. He concluded that this observer would never gain the impression that human behaviour was dictated by intelligence, still less by responsible morality:
“Unreasoning and unreasonable human nature causes two nations to compete, though no economic necessity compels them to do so; it induces two political parties or religions with amazingly similar programmes of salvation to fight each other bitterly and it impels an Alexander or a Napoleon to sacrifice millions of lives in his attempt to unite the world under his sceptre.
We have been taught to regard some of the persons who have committed these and similar absurdities with respect, even as ‘great’ men… most of us fail to realize how abjectly stupid and undesirable the historical mass behaviour of humanity actually is”:
On Aggression (1963)
“In human evolution, no inhibitory mechanisms preventing sudden manslaughter were necessary, because quick killing was impossible anyhow; the potential victim had plenty of opportunity to elicit the pity of the aggressor by submissive gestures and appeasing attitudes. No selection pressure arose in the pre-history of mankind to breed inhibitory mechanisms preventing the killing of con-specifics until, all of a sudden, the invention of artificial weapons upset the equilibrium of killing potential and social inhibitions….
But whatever man’s innate norms of social behaviour may have been, they were bound to be thrown out of gear by the invention of weapons. If humanity survived, as after all it did, it never achieved security from the danger of self-destruction. If moral responsibility and unwillingness to kill have indubitably increased, the ease and emotional impunity of killing have increased at the same rate. The distance at which all shooting weapons take effect screens the killer against the stimulus situation which would otherwise activate their killing inhibitions”. This was made disastrously worse by the use of remote-controlled weapons (such as aerial bombing, nuclear warfare, etc.).
Konrad Lorenz (1963).
Konrad Lorenz in his influential book On Aggression (1st published 1963, Vienna) argued that it was selective competition within species, including humankind, that was a basic cause of aggressive behaviour. In modern man, he thought, it was the hectic life in overcrowded cities and the irrational extension of the industrial revolution that resulted in stupid and unadaptive tensions and conflict. He said:
” The rushed existence into which industrialized, commercialized man has precipitated himself is actually a good example of an inexpedient development caused entirely by competition between members of the same species. Human beings of today are attacked by so called managerial diseases, high blood pressure, renal atrophy, gastric ulcers and torturing neuroses; they succumb to barbarism because they have no more time for cultural interests. And all this is unnecessary, for they could easily agree to take things more quietly; theoretically they could, but in practice it is just as impossible for them as it is for the argus pheasant to grow shorter wing feathers” (1967 translation, p. 33).