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Beating in the Genes


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To the editors:

Kitry Krause's article, "Men Who Beat Women" (Reader, January 10) inadvertently showed that psychologists who "treat" such men have little real understanding of the problem.

There is empirical evidence that the male urge towards dominance behavior (which is what predatory violence is really all about) is innate rather than learned. Numerous mothers have observed their male babies hitting siblings or even the mothers themselves without having ever seen violence, either on television or in real life. If a baby hits without even knowing the existence of such behavior in society, nobody can claim that the behavior is learned!

Freud understood this very well before subsequent generations of neo-Freudians took the teeth out of his teachings by trying to debunk his instinct theories. While we know today that some of his theories (such as penis envy) were decidedly wrong, he was certainly right on the money in his famous essay "Why War?" when he said, " . . . if we are to be judged by the wishes of our unconscious, we are, like primitive man, simply a gang of murderers." Robert Ardrey used subsequent findings to show that "Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon."

It was human evolution, through our adaptation to the hunting and gathering life, that molded the male of the species into the predator he remains. Ethologists today know that those behaviors which are necessary for a species to survive eventually are made enjoyable by natural selection to make certain the behavior continues; sex and eating are two obvious examples. Likewise millions of men continue to enjoy hunting, despite living in a culture which all but considers such men Neanderthals, and despite modern circumstances that have long since made the need to hunt obsolete.

However, as Yale psychology professor Stanley Milgram pointed out 20 years ago, an instinct's mere existence only makes a behavior possible, not inevitable. Instincts are triggerable (as salespeople know all too well when they manipulate our natural urges) and a quarter century's worth of studies on four-legged predators in their natural habitat show that the urge to attack is separate from the mere desire to attain a meal; sometimes animals are triggered to attack simply by the appearance, and vulnerability, of prey.

What does that suggest to us about the two-legged predator that we are most familiar with? It tells us that there is a clear relation between the urge to rape a woman and the urge to beat her; both are forms of predatory dominance behavior, triggered by the easy availability of the prey. This tells us that such behaviors will only end when women are systematically raised, and taught in school, to be able, and willing, to defend themselves. Predators on four legs or two only attack vulnerable individuals.

Tyrone Walls


Institute of Innatology

W. Farwell

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