Yesterday I had an excellent evening of argument. I spent it contending that, since our emergence, we human beings have been, for plausible biological reasons, fundamentally aggressive and suspicious of visibly different members of our own species. In reply it was argued that our behaviour towards others has been characterised by altruistic tendencies and trade. I contended that our mutual altruism varies in proportion to our genetic relatedness and that you only trade once you have a surplus—and humans spent large chunks of their prehistory on the edge of starvation (which is, incidentally, why so many of us are now fat). As often, I spent a lot of the evening being accused of taking a dim view of humanity. This is true, but it doesn’t mean I’m pessimistic about the future of Homo sapiens or, indeed, wrong. One interesting attack on my position came from someone who had spent a long time observing animal (especially baboon) behaviour: it doesn’t make biological sense for animals, however aggressive, to bother with actual fighting; males competing for territory, mates, or status just wave their antlers/claws/penises at each other and the one with the smaller weaponry backs off, thereby sparing a lot of bloody expense. So, even if we were aggressive in our distant past, it probably didn’t lead to as much bloodshed as I or 2001: A Space Odyssey imagined.
As if to make our points for us, as I was walking from the station to my home at about one in the morning quietly minding my own business, one of two pissed chancers took a lunge at me. I made a reflexive lunge back and turned to face him, not noticing the third member of the gang, trailing behind them. “Wanna make something of it?!” Aggressor Number One shouted from a safe distance. “Yeah.” Naturally he retreated. At that point, Knuckle-Scraper Number Three readied himself to have a go too. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, squared up to him, and greeted him with a cheerily dismissive “Fuck you.” He also backed down and scuttled off to join his mates. Once they were out of range my original wannabe attacker jeered, rather more quietly, “Suck my big white dick, you Argentinian bastard”—thereby illustrating for students of English the differences between “moron” and “oxymoron”, and between “precision” and “accuracy”, and showing that, for bullies, three-against-one isn’t safe enough.
Shave your head, join a gym, stand your ground. It’s worth it just to see the chav runts scatter.
(I think this outcome means I now have foraging rights over another two blocks of Brighton & Hove.)