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Demonic Males, Apes and the Origins of Human Violence

from International Crime Authors Reality Check

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Those three questions formed the title of Paul Gauguin’s 1897 painting, which he finished while living on a South Pacific Island. It is Gauguin’s vision of paradise. That vision of Eden shaped the attitudes and beliefs of many generations. Ever since there have been painters, writers, explorers, adventurers, there have been individuals seeking to discover an earthly paradise. There is a deep longing to believe that given the right circumstances, we are kind, compassionate, forsake violence, jealous, hatred and rivalry.


But deep long doesn’t make such a belief true. At best, we are left with false hope in a belief that occupies the realm of the supernatural, fantasy, and folktale.


In Demonic Males, Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson examine the legacy of Gauguin, Herman Melville and Margaret Mead who inspired many generations to believe that despite our common history of warfare and violence, there were societies which escaped such terrors.

Gauguin would likely be locked up in the modern world for his preoccupation with preadolescent girls. Young eves populated in idealized Garden of Eden. Animals and humans co-existed in peace and tranquility. He lived a life isolated from others, living out his days in a stone hut on Marquesas Islands. His life’s work revolved many paintings that featured nubile young women.

In contrast, Melville and Mead made a temporary voyage of discovery during their youth to the same general area of Gauguin, and then returned to their homeland to write their accounts. In Melville’s case the book was Typee and in Mead’s case it was Coming of Age in Samoa; a Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation.

Both Melville and Mead’s works fudge the cultural details to suit in the case of Meville an adventure story (passed off as non-fiction)—making him an early example of contemporary authors like James Frey…. 

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Posted on August 28, 2009 by Editor

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