“Humans can be evil creatures. No other animal kills for no reason other than survival”.
And I am getting preeeetty sick of it. We are not an evil species. And we are not the only species that kill for apparently random reasons.
Firstly let’s tackle this notion of evil. This is a tricky area of philosophy that I do not claim to be in any way an expert in but here is my interpretation of the subject: I do not believe in “evil”. I cannot define it. People act according to what they believe to be right at that time. I am not in any way saying that terrorist attacks are acceptable, or that murder in any circumstance or situation is excusable. I am saying that we cannot look at a behaviour, like the killing of a human by another human, and just explain it away as being an “evil” act.
By saying something is “evil”, it is like we are saying “that’s just the way it is. We can’t do anything about it. You can’t change an evil person”. The way society would thus tackle such a person or group would be to try to eliminate them, either by locking them away out of sight, killing them, etc. Would these acts be seen as evil? Not by the people carrying out the task. Because to them, what they are doing is “good”. We are going around in circles here. People are always going to have opposing perceptions and ideas of what is good and bad, right and wrong. Labelling what we do not agree with as “evil” and what we do agree with as “good”, we achieve nothing. We must try to understand perceptions of people other than our own. Not accept them, but understand them. The beliefs of others may be just as strong as our own, and they may well believe our ideas and intentions to be “evil”. But without understanding the opposition, we end up victimising, creating in-groups and out-groups, and ultimately carrying out then excusing “evil” acts. Hey, it’s not “evil” if it’s in the name of the law, right?
Now on to part two of my rant. Humans are most certainly not the only species that kill their own group members for reasons other than basic survival. I have to be careful with what I go on to write about here, because I do not want to sound like I am demonising other animals. As I said, I do not believe in evil. I believe that individuals will do what they believe to be right at the time. In other species, we cannot really say they do what they believe to be “right”, as we do not know if animals other than us have a moral sense of right and wrong. Neither do I aim to use animal behaviour as a model to justify human behaviour. All I am trying to point out is that animals do engage in behaviours that will ultimately benefit them at the time.
Take chimpanzees. They are known for being a territorial, aggressive bunch. They also quite regularly kill infants. Here’s the shit you don’t see on National Geographic. Our closest primate relatives mindlessly killing (and often eating) children of their own species?! WTF? That’s shocking! Evil! It’s enough to drive one to creationism.
Let’s take a closer look. Infanticide is mostly carried out by males. Why? Here’s an interesting point: Males are highly unlikely to kill their own offspring. Also interesting: They are just as unlikely to kill the offspring of their brother or another close relative. This makes sense: Why destroy an infant that is carrying a significant amount of your own genes?
Another point: When a female chimpanzee has a baby, she will not be able to have another one for three to five years. Imagine you are a young male chimp who is currently in the position of alpha male. You are probably only going to be in this position (and therefore have full access to all the ladies) for perhaps a year or two. All the females have infants. This causes you problems: You are not going to be able to father any children during your time of dominance, because there are no fertile females to mate with. What’s the solution? Kill some infants, the females in the group will stop nursing, she will become fertile again, and you can attempt to successfully mate with her. Huzzah: You have passed on your genes while you can.
(Note: Infanticide by females is also becoming more well documented, but is more complicated to explain here: For more information click here)
Infanticide is also common in various monkeys, rodents, lions and birds.
There are many more examples of such acts in animals that we may interpret as evil but, when you break it down and look at them from a completely different perspective (e.g. the perspective of the male chimp who may only have one chance to pass on his genes), the behaviour is difficult to describe as “evil”. It’s just different.
Again, I am not using this post to excuse the behaviour of people. A human killing another human is not right. But we have to be consistant in this view in order for society to function. I am not comfortable with it being acceptable for one group to kill and it be celebrated, and for another group to kill and to be condemned.
Take two points from this ramble.
1. Think about what “evil” is before you describle something or someone as it.
2. We are not a bad or “evil” species. Can you imagine a city like London if the humans were replaced with big cats or gorillas?! On the whole, we are a relatively peaceful species. And sometimes we should give ourselves more credit.