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Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil

Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil [Kindle Edition]

Lyall Watson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

At a time when violence threatens to become epidemic, and genocide takes the place of diplomacy in many regions of the world, it is no longer plausible to dismiss the darkest and most violent acts as simply part of "human nature".

But what is the foundation of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men?

How can humans account for abominations such as the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, or the daily terrors of theft, rape, and homicide?

In 'Dark Nature' Lyall Watson sets out a controversial and original exploration of the origin and nature of evil. Plotting the evolution of human evil from earth's earliest creatures to the complex society we have become today, in Dark Nature Watson redefines good and evil in biological terms.

Drawing on the latest insights of evolutionary ethology, anthropology, and psychology, he takes a fresh look at the problems our species faces as a result of being too numerous, too greedy and too mobile.

Watson uses a variety of sources from Charles Darwin to Annie Dillard to examine the motivations and driving forces behind evil behaviour as well as the invisible order that preserves the delicate balance between "civilised" society and anarchy.

'Dark Nature' is a groundbreaking and fascinating work that takes evil out of the realm of monsters and demons and puts it squarely back where it belongs - in nature and in our lives.

'A fluid, elegant study of what it means to be bad...A book to be read with deliberateness - sentence by sentence... every bit yielding something fascinating to chew on.' Kirkus Reviews

Lyall Watson was a South African born writer, and the author of bestsellers including Supernature, Beyond Supernature and The Nature of Things.

Endeavour Press is the UK's leading independent publisher of digital books.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1320 KB
  • Print Length: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Endeavour Press Ltd. (11 Nov 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #198,976 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A glimmer of light for humankind? 2 April 2000
By A Customer
The desperate state of the world seems to call for some kind of new vision, and that is what is forthcoming from this unusual biologist, who approaches even the most metaphysical of problems from the standpoint of the open-minded, inquisitive scientist. He begins by gradually, soberly and very convincingly building up a scientific definition of evil, as, essentially, that which is out of balance, be that too much of something or too little. What he then proceeds to do is to turn many of our preconceptions about nature and ourselves upside down with argument and concrete evidence, and to suggest an interpretation of the world and our place in it which is courageously unfashionable and which also rings true. There may not be much hope expressed in this book, but what little there is is well-founded hope, and feels profoundly reassuring compared to the waterfalls of sentimental gook to which we are treated by the mass media promoting the making of money out of the "environment".
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Published in 1995 in the shadow of the Bulger and West murder trials, this book is Lyall Watson's attempt to find a 'natural history of evil' - in other words, to explain the existence of 'evil' in terms of biology. Along the way it refers to natural selection, the survivial strategies genes adopt in terms of human behaviour and a long look at the psychology of 'abnormal' behaviours.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it becomes confusing - and despite having read it several times over the last 7 years, I can't quite see where the exploration ultimately leads.
The book is certainly 'interesting' in the way that all of Lyall Watson's books are; but for once he's abandoned his usual optimistic style [no doubt appropriately, considering the material he's writing about] and it all becomes rather depressing well before the end. Not Dr. Watson's best, by any means
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evil never seemed so good. 10 Dec 2010
By Lazarus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Watson was a genius. And this exploration in to evil, and whether or not it has some deep-seated biological roots, is absolutely fascinating.

Watson's no-nonsense, conversational approach to translating the esoteric in to easily undertandable terms makes this an engrossing piece of work. If you're interested in things that can't be seen under a microscope but which nevertheless shape the world around you; sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, give this book a try.

You won't be disappointed.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener to say the least 19 Sep 1999
A brilliant book, both intelluctual and entertaining. Suits both scientist/ecologist and casual coffee table book readers alike. I was stunned by how easy it was to pick up and read...I'll definitely be buying more of his books.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why do good people do bad things? 23 Mar 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Why do men murder each other in acts of random violence? Why do
stepfathers abuse or even kill their stepchildren? One may come
up with theological or moral answers, but for Lyall Watson in
Dark Nature, part of the answer in found in biology. It is for
the same reason that a newly dominant male baboon kills all of
the youngest infants and all those born in the next five months
after he takes over. It is for the same reason that the bull
elephant seal attacks and kills other males. In studying our
biological heritage, we discover our basic evil genetic makeup
and our power to overcome it.
In the first part of the book, he studies the animal kingdom to
discover the parallels with human behavior. Human generosity and
selfishness, for example, also have their natural counterparts.
Watson describes a group of young penguins he observed on the
edge of an ice floe. At first the leaders rushed to the water,
but then seemed to have second thoughts. The water was dark, too
dark to see through; could a leopard seal be waiting for a tender
meal? They backed away. The next group rushed to the edge, and
they too backed off. This process continued until those in the
back got impatient and started shoving. At last one penguin fell
in. The others all waited-yep, there was a leopard seal! All
stood quietly as the pup was consumed. After a while, the same
process continued until a second penguin made the second course
for the seal. Again, a third time. The fourth time, however, the
seal had apparently eaten enough, for the new swimmer was not
molested. After a while, the entire group jumped in and swam
happily. Selfish behavior-just like people.
But animals can also be unselfish. Vampire bats have a rich diet,
but the blood digests quickly so the bat must feed at least once
every three days. But how can one be sure he will always succeed?
When those who are successful return to the nest, they
regurgitate part of their meal to share with the less fortunate.
The practice has survival value, but it is also a form of
generosity. Thus he says, "Being good and being bad are simply
part of being human."
In the second part of the book Watson studies more primitive
human societies, ranging from the headhunting Asmati to the
totally nonviolent Samai. Each culture attempts to deal with the
issues previously examined in the animal kingdom, and both have
reached "good" solutions. He doesn't advocate we become
headhunters, but he does feel their solution has worked for that
But this does not mean that we are simply slaves to our genes. On
the contrary: Watson feels that we can overcome our baser nature.
He discusses the horrors of the Holocaust and finds the causes in
our humanity; but the solutions are also in our humanity and in
our ability for free action.
This is a fascinating book, both for its argument and for its
glimpses of animal and human behavior. It is not light reading,
but if you watch nature programs or wonder why people act the way
they do, I think you will find it enjoyable.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Evil 101 - required course for what counts 30 Jan 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Nicely crafted popular science book. Those of us who don't wonder about the nature of evil need not read this book. Everyone else fasten your brain belt before starting. The bibliography is worth the price of the book. Sources of experimental data and analysis that I had encountered over decades, and that continue to condition my deepest beliefs, but which I had lost track of show up here. I have been in the habit of calling much unpleasant human behavior "monkey nature". Lyall Watson reminds me of why I find the appellation both apt and admittedly unfair to monkeys. Besides, anyone who lives on "an ocean-going trawler" is probably worth listening to
43 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The 4 May 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Biologist and naturalist Lyall Watson's *Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil* begins promisingly. Watson provides empirically sound support for the proposition that so-called "good" and "evil" are not simple antitheses, but instead are inextricably linked to each other within nature. "Good" and "evil", to the extent that they exist at all, are best defined as interdependent by-products of physical, not metaphysical, forces. Further, Watson states that a world without "evil" (defined as that which "is inimical to the 'goals' of survival of a certain species of individuals") would be-to use the eco-shibboleth of the moment-completely unsustainable.
Watson falters, however, when he strays from his area of expertise into the murkier regions of higher primate behavior. In particular, his forays into moral philosophy terminate in what can only be described as a colossal failure of nerve. Instead of a sustained attempt to apply the insights of sociobiology to the peculiarities of advanced species, Watson offers his readers the words of the Christian missionary in The African Queen: "Nature [...] is what we are [...] in this world to rise above". It seems that for Watson-imbedded firmly, despite himself, in the na?vet? of the Christian world-view-human morality alone can defy the iron dictates of the natural world.
Watson recoils especially from what he calls the "strong" force of "evil". He defines this "strong force" as "morally depraved" behavior, such as rape or murder (what we would term rape, of course, is common even among lower species, an inconvenient fact that Watson ignores). So shaken is he by such acts that he falls into easily avoidable errors of fact. For instance, he refers to Hungarian aristocrat Erzebet Bathory as an English countess. He further states, categorically and without support, that "we have the power to *defy* the genes" (emphasis added).
Impelled by his blind and mounting horror of the "strong" force of "evil", the author rapidly reaches the stage where he no longer pretends to be objective, or even rational, about his subject. For instance, Watson conveniently reduces young children who have murdered their peers to mere sub-humans who are "missing something" from their moral fabric. Watson reaches this scientific conclusion via a rigorous experimental protocol that consists of looking into the children's eyes. According to Watson, these simple-minded categories, procedures, and conclusions "just feel right". A better definition of "rube epistemology" would be difficult to craft.
Watson's efforts to call Western philosophy to his aid yield equally risible results. Whereas Robert Wright's book on evolutionary psychology, *The Moral Animal*, absurdly evokes Mill's long-dead philosophy of Utilitarianism as a bulwark against the inner beast, Watson keeps Fenris at bay by retreating into the tepid shallows of Aristotle's "golden mean":
"Aristotelian ethics is the ethics of 'just enough'. [...] If 'good' can be defined as that which encourages the integrity of the whole, then 'evil' becomes anything which [sic] disrupts or disturbs such completeness. [It is] [a]nything unruly or over the top. Anything, in short, that is bad for the ecology. [...] It [natural law] looks less like 'survival of the fittest' and far more like 'the fitting of as many as possible to survive'".
Unlike Watson, Hegel, who defined evil as "the form in which the motive force of historical development presents itself", clearly understood his subject. The obvious fact that every advance in art, philosophy, medicine, and technology has "disturbed or disrupted" the "ecology" of the times in various ways, great and small, seems to elude our author. He also appears to find the concepts of perspectivism and value-judgments to be completely incomprehensible. Instead, like all egalitarian ideologues, he ignores inconvenient facts, presents evidence selectively, and then cheerfully offers us a recipe for evolutionary mediocrity, one that would thoroughly justify Nietzsche's trenchant critique of Darwin. Oddly enough, Nietzsche's name fails to appear in Watson's bibliography or index, a fact that leads one ultimately to wonder about the survival value of selective perception.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling discussion sometimes hits the mark. 28 April 1999
By Russell Fanelli - Published on
In Dark Nature Lyall Watson rambles from one species to another, from one culture to another, sometimes making sense, sometimes not. More often than not his wanderings all over the globe and his observations of people and various animals are interesting, if not always enlightening about the nature of evil. For anyone studying ethics, this book offers a variety of non-philosophic points of view about right and wrong, good and bad. Watson does mention Aristotle as he relates to Watson's Goldilocks Principle of good and evil, "not too much, not too little, just right." I read on to the end and was engaged often by Watson's novel point of view.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A scientific approach to a religious riddle: evil. 29 April 1999
By - Published on
Anyone interested in grappling with the all the hate in this world (and in their own hearts) should read this book. Watson breaks down human aggression into something our genes command us to do to keep themselves alive -- who's really in control here? Only by understanding our genetic enslavement, Watson argues, will we ever be able to rise above it. The book is wonderfully free of new age b.s and religious moralizing; it casts a bright light on a dark and slimy subject. The end result for the reader (at least this one) is a deep understanding of what makes our dark hearts tick.
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