This question is really straightforward: can a same species adapt to be highly violent, aggressive and war-like, but at the same time be very non-sadistic, empathetic and compassionate? If so, what circunstances would it evolved from?

The context is evolutionary psychology of a humanoid sapient race. The reason is that I want them to be very dualistic in nature, capable of great evil and great kindness. Since I want it to be a common mindset across the whole species I would rather not make it a cultural factor, or at least a solely cultural factor. Naturally they can't be incapable of doing harm, but preffer doing it in a more merciful way.

For example: Could the same group of people have no problem with slaughtering enemies and kidnapping their woman as concubines and at the same time always aim for quick kill as to not prolonge suffering and treat said concubines as lovers or wifes? Or could them have see no problem with hunting and even do it for sport, but think of humans as worst for "kicking who is down" and stuff like that?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't believe an aggressive and war-like race is intrinsically evil anymore than I believe a compassionate person is naturally kind. Is it not compassionate to end the life of a suffering person? Is it not good to serve your nation with honor? If a great warrior rapes, pillages, and plunders, returning to his hometown where he feeds the poor, cares for the widows.... is that person not, theoretically, both evil and good? Good and evil are perspectives not often agreed upon by both victor and victim. How can we judge G.v.E in your world? $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 13 '20 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ "kidnapping [...] women as concubines" indicates that perhaps you haven't thought it through fully. See if your mom or your sister or your spouse prefer to think of it as "enslavement and rape". $\endgroup$ – user535733 Dec 13 '20 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ (1) The word warmonger does not mean warrior. (2) Carrying away the womenfolk of the vanquished enemies is usually called abduction; kidnapping is when it's done on an individual scale. (3) Of course warrior can be a tender lover, a doting father, and generally a stable, pleasant human being. I don't think that anybody ever said that Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Alexander, Mehmed the Conqueror, William the Bastard or, for that matter, Conan the Barbarian, were sadists, sociopaths or dishonourable. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '20 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ OK, @AlexP, I have got to know what nation and/or background you hail from where "William the Bastard" would come to mind before "William the Conqueror?" I'm not sayin' your wrong! I'm just curious about the cognitive and/or emotional dynamics behind that choice. Flair? Avoidance of alliteration? Distaste for the French? Practical recognition of his mother's marital status? I've simply gotta know. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 13 '20 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH: Well, he was known as William the Bastard in his life-time. He was not known as William the Conqueror in his life-time. And I already had one Conqueror in the list, so I put a few seconds to seek another formula for the first king of England-as-we-know-it. (And no, he isn't commonly called W. the B. in Romanian culture; it would hardly be possible: in Romanian, "bastard" is a modern loan-word from Italian, and thus William Bastardul would be unsuitable for a medieval figure, while the traditional form William Cópilul would no longer be understood...) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '20 at 20:04

Of Course:

Behavior can be learned or genetic, so if you want it to be a racial trait, no problem.

Look to the rich and noble people of the world. They are frequently cruel, brutal exploiters who have an insatiable hunger for power. Yet the same Rockefeller building financial empires is creating endowments and universities. Why?

For your race, I would propose that they are driven to be the alpha dogs. They can't help it. They aren't happy until they are on top of all other races. But Machiavelli in his work The Prince suggests that rulers, while ruthless, should also try to be beloved by their people (ruthless first, but...). A tyrant who is constantly brutalizing the people will eventually get overthrown either by another tyrant or the people he is brutalizing.

Nobles want to believe they deserve to be the masters of all people. But just being the biggest bad-ass means you are knocked off the pedestal the moment you show the slightest weakness. A ruler who is tough but beloved will always do better than a brutal jerk. People do things because they like the ruler, or at least know he/she is better than the alternative. The idea nobles want to be better people than their common servants is why and where we get the idea that nobility is something fine and honorable, and well NOBLE.

So in a species driven to dominate constantly, it would be natural for them to mellow their behaviors once they are successful. Testosterone levels for dominant male apes are LOWER than the non-dominant males. They become gentler and kinder. The kindest males are more likely to remain in the social group after being defeated, and they often continue to successfully reproduce after, since females may prefer the gentler elder male to the aggressive younger one. I've bred mice for research, and the males used as breeding stock are less aggressive, not more (and by a big margin).

Now we are talking about a species here, not an ethnic group. We won't get into the ethics of slavery and concubines, but history is full of dichotomy in behaviors towards slaves. They could take concubines, but it's up to you if they can interbreed. Half-blood individuals might carry the dominating genes, and thus create sub-species with each race they interbreed with that form a noble class. That's up to your world.

  • $\begingroup$ About the concubines, I was referring mostly to wars against tribes of the same species. They can interbreed with some races, resulting in mostly infertile offspring, but they are quite repulsed to them due to appearance or behavior (if you can stand up for yourself, they just can't respect you) $\endgroup$ – LuizPSR Dec 15 '20 at 2:35

People already are like this: warlike and aggressive to Outsiders, and empathetic and compassionate to clan members.

It starts with the family, and extends outwards:

  • Fight with your brother, but fight a cousin who attacks your brother.
  • Fight with the village guy attacks your cousin.
  • Fight with the guys from another village who attack the guys from your village.
  • Fight with the guys from both villages against people further afield.

Note how the "In Group" keeps expanding.

All the while, when you're with the In Group, you're empathetic and compassionate.


An extreme form of nationalism.

In the past there were nationalist movements so extreme that they viewed people of a other nation/race as a completely different species. As if they were barely human or not human at all. Your entire race could biologically be hardwired to think this.

In a world filled with extremely hostile environment and scarcity in resources might force a species to evolve to do whatever is needed to survive. That being killing all competition for resources and ensuring that as many of your groups survives (for reproductive reasons for example).

This would not make them cruel but highly efficient, allowing them to emotionally distance themselves from others. They hunt others for sport because they need to learn to fight and defend themselves or to keep possible hostile populations in check. Killing just becomes a second nature they don't think about anymore, they just do it and move on to the next like desk clerk going through papers.

In a response to DWKraus his comment, there were Norse/Germanic tribes who held slaves from victorious battles. But in some tribes the children of those slaves were considered free-men (although still looked down upon) because they were born in their land/their tribe. This would also increase the tribes numbers aiding further long-term survival.

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    $\begingroup$ ...and the moment you've conquered them, they are on the inside of your circle of life, and therefore to be treated with mercy and kindness (assumedly). You've got to bring in the kindness part. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Dec 13 '20 at 13:39

The enemy isnt "really" human.

It's easy to have two different feelings to two different groups. Dehumanise your enemy.

Your race is caring and empathetic and selfless and charitable to all humans, but that enemy race isn't really human.

Of course they may look human to the uneducated, but *insert characteristic or allegiance that's makes them the enemy* makes them unworthy, and their devious nature is capable of tricking people in mistakenly caring for them. The world would be better if they were quietly dealt with.

Ultimately removing them will make the world a better place, and any selfless person should rationally get behind that cause.


I interpret the question as being about how a race of warriors could maintain a gap between, on the one hand, being violent rapists and, on the other hand, abhorring cruelty. You want them to wage wars, plunder and abduct women, but in the same time express strong opinions about the lack of kindness in humans.

People are very compassionate, and go to lengths to fight injustice and barbarity. As long as it doesn't interfere with their way of life, that is.

What you describe is not that strange at all. It's already inherent in human biology and I see the phenomenon all the time among my fellow westerners; I see it with people of many ideologies. @DWKraus mentions the ruthless rich and others mention racists, but, perhaps paradoxically, one could argue the contrast is just as large on the left. It might be they behave in a more "caring" way than the nationalists, but they also think of themselves as more caring, leaving the gap just as large. There are, of course, many many exceptions (perhaps even most people?), but the pattern is clearly there. Let me explain:

A person on the left might care deeply about human rights and be quick to condemn people they think are breaking them, yet they ignore the problems in their own behaviour. Slavery is bad, but they buy clothes and other stuff made by people earning $1 a day or even less. Phones, on top of being fabricated by poorer people than those who use them, often contain metals mined in terrible conditions, or even conflict metals.

Speaking of electronics takes us to pollution. The mining and refinement of raw materials to make computers, phones etc doesn't just frequently harm those doing the work, but the people living in the surroundings. Used electronics are then dumped in all sorts of places (see for instance Agbogbloshie) where it poisons people and environment alike.

Production of clothing, cars and all sorts of other things pollutes to different degrees as well.

Now, the point is that people know about these things. For food, and maybe even clothes, they might choose some degree of "organic" options. Few, however, have all their clothes made by fairly paid workers, of locally grown fibres, dyed in a way that is non-toxic along all the production chain. You can buy clothes second hand, buy few of us abstain from buying a smart-phone less than a few years old. Many people own cars much larger and newer than they need.

A person may care so much about their fellow humans that they attend protests against racism, gender discrimination, or even the the hurtful misuse of gendered pronouns. Don't get me wrong! These are good things, and I'm all for them. What I want to point out is the contrast. The same person may change their phone every other year (or even more often!), dress in new clothes and travel there in a 5 years old large car. And I've not even started about green house gas emissions yet!

Cars emit carbon dioxide, but the production itself of the car can produce just as much emissions as the driving it does in its lifetime.

Eating meat is also problematic. There are estimates saying half of our greenhouse gases stem from food production, and meat and dairy constitute a huge part of of this.

The very justice-aware person mentioned above might drive, even fly occasionally, eat meat every day, and overall live as if they don't care about the climate. If they're a vegetarian, chances are they eat a lot of cheese.

I could go on to other aspects, but I think I've made my point.

There are people who gets a lower salary solely because of their gender, people forced to conform to a binary gender system and people who run run a 1/100 000 risk of being shot by the police instead of the average 1/1 000 000 (numbers made up!), and this is terrible. Is it more terrible than the horrors fuelled by the way of life of our hypothetical activist? I would say they are most certainly not. No matter how organic, fairtrade or whatever marking's on the product, western level consumption of stuff isn't sustainable. And deep down our activist knows this!

People choose what to be upset about. Again, don't get me wrong: it tends to be important stuff! It also tends to be stuff that doesn't require much change in their life. And, by strange coincidence, it tends to be stuff that doesn't trouble the people in power too much either...

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    $\begingroup$ This answer reeks of This meme. $\endgroup$ – Studoku Dec 13 '20 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ While there are some valid points here, I do take issue with your (sadly common) error regarding wages: \$2/day isn't necessarily a bad wage, because you haven't normalized for cost of living, something that varies wildly between different countries and locales. (\$2/day is great money if you're in a place where a month's rent is \$5 and a week's worth of rice is \$1.50, to use suitably scaled numbers for your example, or you could just compare the economics of someone making a \$100k/yr salary in the Bay Area vs that same salary paid to someone in a small Arkansas town) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Dec 13 '20 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Many spend hours a day using online streaming services, without caring much about the huge energy usage of the server centres they use to do this": And many speak of things of which they have no knowledge. Do you actually know how huge is the huge energy usage of those data centers? "Western level consumption of stuff isn't sustainable": oh really it isn't? It seems to have sustained itself just fine for quite some time, and has even spread over to the notional east and south. Have you noticed how fast India and China are moving towards a "western" quality of life? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 13 '20 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I've re-checked the server-electricity issue, and it seems my sources were at best outdated. Thank you! I've removed that from my answer. About consumption, I maintain what I said about it not being sustainable. It's too long for the comments, but I'll try to find a good source for you. I have noticed how India and China consume more stuff and eat more land-intensive foods, and I think this is very bad. I'm not, and I can't stress this enough, not worrying about their increasing quality of life. I want their lives to be great. I just think we all need to use resources better. $\endgroup$ – EdvinW Dec 13 '20 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @EdvinW. I read your answer as "your question is pointless if you spend a minute thinking about human society today or any other day, really". I happen to completely agree with you. We are an incredibly brutal species that basically goes ballistic to wipe out competition, but acts compassionately whenever it seems to help our survival. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Dec 14 '20 at 14:42

It is feasible

If your species evolved on a world where resources are somewhat rare, then there would be pressure to make maximum use of what little resource you have, such as carefully cultivating a food source to ensure it produces as much as possible, and not wasting any of it.

At the same time, there would be pressure to take resources from others (more so than on our, more bountiful home), violently if necessary, whilst at the same time limiting damage to the resource in question.

As a species becomes more intelligent and works in groups, the definition of asset gets blurry. Whilst two groups are at war, their warriors are enemies that must be destroyed, but the moment peace is declared those same warriors are now assets, be it as allies or as mates.

Thus we get our duality. A world where individuals will fight tooth and nail to take resources, (be it food, territory, mates, whatever), carefully cultivate the resources they have (dutifully weeding and watering their garden, improving and defending their territory, loving and cherishing their mate), even if just days ago they had trashed the place in the process of taking it from the previous owner.


This is basically most of human history

A bit late to the party, and many other answers touched this topic somewhat, but it's interesting to dig deeper into how earlier human societies actually functioned.

People had a lot closer connection with death before the modern era, due to two important factors.

  • there was no cure for many common illnesses, and especially childhood mortality was high. There almost wasn't any family who didn't have at least one or more children dying.
  • over 90% of the population was involved in food production, and most of the rest in the defense of it.

There was no fast travel and transport. There was much less variety in the foodstuff than we have now. There was less economic surplus, and not much opportunity to import food if the harvest was bad. There weren't as many methods of food preservation. One year of bad harvest meant you'll either starve, or have to invade your neighbors. If your tribe chief said "we are now stronger than that tribe, so let's go and kill them, because if we wait for them to get stronger, they will kill us", then everyone understood it. If the tribe chief said "they have a better pasture then us, let's go and chase them away", then no one asked why. Who didn't understand it was an idiot. There was no moral issue there. Do you want your family and your tribe to starve to death the next winter?

Also, war wasn't generally seen as a bad thing, or at least not as bad as it's seen today in a comfortable developed country. Here and now we can be almost sure that unless some exceptionally rare misfortune happens to us, we'll easily live to at least 80 years or more. Back then, people you know were dying all around you. Fertility rates were high and the death rate was also very high. Why fear going to war if you could die next weak of smallpox or cholera or just a simple pneumonia? Before the 19th century wars had fewer military deaths than deaths due to illness.

War was common, that was what people expected life to be like. But nothing prevented them from being compassionate to each other. Especially as lacking many of our modern technology, people had to rely on their extended family and their neighbors much more than we have.

But what about...?

Many people today have different moral values than in earlier times. But that isn't because back then they were evil for the sake of being evil.

Let's jump right into the most controversial topic of all: slavery. Everyone except psychopaths today regards slavery as evil. But the further back in history we go, the muddier that concept gets. Let's jump back at least 3000-4000 years, into the bronze age, when civilizations started to coalesce from smaller tribes.

Let's say your tribe fought a battle with a rival tribe, and you've won. You captured many of their warriors. What to do with them?

  • if you release them, you'll just have to fight them next time, and next time they might win. And if word gets around, then everyone will try their luck fighting you, because they know there will be little risk if they lose
  • or you could slaughter them all.
  • there is no option to just keep them around as POW, because remember, you live in a subsistence economy, you barely have enough food yourself, you can't afford feeding people who aren't working.

So, under those conditions, slavery was the kindest thing to do, as strange as it sounds. The only other choice was to just kill them all. If you want to be even more compassionate, set a limit in years how long they must serve you. Or manumit them for good behavior and faithful service. Or let their children become free, and integrate them into your society. These all happened historically. Or even if they remain slaves, entrust them with a degree of authority. Many slaves in ancient Rome were scribes, overseers, teachers, doctors. Oh, they weren't allowed to leave their masters? Don't forget that personal freedom didn't mean so much back then as it is today, as even the free men didn't have many personal choices. Almost everyone worked in agriculture, you couldn't just leave your only source of income behind so simply. Government wasn't centralized, there was no state police automatically investigating crimes, so there was no protection from anyone wishing ill upon you if you weren't a member of a clan, a tribe, or a powerful family. But all this also means people relied much more on each other than they do now. This makes plenty of opportunity to be kind and compassionate. What matters if they were warlike at the same time? They had to, otherwise their neighbors would conquer them!


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