December 1, 2022

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Lamb or lion?

Lamb or lion?

Guest Comment: Research suggests that we are both the worst and the best.

The remains of the pygmy Homo naledi, found in 2015 in a cave near Swartkrans in South Africa.
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The first to walk here.

We stand at the Rising Star Cave, see Swartkrans a few hundred meters away, and Sterkfontein Caves just beyond. It is only a few kilometers away from Tong. The landscape is dry, but now that summer is approaching in South Africa, the scattered trees are blooming in intense colour; Red and purple – and confusing to two wide-eyed Norwegians – are brilliant blue.

A world of blue trees! Three million years ago, the view was even more beautiful, with the light gleaming from a thousand rivers and lakes.

Our ancestors lived here, for millions of years – they were small, weak, but smart. When we think of the word “heaven,” we remind ourselves that Taung means “lion.”

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The first pre-human

The first pre-humans were found in Tong in the early 1920s. Tong’s baby, australopithecines, is several million years old. In 2013, a completely new species was discovered here in the Rising Star. Homo naledi — right there in the Swartkrans we tamed the fire — nearly two million years ago.

They call it the “cradle of mankind,” and we, Vibeke Riiser-Larsen and I are here for a book we’re going to write – on human evolution.

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According to one of the godfathers of this science, Raymond Dart, the relatives of Tongbarent were “murder monkeys,” which are likely to come in handy when you walk among lions without a weapon.

However, scientists do not believe in this today. We didn’t start ruthless killers.

We are not today. truly. The idea occurred to us when we got on the plane. Several hundred people quietly walked up. No one has ever met. We come from all over the world, of all races and of all skin tones.

But no one paid, no one argued – everything went harmoniously. Then we sat there for 12 hours, like herring in a barrel, but still smiling and polite. And when we landed in Johannesburg, we got up and left the plane and never met again.

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paradox

Tongbarn’s relatives had hardly succeeded in this. Nor are their cousins ​​chimpanzees.

So, if they aren’t “killer monkeys,” we are less.

This gives hope for the future. There is much less war and violence in the world today than there was just a few years ago.

But if so, how do we make reality consistent? Because we are really not as peaceful as lambs. In many contexts, we appear rather as delirious sadistic violent men.

This is an old problem. Many have asked themselves how the commander of Auschwitz could lead an idyllic family life, 100 meters from the gas chambers? Or how could Soviet fathers rape and murder civilians on their way to Germany at about the same time? Or today in Ukraine? What is happening on earth?

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To find an answer, we have to take into account both culture and evolution.

First, the cultural. There is really less war these days. We have prepared ourselves.

So, evolutionary: We are both lions and lambs.

So what is true human nature?

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worse and better

Research shows that we are both the worst and the best. We are bloodier than the lion and at the same time more peaceful than the lamb.

As the journey here to the “cradle of humanity” showed: we accept each other’s existence. We treat each other with respect. This is the prerequisite for us to be able to live in society at all.
This tolerance is a rare commodity in nature. But of course we can also get angry and resort to violence.

But there is a difference between violence and violence – the violence you tend to use when someone scratches your car outside the store is very different from the one you tend to use again to get money from the driver three months later.

If you had resorted to violence in these situations, there would be two completely different kinds of actions for the brain.

The first would be interactive violence. Rush, fury of the moment, designed by evolution to help you survive in dangerous situations. The other would be proactive violence, planned to achieve an objective.

Whether it’s getting your hands on your neighbor’s money, or the coast of a neighboring state, these actions are controlled by very different parts of the brain than the ones that made you react to a bend in the hood.

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Both parts live in us, and we have become, thank God, better at dealing with them.

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world rulers

Anyway, that’s where I started, here and in the Rift Valley a little further north. Like I said, we were weak little prey. Today we are the undisputed rulers of the world.

It’s hard to call a human anything other than success – and we’ll likely get better, even if there are a few bumps in the road from time to time.

Fortunately, it is increasingly rare.

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