From the archive: mastering our aggression, 1968 | Life and style

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The Observer Magazine of 8 September 1968 had a pictorial juxtaposition of a toddler tantrum and the destruction of Dresden – a cousin to Kubrick’s famous scene in 2001 where the bone jump cuts several millennia to the space station – to illustrate its feature on aggression (‘Are you aggressive enough?’).

‘The words “aggression” and “aggressive” are among the most abused in the English language,’ wrote Robert Shields, ‘often bandied about as labels for emotions that people dislike or disapprove of.’ He argued that it is ‘an essential motive power in living the good and full life… the problem is not to condemn aggression but to master it’.

There was a test to see if you’re ‘a lamb or a lion’. Sample question: if you found a teenager scrumping your apples, would you a) phone the police b) make him return your apples or c) tell him to get going but let him keep a few? (a = the most aggressive response.)

Games, he argued, are aggression with rules and to be encouraged, such as football – a ‘refined variation of tribal warfare’. He’d obviously never seen Leeds Utd play in the 1960s, when there was nothing refined about it.

I loved the French theologian he quoted who argued that ‘cricket was invented to give the British – an essentially non-religious people – some idea of eternity’. But if the batsman ‘lays about the other team with his bat he is judged to be playing some game other than cricket and the umpire will intervene’. Did this used to happen? Even chess had its roots in ‘war games and the battle strategy of ancient Chinese warlords’.

You can hear the sarcasm in the reference to ‘Parents for Responsibility in the Toy Industry… who have designed a toy dove which coos the word “peace” in several languages, and a group of dolls with their hands linked together designed to symbolise international brotherhood.’ Dolls that Action Man would no doubt terminate with extreme prejudice.

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