Friday, April 17, 2015

Amity / Enmity, the Collective Unconscious, and Cinema

“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. 

Man’s closest relative:  Pan troglodytes, the common chimpanzee.

The bonobo lives in remote portions of the Congo rainforest, separated by the Congo River from its nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, and also from most other primates and potential predators.  As Steven Pinker points out in his series of books on human nature, the social and ecological environment in which they live has relaxed selective constraints on aggression and favored a more cooperative regime.  The so-called Ardrey Equation’s implications for the bonobo are that under such circumstances, there would be very little need to maintain strong boundaries, a warrior class consisting of young males, or even ritualized conflict within the troop.  And this appears to be the case, per observations of these animals in the wild.  By the same token, the Equation predicts that a great deal of bonobo activity would be directed toward maintaining relationships between individuals, and this too appears to be the case. 

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.

Recreation, from fossil evidence, of an apparent human ancestor, Australopithecus africanus.

Ardrey’s own acceptance of this fact took some time and effort, as prior to his trip to Africa and his tutelage at the hands of Dart, he had made a living by writing plays and novels, often of political tenor.  Like most young men coming through academia in the 1930s, he was heavily influenced by American leftism.  The implication that Man was not born of vegetarianism and pacifism was no easier for him to accept than it was for many of his readers.  But having firsthand knowledge of the evidence, he was not at the same liberty to dismiss that evidence out of hand.  To participate in science demands agnosticism, and that in turn demands accepting what the evidence requires, even at the cost of personal embarrassment or ideological realignment.  In this, I find Ardrey to be a kindred spirit.  Unfortunately, I find those still holding to the ideology I left behind to be perhaps even more uncharitable and unforgiving than those who castigated him.  Perhaps he should have included in Amity / Enmity an additional term for the unwillingness of the group to allow a member to willingly leave.  In any event, the persuasiveness of his writing, on such previously-entrenched liberals as myself, is demonstrated largely by the vast numbers of copies his books have sold among that audience. 

Comparisons of pelvis, femur and foot bones of Pan, A. africanus and Homo sapiens, by way of demonstrating the australopith’s greater inclination toward bipedalism (as compared to other apes).

He wrote African Genesis not to be a scholarly article or a scientific monograph, but a popular book about science; he subtitled it “A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man.”  It was a document of his experiences, his subsequent researches and his conclusions at the hand of those experiences.  It might be argued that his impact on the public psyche, at least early on, was greater than his impact on scientific circles.  Even so, other proponents of essentially the same view published their own personal accounts (such as Lorenz with On Aggression); and these both synergized Ardrey’s work and extended it.  Lorenz would win a Nobel Prize in 1973 for his more scholarly publications on the subject.  British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris, also a popular author, went the same route in publishing The Naked Ape (1967), which was influenced by Ardrey as well as by his own mentor, Lorenz’ collaborator Niko Tinbergen.  Like African Genesis, The Naked Ape remains hugely popular and controversial to this day, dealing largely with an analysis of human behavior as a special case of ape behavior.  All three books have been employed, entire, as de facto anthropology texts in academic settings.

Skeletal hand of Australopithecus sediba, another close human relative, demonstrating its anatomical adaptations for grasping.  The primate hand evolved tens of millions of years ago for purposes of grasping tree branches, but the australopiths were ground-dwelling.  This meant that the grasping hand, now completely free for alternative uses, served as a handy preadaptation for the use of tools.

Ardrey’s influence, then, beginning in the mid-to-late 1960s, touched other scientists, and even irrespective of its politically-incorrect aggressive, territorial connotations, continues to do so.  Arguably even such liberal anthropologists as Marvin Harris have echoed his results, as when Harris argues that the more ornate and inexplicable aspects of culture (being essentially long-running refinements of primitive behavior and  tool-use) arise by the pressures applied to societies during their evolution, including competitive pressures from other societies.  Harris wrote a series of popular books, most notably Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, to solve the various “riddles of culture.”  (Eminent quasi-anthropologist Jared Diamond has made essentially the same case in two popular books, Guns, Germs and Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies in 1997, and Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed in 2005.)  Ardrey advanced the seminal point, albeit in a biological context, when he called Man the “bad-weather animal,” a product of the long environmental adversity of the Pliocene droughts in eastern Africa, and of being under constant competitive assault by the various contemporary hominids (all of which have since gone extinct, except for those forest-dwelling pongids, the gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo).  The australopith reliance on bone weapons was occasioned, in Dart’s theory, by the reduction in size of the fighting canines, itself likely a necessary phylogenetic consequence of the shortening of the face as the cranium enlarged.  (Much later, Stephen Jay Gould would explain this kind of inverse relationship as a special case of developmental heterochrony, occasioned by the neotenic nature of hominid evolution, in his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny.  In Gould’s synthesis of the available evidence, Man is a neotenic chimp, one whose brain grows relatively large because he remains in an essentially ape-infant stage of development his entire life.  Recent genetic discoveries have attributed this difference to the emergence of a single gene variant in the human lineage, one that is absent in chimpanzees.) 

The degree to which chimpanzee skulls change in form as they mature is much greater than that to which human skulls do.  The infant chimp is almost identical in profile to a human infant (or adult).  Furthermore, it sits more vertically atop the neck than an adult chimp’s.

Diagram of the allometries exhibited by chimp and human skulls as they mature.  Infant chimp and infant humans have nearly-identical skulls.  An adolescent chimp’s skull isn’t terribly different from an adult human’s.  But no human’s skull attains the elongation of an adult chimp’s.  This retardation of morphological change is what provides room for the human brain to achieve its full potential.

Because its predators—the leopard and the lion—and its close relatives and competitors, the baboon and the other contemporary hominids—didn’t lack fighting canines, some behavioral response was needed to compensate for the relative disadvantage.  The reliance on the hand as a weapon-wielder synergized the adoption of the upright stance, and by the time A. africanus was a fixture on the African landscape, bipedality was firmly established (as demonstrated by the placement of the foramen magnum at the bottom of their skulls). 

Comparisons of skulls between Gorilla, Australopithecus sp. and Homo sapiens.

But Ardrey’s influence on non-scientists may have begun even before Lorenz and Morris published their popular books.  A French author, Pierre Boulle, wrote a science fiction novel in 1962 that seemed to draw heavily from Ardreyan themes of competition between hominid species, and the intelligence-building pressures of adversity and conflict.  The novel, titled in French The Monkey Planet (Planet of the Apes in English), became one of the most epochal science fiction films of all time.  If impact on pop culture can be measured in terms of the frequency of reference, “Planet of the Apes” is a contender for the most impactive sci-fi movie of all time.  (Of course, the contribution by screenwriter Rod Serling’s most famous twist ending cannot be underestimated in that regard.)  The original motion picture spawned four sequels (plus a recent reboot that extends the storyline by adding prequels), and a television series, thereby becoming the first major science fiction franchise, and provoking the first major sci-fi motion picture merchandising phenomenon.

The popularity and durability of the series is all the more intriguing in light of the fact that none of the motion pictures has anything approaching a happy ending.  They’re all downers; they’re all grim; they’re all violent, sometimes brutal.  And that pessimism—about human nature, about humanity’s future—is perhaps what best characterizes Ardrey’s themes to those dilettantes who equate Man’s aggression with his own demise.  And although amity / enmity in no way definitively predicts a dismal end for our kind, even R. A. was forced to acknowledge that it is a distinct possibility.  The possibility that the Collective Unconscious was warning us of potential destiny*, through our own fiction—science fiction, Man’s new mythology—cannot have been lost on a dramatist such as himself, who survived until 1980, long enough to witness the impact of the franchise.  The end of African Genesis poses the question, re-posed in each of the two sequels:  Must Man inevitably fall prey to his aggressive nature and destroy himself?  Or are we capable of learning from our mistakes, and of perhaps making fuller, more effective use of the cultural institutions that impress norms on us, serving as the only line of defense between ourselves and our own worst impulses?  The author never quite falls into despair, but he does assert that his confidence in our future’s open-endedness rests solely on the apparent strength of our self-domesticatory apparatus, those factors that inhibit violence by imposing norms to keep aggression in check. 

Nothing good comes of sending chimpanzees into space.  Let’s not make the same mistake with robots, mmkay?

The iconic twist ending of “Planet of the Apes,” the tip of that pessimistic spear, is itself suggestive of Synchronicity, at least with respect to its origin.  Virtually every person associated with the high-level construction of the movie has laid claim to its invention.  All of the Apes movies employed twist and / or tragic endings, but the first was by far the most shocking and memorable, and is now the most frequently referenced in pop culture.  Rod Serling was the principal screenwriter, and had already made a name for himself in sci-fi with his imaginative endings, especially during the run of “The Twilight Zone” several years previously; his claim therefore carries the greatest cachet.  But producer Arthur P. Jacobs, while lunching with Blake Edwards (when Edwards was considering directing the movie), experienced a photographic inspiration of the same ending; later, both Jacobs and Edwards claimed to have hit upon it first.  Don Peters, a pictorial artist, also has a solid claim to have presented the imagery in the first proposed conceptual paintings.  Serling took perhaps the most charitable view, admitting it was possible that four or five different individuals had hit upon the idea at the same time.  Karl Jung, had he been alive, would very likely have made a case study of it all.  (On the subject of the ending, I refuse to offer any spoilers, but I must insist that if you haven’t seen the movie, you do so immediately—even if you’ve already heard about the twist.  The way the reveal is handled is as crucial to the scene as what is being revealed.  There are no sudden swells in music, no devices employed to heighten dramatic tension.  Just the scene, and the ambient sounds.  Minimalist delivery, and maximum impact.  That, folks, is how it’s done.)

In lieu of a spoiler-type image of the first motion picture, instead regard the stark imagery of the television show’s opening credits.  Harsh, bleak, and chilling despite the use of warm colors, this should give you an idea of the movies' tone.

I have yet to encounter any concrete evidence that any of the show creators were familiar with African Genesis.  But we do have the words of the actors, their takes on the themes and the story (as retold on the documentary “Beyond the Planet of the Apes”).  And we do have the script itself, a veritable mine of quotable gems.  In the opening scene, Charlton Heston, as Taylor, narrates a recording for posterity.  After disclosing banal details about the near-light-speed space mission and the expected time-dilation effects, he closes his monologue with a rhetorical question for his audience.  “Does Man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war on his brother?”  Near the opposite end of the tale, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) pontificates angrily on Man:  “From the evidence, I believe that his wisdom must walk hand-in-hand with his idiocy.  His emotion must rule his brain.  He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, including himself.”  (This, whether deliberately apt or not, is just about as succinct a statement of Ardreyism as can be found anywhere in fiction.)  In between those bookends, Zaius challenges Taylor to tell the truth about his origins.  “Even in your lies, some truth slips through.  That mythical community you’re supposed to come from.  Fort Wayne.  A fort!  Unconsciously you chose a name that was belligerent.”  This, again whether deliberately apt or otherwise, is a fairly bald statement of belief that Man’s aggressive impulses are innate.  Another statement of ourangoutan prejudice occurs in the words of the Lawgiver, an ancient administrator-philosopher who purportedly promoted peace and harmony between Man and Ape, but whose surviving scriptures nonetheless countenance bigotry (ain’t that just the way?).  The chimps are portrayed as somewhat sympathetic  to Man, or at worst indifferent, and so the contrast between the privileged ourangoutans and their own station rings the more clearly when chimpanzee Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) reads from the Lawgiver:  “Beware the beast Man, for he is the devil’s pawn.  Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed.  Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land.”  And the truth of the statement also rings clear; there is no scriptural adornment here, no hyperbole.  Man does kill for sport, lust and greed; Man does kill other men to possess their land.  The essential controversy of the Complex is whether such activity takes place in response to innate compulsions, or as the result of cultural indoctrination.  Certainly those learned apes regarded it as the former.  So did Ardrey.  Man’s definition as weapon-using animal is reinforced constantly by Zaius’ barbs.  “I’m pretty handy with this,” Taylor warns, speaking of the rifle in his hands.  “Of that I have no doubt,” replies the other.  In a remarkable symmetry of controversy, Dr. Zaius states, in roundabout fashion, the basic criticism leveled by leftists against Ardrey:  "To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of Man is sheer nonsense."  Because that would be biological determinism, perhaps?  But the most glaring reflection is also the simplest:  when Dr. Zaius calls Taylor a “born killer.”

Nova’s not without skills herself, showing some promise as a seamstress.  Handiness persists, even absent language.  (From left:  Charlton Heston as Taylor, Linda Harrison as his speechless love interest.)

The premise having been pretty solidly established, the next two sequels generally don’t expound as much on the uderlying evolutionary psychology.  The last two, “Conquest of…” and “Battle For the Planet of the Apes,” being more directly concerned with the epoch of punctuated equilbrium that brought about the Planet, do recapitulate some phylogeny.  In “Conquest,” Caesar (Roddy McDowall) asks Governor Breck (Don Murray) what justifies ape slavery, what makes apes so much more easy to exploit than cats and dogs.  The governor replies:  “Because your kind were once our ancestors.  Man was born of the ape.  And there’s still an ape curled up inside every man.  The beast that must be whipped into submission.  The savage that must be shackled in chains.  You are that beast, Caesar.  You taint us!  You poison our guts.  When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.”  (Note that this is essentially a restatement of Dr. Zaius' acknowledgement that he "knows" about his planet's human-dominated past.)  In “Battle,” Caesar engages in frequent verbal sparring with a human survivor of the collapse of civilization, MacDonald (Austin Stoker).  When MacDonald for the nth time reminds Caesar of the inherent inequality in their new society, Caesar points out:  “I believe that when you truly come to know and trust a person, you cannot help but like him too.  Now, when we have come to know and trust your people, then we will all be equals.”  This is a statement on the extension of in-group identification by way of developing a sense of cultural kinship.  We are also reminded of Man’s inherent warlikeness when a survivor of the nuclear holocaust, still manning a post, objects to the new Governor’s plan to attack Caesar, MacDonald and Virgil, who have inadvertently invaded their territory while seeking clues to the past:  “If we shoot, we break twelve years of peace.”  Governor Kolp’s (Severn Darden) reply:  “Yes, things have been rather boring.”  MacDonald again pressures Caesar:  “We have a destiny too.  As equals.  Respecting each other.  Living together as equals, with love.”  The reply:  “Love?  The human way is violence and death.”  In the story’s final moments, as the ape society gathers around General Aldo, its first offender of ape-law (and evidently prepared to issue capital punishment), MacDonald muses, “I guess you could say they’ve just joined the human race.”  In the days before widespread acceptance of Goodall’s chimpanzee observations—when chimps were believed to be pacifist and entirely vegetarian—this would have been an apt statement.  These days, it’s actually ironic.

Cinematically sifting through the sands of strata might be regarded as a metaphor for digging through the layers of psyche, from the recently-evolved neocortex down through to the “primitive” animal regions of the brain.

Of interest also are the elements of the characters that attracted the actors to the story.  Heston was interested in what he calls “the dichotomy of Taylor”:  the astronaut is a bitter, misanthropic cynic who as much as dances on the graves of human civilization, early in the movie while verbally sparring with the more idealistic Landon (Robert Gunner).  But once having witnessed and experienced extreme prejudice and exclusion at the hands of the apes, by the movie’s midpoint, he becomes humanity’s sole spokesperson and savior.  R. A. would recognize Taylor being moved to amity by enmity, developing a sense of cohesion in the face of the common enemy.  Ricardo Montalban, who portrayed Armando in the last couple of films, said that he thought of them as “about Man’s inhumanity to Man.”  (Spoken in his accent, it sounds an awful lot like “Man’s enmity to Man.”)  Of course, the movies are about that, and about bigotry and racial prejudice as well; we just have to perform the mental gymnastics, already proposed by Jared Diamond, of including chimpanzees under the rubric “Man.”  The ape society considers itself enlightened and biologically privileged, but the various ape races, while living in relative harmony, are still segregated.  The administrative class consists exclusively of ourangoutans; the scholars and scientists are all chimpanzees; and gorillas provide all the muscle for manual labor and the military.  And while this division isn’t seen by any of the classes as inequitable—they all seem to feel at home in their roles—there is nonetheless antipathy among the groups, most notably in the haughteur with which the ourangoutans elevate themselves.  (Kim Hunter, as Zira, to a disgruntled lab chimp:  “You know how he [Dr. Zaius] looks down his nose at chimpanzees.”)  In the words of Taylor:  “Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others” (a beautiful restatement of a famed Orwellian sentiment from Animal Farm).

And this brings us to the most compelling evidence of amity / enmity on the movie set:  the deliberate, if unconscious, enforcement of class divisions among the cast.  Jacobs described how the costumed actors grouped themselves when on lunch break:  “The actors were never conscious of it.  They just drifted to their companions, to the same groupings as in the film.”  Heston expands on this:  “There was kind of a self-segregation.  The gorillas would all eat at one table, the chimpanzees at another, and the ourangoutans ate at another.”  Kim Hunter, a good friend of Maurice Evans, would have under any other circumstances sat right down to eat with him.  On the set of “Planet of the Apes,” she walked past him without reservation.  “He was an ourangoutan.  One of those others.”

An interesting outsider’s perspective comes from cinema historian Eric Greene.  “You can hear lines like ‘human see, human do’ and ‘all humans look alike’ and you can laugh…or you can let it sink in.  What does it say about the way groups interact with each other?”  But the weak segregation boundaries are as nothing compared to the strong boundaries around the civilization, as Cornelius reveals near the end, when Taylor asks him and Zira to “come along” on his escape.  “Oh, they can’t convict us of heresy.  You’ve helped prove our innocence.  Besides…his culture (he points at Zaius) is our culture.”  Cornelius would rather rationalize remaining “at home” in a society that wants to suppress his scientific inquiry, and possibly imprison him, than leave it in favor of the society of animals to which he feels no kinship.  Whether the movie’s ape civilization was deliberately constructed thusly, or just evolved in response to the pressures of the personalities involved, may forever remain an open question.  But it certainly seems to model many a human civilization:  strong borders remain in place around, to exclude non-members, and weaker borders remain in place within, to segregate member groups from each other.

There is also a subtle, if perhaps inadvertent, callback to ferality in the story.  None of the humans can speak.  Cornelius mentions that no one has ever been able to identify any anatomical reason why humans can’t speak.  This implies that there are only cultural reasons.  We know, from the rare examples of feral children that have been recovered, that if the power of speech is not inculcated early in life, it never takes root.  The Ape planet is an example of what happens when language fails to be transmitted from one generation to the next, and is therefore lost forever:  the entire species becomes feral.  Now if we can generalize “language” to “norms,”—a category which also includes “values”—we can see what Ardrey and Hayek were warning us about in their discussions of morality.  There’s more at stake than mere cultural identity if the transmission of norms and values is interrupted.   Dark Ages have come about in the past, and—contrary to popular liberal belief—they don’t come at the hands of religion, but at the hands of anarchy.  Civilizations do collapse, and scientific and philosophical progress does stop as a result.

Boulle may have been somewhat culturally preadapted to assimilating Ardrey’s conclusions, as a result of his own evolutionary history.  His wartime experiences had already been semi-fictionalized in a 1952 novel, The Bridge over the River Kwai.  By 1957—still too early to have been directly influenced by Ardrey, but not too early to have been influenced by Dart—the novel had been adapted to cinema.  (As to its cultural import, some 40 years later it would be deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," and selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, an honor that “Planet of the Apes” had also received in 1991.)  The movie, like the novel, depicts the harsh treatments endured by British prisoners of war at the hands of their Japanese captors while being forced to build the Burma Railway.  During that construction, some 13,000 prisoners died.  The ferocity of the Nipponese military toward the occupied populations and prisoners of war is now legendary, and can be seen as a textbook case of amity / enmity:  Japan’s wartime culture regarded its own people as honorable, civilized, and  worthy of preservation, and all other people as primitive, weak, and expendable (aside from their use as manual labor).  Ardrey was as aware of this history as anybody else, and as such, coming into the 1960s, was probably more directly influenced by Boulle than the other way around.

But the coincidence of timing between Ardrey’s first book and Boulle’s second cannot be ignored.  It may well fall under the Jungian rubric “Synchronicity”, as it certainly does seem to be a meaningful coincidence…unless of course Boulle deliberately read Ardrey and was inspired by his wartime experiences to extrapolate Genesis’ warring hominid tribes into an entire fictional world.  While I’ve found several authors willing to conceptually link Boulle and Ardrey, I have as yet found no evidence that the former ever actually read the latter.  So we are left to guess for ourselves whether this apparent coincidence is the result of one author naturally encountering and reading another, or of the subtle action of the Collective Unconscious working to spread the word of Man’s evolutionary past and its implications for our future…or of perhaps just an ordinary, meaningless coincidence.  Whatever the case, all of the essential Ardreyan elements are present in that second novel:  environmental adversity as a driver of intelligence and technological advancement; competition for similar niches as a driver of territoriality and aggression; the recognition of a common threat as the driver of social organization and cohesion.  And given Genesis’ documented influence on such luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah, it is difficult not to ascribe it some inspirational role here. 

It’s a tantalizing question.  But there are other, less tenuous examples I can offer, examples that are much better-supported by evidence.  And there is another, perhaps more inspiring open question to consider, which we’ll save for last.

But first, more Nova.

The first Apes movie’s “Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape” is one of the most quoted, most easily-recognized lines in all cinema history.  Another such line, albeit totally unrelated, is “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” (from 1967‘s “Cool Hand Luke”).  That line, spoken by the Captain, is noteworthy not just for its pithy content but for the reedy voice of the actor, Strother Martin.  Martin and his distinctive voice had a long career together as a character actor, and he was a longtime friend and sometime costar with L. Q. Jones, himself a frequent actor for director Sam Peckinpah.  Through Jones, Martin landed a gig on Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969); the two actors would also appear in the director’s “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” the following year.  In between, Martin, an avid reader of Ardrey, gave copies of two of the Personal Inquiries to Peckinpah.  While I’d love to be able to argue that R. A. influenced the making of “Bunch,” there is no evidence that Peckinpah was aware of his work until after it was complete.  (It’s possible he had discussed elements of the book with Martin during and prior to filming, but it’s almost certain he didn’t read the books himself, in full, until afterward.)  So again, we have an example of a film whose plot and philosophy appear perfectly Ardreyan, but were almost certainly absent any direct input from R. A.

Jones (left) and Martin in an early scene from “The Wild Bunch.”

But let’s consider the movie in its rough outlines.  A “bunch” or gang of outlaws comprises the titular society.  Its environment, the Old West, is changing rapidly, giving way to post-industrial southwestern America.  (This is a characteristic of Peckinpah’s later movies, in which you’re as likely to see semiautomatic pistols as revolvers, and as likely to see automobiles—“I seen one just like it once in Waco!”—as locomotives.)  They are being forced to adapt, and the adverse pressure on the group is strong as its habitat disappears.  Competitive forces within the group threaten to break it up, and it takes strong aggression on the part of the top hierarch to maintain order.  With the assistance of his tightly-knit social network, he closes ranks, strengthening the class boundaries, and uses strength of personality and threat of force to “hold this bunch together.”  Nonetheless, several individuals in the Bunch increasingly lose their sense of allegiance, tempted by the ease of life, the resources and sexual availability of members of another tribe. 

The spoils.

It is only when one of their own suffers a vicious fate at the hands of that tribe that they all rediscover their group cohesion, and make a grim, bloody last stand.  The violence is outre, the acquisitiveness blatant, the use of weapons exquisite:  Man as the gun-using animal.

When one of the bunch threatens to kill another he views as useless, leader Pike (William Holden) defends the omega.  “We're not gonna get rid of anybody.  We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be.  When you side with a man, you stick by him.  And if you can’t do that, you’re like some kind of animal.  You’re finished.  We’re finished!  All of us!”  Later, arguing with Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) and Sykes (Edmond O’Brien), Angel (Jaime Sanchez) opposes the idea of making a deal with one General Mapache for guns that could be used against his people: 

Angel:  Listen, I'm not going to steal guns for that devil to rob and kill my people again.
Dutch:  Noble, noble.  Very noble.
Sykes:  I didn't see no tears roll down your cheeks when you rode in from Starbuck.
Angel:  Ah, they were not my people.  I care about my people, my village.  Mexico!

Heading out to do what’s right by the Bunch, knowing that it will be their last stand.  Even bad guys can be heroic in defense of the group.  From left:  Ben Johnson, Warren “Sergeant Hulka” Oates, William Holden and Ernest Borgnine.

The historical version of actual events leading up to the making of the movie is that Strother Martin, recognizing the common threads, recommended the author’s first two Personal Inquiries to Peckinpah, who would go on to incorporate those threads in more deliberate fashion.  He explored violence in a non-western setting in movies such as “Straw Dogs” (1971), in which the mild-mannered protagonist becomes a vicious avenging angel when his territory and his in-group are invaded.  (This blueprint, for what it’s worth, also informed the “Death Wish” series, which began in 1974, and an ever-growing lineage of horror movies of the slasher genre.)  A Jungian version of events would suggest that Peckinpah, whether conscious of the fact or not, was making use of the AEC all along, and that Martin’s role in the affair was to hang a flag on it, to provide the synchronistic wake-up call to the wider truths presented in the book.  Whatever the case, there is no doubt about Sam’s later enthusiasm for African Genesis, and his acceptance of human-nature-as-animal-nature; he called R. A. “the only living prophet.”  One only wishes he’d had more time to make more movies.

From pacifist nebbish to avenging angel:  Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, the protagonist of “Straw Dogs,” moved by rage and fear to protect his own.

His own (from left, Susan George and Kate Bosworth as Amy) in, respectively, the 1971 original and the 2011 remake.

A more recent, if more obscure, callback to Genesis may be found in the Ralph Bakshi animated feature “Wizards” (1977).  The overall storyline reads like a technological updating of The Lord of the Rings, whose author, J. R. R. Tolkien, cast his magical epic largely in terms of the conflict between tradition and progress, between nature and technology.  Bakshi amplifies the dichotomy by giving his evil kingdom, Scortch, access to 20th-century weaponry and psychological warfare.  Blackwolf, the wizard king of that kingdom, feels  compelled to expand his kingdom to encompass the entire world (against the wishes of his fairy wife, who is content with their existing realm).  As the story begins, the good wizard Avatar (Bob Holt) is reassuring his confidantes that weaponry is outdated and unnecessary:  “Science and technology were outlawed millions of years ago.  And you must admit, it’s been a pretty peaceful world since then.”  Consider that per the Hunting Hypothesis, all technology began with the invention of weaponry, and then remember Ardrey’s words:  “Man is a predator whose natural instinct is to kill with a weapon.”  The implication—of both the Hypothesis and Avatar’s speech—is that had technology never been invented, war wouldn’t have either. 

But then, neither would Homo sapiens

The Godwin Code.  Still need proof that technology is evil?

Although most of the anatomical and physiological differences between Australopithecus and Homo can be catalogued, the adaptive pressures driving them can only be surmised.  But we can be certain that without the manual neuromuscular feedback loop occasioned by the adoption of the upright posture, Man would not have developed into the creature he now is.  The same would have also held true without abundant animal protein to potentiate brain expansion.  Hayek said the rules made Man; Ardrey characterized those rules as the use of weapons and climate shift.  The great mystery of human evolution, he thought, was the cause of the lengthy and profound Pliocene droughts, which compelled that competitive drama over dwindling food resources.  He discusses several climatic theories that had been circulated by the time he began writing his first book, pointedly addressing the evidence that disproves each theory in turn.  The question remains unresolved, but the implications are clear:  had that monstrous yet temporary climate shift never happened, the shift to carnivory might never have occurred.  In his second book, he makes the intriguing case that the shrinking forest habitat, coupled with the territorial imperative, drove the “edge animal” australopiths to seek new domains on the grassland, forcing an entirely new set of adaptive shifts, and leading inexorably toward ourselves.

Arthur C. Clarke was another science fiction author prominent during the 1960s, but in his case there is no doubt Ardrey was a direct influence.  He wrote the novel 2001:  A Space Odyssey in open homage to African Genesis.  The “Dawn of Man” segment of the story is taken directly from Ardrey’s chapter “The Bad-Weather Animal.”  His australopith character Moon-Watcher was crafted so as to depict the “predatory transition”:  discovering the clubbing potential of a heavy rock, he uses it to procure food for himself, and soon teaches the trick to others in his band.  He then leads the tribe back to the precious watering hole, on the wrong side of a territorial boundary defended by the Others.  Relying on the newfound advantage of weaponry, his band takes that territory and ensures its own long-term survival.

Shown here:  human nature.

Clarke, like Ardrey, has been called a prophet.  Some, contemptuous of the label, argue that it’s easy to be a prophet in the science fiction realm, since technological prophecies (such as geosynchronous communications satellites and gravitational slingshots) tend to be inherently self-fulfilling.  But some of his supporters have argued that Clarke was a prophet in the more mystical, general sense as well:  they see his stories and predictions as arising not just from the mind of a well-informed science maven, but from the Collective Unconscious.  His “sentinel”—the Monolith—is mysterious and unknowable yet concrete and familiar, serving as a symbol for the intelligence driving our evolution—the Unconscious itself.  In its incarnation as the Star Gate, it represents not only travel to distant places, but into the mind of God.  (In the cinematic hands of his collaborator Kubrick, it might even stand in for the movie screen itself.) 

Seven crystalline Observers…seven surround speakers.  Hmm.

Clarke describes the process of evolving as one of achieving a higher state of consciousness, one rife with psychedelic impact.  (It's a theme he had visited in a different way in his novel Childhood's End.)

One might even say there’s a certain mandala-ish quality to it.

The prophet mantle arguably does have some synchronistic support.  In his Foreward to the Millennium Edition of 2001 (2000), he recounts several instances of truth apparently following fiction.  The Apollo 13 mission, like the fictional Saturn mission, suffered catastrophic technical difficulties en route.  The command module of Apollo 13 was named Odyssey.  The first transmission from mission commander John Lovell after the accident was “Houston, we have had a problem.”  This loosely echoes the first report from Discovery’s onboard HAL computer after the apparent failure of the AU-35 unit:  “Sorry to interrupt the festivities, but we have a problem.”  Twentyish years later, a Discovery(!) shuttle mission involves an Extra-Vehicular Activity (by astronaut Joe Allen) and a real-life rescue of two communications satellites, in a manner very similar to the EVA endured by fictional astronaut Dave Bowman in the novel’s original draft…using reaction-control jets to counter the uncontrolled spinning of the objectives.

Although it is probably safe to say that the Apollo 13 Odyssey wasn’t constructed to resemble a club.

No, looks to me more like it was modeled on an arrowhead.  From one of Apollo’s arrows.

That original draft was based on the screenplay that Clarke co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick.  The idea was to develop the motion picture first, and release the novel some time later.  The motion picture was fraught with technical challenges, and many details had to be altered to ensure a timely release; it was still nearly a year and a half late.  The planetary objective, Saturn, was replaced by Jupiter, because none of the available Saturn special effects models met Kubrick’s standards for realism.  Moon-Watcher’s stone hammer became a sun-bleached ungulate tibia, more accurately following R. A.’s description of the bone-shaped depressions found in the skulls of australopith victims. 

Moon-Watcher, under the influence of the godlike evolutionary direction of the Monolith, notices something interesting about bones.

The “Star Gate” travel sequence was famously—or infamously, depending on your aesthetic—mutated into a mind-melting montage of kaleidoscopic analog noise effects depicting, among other things, the synaesthesia experienced by Bowman as he is forcibly evolved into a Star Child.  (Kubrick, and the legions of later science fiction directors he inspired, agree with Clarke on the psychedelic nature of evolution:  the attainment of higher planes of consciousness is a mind-altering experience.) 

The zooming effects eventually give way to more suggestive motions, hinting at the Big Bang and the cosmic processes of galaxy and star formation, but, in the context of hard-sci-fi realism, more properly symbolic of expanding consciousness (since stars would not have been present at the Bang).

These eventually shift to more organic, egg-like forms suggesting the creation of life and the ensuing cellular activity.

These in turn give way to more zooming motion, suggesting, this time, planetary landscapes rather than the wormhole traversed by the Star Gate. 

We are led to assume that we’re arriving at Bowman’s destination, some kind of terra firma.

Bowman (Keir Dullea), traumatized by his transformation.  When he arrives at his destination, he is reduced to a quivering hulk, not unlike a monkey kidnapped from the jungle and caged in a lab for experimentation.

The destination (the "Hotel"), and the final resting place of Bowman's human form.  Whereas victorious Vikings are destined to find an afterlife in a vast mead hall, astronauts apparently have a different destination altogether.

Additionally, the Cold War subtext was dramatically downplayed; whereas the threat of imminent nuclear war was the backdrop for the screenplay, the main Soviet threat in the novel was the possibility of discovery of the lunar Monolith, and the public-relations headache that would entail.  (A vestige of the nuclear threat remains:  although it is never explicitly identified as such, the first satellite shown—after the famous match-cut-to-the-future following the “Dawn of Man” sequence—is an orbiting missile platform, containing a nuke pointed downward, and all the other satellites shown before the camera settles on Heywood Floyd’s spaceship are also military in nature.)  Clarke, as previously indicated, had to make some modifications of his own to streamline the storyline, and the net result was that its representations in both media are pretty widely divergent, almost separate stories altogether.  Each is certainly uniquely representative of its creator’s imagination and skill.

The famous three-million-year match cut features these two strikingly-similar visual elements; the meaning this conveys is that even our most advanced weapons are really just extensions of those original bone tools.

Although there is no explicit mention of the martial nature of the various satellites shown after the match cut, they can be identified as military platforms by the various Air Force insignia (here, Chinese) depicted on each.



Clarke’s debt to Ardrey is immediately recognizeable.  The novel’s Part I comprises the first 37 pages and six chapters, five of which are concerned with the plight of Moon-Watcher and his tribe.  The first of these is titled “The Road to Extinction.”  The novel opens:

The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.  Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight.  In this barren and desiccated land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive.
The man-apes of the veldt were none of these things, and they were not flourishing; indeed, they were already far down the road to racial extinction.  About fifty of them occupied a group of caves overlooking a small, parched valley, which was divided by a sluggish stream fed from snows in the mountains two hundred miles to the north.  In bad times the stream vanished completely, and the tribe lived in the shadow of thirst.

By Chapter 4, “The Leopard,” Clarke is describing precisely the weapons, and their various source bones, enumerated in African Genesis:  antelope jaws with teeth, heavy antelope tibias, sharp antelope horns.  And, as in the former book, the leopard serves as primary predator and prime competitor for meat. 

Moon-Watcher figuring it out.

The sixth chapter is concerned with a rapid glissando from Pleistocene to Space Age, noting how the adoption of carnivory and stone technology had promoted the development of farms, villages, cities, and nations…and of plows, arrows, guns and missiles.  The next part of the book, “TMA-1,” opens with a brief discussion of Space Age technology and intent.  “In a million years, the human race had lost few of its aggressive instincts; along symbolic lines visible only to politicians, the thirty-eight nuclear powers watched one another with belligerent anxiety.”

A movie poster neatly bookending human evolution:  australopithecine past, Star-Child future.

Kubrick was also an Ardrey fan, and has quoted him at length in print.  By means of that epoch-spanning match cut, he tied together Man’s first tools—and first weapons—with Man’s most recent technological achievements—and weapons.  The implication is strong:  our competitive nature is what compels our technological development.  (This is precisely the same theme later explored by Diamond, and thereby given additional scientific gravitas, in Guns, Germs and Steel.)  Kubrick’s most ardent Ardrey apologetics occurred as letters to a newspaper editor after “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) provoked antipathy among liberals who interpreted its theme as “fascist”.  His response argued that Man was in no way a Noble Savage, but a risen ape, and cited both African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative in support of that view. 

Just one of many reasons Clockwork is a hard movie to watch.

The connections between the movie version of 2001 and African Genesis have been pretty thoroughly expounded elsewhere.  One need only view the opening sequence, “The Dawn of Man,” to recognize African Genesis’ evolutionary narrative in its entirety.


“A Clockwork Orange” dealt with themes of hierarchical struggle, of maintaining order through rules and norms, of the difficulty in training instinct out of Man, and of feralty’s resistance to assimilation.  It hearkened back to what was claimed in Genesis about delinquency:  small societies embedded within mature civilizations must erect boundaries in between, must mark out and viciously defend turf, must employ rigid, forceful hierarchies, must adorn themselves with nonconformist clothing intended to identify them to (and with) each other, must employ initiations and rituals and combat to cement in-group membership, must in every possible way ceremonially distinguish themselves from the surrounding civilization.  Ardrey compares street gangs with primitive tribes:  the less sophisticated the society—especially if it is not a genetically kinship-bound one—the greater the trend toward classic animal aggression, because the fewer are the cultural influences enforcing order.


When in-group becomes out-group:  Alex’s former droogs, whom he previously betrayed, now get the upper hand.

Although Alex is eventually outwardly reformed by the torturous process depicted above, the closing scene of the movie reveals what's still going on in his head:  all the same kinds of debauchery and violence that got him in trouble to begin with.  However "risen" he may be, his true nature hasn't changed.  He is a human being.

But perhaps the most faithful Kubrick expression of the AEC is that in “Full Metal Jacket” (1987).  The entire movie is one long ode to the “dichotomy of Man,” the “Jungian thing.”  As noted in one critique:

The Jungian thing is the distinction between the personal unconscious and the Collective Unconscious.  The personal unconscious is composed of an individual's repressed thoughts or feelings.  The Collective Unconscious is composed of primordial images found in all of humanity:  Jung labelled them archetypes.  A cornerstone of his therapeutic approach to psychology was the recognition of the way an individual's personal unconscious integrates, or conflicts with the Collective Unconscious.

In this light, how does Joker's sick joke pan out?  If he writes "Born to Kill" on his helmet, it would seem to be a manifestation of the Collective Unconscious, for as Kubrick points out again and again in his films, we have a primordial urge to kill each other.  Joker's peace button on his body armor is a symbol of his personal unconscious.  "Where'd you get it?"  "I don't remember, sir."  Has Joker repressed the origin of the peace symbol?

The Jungian Marine:  Matthew Modine as Pvt. Joker.

The exchange being discussed here, presented in full (“pogue” being a general military term for a combatant in a noncombatant role, a euphemism for REMF, or “rear-echelon mother fucker”):

Pogue Colonel:  Marine, what is that button on your body armor?
Private Joker:  A peace symbol, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Where'd you get it?
Private Joker:  I don't remember, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  What is that you've got written on your helmet?
Private Joker:  "Born to Kill", sir.
Pogue Colonel:  You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?
Private Joker:  No, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  You'd better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant shit on you.
Private Joker:  Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Now answer my question or you'll be standing tall before The Man.
Private Joker:  I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  The what?
Private Joker:  The duality of man.  The Jungian thing, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Whose side are you on, son?
Private Joker:  Our side, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Don't you love your country?
Private Joker:  Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Then how about getting with the program?  Why don't you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?
Private Joker:  Yes, sir.
Pogue Colonel:  Son, all I've ever asked of my Marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God.  We are here to help the Vietnamese, because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.  It's a hardball world, son.  We've gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.
Private Joker:  Aye-aye, sir.

Every single major element of Ardreyan philosophy can be found in this brief dialogue, all spoken by the Colonel (Bruce Boa): 

·  The “us versus them”, in-group / out-group mentality (“Whose side are you on?”) 
·  The assumption of allegiance to one’s own group (“Don’t you love your country?”)
·  The recognition of inherent aggression, and the enforcement of such as norm, via the dismissal of pacifism as a fad (“We’ve gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over.”)
·  Reinforcement of hierarchy (“All I’ve ever asked of my Marines is that they obey my orders as they would the word of God.”)
·  The extension of altruistic assistance to other groups on the basis of shared values (“because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.”)
·  Competitive desire (“Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?”)
·  And, of course, intertwining expressions of amity and enmity, as emblazoned on Joker’s uniform.

Private Joker (Matthew Modine) ostensibly joins because he wants to travel to “exotic Viet Nam, the jewel of Southeast Asia.  I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture, and kill them.  I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill.”  He speaks with an ironic tone, but his later actions betray the truth in his words.  The recruits enter Paris Island thinking they’ll be trained to become killers; instead, the veneer of civilization is polished away, revealing the killers that have always existed.  Military discipline does not readily permit a total lowering of inhibitions, but as R. A. asserts, a chaotic environment replete with ambiguous morality—a shortage of enforced norms and values—will, over time, embolden such killers.  As Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin) puts it, “This isn’t about freedom; this is a slaughter,” and presumably, anything goes in a slaughter; the door gunner who talks to Joker and Rafter Man en route to Hue demonstrates this by taking potshots at every civilian and water buffalo he sees.  Animal Mother adorns his helmet’s camouflage cover with the slogan “I Am Become Death,” a partial line (completed by “Destroyer of Worlds”) attributed (some would say, via a rather tortured translation) to Shiva in the 5000-year-old Vedic text Bhagavad Gita.  Joker writes “Born to Kill” on his camo cover, and then applies a peace button over his uniform (the movie’s promotional poster juxtaposes the button against the slogan on the helmet).  His conception of the “duality of Man” goes a bit further than “the Jungian thing;” he is also expressing the Ardreyan thing.  Various other soldiers in Private Cowboy’s (Arliss Howard) outfit express the desire to kill in their own ways.  Crazy Earl (Kieron Jecchinis), on the subject of the Viet Cong:  “I love the little commie bastards, man, I really do.  These enemy grunts are as hard as slant-eyed drill instructors.  These are great days we live in, bros.  We are jolly green giants walking the earth, with guns.  These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we’ll ever know.  After we rotate back to the World, we’re gonna miss having anyone around worth shooting.” 

Group cohesion under fire.  Everybody except Animal Mother (a natural alpha male) is attentive to the words of Sergeant Cowboy (Arliss Howard).

The grunts are also given screen time by an interviewer in Hue, and their answers reveal their sense of comfort with the war zone.  Craze:  “Do I think America belongs in Viet Nam?  I don’t know.  I belong in Viet Nam.”  Animal Mother:  “What do I think about America’s involvement in the war?  I think we should win.”

The movie begins with Marine Basic Training.  The initial antagonist, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), proves to be tough but fair.  Racial discrimination is forbidden, because “you are all equally worthless.”  He is forging a new tribe from unrelated individuals, and the bond between them must be strong.  I can attest from my own military experiences that drill instructors place great emphasis on the development of esprit de corps.  Each platoon is squared off against the others in the same company; the competitive spirit compels each to try to outdo the others, thereby promoting excellence in all things.  At the same time, the individual’s spirit must be to some extent broken, so that he no longer regards self-interest as his primary motivator; other-interest must become predominant.  On Graduation Day Hartman explains that “Marines die; that’s what we’re here for.  But the Marine Corps lives forever.  And so you live forever.”  A summary substitution of “genes” for “Marines” in that sentiment will reveal the underlying substitute-kinship bonds that the Drill Sergeant has forged.  It is certainly true of the vast majority of war movies that, despite whatever other political and social subtexts might be presented onscreen, the primary motivation of a soldier is to defend the lives of the men to his left and to his right…and failing that, to avenge them.

All platoons have at least one weak link, because, per Darwinism, skills and drive are randomly distributed throughout the population.  In Joker’s platoon, that weak link is Private Leonard, renamed  “Private Pyle” by the Gunny. 

“Why, you’re so ugly, you could be a modern art masterpiece.”  Vincent D'Onofrio as Leonard "Private Pyle" Lawrence and R. Lee Ermey as Gunner Sergeant Hartman.  For bonus points, scan back through all the Kubrick scene photos and note his consistent use of perspective and geometry.  I could easily devote an entire article to that subject...maybe I will do just that.

Pyle is somewhat slow, very overweight, and has a hard time keeping his head in the game.  Early in training, Pyle is seen as falling out of the grueling running sessions inflicted on recruits; when this happens, his fellow recruits lend a hand, lifting him to his feet and even carrying some of his weight.  But these in-group overtures fail to bring him up to speed.  As is often the case in Basic Training, Hartman eventually washes his hands of Pyle and turns him over to the platoon to discipline.  He accomplishes this by repeatedly punishing the platoon for Pyle’s mistakes. 

They take matters into their own hands, recasting him as out-group and inflicting violent punishment on him.  Because norms are better enforced by the in-group than by outsiders, this has the intended effect; Pyle is “born again hard,” and as a result is readmitted to the platoon by the nascent society it comprises.  Unfortunately, Pyle’s inherent weakness isn’t physical, but mental, and the strain of the punishment—and rejection—proves too much for him in the end.  This is as Darwinistic as it gets, folks. 

The face of simian hostility really hasn’t changed much over the past four million years.

The movie shifts focus to Viet Nam, where Joker is employed as a combat journalist.  The Tet Offensive, and Joker’s ironic prodding of his somewhat mendacious commander, result in his being sent to Hue to observe combat operations in progress.  He eventually finds his way to the squad of his bunk-buddy Cowboy.  At first, Cowboy welcomes him into the fold, but there is immediate resistance from the squad’s unofficial alpha male, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin).  Joker is forced to endure a potential humiliation and ass-beating as part of the initiation process.  He faces the threat with aplomb, refusing to back down, and the situation is finally defused by Animal Mother’s only true friend in the squad, Eight-Ball (Dorian Harewood), who pulls him away at the last moment.  “You might not believe this, but under fire, Animal Mother is one of the finest human beings in the world.  All he needs is someone to throw hand grenades at him the rest of his life.” 

Defusing the tension with comic relief.

Later, when Joker challenges one of Animal’s combat decisions, the latter reminds him “Cowboy’s wasted.  You’re fresh out of friends.”  This statement threatens Joker with being relegated back to out-group status unless he toes the unit’s line and accepts their values.

Animal Mother is indeed shown to be a “fine human being” under fire.  He risks his life to try to save Eight-Ball and Doc J, propelling the squad into an assault on what is presumed to be a “strong enemy position.” His ferocity in providing cover fire provides one of the movie’s iconic images:  teeth bared like many a primate before him, he snarls and bellows as he pours death downrange. 

The face of simian hostility, redux.

Despite his repeated misanthropic and racist statements, he clearly loves the men he has faced danger with for so long.  He has succeeded, for all his apparent simplicity, in extending kinship beyond genes and into values.  Nonetheless, he continually bucks the official (read that:  “artificial”) military chain of command, taking the role of chief hierarch when evaluating potential new members, engaging in combat, or hiring prostitutes.  Sexual supremacy, conflict on one’s own terms, initiation and in-group / out-group declaration are the perquisites of the man at the top, even if he doesn’t wear the stripes.  His personality traits are textbook alpha male:  few friends; soft-spoken, and infrequently-spoken; absolute confidence in his abilities and his position; impatience with turn-taking, and the use of force to ensure the first place.

“Don’t worry, guys, we won’t be long.  I’ll skip the foreplay.”

A more recent example of social boundary enforcement can be seen in the second season of the sitcom “Community.”  The abominably incompetent Spanish teacher, Señor Chang (Ken Leong), had previously begun to identify with the hapless students who’d forged a tightly-knit study group in mutual self-defense.  When he was canned, he sought revenge—and belonging—by returning to the school as a student.  His unrelenting attempts to join the group, and its repeated rebuffs, provide the main source of dramatic tension (along with unrelenting focus on competition and alpha-male aggression).  The show gives the audience something it’s quite familiar with, the clannishness and cliquishness of people thrust into artificial societies such as academia.  Most of us have experienced cliques in high school, if not earlier; “Community” updates the setting to adulthood, demonstrating that we actually don’t grow out of some things.  Of course, there is no evidence of a direct literary connection here, either, but the television shows of this decade cannot avoid coming about in an age already heavily influenced by the aforementioned movies and books.  Kubrick, Clarke and Peckinpah have lived up to their commitments to popularize the work of Lorenz and Ardrey.

Fake Spanish teacher, fake Chinese, fake student:  Chang, the fake-weapon-using poser.  He tries on a wide variety of masks in his ongoing effort to fit in.

Still, there are remarkable consonances to be found in works preceding their publications.  Boulle published roughly contemponeously in what might be just pure coincidence.  But William Golding’s Nobel-winning Lord of the Flies (1954) led African Genesis by the greater part of a decade.  It, like “Planet of the Apes” and “The Wild Bunch,” pushed the outside of the envelope for violence and pessimism in human nature, proving rather an uncomfortable read for most at the time.  Its popularity was slow in coming, but it has by now achieved the same kind of cultural saturation that “Wild Bunch” has (as demonstrated definitively by a reference in an episode of “The Simpsons,” which has also parodiedPlanet of the Apes” and “Wild Bunch,” among several other films mentioned here).  Rather than recite a litany of its Ardrey-esque features, I’ll just cite the Wiki:

In the midst of a wartime evacuation, a British plane crashes onto an isolated island.  The only survivors are male children below the age of 13.  Two boys, the fair-haired Ralph and an overweight, bespectacled boy reluctantly nicknamed "Piggy" find a conch, which Ralph uses as a horn to bring all the survivors to one area.  Two dominant boys emerge during the meeting:  Ralph and Jack Merridew, a redhead who is the leader of a choir group that was among the survivors.  Ralph is voted chief, losing only the votes of Jack's fellow choirboys.  Ralph asserts two goals: have fun, and work towards a rescue by maintaining a constant fire signal.  They create the fire with Piggy's glasses, nearly catching the whole island on fire.  For a time, the boys work together.

A scene from what is widely-regarded as the best dramatic adaptation of the novel.

Jack organises his choir group into the group's hunters, who are responsible for hunting for meat.  Ralph, Jack, and a black-haired boy named Simon soon become the supreme trio among the children.  Piggy is quickly made an outcast by his fellow "biguns" (older boys) and becomes an unwilling source of mirth for the other children.  Simon, in addition to supervising the project of constructing shelters, feels an instinctive need to protect the younger boys.

The original semblance of order imposed by Ralph quickly deteriorates as the majority of the boys turn idle.  Around the same time, many of the younger boys begin to believe that the island is inhabited by a monster, referred to as "the beast".  Jack gains control of the discussion by boldly promising to kill the beast.

Milhous—er, Piggy—on trial for stealing supplies.

Yep.  It’s all in there.  It’s noteworthy that the relatively weak hiearchy of the main group of boys fails to maintain order for long; Jack, as chief hierarch of the more rigid choir group, fares better over the long run, and his sub-society eventually challenges the larger surrounding society for supremacy.

And we can never really forget that it’s shared norms and values that determine with whom we will ally in times of conflict or stress.  Great Britain was our nation’s first and most formidable wartime enemy in the late 18th century, but by the time of the World Wars, we were aligning with it against Germany and its allies.  Shared language, shared customs, and various traditional and religious features of our culture required that we support Britain, despite our hostile past, and despite the evident greater strength of the nations that became our common enemy.

I recently was somewhat stunned to discover the Complex at work in another of my favorite movies, one which has, to my knowledge, never been cast in this light.  I’ve yet to find a source that provides a concrete literary link.  Yet the agreement between theory and art is so perfect, it’s difficult not to see the guiding hand of either old R. A. or the Unconscious.  I speak here of Richard Linklater, the writer and director of “Dazed and Confused” (1993).  This movie is remarkable in several ways:  it’s genuinely entertaining, for youngsters and adults alike, in the total absence of cynicism and irony, and the cast’s buying absolutely into its subject matter; it perfectly captures youth, its aggression and sense of danger and fun; it launched a dozen high-profile careers, thereby cementing its position in cinema legend.  (More than a dozen, actually:  Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Nick Katt, and Renee Zellweger appeared onscreen—all except Zellweger having  dialogue—and while some of them had appeared in other works previously, their exposure was negligible by comparison to the public impact of this one.)

L I V I N.  The seniors (above) and some of their freshman counterparts (below).

Linklater’s general cinematic pattern—if he can be said to have one—is to tell a story over the course of a single 24-hour period.  This story takes place on the day and night of the last day of school in 1976 in a Texas town somewhere between Austin and Houston (Linklater was born in Houston, and some of the childhood friends his characters were based on still live in Huntsville).  “Dazed and Confused” follows two sets of teenagers as they are released from educatory confines and turned loose upon an unsuspecting world.  One group is the freshmen, facing a summer of freedom and peril, to be followed by the first step into an entirely new and hostile world:  high school.  The other group consists of the seniors, who have just climbed to the highest social class of the juvenile hierarchy, and who promise endless torment and degradation to the freshmen.  Ardrey point 1:  the age group, which forms the primary social context for most individuals until adulthood.  Ardrey point 2:  the male aggression of youth, and the associated drive to seek status.  The seniors engage in highly-ritualized initiations, the outcome of which determines whether a given freshman will be admitted to in-group ranks (Ardrey point 3).  The likelihood of any freshman being seen as “cool” and allowed to hang out is in direct proportion to that freshman’s adoption of the senior norms (Ardrey point 4).  Even within each age group, there are distinct sub-hierarchies and sub-classes.  The senior class has a crop of alphas, a couple of pathological, hyper-alphas, a vast body of inconsequentials, and a handful of omegas.   (“I never get shotgun,” complains Slater (Cochrane) after once again being relegated to the back seat of someone else’s car.)  And much the same can be said for the freshman class, although it as yet lacks hyper-alphas (presumably because puberty plays some role in that particular outcome, although we do see some tendency on the part of Carl to deride the fumbling makeout efforts of his friend Hirschfelder).  And this arrangement holds true in the female subgroup as in the male.  Clint (Katt) and O’Bannion (Affleck) are overly-aggressive, overly-competitive, and overly-hostile; the same can be said of Darla (Posey). 

Affleck, a Method actor, drew upon his experience in bullying College Republicans.

And so while they are tolerated among their in-groups most of the time, their behavior definitely puts them outside norm at times, and at those times, even their own groups reject them.  Interestingly, Linklater’s script almost totally ignores the “normals”, the set of individuals comprising the bulk of the bell curve; he is concerned with the alphas and the omegas, the freshmen and the seniors, and virtually nobody in between.

Abuse me.  Please.  The Senior Fem-Initiators (from left:  Deena Martin as Shavonne, Michelle Burk as Jodi, Joey Lauren Adams as Simone, and Parker Posey as Darla.)

Some of the groups break down along predictable lines:  the jocks keep mostly to themselves, as do the stoners.  The nerds are a clique unto themselves, but they don’t occupy the stereotypic low rungs; they keep themselves apart, rather than being kept apart.  Very few of the seniors have the class fluidity to move through all cliques; Don Dawson (Sasha Jensen) is equally at home among the jocks and the stoners, but only Randall “Pink” Floyd (London) participates in all three groups.  The cultural barriers between them, within an age group, are not enforced by aggression, but by norms.  Aggression is reserved for divisions between age groups…except in rare cases when norms break down.  The senior women humiliate the freshman girls, and the senior men brutalize the freshman boys.  But this initiation, like all initiations, also serves as invitation, a potential route of entry into the group.  As Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke) assists the senior women in herding unhappy freshmen into a parking lot, she notices Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) hanging back.  She approaches:  “Are you a freshman?”  Sabrina reluctantly responds in the affirmative.  Jodi presses the attack:  “Well, are you in or are you out?”  “I’m in,” replies Sabrina.  And so she is.

The faces of youthful innocence (Milla Jovovich as Michelle, Rory Cochrane as Slater, and Jason London as Randall).  The in-group’s values include rebellion, intoxication, sexual exploration and Pink Floyd.

As the girls are tormented in a parking lot, Simone (Adams) offers words of encouragement:  “You guys are doing great.  I did it when when I was a freshman, and you’ll do it when you’re a senior.  Now fry, freshman bitches!  Fry!”

The rest of the community appears to countenance the goings-on, presumably because things are no different from when the town elders were themselves high school children.  Just before school lets out, Jodi’s younger brother Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and his compatriots appeal to their teacher’s sense of decency and ask to be released early.  The teacher, Mr. Payne (Julius Tennon), smiles before replying.  “It’s like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle.  ‘Men, fifty of you are going on a mission.  Twenty-five of you ain’t coming back.’”

The freshman sense of resignation at capture provides some of the most pointed humor.  Few things are as bad as being caught by a bad-tempered senior bully, but nothing is worse than accepting the coward’s way out, as that is an egregious violation of norms.  When Carl and Mitch are cornered in front of Carl’s house, O’Bannion prepares to administer swats with his finely-crafted paddle, the Fah Q.  Before he can complete his first swing, Carl’s mother shows up for a rescue, armed with what he will later describe as a “fucking shotgun.”  Carl, rather than running to the safety of her bosom, protests:  “Mommmm!”  Later that evening, after Mitch pitches a win for his baseball team, he is surrounded by a cadre of paddle-wielding seniors, and surrenders rather than fleeing, knowing he has been especially targeted and that his eventual capture is an inevitability.  Benny and O’Bannion bully; Melvin and Don are more moderate; and Pink barely taps.  And here Mitch’ fortune changes.  Melvin commiserates with Pink over the loss of the night’s party venue (the house of Pickford, whose parents have decided at the last minute not to go on vacation), telling him that some of the guys are going to go down to the local pool hall, the Emporium.  Although he is addressing Pink, he leans in close to Mitch to deliver each line, clearly extending the invitation to him as well. 

Pink offers to give Mitch a ride home, and on the way, offers some advice for dealing with the continuing ordeal of initiation.  Mitch asks whether Pink’s experiences had been as bad.  “They waited for me after baseball practice,” he says, bringing into focus a sort of one-to-one relationship each senior has with a freshman counterpart (often accentuated by parallels in appearance, as well as in behavior:  Pink with Mitch, Don with Carl, Pickford with Tommy, and Slater with Hirschfelder).  This drives home the eternal nature of tradition, as well as of the Collective Unconscious, as it represents the kind of resonances that Joseph Campbell described in mythology:  it’s the same old story, told in different ways, using different characters who are nonetheless all reflections of the originals.  Pink goes on:  “I had some pretty cool seniors, though.  They’d take you out and bust your ass, then buy you a beer afterward.”  Pink is cementing the invitation previously, subliminally extended by Melvin, telling Mitch that now that his ass has been busted, one or more beers may be in the offing.

Mitch joins the seniors in their night on the town, does some drinking, does some smoking, and participates in various shenanigans.  It’s altogether a scary experience, but that’s what initiations are supposed to be.  Each time he’s brought to the brink of his tolerance for novelty and risk, he walks easily out into the chasm, finding greater acceptance each time.  He’s obviously neither a follower nor particularly insecure, but he is nonetheless a relative stranger in a new society, and he must fit in.  So when he’s asked to illegally purchase beer or throw a bowling ball through a car window, he complies.  Sabrina, having been invited to drive around with Jodi and her friends, finds herself in similar circumstances, although much less risky (and, to her, rather more boring).  The most exciting thing she’s seen doing is attempting to flip bottle caps like her peers.  She appears to be wondering what all the fuss is about, but is nonetheless accepting, because she is accepted.

Mitch, tentatively joining the in-group.  (From left:  Sasha Jenson as Don, Matthew McCaughahey as Wooderson, London, and Wiley Wiggins as Mitch.)

Left behind:  Hirschfelder, Tommy and Carl (Jeremy Fox, Mark Vandermeulen and Esteban Powell), still uninitiated, and therefore still out.

Various devices remind us frequently about the cost of bucking norms, of disregarding group boundaries, of failing to demonstrate adequate aggression at the appropriate moment.  These devices come to a climax during the night party at the Moon Tower.  Nerd Mike (Goldberg), having earlier run afoul of “dominant male monkey mother fucker” Clint, engages in a surprise attack, hoping the crowd will break up the fight before he incurs any serious damage.  He badly miscalculates the crowd’s reactions, but worse, he fails to capitalize on the early advantage he gains by sucker-punching the enemy.  Clint, humiliated, takes it out on Mike, humiliating him right back.  (The face-saving nature of henpecking the peckable is one of Lorenz’ most enduring themes, explored in great detail in On Aggression.)  We also see this kind of phenomenon played out on the female side.  Darla, drunk and tired, loses her inhibitions, and her inner bitch—only ever just below the surface on a good day—comes roaring forth.  She begins hazing Sabrina on the conventionally-neutral party ground.  “She doesn’t have to Air Raid because she’s with me,” reasons Tony (Rapp).  He is extending Sabrina the protection of the in-group, but the alpha female rejects the ploy, either because she is emotionally compromised by intoxication and rage, or because she refuses to recognize a nerd’s authority in matters of female hierarchy.  Either way, her hyper-alpha out-group identification cannot be altered by any member of the out-group.

“We’re here to kick ass and drink beer.  And it looks like we’re almost out of beer.”

What I find truly interesting about this thematic agreement is the fact that Linklater wasn’t composing a story to illustrate human nature, or to point out archetypes, or argue ideology.  Linklater was simply writing from experience.  The 24-hour slice he presents is of his own teenage life; the characters in the film are based on people he knew while growing up, and the setting recalls his time spent in Texas as a youngster.  It seems wildly improbable that he has deliberately cast his own life against the backdrop of amity / enmity; but then again, I’ve never interviewed him on the subject.  If it’s not a deliberate alignment with the Complex, then it’s a hell of a coincidence, on a level with that of “Planet of the Apes.”  And how many coincidences do you have to have before they start counting as meaningful?

Sweet, sweet revenge on O’Bannion.  I hope this gets some wheels turning for the next time Affleck says, publicly, that he doesn’t like Republicans.

On a potentially completely-unrelated, potentially synchronistic side note, I turned this up while searching for any information about literary connections between Linklater and Ardrey.  The book looks odd enough, but its apparent obsession with creativity and the Collective Unconscious seems quite apt.  I’ll leave it to you to check out the page and see how many ideas and names it has in common with this article.   I’m kinda curious to read it now, although it appears to have precious little to do with the subject at hand, other than to conceptually tie together some of the creators I’ve mentioned:   A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality by Clifford A. Pickover.

I’d like now to close the circle I opened up at the start of this essay, when I hinted that at least one kind of animal is known to spontaneously engage in artistic display. 

If you say so.

We’ve seen some chimpanzee paintings already.  Let’s check out some elephant artwork now.  Is this creativity?

This is what untrained elephants are capable of.

With coaching, they can turn out works like this.  But it remains to be seen whether they can truly improvise; the current consensus is that this is simply a rote rendition of movements taught by a trainer.

The pragmatic facts, however, are a bit drab and anticlimactic.  We’re not looking at painters so much as sculptors, and not at mammals so much as birds.  Although it is true that bowerbirds, like beavers, can build structures of relatively complex architecture, it is difficult to ascribe a creative impulse to this activity in the same way we do when appreciating art.  Beavers don’t build lodges when the mood strikes them; they build lodges when it is advantageous to the survival of the family group.  Bowerbirds don’t build bowers when they feel an artistic itch; the randy male builds bowers when it is mandatory to his gambit in the arena of sexual selection.  The same basal constructive instinct is at play here that drives the ant to dig tunnels, the perching bird to weave branches, and the gorilla to gather soft leaves for the night’s pallet.  The main difference in the drive is in the diversity of expression.  A bowerbird’s chance of mating success derives almost solely from the impression he makes with the bower he constructs.  Because of this direct influence on reproductive success, there is a strong, amplifying feedback effect between the winning strategies and their perpetuation.  Over vast spans of time, this has resulted in some fantastic refinements of style, what can only be thought of as individual expression. 

Shown here are several examples of work by different varieties of bowerbird.  You’ll notice that although each is different, there are certain consistencies of form that define the general concept “bower” to these birds.  Nonetheless, there is what could be called “theme” at work in each specimen, including color palettes and arrangements of items, and these are unique to each individual.

Yet genes alone cannot account for the full diversity of observed designs, because genes cannot anticipate the emergence of novel materials such as the kinds of garbage, fragments of machinery and tools that we have deposited in their natural environment, and that bowerbirds have, in recent decades, adopted. 

There seems to be an instinctive understanding of what attracts the ladies.

A bowerbird’s selection of material may differ somewhat from that of his sibling; his arrangement of material will differ by a wider margin.  No two bowers are alike, but there are definite trends in technique, material and shape to be seen from species to species, and from individual to individual within a species.  Some of the variation in result might be attributed to genetic variability; some of it might be attributed to subtle environmental influences acting on the expression of that variability.  But I suspect that, once we’ve corrected for those two factors, we’ll still have a degree of randomness in the expression.  That degree of randomness, for lack of a better word, might as well be called “imagination.”  It is the uniqueness that emerges from the complexity of a bowerbird’s brain.  It is an emergent property, just as our intelligence is emergent from the complexity of our brains.

And this brings us back to “between instinct and reason.”  The bowerbird’s creative impulse derives from his territorial aggression.  His personality, if you will, emerges from his compulsion to command a territory and acquire a mate.  This is not terribly unlike how a human’s personality emerges from his compulsion to belong to a group, to fit in, to command a position in the hierarchy, and to appeal to members of the opposite sex.  Jungian individuation emerges from primordial instinct, which is of course the source of the Collective Unconscious.  In my view, the Unconscious—or its evolutionary forebear—is probably at least as old as mammalian life, at least as old as the forebrain and the curiosity it entails.  At some point between the Cretaceous shrews and the Pleistocene hominids, that curiosity and its supporting intelligence crossed a threshold for awareness, and the Unconscious became fully-realized.  Certainly dreaming, the foundation of the Unconscious, is likely to be that basal, as it appears universal, or nearly so, among mammals today.

What I don’t know is whether our lineage is the first, or the only, to have fully realized a Collective Unconscious.  We do tend to downplay the intellectual prowess of other animal species, perhaps forgiveably because we so rarely observe them doing anything like deliberation.  What we often fail to consider are the frequent, myriad acts of improvisation that occur the instant a sudden, unexpected change in circumstances occurs.  The reason the mammalian forebrain has achieved such widespread and long-lasting success is that it enabled the possessor to respond immediately to novel events.  If territorial aggression can be viewed as a precursor to creativity, fight-or-flight responses have no less valid a claim.  And perhaps this, as much as any sociopolitical argument, is what distinguishes the cinema of Kubrick and Peckinpah from the rest. 

A final note:  In the year-plus that has passed since I began compiling research for the original draft of this essay, I’ve encountered plenty more references to the AEC in sitcom television, including “30Rock” and “How I Met Your Mother.”  Although liberal academia remains slow to accept the existence of the Complex, liberal Hollywood appears to be catching up.

*Near the end of the movie, Zira asks Dr. Zaius, about Taylor:  “What will he find out there?”
Dr. Zaius replies, “His destiny.”  That he does…by way of finding his past.

Before we leave…more Nova.

For additional reading:

IMdB Quotes:  Full Metal Jacket
Letters by Stanley Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell to the New York Times

Disclaimer:  images are sourced from numerous articles, mostly Wikipedia Commons and cinematic journals.  They are reproduced here under my interpretation of Fair Use (for non-commercial display and purposes of  critical review).

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