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Robert Ardrey - The Territorial Imperative

Robert Ardrey - The Territorial Imperative

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Published by: gibmedat on Apr 17, 2012
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01/23/2013

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The TerritorialImperative
A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Originsof Property and Nations
By
Robert Ardrey
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Preliminary Meditation
Some years ago -- it was February, 1955, late in the southern summer -- I was introduced byProfessor Raymond A. Dart to a room filled with fossil bones in the basement of Johannesburg'sMedical School. In that room I met more than bones, for I encountered a variety of things that Ihad never heard of. I had never heard of man's origin on the continent of Africa. I had neverheard of our probable ancestors, the australopithecines, a zoological group of small-brainederect-running creatures, hesitating between the roles of ape and man, who haunted the highAfrican savannahs a million or two years ago. Neither had I heard that man's last animalancestors were hunters and for unknown ages had been killing other species for a living beforewe started killing each other for fun.I had heard of none of these things. In the early 1930's I had lectured in anthropology for aseason or two at Chicago's World's Fair. But after that I wrote a play, and so I became aplaywright. For twenty years I divided my life between theater and films, and I naturally losttouch with the sciences. It was in these twenty years that all had happened. When I entered Dart'sbasement room I was anthropology's Rip Van Winkle, encountering the most enormous of alarmclocks.Normal human beings, jarred into consciousness of their own ignorance, tend to keep theinformation to themselves. Authors, being shameless, tend to rush into print. So fathomless wasmy ignorance, however, and so oceanic were the dimensions of scientific accomplishment whilemy back had been turned, that the rush consumed six years of my life, and even then I learnedonly to float. For it was not just a matter of 
 Australopithecus
and the predatory transition; therewere alpha fish and pecking orders, gene pools and displacement activities, exploratory behaviorand ritualized aggression, and all had bearing on the human condition. Above all, there wasterritory.There is a virtue, I must presume, in shamelessness, since by placing on parade the things onedoes not know, one discovers that no one else knows either. The pubhcation of 
 African Genesis
 in 1961 dropped a clue as to how many people in how many lands shared the shock of mydiscovery in Dart's basement room, and could share as well the excitements of a six-year safarithrough unknown scientific lands. An intellectual excursion which a generation earlier couldhave concerned but an educated few now concerned an educated many. We forget, all of us, thatnot all the explosions in our reverberating era are those of population and nuclear devices. Thereis a literacy explosion, too.This perhaps was the most shining emblem to decorate my ignorance. I had not guessed howmany people would care about what I was doing. Out of personal obsession I took my longdetour through the new biology's beckoning yet forbidding fields. A playwright is a specialist inhuman nature, and as a playwright I sheltered a conviction that these specialists in animals extantand extinct had something to say about man. But it was a personal enlightment I sought. As aplaywright I had my normal nostalgia for fields more familiar than fossil beds and tanks filledwith fish. I had no least intention of pursuing my investigations beyond those broad conclusionsrecorded in my book.
 
I had not reckoned, however, on my fellow man. With the book's publication my last alarm clock went off. Not only had the new anthropology in the time when I slept produced a revolutionaryinterpretation of man's emergence from the animal world; not only had the new biology begun arevolutionary interpretation of the behavior of animals in that world from which we came: also,as I was now to discover, our time of high stress was producing a revolutionary class of humanbeing. A new human force -- a force anonymous and unrecognized, informed and inquisitive,with allegiance to neither wealth nor poverty, to neither privilege nor petulance -- was silentlyappearing on earth. And the class was massive.There is nothing so moving -- not even acts of love or hate -- as the discovery that one is notalone. It is part of our evolutionary heritage that this should be so, and the ancient chemistryworked on me. Theater and films need not be totally abjured but might on occasion be the objectof a sentimental journey like a visit to the town where one was born. But what could not bedenied -- what could be denied no more than the future itself -- was this land of high adventurewhich science was exploring. And since somebody cared, I went back to work.
The Territorial Imperative
is a volume comparable to
 African Genesis
. Like the first book, it is apersonal investigation into the contemporary, little-known accomplishments of the naturalsciences, and a personal interpretation of what these revolutionary studies may bring to ourknowledge of man. Unlike the first book, however, which attempted to gather in long perspectiveour increasing evidence for man's evolutionary nature, the present investigation resembles whatwe should call in films a close shot. It brings into focus a single aspect of human behavior whichI believe to be characteristic of our species as a whole, to be shaped but not determined byenvironment and experience, and to be a consequence not of human choice but of evolutionaryinheritance.In a way it is a pity that we must isolate from all that rich carpet of human impulse a singlepattern for contemplation. No man or other animal lives as other than a whole being. If I am adominant male lion with a vast impressive mane, then at once I am a predator seeking candidatesfor my next meal, or I shall grow unbearably hungry; I am also prey, and I must keep a warynostril for men carrying guns, or I shall end up decorating somebody's wall; I am a proprietor,and I must keep rival lions out of my hunting territory, or game will grow scarce; I am ahusband, and when one of my wives comes into heat then I must entertain her; I am a father, andwith due regard to future lion generations I must brook no nonsense from my cubs whileteaching them all I can; and I am also a social being for, sad to confess, I am deathly slow on myfeet and an appallingly bad hunter except at close quarters, so I am dependent on the assistanceof my wives and my friends, and whether I like them or not I must somehow get along withthem.If I am a lion I am many things at once, and if I am a man I am even more. And so it may seem atemptation toward unreal simplification to select a single aspect of the human condition withwhich to absorb ourselves. And indeed it is most surely a temptation and an almighty hazard. Inprecisely such fashion some have reduced men to a sexual symbol, and others have excavatedhim like a kitchen midden, as if he were nothing but a cultural accumulation, and still othershave embalmed him in economic determinism, like many of our friends on both sides of the ironcurtain. Shall we not when we are done have reduced him to a walking territiorial principle?

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