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Meerloo, J.A. (1968). Human Violence Versus Animal Aggression. Psychoanal. Rev., 55(1):37-56.

(1968). Psychoanalytic Review, 55(1):37-56

Human Violence Versus Animal Aggression

Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., Ph.D.

I. The Holiness of Violence

Man's violent tendencies are everyone's concern—sociologists' and psychologists,' biologists' and teachers,' but especially the layman's who has no way of letting off steam at brilliant scientific meetings. My task is to describe what imprints and conditions can do to that biological rudiment of animal aggression in man. Why has man's defensive behavior become divided in so many qualities we call good and bad? In the last part of this essay I will describe this variety of aggressive reactions.

I come to this meeting as a medical clinician, one who mainly observes individual behavior in its interaction with other people's pains and anxieties. That is why I choose to talk about the clinical variations of individual violence, with the much-heralded animal violence in the background. Man's biological endowment is one point; I want to show the other side of the coin. When we talk about the political violence (the theme of this panel) we realize that it is somehow rooted in individual violence, changed and reformed by social and cultural influences.

There is something ironic about a discussion and analysis of violence and aggression in an epoch when the holiness of violence, anger and indignation reigns supreme. These are the dangerous catchwords of a society in transition. We have reached a high pitch of violence in our current society. Youngsters think of themselves as having genuine emotions only when they hate or are angry and living in despair. They preach the extremes of feeling, most preferably stimulated by drugs.

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