The Most Hazardous Species: Us?

Question: What keeps you up at night? 

Richard Wrangham: I think that I'm still very bothered by the fact that humans have not taken on board the degree to which we are a dangerous species. There's a very wide sense that -- the default conditions for humans is if no bad person comes along we'll all live in peace together. I'm kept up at night by the notion that that's a dangerous concept because it underestimates the propensity for things going wrong. And I'm hoping that, just as more and more people understand evolutionary theory and where we come from and be real about us in that way, more and more people will appreciate that we do have to take into account our aggressive propensities because when you do that, then you can design a safe world. Then you can recognize when danger is coming. So, just as people do recognize that men are dangerous as potential rapists and we take back the night and we don't allow people to have dark areas in cities where it's simply foolhardy for young women to walk alone. So life is safer if we recognize the dangers and anticipate them. And that way we've got a great future. 

Question: How do we recognize that? 

Richard Wrangham: Well in the same way that we are doing now. I mean, look what happened in Kenya in 2008. There was a contested election and something like 2,000 people died. And that could have turned into a Rwandan genocide. But actually there was huge intervention, and it was resented by the President of Kenya, but people slowly came in with a single voice and said, look, we recognize a tremendous danger here, we really care. They worked for an intense couple of months in particular, and what happens is, you end up with the President and the Prime Minster from the rival parties and they're working together. It doesn't mean that peace will always happen there, there may be further conflicts. But people are sensitive now to the dangers. And that's what I think is really important.

Recorded on March 5, 2010

Humans have not acknowledged the degree to which we are a dangerous species. Life is safer if we recognize the dangers and anticipate them.

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