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From “Man the Hunter” to Homo X: Rethinking Human Nature

Posted in Animal Liberation, Environment, Indigenous, Revolution with tags , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by drstevebest

In their myriad telling, “scientific” narratives of human evolution have accumulated a ton of ideological baggage; human origins accounts often are more rooted in fiction than fact, and many were spawned before recent archaeological and scientific breakthroughs. Few models are as dominant as the story of “Man the Hunter.” This theory of evolution and human nature argues that human beings (1) are natural carnivores, (2) were always hunters, and (3) are inherently violent and aggressive. Not only prevalent in science, these assumptions spread into culture and everyday life, where they shaped anthropocentric worldviews and sedimented into “common sense.” Yet each element in the Man the Hunter model is a fiction and myth that both stems from and perpetuates false concepts of human identity. The prevalent notion of “human nature” has no grounding in historical reality and in fact is a social construction with troubling implications and consequences.

Clearly, these three assertions sustain and support each other. If humans are natural carnivores, they have to hunt to survive; since hunting, moreover, is impossible without killing, violent behaviors form the basis of social life.  To say that humans are natural carnivores is to state that since our hominid beginnings 5-8 million years ago we ate a meat-based diet and killed animals to satisfy our cravings for flesh and blood. But it also makes a stronger claim that the human physiology requires meat and cannot flourish or function properly on a vegetarian diet. Meat consumption is primordial, natural, good, and necessary. Thus, humans cannot and should not live without killing animals, and violence is inherently and necessarily a part of their existence. Natural carnivores are therefore born to hunt and kill; they are violent not only toward animals but also toward each other; carnivorism is our original sin.

The Man the Hunter view has influenced many views about the biological basis and evolution of violence in human life. These are arbitrary claims rooted in speciesist, carnivorous, and patriarchal biases, and we shall take them apart one at a time.

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