“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” -- proverb
It’s no big secret to the cinematic cognoscenti that the Amity / Enmity Complex plays a major role in the arts, although this fact does tend to be suppressed in general discussion and criticism, presumably because the progressive Hollywood regime finds evolutionary psychology passé (and possibly ideologically threatening). It has nonetheless become a standard source of conflict in science-fiction entertainment, especially in that subgenre concerned with human evolution (such as the Planet of the Apes movie series and the serialized novel Planet of Other Humans). Several major motion pictures showcasing the Complex have become fixed in the public consciousness, whether as a result of their overall effectiveness (irrespective of the Complex), or of their resonance with the subconscious (presumably as a result of the Complex’ resonance with the subconscious). My intention here is to assert that we respond strongly to the Complex in fiction not because we have been trained to accept it, but because we feel an instinctive recognition of its principles.
Popular conception of the Complex derives almost entirely from the work of Robert Ardrey, although it actually predates his scientific writings, having been introduced by Arthur Keith. The Complex itself is straightforward: animal groups, including human societies, cohere largely on the basis of the need to maintain boundaries against other groups. The strength of the boundary—“enmity”—is a function of the level of environmental adversity faced by the group and the intensity of its competition with other groups. The amount of behavioral resources dedicated to maintaining friendly relationships—“amity”—in turn bears an inverse relationship to enmity, all other factors being equal. We might contrast the behavior of the howler monkey troop—which loudly and regularly engages in ritual vocal conflict with its neighboring troops—with that of the bonobo, which practices essentially no aggression most of the time but spends much of its day engaged in group activities such as mutual grooming, play and sex. The howler monkey lives in the hotly-contested rainforest canopies of South America, and his troops (10-15 individuals typically) frequently encounter other troops and a very wide assortment of predators.
Bonobos are less sexually-dimorphic than chimpanzees and human beings. While this doesn’t indicate that chimps are more closely-related to us than bonobos, it does suggest that our behavior is more akin to that of chimp than bonobo. Among higher primates, sexual dimorphism is associated with a high degree of aggression, particularly in males.
The howler monkey, by contrast, splits its time between aggression and cooperation. Howlers only engage in troop-on-troop conflict on rare occasions (in Ardrey-speak, when norms fail to prevent violence). But it does happen, and so does conflict between males within the troop (and even, somewhat more rarely, between males and females within the troop). In between these two extremes can be found the gorilla, which generally leads a fairly pacifistic existence but which can at times be violent; male gorillas will frequently kill infants not their own, and dominant “silverbacks” will often engage in bloody combat with other alphas when two groups encounter each other during migration. The social order is interesting and complex; the alpha males are often determined by consensus among the females, and the resulting hierarchy remains fairly rigid while the alpha survives. A strong male presence is required to protect young gorillas from infanticide, and the threat of infanticide is apparently what drives the females (with their young) to disperse and find new groups upon the death of the alpha. Norms, in other words, are enforced via force, or at least by threat, and this threat maintains order within the group. Most in-group violence occurs when up-and-coming males challenge an existing silverback, or when males (or even females) spurn the advances of a suitor and either attack or are attacked in turn. The mid-range level of violence (by comparison to howlers and bonobos at the extremes) here can be attributed to the greater frequency of out-group encounters, greater population pressure applied by continually dwindling forest resources (an ongoing problem since at least the Pleistocene, when the gorilla genus speciated in twain), and predation pressure applied by humans and, apparently, by leopards.
To generalize, in any sophisticated animal society (that is to say, more complex than a “herd” or “flock”, which tend to be loosely organized and non-hierarchical except in smaller “local groups” thereof), the amount of environmental pressure is a predictor for how aggressive the society, and its individuals, will be. The observations of Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinbergen, Jane Goodall, Eugene Marais and W. C. Allee seem to support this view across a wide range of species. Here, we’re concerned with the implications of this phenomenon for us non-observers, interacting in the artistic and political realms of human society. (I’ll leave it to the reader to examine human societies living under conditions of high stress, and determine whether there appears to be any relationship between those conditions and the aggression those societies express toward rival societies.) Humans are not alone in unconsciously categorizing other individuals as “in-group” and “out-group” and treating them accordingly.
Hollywood has conclusively demonstrated that under circumstances of relatively low visibility to others in the in-group, individuals may be perfectly willing to forge (temporary) alliances with out-group personnel. (The Breakfast Club: Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald.)
Nor are we alone in employing ostracism, threat and force in order to enforce norms that we regard as beneficial to the group.
Being ejected from some groups probably hurts more than others. (The Mean Girls: Lindsay Lohan, Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried.)
We may be alone, however, in the means of expression of these norms; so far, only Man is known to have developed law, scripture, and politics (of which the latter two, at least, can be regarded as creative exercises). Propaganda, whatever else it it might be, is most definitely art. And while we can persuade some of our more intelligent cousins, such as elephants and chimpanzees, to paint (which they appear to grasp by imitation alone), we have—with one caveat I’ll withhold until the end—never observed any animal in nature spontaneously creating anything for the sheer aesthetic hell of it, without any prompting whatsoever.
Art doesn’t have to be representative in order to be art. This is clearly a mode of expression, regardless of the outcome. But why don’t we observe chimps in a state of nature engaging in this sort of thing?
To a Jungian or a Campbellist, art derives from the same source that F. A. Hayek argued for morality: it “arises between instinct and reason.” Creative impulses definitely require a component of “reason,” in the sense that they must be planned, the techniques must be learned (thereby implying teaching and other cultural influences), and the subject matter and presentation must fall within a context considered appropriate by and for the target audience. At the same time, creative impulses are impulses, and as such must originate from some subconscious source. Karl Jung’s work on symbolism and archetypes is particularly relevant here, especially in the context of religious art. Jung renounced some of the major assertions of his mentor, Sigmund Freud (namely, the obsession with sex in all aspects of human behavior, and the so-called “death wish”) while still retaining the latter’s emphasis on the subconscious.
One of Freud’s early attempts to schematize the brain.
This emphasis was further modified by another Freud disciple, Alfred Adler, who asserted that it’s not death we wish for, but rather competition for privilege; death, while resulting often from such competition, isn’t the objective, but an unfortunate side effect of losing the conflict. Jung’s and Adler’s work is often regarded as seminal to evolutionary psychology, which is premised on the assumption that much of our behavior is but a refinement of the behaviors of our evolutionary forebears.
The basic Jungian psyche. He seems to have a preoccupation with circular structures.
Here’s a more detailed construct, again quite circular in its approach.
But Freud, too, gave evo-psyche one of its fundaments when he described the “hydraulic model” of impulse restraint and release (which has since been substantially modified and expressed in terms of hormonal interplay rather than inexorably-building impulses). And his writings on subconscious urges definitely presage Enmity / Amity: “Men are...creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness.“ In this context, Freud’s “subconscious” becomes the pool of still-extant instincts and such drives as have not been (and presumably cannot be) fully sublimated into socially-acceptable modes of action. Domestication, in this view, is the set of processes (some genetically selective, some behaviorally-reinforced) by which the potentially destructive or distractive behaviors of an animal population are modified to become useful to human society. A number of anthropologists regard the shift from pre-agricultural, “primitive” society to sedentary, urban “civilized” society as a form of self-domestication. And they cite both the imposition of standardized norms—through behavioral reinforcement—and selective breeding for docility—through marriage and its associated religious paraphernalia—as evidence for this. Joseph Campbell took Jung further, not only acknowledging the role of religion in promoting group identification, but in applying Jungian symbology to virtually the entirety of the world’s panoply of religions and mythological traditions.
Jung regarded the Mandala type of imagery as inherently mystical and as one of the mind’s most basal forms of symbol. Joseph Campbell, a Jung disciple, explored its role in the religious symbology of world cultures.
This kind of self-domestication is very consistent with the Amity / Enmity Complex as popularly elucidated by Lorenz and Ardrey (in On Aggression and African Genesis, respectively). The short version of events is that in the primitive state, Man exists in a condition of perpetual, low-grade warfare with all other groups. Each group or tribe consists of several related families, and in such a group, it is very easy for any individual to be willing to risk his life to save the life of any other in the group, and to otherwise tolerate their presence on his turf, their transgressions and their idiosyncracies. This tolerance is instinctive, expressing a sort of Darwinism-once-removed known as “kin selection.” However, such tolerance is not readily extended to individuals not of the group, and this poses a major hindrance to the settling down in urban concentrations with unrelated groups. The process of civilizing appears to have entailed a shift from the natural “kinship bond” mode of altruism to a more generalized “group selection” mode, which tends not to have much direct Darwinistic support. This is why behavioral modification is required, in order to encourage fixity of behaviors that cannot be fixed by instinct alone (as they are not driven by genes and therefore cannot be filterered by death).
If religion made civilization possible by promoting group cohesion among genetically and culturally unrelated individuals, then religious imagery, far from being a mere construct of the mind, can be regarded as of pivotal importance to human history and existence. Perhaps the Collective Unconscious has been pushing us in this direction from the very start…?
One implication of this view is that domestication is not permanent, but requires more or less constant application of behavioral modification. This in fact appears to be the case in most domesticated animals (and even in plants). Ferality is the condition that results when the offspring of domesticated animals are born outside the shpere of domestication; it is often characterized by an intractibility of aggression, untrainability and unwillingness to be brought back into the fold. Pigs that break free of captivity and reproduce in the wild produce one of the more profound examples of ferality: the next generation of young physiologically revert to an ancestral form, complete with massive skulls and tusks. (One implication of this is that domestication entails some degree of neoteny, which prevents the achievement of that ancestral, fully-adult state; and further that ferality permits full physiological maturity to occur, including adult aggression; another implication is that this neoteny entails some lifelong degree of physical contact, standing in for, and vastly extending, the mother’s stewardship. Pigs packed into a sty and feeding from a communal trough experience more direct physical contact, by far, than those living in the wild and foraging individually; and being fed on a daily basis undoubtedly goes some way toward fixing the human in the notional role of parent.) Cats, dogs, fowl and even humans have been found in a feral state, and it is generally the case that after the onset of adolescence, it becomes impossible to “tame” the individual. Redomestication is successful mostly when undertaken at a very young age, a fact which seems to support the neotenic view (since it’s impossible to neotenize that which is already fully-developed). It’s worth pointing out that some physical anthropologists have detected signs of neoteny accumulating in human skeletons over thousands of years.
Shown here: tentative evidence that psychological study of sacred geometry predates Jung.
To contrast behaviors in the domestic and feral states, consider an ordinary watchdog. A dog is a domesticated specimen of the same species as they gray wolf. There are a few anatomical distinctions between the two which serve as useful markers of domestication, but the most important distinctions are behavioral. Domestic dogs have, generally speaking, no fear of Man, a fear common to wild wolves. Domestic dogs are generally willing to subordinate themselves to the hierarchy imposed on them by humans, whereas wild wolves tend to recognize no human master (or, at most, one: the person who has captured them). Domestic dogs will readily share a range of bordering or even overlapping territories, whereas wild wolves are very territorial and attempt to repel any individual not of the same group. By selecting wolf stock for docility, Man has in fact created dog behaviors, and has done so within a remarkably short time frame (as few as a dozen generations or less). This has allowed Man to install on his own property a highly-aggressive, predatory pack hunter who nonetheless prefers to beg for food, and who will bark at and threaten any approaching person not of the dog’s own household, while retaining a love for, devotion to, and desire to play with and serve those of the dog’s household. (Indeed, the capacity to share territory, the crux of the Complex, seems pivotal to the domestication process. Domestic dogs must share territory not only with domestic humans but with domestic cats, domestic rodents, and domestic livestock. But the utility of any dog, in any role, is diminished considerably if it does not instinctively and persistently guard that territory from all creatures not explicitly invited in. As R. A. put it in his second Inquiry, The Territorial Imperative, in 1966: "The dog barking at you from behind his master's fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built." Without that alignment in motive, domestication might have been much more difficult, if not impossible.) In the feral state, however, the dog recognizes no master, and is unwilling to share territory with humans. Indeed, some feral dogs will attack and even attempt to eat humans; the rest will flee on sight, or take refuge in numbers. The bond of domestication is, for all practical purposes, permanently broken, and the post-domesticated animal no longer regards Man as a member of the family, nor himself as a member of Man’s society. This is as true of feral children as it is of feral dogs.
And that applies generally to any domesticated creature you can name. The wolf didn’t create the rules whereby he evolved into a watchdog; the rules were imposed on him by human society. As Hayek said about morality in civilization, and the various pressures to which our cultural institutions are continually forced to adapt: “It is not the case that Man made the rules. Rather, the rules made Man.” Without lifelong impressment of those rules, few individual specimens can adapt to them. And we cannot choose which rules to which we’ll adapt. This is probably the most important point of contention between modern progressivism and AEC-based philosophy: adherents of the Port Huron Statement and its offshoots prefer to believe that Man is “infinitely perfectible,” that his nature can be controlled via the application of political persuasion and / or force, and that it is our own desires (such as for peace and equality, or conversely for power and wealth), rather than environmental pressures, that direct how our societies evolve. This view tends to regard human society as having been “created”, with its various cultural institutions erected deliberately for the benefit, perhaps, of narrow elite classes rather than having arisen for the general benefit of the society itself. The more extreme adherents argue that hierarchy isn’t innate, but culturally-inculcated, and that Man doesn’t instinctively desire to accumulate property (which to an Ardreyan is nothing more than territory, an object of desire to most animals). They assert that if our society stops glamorizing power and wealth, we will stop pursuing them, and lapse into a sort of good-natured, pacifist vegetarianism akin to that of the bonobo. The AEC view, to the contrary, is that it’s not the forces within our society that determine how peaceful we are, but the forces outside it; and we cannot directly control our own social evolution without directly controlling the entirety of the environment in which it occurs…including the pressures placed by competing societies. Instinct doesn’t evolve as quickly as political whim, so it is simply not responsive to changes in the latter. In order for something to influence our evolution, it has to have real selective value; and in civilization, we have so effectively shielded ourselves from natural selection that there is generally no hope of making any natural evolutionary progress in the foreseeable future. (One predictor of the rate of evolutionary change is the time required for a new allele to achieve fixity in the population. An allele-fixity function for humans would involve terms such as the birth rate, the diversity of the population—at least with respect to the gene in question—and the absolute size of the population. At our current population growth, by some calculations, it could take millions of generations for a single new trait to become widespread in our species.) The only real prospect for near-term evolutionary change is eugenics, which could be implemented in the current technological context via a combination of genetic engineering and artificial selection. Of course, most sane, rational individuals would regard this as a rather horrifying prospect, but it nonetheless exists. I’ve never quite figured out what makes this ultimately worse than the kinds of mind control that have to be exerted by communitarian states in order to convince even some of their citizenry that they’re better off living under conditions of absolute equality (but absolute oppression) and absence of competition (and absence of achievement); whether via physical or mental means, the authoritarian prospects are uniformly revolting. Propaganda has always been in finest flower in the communist nations, evidently because it takes constant, grinding indoctrination to compel people to abandon notions of incentive and security in favor of being exactly as oppressed and paranoid as everybody else in the country…except for the Party members, of course, who tend to be relatively immune. Every society, no matter how utilitarian it purports to be, has a way of selling privilege to the willing.
It is generally true that human societies in the primitive state are relatively simple in hierarchy, simple in tradition and simple in morality and religion. Primitive societies also tend to have a very high rate of engaging in warfare with other such societies, and have high rates of murder, rape and infanticide within their own societies. (Indeed, in some cases, warfare, peer combat and spousal abuse have been elevated to standardized, ritualized behaviors; see any of several books by Marvin Harris for examples.) Civilized Man is not immune to such concerns, but the barriers to such activities as warfare, being strictly formalized, tend to be higher, and there are many more norms and rules in place to discourage and punish rape, murder and infanticide. More to the point, civilized Man is much more capable of living in harmony among unrelated individuals and family groups (although obviously the results are far from perfect, given our predatory and territorial inclinations; check out any newspaper from any time in the past 300 years for confirmation). The ability to settle down in high population densities and share territory with strangers is one remarkable distinction between primitive and civilized Man, and in the opinion of some authorities, clearly represents the result of domestication. Another such distinction is the detail and depth of myths and legends. Heroes are mythologized and immortalized, and their travails told and retold, with the apparent object of inciting envy and curiosity in the non-heroic. This establishment of courage-as-norm contributes to the behavioral reinforcement of group selection. Likewise, the detail and depth of artistic depiction is greater in civilization, and this in some ways also reflects myth, especially in how many of our illustrations and sculptures are created to commemorate heroes and mythic figures.
Whereas the Greco-Roman heroic tradition involves demigods being manipulated by the gods, the Judaeo-Christian heroic tradition involves humans attaining a form of divinity by living (mostly) saintly lives, and thereby being granted (temporary) superpowers. Religious art often presents the most passive acts—hanging from a cross, or merely being created—as inherently heroic events. Michelangelo seems to have provided, here, perhaps the earliest direct artistic connection between divinity and mind. Is he insinuating that Man deliberately created God? Or that divinity emerged, like all creative activity, from the hidden portions of the psyche?
Whether we in civilization are “more domesticated” than our wild kin is still a subject of debate. (When discussing human nature with Marxists, for instance, you are quite likely to encounter the assertion that all humans are “civilized,” and that civilization is synonymous with society, with all distinctions between the two being imposed by scientific elites for the purposes of elevating capitalist regimes above all others.) What is not debatable is how much more our available leisure time has been retasked to such pursuits as entertainment and the arts. Art (in the form of pierced-shell adornments) may be as old as anatomically-modern Man, but it only began achieving anything of its modern diversity and expressivity fairly late in our history, after the onset of civilization. (This of course assumes that such representations of prehistoric art that we do have are typical in their durability, and that early Homo sapiens didn’t use ephemeral media or other materials that we haven’t yet discovered.) Prior to the late Pleistocene, only a few shell necklaces, ivory carvings and beads, cave paintings and Venus figurines are known; beginning with the mid-Holocene, all manner of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, weavings, pottery, architecture and stylized tools have appeared, and have diversified at increasing rates as civilization spread from its Fertile Crescent roots into other cultures. It is obvious that a great deal of this diversification and development stems from the technological improvements that have accompanied urbanization, as well as from the expanded availability of leisure time and the emergence of new social contexts. A more speculative possibility is that, by the same token that play and sex have taken on an expanded role in bonobo society, art has taken on an expanded role in our society in order to contribute to the cementing of social bonds. In this view, those new social contexts aren’t mere side effects of the civilization process, or expressions of the new need for trade (itself an expression of the specialization of labor); they are expressions of an enhanced need to band together, given the retasking (“sublimation”) of the ordinary compulsions to aggress unrelated individuals sharing our space.
As stated previously, a Jungian or a Campbellist would regard much of modern Man’s art as an expression of ancient themes, known as archetypes; this expression involves tokenization of concepts and themes into symbols. Joseph Campbell made a lifelong study of symbols as they appear in religious texts and mythologies, and in do doing identified a number of standard mythic themes and story types. The conceptual space from which archetypes and symbols emerge is the Collective Unconscious, an extension of Freud’s Subconscious. Jung hypothesized that this space is psychic in nature, and that it can be contacted in dreams and in altered states of consciousness; it has also been conceived of as a “racial memory,” an assemblage of experiences impressed upon our genes (or otherwise made similarly discretely heritable). There is today a certain amount of evidence in favor of both interpretations (although genes seem fundamentally inadequate to the task of storing complex memory-related information, and so putative mechanisms such as “morphogenic fields” have been suggested).
Or maybe the Universe has a form of intelligence, as an emergent property, and this intelligence both observes us and is affected by our observations in turn. Just a thought.
Whether or not you accept the psychic view of the nature of the CU, or the existence of “morphogenesis”, there is tantalizing evidence in favor of what can only be termed “extrasensory” communication between individual minds. There is also evidence that such communication need not be electromagnetic in nature, as might be expected given the electrochemical nature of neuronal activity, but might in fact be “nonlocal” (the result of quantum entanglement between computing elements in the individual brains involved). It has already been demonstrated that quantum phenomena exhibit “nonlocality,” the ability of information to be transmitted instantaneously between two locations (another way to think about it is that information is shared between two locations in such a way that it changes simultaneously in both if altered in one). Further, quantum phenomena appear capable of operating across spans of time, in such a way that the future can affect the past, suggesting that what hasn’t yet happened can be known to us today given the right means of discernment. If the Collective Unconscious does exist in this way, then it could serve as the source for such apparent “extrasensory” phenomena as precognition and Synchronicity, two elements with substantial “attention-getting” value. (Jung’s own visions are well-known examples of this, and may have served no other purpose than making humanity aware, in a scientific context, of Synchronicity. Another significant example would be Emmanuel Swedenborg’s vision, in 1759, of a real fire in Stockholm that threatened his own house, which he had while visiting Gotenburg, Sweden, some three hundred miles away.) Couple these attention-getters with the inspiration to action provided by the Hero archetype, and you might justifiably surmise that the Collective Unconscious could serve as a sort of Grand Inspirer, compelling human activity such as civilization-building and altruistic action. This indeed appears to have been Jung’s take on it, largely inspired by his own experiences with synchronicity and “visions.” In any event, the number of creepy concidences of historic import, and the number of creative individuals correctly predicting their own demise continue to draw the eyes of the curious toward high-profile individuals, whether or not that’s the “intended” effect.
Even in the absence of psychic phenomena (reports of which, skeptics will insist, do nothing but cloud the issue), we could reasonably conjecture that the creative impulse arises largely from the Collective Unconscious (and entail some degree of synchronization), as an individual, personalized expression of the archetypes, symbols, and stories we all hold in common (without, of course, actually being aware that we do, any more than we’re aware of our own instincts). This might suggest that our evolutionary past holds clues to our common symbols and modes of expression, and not necessarily only in a strict materialist sense. (For instance, it might simply be an emergent property of the interplay of genes for intelligence. To provide a real-world example, consider that the human brain contains orders of magnitude more interconnections and neurons than can be individually coded for in the DNA. Our genes provide a guide to development, but the development nonetheless takes place on its own, as the result of interplay between much the simpler rules written into those genes.) On the other hand, it may be that all such expression derives solely from a non-common unconscious, from ordinary instinct and subconscious desire, as expressed through the filter of cultural expectation and individual experience. This pragmatic view, while having the virtue of being relatively parsimonious compared to “psychic” models, in my opinion fails to account for all observed creative (and social) phenomena. Although it is entirely possible that art emerges solely from a localized, non-psychic manifestation of the Unconscious, the temporal coincidence of some emergences appears meaningful enough to meet Jung’s definition of “Synchronicity,” and as such suggests that there is some kind of unknown, non-material driver compelling these emergences in well-defined, difficult-to-ignore clusters. And to make this point, I will expound on the use of the Amity – Enmity Complex as depicted in art, particularly in cinema, by pointing out coincidences of theme that are difficult to account for in any other way.
Robert Ardrey’s contributions to the field of evolutionary psychology are somewhat disproportionate, given his humble credentials. This is one argument that opponents of evo-psych bring to bear when disputing the notion that Man is inherently aggressive: the claim that Ardrey was not a real scientist, but a mere armchair naturalist, and of course no non-credentialed authority must be allowed to opine on such matters. The fact remains that he was a journalist of science, trained in anthropology, and apprenticed as a social anthropologist, in the field, to several notables, including Broom and Dart. He was also a trained statistician, and it was his own statistical analysis of Dart’s cave fossils that demonstrated that the fossils were selected for their utility in hunting, killing and stripping prey, as well as in interpersonal conflict. Very few learned individuals would find fault with the assertion that Man’s primary defining behavioral characteristic is the use of tools; what Ardrey forced us to confront, the learned and the novice alike, was the fact that for the first couple of million years of hominid existence, all tools were weapons. In the post-Dart, post-Ardrey world, Man must be redefined as the weapon-using animal. Dart wrote a rather sensational article, “The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man,” which argued that Australopithecus was directly ancestral to the genus Homo, and as such had passed down his predilection for manufacturing weapons and hunting and eating meat.