Reactive Aggression, and the Other Kind – Updated

Ah! I’ve cracked it!

The point, the salient thing about “reactive aggression” is not so much that it is a reaction and a response, an answer, but that it is aggression now, immediately. Again – it’s a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron . . . never mind, I won’t be dragged into that. Science requires new terms and sometimes they are off-putting like that, no biggie. As I say, I’ve found the meaning anyway.

I’ve elaborated upon this elsewhere and I shall certainly continue to, but I mean here, as opposed to proactive aggression which is a system whereby we create and store our aggression for later.

I asked myself at an early age, something apparently no-one ever does at any age, “what is punishment,” and what I have come up with is that it is everything they say except they mostly never say anything about it that matters, anything beyond the explanation we get as toddlers. It is those things, but it also simply something that hurts, something that offends, that frightens, makes us angry and even drives us mad.

Maybe it isn’t so obvious now, we have developed a thousand skillsets and a hundred ways to go crazy, but it seems to me that among the post- chimpanzee/proto humans a few hundred thousand years back, being hurt and scared and angry probably made for a more violent, more aggressive, more risk-taking ape-man.


Italics, July 30th

 . . . a more reactively aggressive ape-man, you would think, I mean if you were me. I’ve seen hurt, scared, angry people, we get more reactive.  I keep getting further and further from this book, it’s starting to sound like a huge crock. Proactive aggression often as not means proactively winding a bunch of men up, sending them into a stressful situation and accessing all that reactive aggression Wrangham says we selected out.

We didn’t shed reactive aggression, we suppressed it, demoted it. We repressed it, and we pool it, socialize for use in the conflicts – we surrender it to the state or the group. If you react aggressively to people, use your aggression for your personal space,  you go to jail/get executed in the past. If you bite it back, hold it in, you remain free, but your leaders own that reaction now. It will be used for the group, if we’re talking about the past, maybe just for the leader in the present. This is antisocialization Theory – and we had better learn it because the generals and the rich seem to know it.


Logically, it does us also, but as I say, it’s hard to see. This, to me, is psychology, to ask what created the beast, not only what sets him off, but what winds him up.

I’ve cracked that too, what is wrong with EP generally, seems to be that their psychology starts with the beast and his bad attitude and proceeds from there, like the religions and the scriptures start with the word of God and proceed fairly logically from there.  Bam! I’m sorry, but there are parallels and we are all only one person each, “parallels” that are within us are just the same things in different words. Our arguments follow the same format: “adaptive” takes the place of “innate” and “cultural” takes the place of “learned,” and Evolutionary Psychology and its aggression takes the place of Original Sin, we use it like an initial condition. That’s not really psychology.

A discipline-specific meaning?

Or a conflation? Again, to posit “proactive aggression,” like that, in the form of a noun . . . we are treating it as some initial condition, despite the proactive label – or maybe “proactive” means it’s a choice, only a choice, just we had this idea, no psychology there? Of course psychology is concerned with why we make choices. Bear with me, please, I am trying to express something new to me also.

It stared on page 260, I had a reaction of my own upon reading “Whether the much shorter history of complex warfare also affected our evolutionary psychology is unknown.” It jarred me, and honestly, I’ve been complaining I couldn’t find the psychology in EP, but here it was and it was . . . backwards.

I’m trying to figure out how we can think our way to war or how it is we can’t think of ways out of it, I am trying to employ psychology to analyze why we do such things, and Wrangham’s concern is not why we do it, but only how war affects us, affects our psychology after the fact of the war?

You know what, I’m not finished digesting that myself yet.

I will grant, it’s possible I have cherry-picked this point, but it does seem to impact on my perception that EP lacked the P bit, and psychology is a blade that points every which way. Of course the changes in the minds of war’s victims and the operation of the mind of the warrior are both the province of psychology, we can all be psychologists and ignore different things. My idea here is that what we call psychology, maybe the evolutionary version, ought to be the study of how one becomes the other, how victims become warriors. I mean really, the other way around is simple, they lose a fight, they get hit with some flying sharp object or bludgeon, they lose friends and family . . . how we become victims is not the mystery, is it?

How we become warriors, this is my puzzle. Again, perhaps I’ve cherry-picked this bit, but it does also explain why the ladies and nice guys of psychology react so strongly to EP. Perhaps I am in the best position to clarify that, I’m not really in either camp on this, I find both camps lacking – but good news, I have the solution, the answer to put us all on the path of righteousness.

So, reactive aggression is when we respond immediately, sure, to proactively teach someone a lesson about messing with us, but the point is reactive aggression means in real time, interactively, in the present.

Proactive aggression, first, it’s all of it, even if, as they say, action precedes consciousness, it’s still the brain giving the attack command. Second, I’ll say, oh, damnit, shut up brain, this is not the time to question how often even lethal proactive violence is actually selective, I mean, there is still the selective conundrum, you can’t really cull the cullers, because you’re one of them, but even without that, how often are the victims of executions virgins? Surely they are not all culled in childhood, I’m saying just because you kill people doesn’t mean you’re making selections at all if they have already spread their seed around, and of course this is the Selfish Gene, isn’t it, that’s what groups are for. You can kill all day long and not really change the gene pool, I think. But I digress, selection is not my area, I’m sorry.

OK, the trauma of it may affect the survivors and their genes – and I will ask you to notice what I just did there, seriously demoted selection and promoted trauma. That was Wrangham’s concern too, don’t get me wrong, he said straight up “how complex war affected our evolutionary psychology,” that’s close enough, he credits trauma. I will apologize, I was saying that EP is nothing but game theory, no psychology at all, but it has some, just not enough. Again, I hear the echo of original Sin, I hear “aggression” as a noun and an initial condition and psychology applied after that when it needs to be explained as a reaction and a response to threat and abuse, not as some kind of First Cause.

I’m sorry, but I really like the analogy with religion. I’m guessing that is a problem all over the place, at the edge of our sphere of understanding, the analysis ends and “Here be Dragons,” some initial condition we just have to accept to have anywhere to proceed from. “Human Nature,” “Here be Dragons,” tomayto, tomahto.

We need to apply the psychology more liberally, on both sides of these equations. We are stuck with our limitations, but we can move our sphere, bring ourselves closer to these truths and further from something else, something perhaps more immediately destructive, like the Original Sin suite of ideas.

I wonder if anyone notices, I’m winding up again, and that thought seemed to me to be inspired, a schizotypal leap, dizzying. It’s a sort of a high-wire act – I just hope it’s not an act. I’m afraid of becoming one of these idiots that thinks he’s the superman, because I’m alone and I am starting to wonder if my difference of opinion with the world doesn’t reflect a different gene or a mutation. It may be true that I didn’t get my share of the beatings, that as the last of four, Mom didn’t seem to have the heart for it (depression), and also I didn’t need to be told much, I grew up saying I saw it with my sibs and cousins and I got the idea and never invited abuse, I am a moralist, always my own policeman.

Is it possible my own abuse alleles were not activated? Is that why punishing just doesn’t make sense to me and it apparently does to everyone else?

There is somewhere I am trying to get to, I am trying, a few years now, to imagine a diagram, the broken tree of science and knowledge, to show where this partial application of psychology to human origins has left a hole, a terrible gap where we carefully avoid abuse and victimization in our story, we are still talking about selection and calling it psychology in our origin story – while the entire field of psychology floats, un-anchored in science, somehow disconnected.

This, I know I’m repeating myself, this is the proactive aggression that requires more study, the kind that leaves living, breeding, damaged victims. And if EP is not the study of damage in our development, again, not quite psychology, or not enough psychology in that for me, I’m afraid.





July 25th., 2020

5 thoughts on “Reactive Aggression, and the Other Kind – Updated

  1. Phoebe Sparrow Wagner July 26, 2020 / 5:59 am

    Hi Jeff

    Brilliant and readable writing here! Are you working on a book? I think even your musings about such things as EP and psychology and punishment a would be well worth a book.

    Sometimes we don’t get to all the answers we want but the person who first poses the question is still remembered.

    Sorry this is so short but typing on a phone is too hard for my eyes.

    Hope you are well !



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff/neighsayer July 26, 2020 / 10:24 am

    Hey Phoebe! Good to hear you.

    Thank you, I need that sort of compliment, I never know for sure.

    No, this is where I write, nothing serious in the works until I do think I’ve solved my puzzle, which maybe, it seems closer than usual right now, like I’m almost there – but you know, when you’re solving the world’s problems, it’s always this fine line between identifying something huge and it just disappearing into the background, like trying to identify the air, or a fish trying to talk about water. The trick is to make it visible, somehow and I have this low key idea that once the whole puzzle is solved, I’ll be able to write it out without having make up my own terminology or something, that if I get the whole picture I might be able to say it straighter language . . . ?

    I liked the Trumptanic. Are you able to isolate? – I know, I thought that was my problem too, no sort of fucking solution, but can you be safe?




    • Phoebe Sparrow Wagner July 26, 2020 / 11:00 am

      Hey Jeff,

      No problem for me in isolating and staying safe. I realized long ago that contrary to what hospitals told me, isolating is actually perfect for me! There is a very good reason I never married or went to parties etc… I’m a loner ! But, happily, studying French via Skype works out great as I find teachers and make weekly or semi weekly appointments just to study French and speak it. And now that I can do art again, well, I’m doubly happy ! Life is good and even Covid doesn’t really change much in my life…


      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeff/neighsayer July 26, 2020 / 11:41 am

        good to hear!

        I thought I might’ve had it in February and March, but in theory no-one around here did, and I’m still pretty isolated too. I still can’t stop thinking it, I’m short of breath since, it seems. It seems the province isn’t doing antibody testing, so it’s too late to check now. Who knows, I’m always overly self-involved, always some illness I’m worried about, something else will come up and I’ll forget about it.

        We were doing so good and bragging, but summer came and a bit of that moronic Ft Lauderdale action happened and we’re seeing a rise finally.




  3. Jeff/neighsayer July 27, 2020 / 1:08 pm

    Update, July 27th.

    Of course I’m a moron, maybe Mom and Dad didn’t have time, but I had siblings and schoolmates, I didn’t get left out of the fun. I’m antisocialized AF.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s