The Las Vegas Massacre: Born to Kill Our Kind

Imagen: “Duelo a garrotazos”, Francisco de Goya (Museo del Prado, Madrid, España)

The Las Vegas slaughter of last October confronts us with the fact that we’re still a violent, aggressive species.  A recent study confirms our innate violent nature from the Paleolithic urging us to build a society free from the grip of violence.

The mother of all massacres

Last October 1st at 10:05 p.m. and from room #32135 of the 32nd floor of Mandalay Hotel in Las Vegas, a 64-year old U.S. citizen by the name of Stephen Paddok used an arsenal of automatic weapons to open fire against a crowd that was attending a country concert killing 58 of them and wounding over 500.  We know Paddock had a life apparently normal.  Married twice, no kids, and with a professional career as a mailman, auditor, and accountant.  According to his brother Eric he was “someone who liked playing poker, go on cruises, and send his mother cookies”.  An ordinary man with an ordinary life.

As it has been happening every time there has been a massive shooting in the U.S., there is this comeback to the debate on the shooter’s mental health and whether it is appropriate to restrict the U.S. Constitution II amendment that regulates the right to bear arms.  According to Gun Violence Archive, at present day, there is a mass shooting in the U.S. (defined as four or more people wounded by bullets) every 10 days.  If we do the math that is 1,515 massacres within the last 1,735 days.  Psychiatrists, medical examiners, researchers, judges, they all seem baffled every time they witness one of these abominable acts and often embark themselves on a futile quest to unlock the keys of these shootings.  But answers seem to hide in the fields of sociology and phylogenetics.

Imagen: Habitación 32135, planta 32, Hotel Mandalay de Las Vegas. Fuente: Cuerpo de Policía de Las Vegas

Homo Homini Lupus

The theory of the innate violence of the human species is not anything new.  The Roman playwright Plautus coined the sentence homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man) more than two millennia ago.  In the 18th century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes used it to refer to the innate wickedness and selfishness of the human species and, today, it hangs on the walls of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp located in Poland.

A recent study led by José María Gómez, PhD from the Department of Ecology of the University of Granada, Spain, confirms that violence is inherent to our species.  Gomez’s team conducted a phylogenetic study of the patterns of aggressiveness, shared or inherited, of 1.024 different species of mammals, including 600 human populations, from 137 different taxonomic families since the Paleolithic, some 2.8 million years ago, until the present time.

The findings showed that mammals have 0.3 per cent chances (1 in 300) of being killed by a member of the same species; big apes have 1.8 per cent chances; and human beings 2 per cent chances (1 in 50) of being murdered by another human being.  This lethal inheritance has gone up during the Middle Ages, or down thanks to the social contract throughout the history of the world and, according to Gómez, social behavior and territoriality have been the two factors that have accentuated our innate violent nature.

The II Amendment

Although Hobbes said that we are evil per se and Rousseau advocated for our inner kindness, they both agreed that it is society that corrupts us all.  Somehow Dr. Gómez´s study confirms that we are the product of a violent evolutionary process shared with our cousins, the primates.  The score of the game would now be Hobbes 1 – Rousseau 0.  Nevertheless, the study also shows that whenever we’ve been able to produce laws and regulations and establish a social contract of cohabitation, we have calmed the beast within and have been able to live a peaceful existence.

The Las Vegas massacre brings back the debate on whether the U.S. Constitution II amendment, the one that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms, should be reformed or restricted.  From a social and anthropological point of view, Dr. Gomez’s study is clear about it, the II amendment appeals to our more animalistic nature and opens the door of a primitive state where our ancestors slaughtered each other with the use of sticks and stones.

The painting that illustrates this article is Francisco de Goya’s The Quarrel.  The painting shows two Spaniards killing each other with a stick while they sink in a mire of quicksand with mud up to their knees.  I think nobody in art history showed us the blackness of our souls through his paintings like Goya did.  Dr. Gómez says that in his study mammals like whales and bats have 0 per cent chances of being killed by members of their own species.  I want to believe we can learn to live like that too.

AUTHOR Prof. Jorge C. Berriatúa is the Managing Editor of the ICBMed Bulletin and Co-Founder of ICBMed. He did his B.A. in Linguistics and Masters of Education at the University of La Rioja, Spain, and his Masters of Medical Translation at UNED, Madrid, specializing in medical reporting, translating and teaching.

Jorge C. Berriatúa, M.Ed., MSc in Medical Translation

President & Co-founder, ICBMed

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