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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

Demonic Males (p. 116)

From chapter "Seeking a Third Way"

Clearly, most of us working to protect the natural world hope our society will soon change direction. Without a fundamental shift in the way we act, the best of our efforts will in the long run add up to nothing, only affording a few more generations of lynx, bobcat, grizzly bear, and so on, the opportunity to live out harried lives before we ultimately exterminate them. Most everyone I know doesn’t believe a cultural change of heart will happen voluntarily, which means that many of us are simply doing what we can to protect the few remaining pockets of biological and societal integrity until the system collapses. If after that those humans who survive are of good heart, and are willing to listen to the natural world, they may be able to relearn how to live with what the land gladly offers. If that happens, there may be hope for the continuation of life on the planet.

The bottom line with regard to what will survive seems to be this: if the urge to dominate as manifested by our culture is instinctual, there is no hope for humans, and not much hope for any other large forms of life. Those humans who come after will continue in this path we have followed, a path determined for us long before the rise of our species, long before the appearance of mammals, reptiles, fish, mold, bacteria, or even proteins. If what we’re doing is natural, our path became biologically overdetermined when the rules for the game of life were set up: those capable of dominating will; those incapable will be eliminated. According to this perspective, the destruction of dodo birds, to choose just one example, may have been regrettable, but we simply couldn’t help ourselves, and in any case they were unfit for survival. As for indigenous peoples, they, too, are “inferior” and must make way as we “invoke and remorselessly fulfill the inexorable law of natural selection.” I’m sorry, we’ll say, but that’s the way the world goes.

An imposing body of literature supports this view of humans as inherently destructive, and a complementary view of nature as a cutthroat competition for survival. The Bible, of course, and the mainstream of Christianity are explicit in their condemnation of humanity as sinful, and mortal existence as a vale of hardship and tears. Science, too, gets in its licks, phrased now in terms of Natural instead of Divine law.

Here’s an example: I just read a popular book called Demonic Males. The authors state that because rape occurs in orangutans, rape and other violence by human males is, to use their word, “natural.” While stating that parallels between human and nonhuman behaviors “justify nothing,” they also state that “rape as an ordinary part of a species’ behavior implies that it is an evolved adaptation.” Recognizing the ubiquity of rape within our culture (but inaccurately extending it cross-culturally), they give their evolutionarily-ordained reasoning for rape: “By a logic that challenges our strongest moral principles it could pay the woman to acknowledge the rapist’s power and form a relationship that, while initially repellent, she comes to accept.” We need to remind ourselves that they are attempting to “justify nothing” as we read that “a demonstration of power implies that the female’s safest future is to bond with the violent male.” The authors have assumed not only the “true nature” of what we perceive as rape in orangutans, but also that orangutans are what Descartes would have called “beast-machines” driven by instincts—with no great measure of volition or cultural imperative—such that all actions performed by them become, by definition, natural, or rather Natural. While mentioning the human cultures (indigenous and non-indigenous) in which rape has existed, they ignore the many cultures in which rape was—beyond nonexistent—inconceivable until the members of these cultures were taught by example what it means to be civilized.