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I'm afraid the off the cuff choice of using the adjective ortalto qualify combat may have created an unfortunate distraction that has diverted the essential intent of the comment.

In any case, this has lead to other interesting tangential topics and sources. I see that the book you suggest, On Aggression, is by Konrad Lorenz. I looked it up on Amazon and it seems like a very worthwhile and thought provoking read.

One of the editorial reviews has this summary: orenz presents his findings on the mechanism of aggression and how animals control destructive drives in the interest of the species.? From what I can glean from other review comments there, this control of the destructive drive in animals is contrasted with the apparent lack of same among humans.

While we are on the subject of good books, and the matter of behaviour and culture and how these things evolved, I was reminded of another very thought provoking and enjoyable book by Geoffery Miller, titled The Mating Mind?

It is rather just to point out what I see as the striking malleability and cultural specificity of moral boundaries and how in cases like the one just mentioned, a few moments can totally change the acceptability of certain actions. While listening to military briefings in the news, often it is explicitly stated that an objective of some operations will be to "capture or kill" the enemy.

The sort of most dramatic of the other plausible scenarios is that he became the victim of Asmat headhunters and all that implies. If that was how it happened, the bitter irony naturally is that the young Rockefeller was passionate about the area and had a great interest and respect for a smart people and culture.

In any case, as you say, tales of headhunting and cannibalism can be quite jarring. The really astonishing part of it in my opinion however, is just how relatively common such practices were around the planet.

Of the victim's life that cause us to react or not to their death. Whether it was the American, Michael Rockefeller, or the Solomon Islander named Tombat, the British Missionary Chalmer, or Limbang the Dayak ?reaction on an emotional level has more to do with what we know about that person than their nationality, race or religion per se.

Boas was on to something, and Millerís ideas strike me as complimentary and mutually reinforcing. While Boas only mentions the personal creative satisfaction of the artisan him or herself, the idea that creative virtuosity could serve as an appeal to prospective mates, seems like a fairly reasonable extension of his conclusions on art motives? and one that could reinforce the artisans own pleasure in the aesthetically creative act.

A final comment or two on head hunting? for the majority of us who will read this discussion, I think it is safe to say that if this phenomenon is of interest at all, then at most we may possibly gain an intellectual understanding of why various societies might indulge in headhunting, but our own deeply ingrained cultural praxis will prevent us from ever looking at headhunting the way someone who is an autochthonous member of a headhunting society might.

There's a wonderful book on the subject, called On Aggression. The author's name has momentarily left the page that my brain is scanning - one of the interesting phenomena that occurs with age. I'm completely confident that I will recall it in a little while, so the memory trace isn't gone, it's just temporarily inaccessible.


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Last modified: Tuesday October 18, 2005.