Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The problem of predation

I think enough time has passed that maybe I can talk about the Virginia Tech shootings without seeming like an insensitive bitch.

Perhaps I'm just emotionally stunted, but whenever a tragedy like this occurs (and it IS a tragedy, don't get me wrong), the thing that amazes me most is not the senselessness of the deaths, but by the reactions of all involved. In short, I'm shocked that people are still surprised by this kind of thing.

"How could it happen?" they all wail.

How could it NOT?
Eris on a Pogo Stick, people, we've only been murdering each other for thousands, if not millions of years. We are a race of predators, and if you have any doubts of that go look at your teeth in the mirror -- you'll see tools specifically designed for the biting and tearing of flesh. Killing is in our genes and in our blood.

The problem, of course, is that we've managed to short-circuit the system nature uses to govern predator populations. Our numbers are no longer constrained by the prey population -- domestication of animals and the invention of agriculture has effectively removed us from the food chain. We are the ultimate apex predator.

But what happens when a species of predator no longer needs to engage in predation? The answer is simple: We prey upon each other. Small-scale predation is known as crime. Large-scale predation is known as war. In case you doubt me, the next time you watch an episode of COPS or whatever, watch it the way you'd watch a Wild Kingdom episode:
  • Was that a gangbanger engaging in a drive-by shooting, or was it a male predator seeking to eliminate rivals for territory, resources, and access to mates?
  • A pedophile? Look, it's common practice for predators to separate the young, the old, and the sick from the herd.
  • And don't even get me started on the similarity between child neglect and the way lionesses treat their young when their mates die.
We are predators. We are killers. And the fact that this continues to shock people astounds me. The fact that we have managed to somehow create civilization, art, poetry, beauty -- these are all exceptional accomplishments, but they don't mean we're no longer animals; they're just indicative of what we can accomplish when we're not killing each other.

I could go on for several more paragraphs, but it's late and I'm tired, and I fear I may start to ramble off-thesis if I'm not careful. Instead, I will close with a selection from the Principia Discordia:

One day, I came upon a man urinating in a bus station. When I confronted him about his action, he turned to me, without stopping, and said:

"Keep in mind that since the universe is in constant flux, nothing that occurs one moment has any relevance to anything else. Everything you believe, feel or thins is based on the false assumption that truth exists. Thus, you are free to do any action which brings you pleasure. That humanity feels constrained by morals is one of the funniest jokes I've ever heard.'

So I beat the shit out of him and took his wallet.


  1. I follow your drift, as the vernacular goes.

    When Columbine "happened", as they say, I caught hell for remarking not on the tragedy of events, but on the fact that I sympathized with the perpetrators more than I did with the victims.

    WAIT! I hear you say, "oh my, does this mean that Salem would shoot a load of innocent christians?" Well, I'll explain rather than make a smart-assed remark there..

    I understand how it feels to be pushed far enough to snap. While it's not right what they did, Klebold and Harris, by all accounts, were mercilessly taunted and teased day in and day out by more socially popular students. Or, to put it another way, the weaker animals were hunted by the larger and more aggressive alpha males, until the point that the weaker animals found a way, any way, to strike back.

    And I'm sure that there will be SOMEONE among your readers who will disagree quite vehemently and with as many capital letters and foul language as they can muster. In that eventuality, I apologize in advance, but to say: I understand. =/

  2. I guess I will be that someone, though I've never found that I need capital letters or foul language to get my points across.

    It's real simple. I weighed 300 pounds at my high school graduation. By that time I had gone through every conceivable taunt, degradation, and torture you might want to imagine. There was rarely a day that went by that I DIDN'T want to blow someone's brains out.

    And yet I didn't.

    I grew up in a house literally FILLED with firearms. Our "armory" would've made Columbine look like a kid picking off pigeons with a air rifle. And I'm a crack shot. I could've taken out scores of folks before they would've stopped me.

    And yet I didn't.

    It's not the persecution, as much as it might make us feel good to think it was all "justice" somehow. It's not the guns, as much as we might like to think adding one more law to the 10,000 in existence would make the problem go away.

    It's our hearts. Have their always been folks with murder inside 'em? Yup. But I personally think we're seeing a lot more of it manifest itself now because of what's happened to society in general. I grew up believing in right and wrong, believing in the sanctity of life (and bear in mind I also grew up in a crime family, so it wasn't my "priveleged upbringing" that allowed me this "luxury").

    The simple fact is I had a lot of folks telling me the difference between right and wrong, and not so many telling me that there was no distinction between the two.

    I'm not sure a lot of our young people today have that benefit.

  3. Not to undervalue your accomplishment at all, Troy, but your statement doesn't disrupt my thesis; in fact, I think it supports it.

    The fact that you had those urges at all is what makes you a predator. You too, Salem, even though you didn't say as much.

    That the both of you didn't give in to them is the triumph of civilization over animal nature.

    In defense of Salem (not that he needs defending), sympathy for the perpetrators' motivations does not equal condoning their actions.

    I agree with your last statement, however. It's not within my area of expertise to state whether it's a lack of parenting, a failure of society or what-have-you (though I do refuse to blame it on pop culture), but it does seem that each generation is becoming successively feral.

  4. Believe me, Troy, I definitely respect what you're saying, and applaud your restraint in those difficult years. I may not have been as hefty as you were, but I was a goth kid, one of few, in a low-rent high school in the southeast corner of Alabama. I can sympathize.

    My first few years were difficult, to say the last, but the last few I decided that instead of lashing out, I would play their game, but better. Several high-profile flirtations and tongue-lashings to stereotypical big dumb jocks later, and I found out just how effective words were.

    I think I like how Erin put it, the triumph of civilization over animal nature. Things have changed as of late, though, and I think it's got more to do with government and society meddling in how parents best raise their children than Doom and Marilyn Manson's influences. Come to think of, we've had violent stories and games for centuries now, the only thing that's changed is the method of delivery, requiring less and less imagination on the recipient's part. Books, comics, and the like still require a leap of imagination on the reader's parts, but feature films and video games nearly spoon-feed the viewers. Nothing's really changed, essentially, since the days of Roman theatre. If it's inside someone to be violent, it's inside them. If it's inside someone to restrain that violence, all the better.

    Perhaps a point I should have made more clearly is that while I understand what Klebold & Harris went through, I also understand that there was a certain strength of character they may have been lacking in, making them unable to restrain that violence once they had been pushed to a certain point. Troy and I simply had a much higher breaking point then they did, one that was never truly reached.

  5. No, I wasn't arguing with your contention. I agree, and in fact, in some ways I'm very glad we still have a predatory side (some of the things I bemoan about current society are actually a result of our also becoming a sort of castrati).

    I'm not disagreeing with Salem. I understand the feelings of the put-upon more than most. I'm just saying that most of us are persecuted without ever taking it so far as to gun people down, and I think the fact that we seem to see more antisocial acts these days is because of a gradual societal change over the last fifty-odd years.

  6. Even Aristotle thought that the youth was growing wild and decadent, so by extention we must be in hell these days.
    No, any claim that the youth is getting more feral is IMHO a failure to reflect on your own youth from the same viewpoint that you're using to judge the youth of today. To an extent the average teen did the equivalent actions 50 years ago as they do today.

    Our society IS growing less feral however, as bureaucracy gets even more efficient of managing violence minimisation. Lynching is for example not at all as common today as it was even 50 years ago.
    As such any acts of violence are more likely to stand out.

    Also our society is "thanks" to education becoming increasingly specialized. 100 years ago, if you felt trapped in your situation (even as a teenager), you could always hit the road with reasonable chances of starting a new life.
    Not just because of specialization but because we're to an increasing degree owned by our property and by the fact that other people own more property.

    Today you're more trapped than you've ever been (especially as a teenager), this despite all the glorification of freedom and options that's shoved down our throats daily. And complaining about it is not likely to earn you any sympathies. Instead it's "poor little rich kid" belittlement, even though wealth hardly solves all the needs of humanity (it's like saying "You're complaining about not having any water when you have a all the food you could ever want!").

    And in the end you notice that while things change, some things are always the same.
    Nothing is more lethal than a trapped predator.

  7. I don't think we're becoming more feral; I think we have fewer outlets for those instincts, that we're told more and more that these urges and behaviors are unacceptable. Thus, the youth internalizes, thus the youth explodes.

    That I have a similar high school experience to Salem and Troy should come as no shock.

  8. Excellent point, Jeff. Perhaps that's why Fight Club resonated so strongly with readers and/or viewers?

    Also, add me to the "me too" list.

    Although, to be brutally honest, I think the real reason I never went through with it wasn't because of some great triumph of conscience, but because I couldn't find a way to get away with it....

  9. Fair point. I actually figured out a way I could get away with it, but still didn't. There's every possibility, though, that I simply couldn't be arsed..

  10. I endeavor to lead a non-violent life whenever possible. While I fully endorse self-defense, I avoid being proactively violent. My reasoning is simple. I do not want to be harmed or killed, so I do not harm or kill others.


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