This book reviews the many conflicting theories about human nature, those that stress our dark side, and those that emphasize our goodness. It then explores actual human behavior in societies around the world beginning with earliest and smallest known societies, foraging people such as the!Kung San Pygmies, then various kinds of farming people, and finally, city dwellers. It also focuses on human behavior during the 20th Century providing detailed examples of human kindness and inhumanity. It also examines human behavior under the most terrible kind of stress imaginable--deadly, prolonged famine. How people respond to famine around the world is described with an emphasis on the killer famine that starved much of Ireland from 1845 to 1850. Many Irish people died of starvation but unlike other parts of the world where starvation led the strong to kill and eat the weak, Irish culture forbade such killing and in reality it did not take place. Finally, the book summarizes the evidence, then concludes that even though people have biological urges that lead toward anti-social behavior, human rule systems can control most of these anti-social predispositions.
After completing a doctorate in anthropology at UCLA, Dr. Robert B. Edgerton did fieldwork in Africa, Hawaii and various parts of the U.S. He has published articles, book chapters and books on various topics, including the power of rules to shape human behavior and how people behave under the stress of warfare.
Foreword; Preface; Acknowledgments; 1. Our Nature: Evil or Good, Cruel or Kind? 2. Life in the Smallest, Simplest Societies Known; 3. Sedentary Farming People; 4. Farm Villages Under State Control; 5. Ancient Cities: Kingship, Warfare, Slavery, Death; 6. Humanity & Inhumanity During the 20th Century; 7. Famine: When Lives are Threatened; 8. Human Nature and the Problem of Order Epilogue; References; Index