The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America

December 12, 2018, New York University, New York, NY, USA

Erika Milam, Princeton University

After World War II, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. This talk charts the rise and precipitous fall in Cold War America of a theory that attributed man’s evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder. Scientists who advanced this “killer ape” theory capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity’s problems, even to answer the most fundamental questions of human identity. The killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Behind the scenes, scientists were sharply divided, their disagreements centering squarely on questions of race and gender.

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Posted: December 06, 2018