Wild to Civilized

Fighting:
Everybody Apart

Interpersonal movements that
lead to territorial individuals
as a dispersal pattern 

From small nomadic packs 

in the African wilderness . . .

. . . to megacities linked in

worldwide civilization

This page is Lenore's original draft from her doctoral dissertation, written around 1970. We offer it here to the public, especially to scholars. It is not always easy reading and will be edited for a general readership.

Fighting​

If individuals of the same species flock all the time in one location, the danger is that they will soon deplete the food in the vicinity of the flock. To solve this problem, flocks do roam, moving from one feeding place to another. The breeding season, however, often brings a requirement that one or both parents tend to a batch of youngsters that is not mobile: eggs or hatchlings in a nest, cubs or kittens in a den. If all the parents huddled in a flock during breeding season, starvation would result, killing off parents and newborn offspring. The demands of breeding and raising young in a fixed location require that parents of the same species disperse themselves fairly evenly across all the space available to them, creating territories for each set of parents at least for the duration of the breeding cycle. Fighting is the interpersonal response that brings about this dispersal pattern.

           

Fighting – or aggression, as it may also be called – is a characteristic of many species. Our human aggression, however, has been muted or redirected by civilization, and it is sometimes difficult to acknowledge its presence. But fighting or aggression is an intricately interwoven feature of sociability among many vertebrate species, and it shapes all of social life.

           

Common usage defines fighting only as very intense cases of this interactive form. In this work, the term fighting refers to a distinct movement pattern performed by two interacting animals which can and does vary considerably in its intensity. Any situation where two animals approach each other head to head is fighting. Conversation between two humans is fighting, usually at a low level of intensity, with eye contact between them indicating more intense fighting and averting of eyes a reduction in intensity. Even eye contact between strangers walking past each other on a sidewalk is a very low intensity fight, and many pedestrians keep their eyes steadily downcast as they pass other pedestrians – a sign they are responding with flocking behavior. In this work, approach behavior even of very low intensity is also referred to as aggression.

           

In contrast, approach behavior can manifest itself in varying degrees of higher intensity. Murderous rage is extremely high-intensity fighting. Less intense fighting would include two individuals resorting to fisticuffs or engaging in a caustic verbal battle. Of still lesser intensity might be a stirring speech by advocate of some cause or – lesser still – a dry lecture on particle physics. In other words, whether we call it fighting or aggression, approach behavior can occur anywhere on a continuum of high to low intensity, from outright warfare to fleeting moments of eye contact. As we will see, the degree of intensity of both flocking and fighting behavior is very important in social interaction.

Fighting as approach and avoidance responses

Fighting involves simply a reversal of the direction of interpersonal responses. Flocking, as we have said, is avoidance of the head and approach to the tail, bringing individuals together and moving in the same direction. Fighting, in contrast to flocking, is approach to the head and avoidance of the tail, causing individuals to move in the opposite direction, away from each other.

           

In terms of their pattern of movement vis-à-vis one another, all adult dogs go through the same greeting ritual when they first meet. The outcome of the ritual, however, depends upon whether the two dogs respond to one another with flocking or fighting. The two dogs described previously in Chapter 3, who responded to one another with flocking, ended up urinating on the same spot, one following after the other. Figure FI illustrates, however, the outcome of a greeting ritual between two dogs who respond to one another with fighting.

 

The two dogs meet, sniffing noses. Then each one circles around to sniff the other’s hindquarters. Because each dog’s hindquarters repels rather than attracts the other, the two dogs separate and urinate simultaneously but in two different spatial locations. Such is a low-grade fight between two dogs.

Lorenz describes the meeting of two dogs who respond with fighting in much the same way we did.

"They have, of course, seen each other from afar and immediately stiffen up and raise their tails vertically on high, walking more and more slowly as they approach each other….Rolf suddenly lies down like a crouching tiger….Wolf reacts in no way to the crouching attitude of Rolf…but, walking inflexibly up to this rival, stands still by his side. Thereupon Rolf shoots up to his full height and now the two stand flank to flank, head to tail, sniffing each other’s freely proffered hindquarters….

  • The two animals hold this tense position for some time, then, gradually, the smooth faces begin to pucker: the foreheads are furrowed by horizontal and vertical lines directed towards a point above the eyes; the noses are wrinkled, the fangs bared….

  • Still flank to flank, Rolf and Wolf now begin to circle round each other….The growls become more ominous but still nothing happens. I have a vague suspicion, enhanced by the sidelong glances which first Wolf and then Rolf throw at me that they are not only expecting but indeed hoping that I will separate them and so absolve them from the moral duty of a fight. The urge to preserve prestige and dignity is not specifically human.

  • I do not interfere...Very slowly they separate and walk, step by step, to opposite corners of the road. Finally, still watching each other out of the corner of one eye, they lift a hind leg, simultaneously, as though at an order, Wolf against a telegraph post, Rolf against the fence. Then, in an attitude of self-display, they proceed on their own ways, each priding himself on having gained a moral victory and intimidated the other."[1]

 

When fighting, the two fighters always try to remain facing each other. As long as they remain face to face, each one still has a chance of winning the encounter. Thus, when an aggressive dog is sniffed in the rear by another dog, he, the sniffee, is placed in a flocking position vis-à-vis the sniffer – a position that any ferocious fighter wants to avoid. Among dogs, inexperienced adolescent dogs, though they are aggressive, are shy about exposing their hindquarters to another sniffing dog. With experience, however, the mature fighter tolerates being sniffed for longer periods of time, though no fighter can ever tolerate it as flocking animals do.

           

Consequently, when two aggressive dogs are sniffing each other’s hindquarters, they stand immobile and stiff with tension, casting sidelong glances at the other dog’s frontquarters. Each one is ready at any second to swing its hindquarters around in order to stand facing the other one. Figure FF shows this movement pattern.

 

As two such dogs continue facing one another, their increasing aggression is expressed as they first raise their ruffs, then curl their lips, bare their teeth and growl ominously and, finally, lunge towards – that is, “attack” – the other.

 

Aggressive vertebrates have evolved with cosmetic traits – manes, crests, ruffs, antlers, beards – that exaggerate the individual’s head size or differentiate the color of its frontquarters from the rest of the body – the robin’s red breast, the mallard drake’s green head and neck, or the male South European Emerald lizard’s ultramarine throat. The intensity of the individual’s aggression is expressed by the prominence of his frontquarters. The bigger – or more swelled – his head, the stronger his aggression. The individual presents to the opponent he is trying to scare off as much frontal stimulation as he can. As shown in Figure FR, dogs and cats raise their ruffs, arch their backs and bare their teeth. Birds raise themselves up ruffling their feathers and spreading their wings. Humans raise their shoulders, thrusting forward their heads and lower jaws.

 

The development of special headgear for human warriors, instead of being an instrumental response to the supposed physical dangers of combat, more likely originated as a mechanism to increase the probability of winning battles according to the rules evolved and followed by most aggressive vertebrates. In species that are aggressive, the older an individual gets, the stronger its aggression. Many of the physical characteristics that develop with age are those that signal a more aggressive individual: sheer body size of the elder compared to the junior, facial and body hair in humans, other body features in other species that only develop in mature adults.

​​​​​​​​​​​Dominance and submission

           

But what is “winning”? Blood-chilling and spine-tingling though aggressive displays can appear to the observer, ordinarily two fighting animals barely touch one another. As Lorenz puts it:

"The average contest for dominance...is not settled by serious combat in which strength and weaponry would be critical. The victor is ordinarily the animal who puts on the more intimidating show. Males strut or roar or show their teeth or shake their antlers or wave their pincers. They make a display of their “warpaint” – plumes, crests, neck ruffs, manes, and the like….[I]t is usually the bark that settles the contest for dominance rather than the bite.[2]

 

Between two fighting individuals, even small differences in the intensity of their aggressiveness to each other can show up. As soon as a difference is seen, the weaker individual’s response to the stronger one reverses direction – from fighting to flocking. The once attractive face suddenly becomes repulsive, and the loser flees. The winner chases him, but because the winner is still repulsed by the other one’s hindquarters, he does not pursue him more than a short distance and is thereby left alone to possess some attractive object – a bone or an especially advantageous bit of turf – that precipitated the fight. “…[T]he conquered…flees from the territory of his conqueror who does not pursue him…”[3] This asymmetry in the interpersonal responses of two animals allows them to disperse themselves without physical violence. 

 

The immediate outcome of a fight, then, is to establish relations of dominance and submission between two individuals, a relationship that will continue until the aggressive strength of one of them changes. For example, the submissive one may mature into adulthood or the dominant one may sustain an injury.

Figure DS illustrates the interaction between two adult male dogs who, because of the difference in their ages, relate to one another with dominance and submission.

Attracted by the dominant dog’s hindquarters, the submissive dog carefully approaches and delicately sniffs. Having ignored his junior’s approach until then, the dominant dog now turns sharply in response to his junior’s sniff. The sudden view of his elder’s face, like the unexpected sight of an auto approaching in the wrong lane, startles the younger dog, who abruptly draws back and turns away. The avoidance generated in the older dog by the sight of his junior’s retreating hindquarters impels him to turn away – and back to whatever delectable scent entranced him.

Figure DSA illustrates a slightly different situation, an interaction frequently observed between Rishi and Elektra.

 

Because he is older, Rishi is dominant over Elektra. Thus, the first sign that Rishi possesses a desirable object is Elektra’s diagonal stance towards him. The repulsive force of Rishi’s frontquarters pushes Elektra away; the attractive force of the desired object pulls her closer. She remains where the attractive force of the bone equals the repulsive force of Rishi’s frontquarters. When Rishi is finally satisfied with the bone and gets up and leaves, the repulsive energy from his frontquarters is reduced and frees Elektra to approach and take possession of the bone.

 

The dominant individual can give as well as take. The submissive individual can only receive. Human hospitality norms, in which the host offers food instead of chasing his guest away, reflect the host’s dominance and the guest’s submissiveness. The guest of an Italian family or Jewish mother who finds it easier to force his protesting stomach to accept a fifth helping than to say no to his terribly hospitable host knows who is boss and who is not! The host’s “obligation” to offer his guests food and drink reinforces their submissive position by preventing them from taking food or drink. Our greyhound Rishi behaved almost but not quite exactly like a hospitable human whenever a guest-intruder entered our apartment. First, he greeted our guest so intensely that the entire rear half of his body wiggles back and forth and he must continuously dance with his front legs to keep his balance. Within a minute, he goes to his bone-basket, carries a bone back to our guest, lies down in front of him and begins gnawing it. Except for the fact that he fails to offer his bone to our guest, Rishi behaves quite like a hospitable human, asserting his dominance to the intruder.

 

Lorenz describes a feeding ritual in several species of birds that is very similar to the hospitality rules we have just been discussing.

"In pigeons, songbirds, and parrots, there is a most remarkable ritual which bears a mysterious relation to the ranking order of the mates: feeding the mate. This ritual…is…not only a social duty but at the same time a privilege that falls to the lot of the higher-ranking individual. In fact, each of the two mates prefers feeding to being fed…Under favorable circumstances, it can be seen that a slight ranking order quarrel between the two mates is necessary in order to decide who may feed and who must play the less desirable part of the child, opening its beak and letting itself be fed.

 

"Among bullfinches…the male sometimes starts to molt before the female and thus reaches a low ebb of sexual and social aspiration, while the female is still well up to form in both respects. In such a case…the female feeds the weakened male. The anthropomorphizing observer is moved by the fact that the female looks after her sickly mate, but after what we have said, this interpretation is wrong. She would always have fed him if she had not been prevented from doing so by her inferior status [at other times]."[4]

Dominance and territoriality

A fight establishes the ranking order between two individuals by determining which of them is relatively more aggressive. But there is more to this process. It leads to territoriality. The relationship of dominance and submission occurs in one particular geographical location, which becomes the dominant individual’s territory. Thus, two individuals who respond with fighting and flocking to each other immediately associate details of the spatial location where their dominance encounter took place with whether they won or lost the encounter. In other words, the individual who won, the dominant one, associates the location with winning and his confidence increases when he is in that location. The individual who lost, the submissive one, associates the location with losing, and his confidence decreases when he is in that location. 

           

The winner of a fight continues to occupy the spatial location where the fight occurred and remains ready to fight any other member of his species that may come along. Each battle won increases the winner’s aggression and with it his chance of winning another. “…[W]ith long tenure of high rank, ‘self-assurance,’ that is, assurance of victory, increases and with it intensity of aggression.”[5] Each victory not only intensifies the winner’s aggression, but it prolongs his stay in that location, thereby increasing its familiarity. His aggression comes to depend upon seeing the various details of his “most familiar place.” The closer he is to his most familiar place, the greater his readiness of fight. The greater his readiness to fight, the more familiar the place is likely to become.

 

In nearing the center of the territory, the aggressive urge increases in geometric ratio to the decrease in distance from this center. This increase in aggression is so great that it compensates for all differences ever to be found in adult, sexually mature animals of a species.[6]

Removing the dominant individual to a completely unfamiliar location reveals his dependence upon his familiar territory for his self-confidence. Lorenz again:

We can observe] the behavior…of a highly territorial animal…uprooted from its home environment and put in a strange one. We see…desperate searching and…ebbing of courage all the time the animal is looking for its old surroundings…[7]

 

Territoriality is thus a relationship that one particular individual establishes with one particular spatial location.

           

Like the winner whose fighting response comes to depend for its release upon seeing details of his familiar territory, the loser’s flocking response comes to depend on that spatial location, too. That location, then, comes to elicit fighting in the winner and flocking in the loser. Among dogs at least, the loser’s avoidant flocking response to a spatial location can take place in a single encounter. Several days after being attacked by a large German Shepherd at a cross-street in Cambridge, our greyhound Rishi would not even look at that corner from the safety of a moving vehicle. His avoidance response even generalized to the German Shepherd breed. Immediately after his traumatic encounter, Rishi avoided Shepherds of virtually any age or sex – much to our consternation. We were particularly disgusted when a perfectly respectful seven-month-old Shepherd had Rishi searching all over the parking lot to get into our car!

           

Relations of dominance and submission depend very much upon where they occur. Two animals that have established a dominance-submission relationship in one location may not maintain it in a new location. For example, when previously unacquainted chickens are brought together in experimental flocks, through threatening behavior and, occasionally combat, they establish a rank order between each and every pair in the flock. But the dominance relation thus established lasts only as long as the chickens remain continuously together. “When birds are separated for a long period, the relations will have to be established by a new test of strength.”[8] Similarly, removing other species of birds and certain other animals (?) to an unfamiliar territory also requires a new test of strength.

A graphical representation

           

We now come to a discussion of how we can graphically represent the approach and avoidance relationships between individuals who have a fighting relationship. If this section becomes too hard for the reader, if it feels like swimming through one huge marshmallow, then skip this section and go to the next: territorial neighbors. You will still be able to understand the discussion.

           

Here we want to see how a graph can be made to capture the approach and avoidant motivation as individuals move towards or away from each other in a fight.

 

But first, let’s just explain in simple terms what this graph is. The graph was formulated in the 1930s by psychologist Kurt Lewin when he was observing his child rushing into the water to capture a ball floating at the ocean’s edge, only to become terrified by a wave about to crash on the child, this behavior repeating over and over. The child rushes in, the wave approaches, the child rushes out, the wave recedes, the child rushes back in, another wave approaches, the child rushes out again, and so forth.

​​​​​​​​​​​Territorial neighbors

           

When the loser flees after each fight, the winner’s already aroused aggression propels him to chase after the loser and move away from his territorial center. The further the winner gets away from his territorial center, however, he loses confidence, responds with avoidance to the loser’s retreating posterior, stops chasing the loser, reverses direction and returns to his territorial center. The spot where he stops and turns back is the winner’s territorial border. At that spot, his avoidant response to the loser’s tail generalizes to include the details of that location and the terrain beyond it. When the winner wanders to that location again, even if the loser is no longer visible, the winner stops and turns back. His confidence at that location is low.

 

Let’s see what happens to the loser. Because relations of dominance and submission depend upon where they occur, the loser of the battle may occupy a location some distance away from where he lost the first battle and his confidence will return. He may then win a subsequent battle with the former winner and establish his dominance over a neighboring territory. The loser’s confidence grows as the winner’s confidence wanes. “If we know the territorial centers of two conflicting animals…all other things being equal, we can predict from the place of encounter which one will win: the one that is nearer home.”[9]

Figure L shows how it happens. 

 

When A loses a fight with B in location L1, location L1 becomes B’s territorial center where his aggression is strongest and it becomes A’s point of lowest confidence. A flees as B chases him away from location L1. As A and B get further away from L1, B’s aggression diminishes as A’s aggression begins to rise. At location L2, B’s avoidant energy balances his approach energy and he stops. Location L2 becomes B’s territorial border. Meanwhile, A is getting still further away from L1. His approach energy is rising, it overtakes his avoidant energy, and he responds to B with fighting, turning around to face his pursuer B. The location where A stops and turns becomes A’s territorial center, location L3. B, now away from his territorial center, responds with flocking to his neighbor A and runs away from A’s ferocious, frightening frontquarters. With their roles thus reversed, the chase continues. A chases B back to his territorial center L1, where B’s aggression rises as A’s aggression declines. They reverse directions again. Figure F8 illustrates how each animal individually moves in a circular formation as they alternately chase and flee each other. Their two overlapping circles thus form a figure-eight pattern.

When the loser flees, the inertia of reaction of both animals leads to that phenomenon which always occurs [under these circumstances]…to an oscillation. The courage of the fugitive returns as he nears his own headquarters, while that of the pursuer sinks in proportion to the distances covered in enemy territory. Finally the fugitive turns and attacks the former pursuer vigorously and unexpectedly and, as was predictable, he in his turn is beaten and driven away. The whole performance is repeated several times till both fighters come to a standstill at a certain point of balance where they threaten each other without fighting.[10]

 

Even the slightest decrease in aggression decreases the size of the individual’s territory. The territorial boundary between two neighbors at any given time is thus determined by a balance of power.

The position, the territorial “border,” is in no way marked on the ground but is determined exclusively by a balance of power and may, if this alters in the least, for instance, if one fish is replete and lazy, come to lie in a new position somewhat nearer to headquarters of the lazy one…Julian Huxley once used a good metaphor to describe this behavior: he compared the territories to air-balloons in a closed container, pressing against each other and expanding or contracting with the slightest change of pressure in each individual one….[11]

 

We should note the outcome of two animals establishing their respective territorial centers and the boundary between them: they remain in relatively fixed positions vis-à-vis one another. If, as is typical, a number of animals of the same species establish their territories in a general area, all of them will have fixed positions vis-à-vis one another, some closer to others, some further away. That fixity of position is totally unlike the relation of individuals in a flock, where individuals constantly shift their position relative to any particular others. This difference will become quite relevant when we discuss the third basic interpersonal response: friendship.

Dominance among humans

 

It is relatively safe to talk about dominance and submission among other animals, but when it comes to humans, the topic is a delicate one. Because we value equality in Western Europe and America in particular, it is often hard for us to acknowledge dominance and submission. Industrial society, for example, hates to admit to any natural dominance of men over women. The real physical differences between men and women are often denied or minimized. Men are taller than women on average, so women wear high heels. Men are bigger than women on average, so men wear slim-fitting suits and pants while women wear blousy and flaring clothes. Men’s heads are bigger and more imposing with their natural beards that women lack, so men shave and cut their hair while women wear lipstick and makeup and allow their hair to grow long. These observations will undoubtedly rub some people wrong.

 

Industrial civilization also hates to admit to the natural dominance of older people over younger people. In our culture, youth is idealized while old age is denigrated. The wisdom and authority of elders is replaced with the authority of academic degrees and technical expertise and the prerogatives of title and office. It is not unusual for a younger person to be the boss over an older person.

 

In industrial society, a considerable amount of energy is expended to undercut the natural dominance of local authorities – parents and teachers are prime examples – and replace it with the dominance of centralized bureaucracies. For centuries and millennia, parents have ruled in the family. Now their dominance is largely replaced by schools and universal education, which takes children away from the family for long hours of the day. While schoolroom teachers have been part of that process of eroding parental dominance, they too have had their dominance in the classroom undercut by standardized curricula and textbooks. Mother-centered and absent-father families end the dominance of the father.

 

In numerous ways, each and every day, government intervenes against local authorities. Divorce settled by courts takes authority away from the church and temple. Departments of “human services” take some children away from their parents and stand as a warning to all parents. The movement to end corporal punishment makes centralized agencies the judges of good parental conduct. Even the social norms that have become established encourage parents to shrink from being dominant: “It’s cold out. Does little Janie want to put on her sweater?” − ending with an upward lilt suggesting pleading rather than giving direction.

 

All the government regulation of businesses and industries ensures that local leaders – business executives, factory owners, entrepreneurs and so forth – are kept within strict bounds. Stop lights, stop signs and traffic rules established by local governments make the laws of the highway, taking away the spontaneous authority of drivers to determine those laws. Observations of unregulated traffic show that drivers work out their own informal rules of the road with no increase in accidents or deaths. In fact, traffic moved faster and with fewer accidents or deaths.  [reference] In all these ways and many more, local individuals and groups have their territories of dominance reduced and subjugated to centralized authority.

 

------

[1] Lorenz, “Man Meets Dog" (1950), pp. 54-56.

[2] Roger Brown, Social Psychology (1965), p. 20.

[3] Lorenz, On Aggression (1967), p. 12.

[4] Lorenz, On Aggression, pp. 121-122.

[5] Lorenz, On Aggression, p. 205.

[6] Ibid., pp. 32-33.

[7] Ibid., pp. 32-33

[8] Brown, Social Psychology, p. 17.

[9] Lorenz, On Aggression, p. 33.

[10] Lorenz, On Aggression, p. 33.

[11] Ibid., pp. 33-34.

Questions or comments:  schlomings@gmail.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
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