The Professor in the Cage | Jonathan Gottschall

Summary of: The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch
By: Jonathan Gottschall


Step into the world of human conflict, competition, and violence through the lens of Jonathan Gottschall’s ‘The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch’. This book summary offers you a captivating glimpse into the evolution of human fighting over time and how we have managed to control our instincts by codifying violence. Discover how the world of ritualized combat, such as the practice in the popular sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), helps establish a winner while minimizing the risk of severe injuries. Understand the role gender plays in our competitive and violent behaviors, and learn how the foundations of these behaviors are deeply rooted in our biology.

The evolution of fighting

Our species has been fighting since the beginning of human history, but the reasons and ways we fight have evolved. In the past, people fought for honor and brutally killed each other with stone axes and swords. Over time, society codified violence, with duels being a prime example, wherein opponents agreed on time and place, weapons and rules. Presently, the highly popular sport of mixed martial arts is another example of highly codified fighting. Although there are barely any rules during the actual combat, the act of fighting is limited to a specific time and place, and closely monitored by a referee. This evolution in fighting demonstrates how humans have learned to control their violent urges.

The Universality of Bullying

Bullying is a universal issue that transcends age and cultural boundaries, with the use of violence being an effective tool for bullies to establish social status. This is why many people turn to MMA, a form of self-defense that levels the playing field for those looking to stand up to a bully. Ritualized combat, which aims to establish a winner while minimizing serious injury, is a practice that runs deep in our animal ancestry and remains prevalent in human society. However, gender plays a significant role in discussions surrounding violence, and the following parts of the book will explore this relationship further.

The Interplay of Gender, Competition, and Violence

The evolution of humans has led to a disparity in reproductive capabilities, with men producing billions of sperm compared to the limited number of eggs women produce. Consequently, men are in constant competition for females, resulting in the prevalence of violence among young unmarried men. This striving for dominance and honor instilled in young boys encourages them to take more risks and engage in violent actions. However, differences in aggressiveness between the genders go beyond physical violence. Women tend to exhibit indirect aggression towards their rivals by attacking their reputation or spreading rumors. These behaviors reinforce traditional concepts surrounding gender roles. The underlying message is that while our conceptions of gender roles have evolved, gender differences in competitiveness and violence still exist, and are worth acknowledging and understanding.

Boys vs. Girls: The Differences in Playing Styles

Boys tend to play competitive games, while girls prefer to play cooperatively. This fundamental difference in play style creates a divide between the sexes at a young age. While girls do participate in competitive sports, they prioritize cooperation and bonding through sports over winning. This difference even extends to professional sports, where male athletes prioritize competition more than their female counterparts. Men seek to win in every form of conflict, from physical fights to verbal arguments, leading to peculiar rituals like rap battles. These rituals serve a vital function in establishing hierarchy and social roles while limiting violence to maintain a hierarchically organized society.

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