Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Alpha Male, the Beta, and Pitcairn Island, or Watch Your Back

There's been a lot of talk, from feminists like Naomi Wolf, to Pick Up Artists like "Mystery" and Neil Strauss, about Alpha and Beta Males. We are told by Strauss and "Mystery" that women prefer the socially and physically dominant Alpha Male. The take charge, confident, and macho man. The man who socially dominates any group. The leader. Wolf famously advised Al Gore to dress in earth tones to project the Alpha Male image.

Certainly, modern life in the West allows women the freedom to choose whomever they want. In Britain, most of Europe, and in the Black Community, what women want seem to be the macho, love-em-and-leave-em Alpha Males. Britain's illegitimacy rate is 50%, and some Northern European countries are approaching that rate if not surpassing it already (Norway, Sweden). In the US, illegtimacy among whites hovers in the thirty percent range, among Blacks it has jumped from 26% in 1965 to 70% nationwide (90% in the Urban core). Some have blamed birth control for this state of affairs, other the welfare state, still others feminism, marxism, consumerism, or Urban Life and it's endless choice coupled with anonymity.

But the story of Pitcairn Island, the romantic Fletcher Christian, and the need to watch one's back offers a cautionary tale.


First, let's review some of the more interesting books out that shed light on that subject. "War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage" by Lawrence H. Keeley, and Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" both touch on the rate and nature of personal physical violence among tribal and nomadic peoples. According to Wade (the excellent science writer for the New York Times), the current archaeological consensus is that behaviorally modern humans, who made jewelry, buried their dead, decorated trivial items, and so on, quite different behaviors than their predecessors, first show up in the archaeological record around 50,000 years ago. The first cities and agricultural societies don't show up in the record until about 12,000 years ago. In the meantime, people lived as close to a "state of nature" as Rousseau could imagine. And it was not pretty.

Crude comparisons between Alpha Males in Chimps and Gorillas and other primates to humans are often made. But bigger, stronger males don't always have the advantage in physical confrontations. Because humans, unlike all other species, constantly make and improve weapons. A tough, bruising NFL linebacker might beat a small Filipino man in a fistfight, it's another thing when weapons, including sticks but particularly knives, are involved. Check out History Channel's "Human Weapon" and see for yourself. Host Bill Duff has a lot of problems. He's just not quick enough, despite his NFL experience. With knives, it's even worse, being bigger means you're a bigger target and physically can't move as fast. It takes just that much longer to move your bigger mass, and for the signals from your brain to travel the neurons in your arms and legs. At the very least, a Beta Male ticked off with an Alpha Male can stick a spear into the Alpha when the Alpha is not looking. Weapons equalize the Beta male. They always have. They're why they are made in the first place.

Guess what? That's just what happened in most of human history, and still happens today in nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies. Both Keeley and Wade cite the extensive archaeological evidence, and anthropological evidence of pre-contact Stone Age tribes in New Guinea and the Amazon, showing male attrition rates to murder at around 4% or so each year. Not that women, children, and older people were immune either. They show up in grave sites as murder victims quite frequently.

These were not deaths caused by a cataclysmic battle on an open plain, but rather one man getting upset over another winning the affections of a mate, or a favored potential mate, and sticking a spear into him. Then the dead man's relatives seeking to avenge him, and so on endlessly. In tribal herding societies there are a few more social structures to moderate the violence, but mostly it happens on a slightly larger scale, with clan instead of family as the avenger of the dead.

For most of human history, the Alpha Male has not had it his way. Taking too many women and denying the Beta male a chance at a mate has led to violence and death for all concerned.

Only relatively recently, with urban-based civilizations that have castes, kings, and priests, large agricultural surpluses to feed and house and pay soldiers and guards, have the functions of the feud and personal revenge enabled by weapons, been suppressed somewhat by the overwhelming force of the Pharoah, the King, the Emperor, or the State. Often these civilizations end up in cycles of decay and violence as the Pharoah, or King, or Emperor take all the women (and resources) and finds that slaves don't fight very well, and that rebels in the mountains, deserts, jungles, and so on cause a lot of problems. Sometimes they simply end when the rebels overwhelm the old regime. That happened to Mehmed VI, the last of the Ottoman Sultans, when Ataturk proclaimed the Republic and sought to end many of the old customs. Including polygamy.

The problem for Alpha Males is that Beta Males are intelligent beings. Who don't like being locked out of reproduction and sex. And can often stick a spear into the Alpha when they are not looking. This was the case with Fletcher Christian.

Everyone knows the story. Brutal, tough, Captain Bligh (except of course, he wasn't, merely thin-skinned). Romantic, rebellious Fletcher Christian. Paradise in Tahiti, with beautiful women to meet every need. The mutiny on the Bounty. Christian seizes the ship, sets sail for Tahiti, the mutineers take on their girlfriends, and live in Pitcairn Island happily every after.

That's the Hollywood version. In reality, Bligh was a dedicated Captain who lectured where others whipped sailors, and whipped where others hung sailors. He carefully monitored the crew's diet and sleep to prevent scurvy, indeed split the crew into three watches to maximize their sleep, on the theory that fatigue made crippling or fatal accidents inevitable. Bligh was Captain Cook's navigator, and an expert seaman. Sent off with only a Sextant, pocket watch, and a few charts, but lacking a compass, Bligh and the loyal seaman (so many wanted to go with him that four were held back, and dropped off at Tahiti) who went in the small launch with him successfully navigated over 3,000 miles of open ocean to reach safety in the Dutch East Indies. He lost only one man, in an attack by natives, on an island they stopped at briefly. Bligh was exonerated in Court's Martial, and later served with distinction with Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen. A difficult, thin-skinned man, Bligh was nevertheless the more able commander of men, judging by his losses.

By contrast, Christian also took on board the Bounty besides the eleven Tahitian women and the nine mutineers remaining, six Tahitian men. The sexual imbalance, and the enslavement of the Tahitian men by the mutineers upon reaching Pitcairn Island, soon led to lethal warfare. When the American seal-hunting ship Topaz visited the Island, in 1808, some nineteen years after the mutiny in 1789, only mutineer John Adams was alive. All the others had died in drunken accidents or been murdered. Fletcher Christian was shot and killed when he was found alone with his wife. Only Adams survived. Given the history of sexual abuse allegedly taking place for decades on the island, it seems that things have not changed much.

Alpha Males may have it their way for now. But history suggests: Watch Your Back. Weapons are the great equalizer.

4 comments:

Neutrino Cannon said...

Weapons?

What about the fact that we have to sleep a third of the day?

Was it Freud or Jung who posited a collective memory of a collective of young brothers who banded together to kill their father and distribute his harem amongst themselves? Not that I would promote such drug-addled and unscientific nonsense as Jung and Freud, but maybe in this case whichever one of them it was had the edge of something.

One also wonders if the sexual laws in Leviticus and whatnot are that strict because allowing more lenient, libertine sexual mores would put too much stress on a Bronze-Age society when the jealous and sexually dispossessed decided to take out their frustrations on everyone else.

Anonymous said...

The only comment I would make is that most of the "illegitimate" children in Scandinavia are born not to women truly on their own but to couples married in everything but name. Relatively few babies in Norway and Sweden are born to women without partners.

Craig R. Meyer said...

This helps to explain women's latent instinct for disloyalty. Sure, the big man on campus still gets the babes, but he gets whacked not long after, statistically speaking.

Better for the ladies to be able to emotionally leave him in the dust as quickly as possible so that they can become loyal to his (temporary) successor.

Such vile creatures we can be.

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