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Why We’re Cruel

September 1, 2015

I recently read a fascinating explanation for human conduct. We’re cruel because we made an unusually fast jump from mid-level predator to top predator, quite recently in evolutionary terms, and we’re still not secure in our position.

1280px-Panthera_tigris_-Franklin_Park_Zoo,_Massachusetts,_USA-8a_(2)

Tigers don’t stress much. We do.

The suggestion comes from Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, argues that for millions of years, we humans and our ancestors hunted small prey, scavenged the kills of more powerful predators, and lived in fear of those top predators. It’s only about 100,000 years ago that we seized the highest link in the food chain. “Most top predators,” according to Harari, “are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. [Homo sapiens] by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous.”

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© 2015 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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