We Are Men, Not Lions
While watching a YouTube video about the movie Fight Club and Nietzsche, by Bob Doyle, (two things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about) the creator made a casual references to a pervasive idea in our culture that I think needs to be reconsidered – “The evolution of testosterone was not an accident… this was essential to protect one’s offspring…” (8:58 in the video)
Humans are highly complex creatures. The variety of individual characteristics we have evolved as a species all serve a purpose. If you consider the evolution of life from a single celled organism, which reproduced by cloning itself, nature found certain benefits to sexual reproduction, the most obvious is the blending of traits from two distinct individuals. This essentially allows nature to randomly try infinite combinations of traits to see which ones work best in a given environment. Thus life grew more and more complex over time.
This evolution eventually lead to social animal groups. Within all social animals, we see that each plays a role. As people obsessed with personal power, we focus on the social ranking of various individuals, especially who is the “alpha” in any social grouping, be it wolves, lions, gorillas or frat boys. But all members of a social group serve important roles, regardless of their “rank.”
I remember learning from a nature show as a child that when a younger male lion takes over a pride from an older male, through combat of course, the new alpha male kills the cubs sired by his predecessor. In this context, the statement by Doyle makes sense as is. However, humans and our culture and social structures are far more complex than that of lions.
Imagine if a mother partnered with a man who was not the father of her children, and he proceeded to murder the children. We would be appalled and take strong action to punish that man. As a culture, we admire greatly the man who mentors and fosters the children of other men, whether as step-father, a coach, a teach or a mentor. We are not lions, we are men.
I have stated before, that humans evolved to cooperate rather than compete, and men in particular were meant to work together for the good of the community, rather than compete with each other as we are so often taught today. A man alone in the wild stands little chance of long term survival, yet a tribe can easily withstand the loss of a single individual, including its “alpha male” leader (a thing that doesn’t really exist in human cultures the way it does in animal groups.)
Now imagine a male member of a tribe, who has fathered several children is killed during a hunt (a hunt during which he cooperated with other men to provide food for the whole tribe). This man’s children would continue to live as members of the tribe, protected and provided for by whole community, in spite of their absent father.
In fact, there are hunter-gatherer tribes still around today where all the men of the tribe are encourage to have sex with any pregnant woman, in order to add their strength to the child in her womb. At birth, all men then feel an obligation as a father to that child. The cooperate to raise every child as if it were their own. (Read Sex at Dawn, by Ryan and Jetha for more on this, sorry, I can’t remember the exact page, so you’ll have the read the whole book and learn a lot of other fascinating stuff in the process.)
The strength and aggression that results from men having higher levels of testosterone did not, I believe evolve to protect our offspring. Rather, it evolved as a useful trait to fulfill a more immediate role – hunting. Man kind is the ultimate predator species. Despite of obvious physical weakness and lack of natural offensive weaponry like claws and fangs, we evolved to become the apex predators on the planet.
Related Post: If you like thinking about how our ancient ancestors influence us as much as I do, you might enjoy this post too: What Happen to Shamans?
Consider the wolverine (the animal, not the superhero, lol.) They are consider one of the most feared animals in their natural habitats. In spite of their small size, weighing in at around 40 pounds, the size of a medium sized dog, they are known to chase grizzle bears away from a kill to steal it for themselves. It is not their size, but their ferocity that gives them the advantage.
So it is with humans. Our courage and tenacity, along with our clever use of tools, gives us the advantage over all other animals. But again, mainly when we act together cooperatively. One man alone with only stone age weapons stands little chance of bringing down a large animal like buffalo or wooly mammoth. But a group of men, acting together in coordinated action can.
While our clever brains gave us the ability to create and use tools, it still took testosterones and its associated increased aggression to give men the courage to face such fearsome beasts.
Prey animals, as early hominids were, don’t protect themselves by being aggressive, the protect themselves by being hard to get. They camouflage themselves, the develop speed, they hide in trees or burrows, they only “fight back” when there is no other option. That is not aggression, that is desperation. The development of aggression in human males makes far more sense in the acquisition of higher quality food – meat – that it does as a way of defending our off-spring.
Defending our group from threat through aggression would than be a by product of the trait, rather than the initial usefulness of it.
The point of all this is simple. Much of how we interpret the world is based on the idea that everything we do as humans is selfish. That our innate drive is to pass on our genes at all costs, but this is not in fact the case. As a cooperative species, we have moved beyond that, we moved beyond it millennia ago. While we still possess the individual drive to procreate, our greater drive is to ensure the survival of our species over all.
If we have children already, it the cooperation of the community that ensures their survival more than our individual efforts. As social beings we subscribe to a natural contract to protect and serve all others, including those billions of children we did not personally create.
We must be aware of these harmful ideas that have become so pervasive in our culture as to be unquestioned. And we must question them.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this idea?
If your interested in more content about the masculinity, check out the new series of pod casts I’m created about how masculinity is portrayed in movies, starting with the classic “Die Hard.”