Of Alphas and Alphabets – The Mighty Insecure

Every so often I come across some self-proclaimed “Alpha Male” making an argument for Might Makes Right.

They argue that any dominance in society that men, white people, heterosexuals, or any other privileged demographic they fit into other than “rich”, may have, are because they deserve it more because they are mightier, they work harder, they are stronger, and more fit. They argue that anyone who thinks they deserve anything up to and including compassion, respect, medicine, shelter, food, water, air, not-being-killed-by-a-random-stranger, on any other basis than physical might, is weak.

They argue that expecting to use negotiation to get what we need, expecting written laws to matter, expecting people to actually care about ethics and philosophy, or to value intellectual education really at all, much less above brute force, is at best foolish, and worse yet, blindly entitled. They argue that the only work in the world that matters is physical work, and the only form of superiority is physical violence and intimidation.

I have a saying:

“No one screams louder for their rights than one whose privilege has recently been revoked.”

Despite the core of this argument seeming to be that rights don’t actually exist, I still believe this is an example because it’s primarily being used to argue that privilege doesn’t exist. In my experience, both online and in person, these arguments are primarily made by burly, hyper-masculine men, usually staunchly heterosexual, and almost always white, but very pointedly working class and thus deeply impacted by their very real economic disadvantages and subsequently deeply in denial that their unearned societal advantages  exist. They usually call themselves “Dominant” or “Alpha”, (especially if they’re in the fetish scene) and often strongly identify with wolves or bears. And sure enough, if they’re Pagan, they’re almost always Heathen.

I get that the point is supposed to be that humans are animals, and that wolves and bears have to hunt and fight for what they get, so why shouldn’t we? And moreover, why shouldn’t whoever can do the most damage have the final say in all things?

Now, I’m very fond of pointing out that humans are in fact animals, and living organisms, much like the animals and even the plants around us. However, my point is not that we don’t deserve better than cattle and corn. My point is that cattle and corn deserve better.

I emphatically do NOT agree with “might makes right”.  I do agree that the human rights we debate over, and get angry over, and yes, sometimes kill over, are indeed social constructs rather than physical laws of nature, like gravity or cause-and-effect. The problem with putting it in those terms is that humans are social animals by nature, and we are not actually separate from the rest of the natural world just because we’ve built cities and societies within it. How we act and interact is part of nature, is a product of cause-and-effect, is our evolution.

One of the biggest differences between humans and other animals is how long our childhood lasts. We are physically directly dependent for longer than almost all other species on the planet, and that’s not even getting into how long we remain socially or functionally dependent. Bears only raise a cub for three or so years, and they reach sexual maturity in about 6. Wolf pups are mature enough to help their pack hunt in a matter of months, and breed in the wild as young as 2 years. Human babies can’t even hold up their own heads for the first 4 weeks.

That’s because human babies are too busy growing their mightiest survival trait: A big brain.

Society, language, philosophy, ethics, these are things we developed as survival strategies. We’re the dominant species on this planet not because we’re the strongest, but because we’re the smartest. It turns out, we live longer lives, have more children, and build huge, amazing things when we’re not all beating the shit out of each other to prove who is dominant or decide who gets to eat.

I suppose we could allow ourselves to fall back into tribal warfare and act like a pack of wolves, but even wolves don’t actually act like that, and domesticated dogs only act like that when they’re insecure. More importantly, if we “go back” to acting the way we assume violent roving pack animals behave, then we’d also go back to only accomplishing what packs of violent roving animals accomplish, and I don’t think that’s anything like living up to the potential that we have as human beings. Does anyone actually want that?

Now, I would hope it’s obvious that just because the kind of guys who make this argument tend to fit a certain demographic doesn’t mean I think everyone who fits that demographic makes this argument. “Most cherries are red” doesn’t mean “most red things are cherries”. I know and love lots of large, hetero men who are gentle and peaceful. I know plenty of white, working class people who actively fight for universal civil rights. And I know lots of sweet, dominant guys who identify with wolves or bears and would never claim that justifies non-consensual violence. Frankly, I wouldn’t be Heathen at all if most of the Heathen men I interact with on any kind of personal basis acted like this. Even the Berserkrs and Úlfhednar I know don’t act like their skills are the only relevant measure of value in the world.

So why does this particular combination keep coming around again?

Unfortunately, it seems to be built into these big brains of ours. People tend to believe quite sincerely that whatever power “we” have is fair and deserved, but that whatever power “they” have is cheating. Anyone who expects to have an advantage – or in some cases, even basic needs met – on any other basis than the one they endorse is perceived as operating from entitlement. We see it time and again with money, strength, popularity, education, talent, seniority, or lineage. My own biases are towards talent and education, of course. But that very education has taught me that my bias is unjust to others, that none of the needs I feel the right to have met can ethically be denied to anyone else if the resources exist to grant them.

Of course, there are often also vehement arguments about what constitutes sufficient resources to grant them, and the measures used are similarly irrational when the desire is to justify “us” denying “them”, while preserving the illusion of ethical superiority. Any argument that is primarily a justification for caring less about some people than others, categorically, is suspect in my book.

What bothers me the most, though, is that this prioritizing of Might in particular comes so often from Heathens, especially those who identify as Berserkr or Úlfheðinn, Odin’s special warriors. I do understand that the battle ecstasy that is invoked under those specific circumstances belongs to Odin. But ecstatic violence is not all that belongs to Odin.

One of the greatest gifts the Allfather ever gave humanity is LANGUAGE. It was Odin who first gave humanity Ond – the life breath with which to speak. He shares with us Thought and Memory that we may reason, understand, and plan. He teaches us Poetry and Galdr and Skaldic Sagas that we may learn and teach and work our will in the world. He brought us the Runes that we may build, record, and preserve.

Do we really believe the best course of valor, the best respect to the Father of Language, is to declare language, words, and all the benefits of information, education, organization, and order that we derive from using language both spoken and written as a tool, are weaknesses to be derided and ignored?

–Ember–

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About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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6 Responses to Of Alphas and Alphabets – The Mighty Insecure

  1. Pingback: Isolation Won’t Help | EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir

  2. Interesting! Though I feel it is even more complicated. Might does not make right and anyone who would claim it does, is simple minded at best. Yet the whole dominant/alpha thing that for instance goes on in the so-called manosphere, is a symptom of more than men just being disgruntled. Many of the men that adhere to these ideas have serious issues with postmodern society, some of which are quite valid. Western societies face internal and external challenges. And we need both, the just warrior and the poet, on our side. In a Pagan or Heathen perspective, there is a meaningful place for both gifts and people, I feel.

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    • EmberVoices says:

      Oh sure. I am very much not attempting to summarize how all men who identify as Alphas or Dominant feel. There are plenty of much more valid reasons for it, and related that I don’t go into here because it’s not the focus of the essay.

      The focus here was of pointing out the common traits I see of those who make the Might Makes Right argument, what the argument seems to be grounded in, and why I disagree with it. It does happen that the folks I see making the Might Makes Right argument tend to self-identify as Alphas as well. But as I said in the essay, I know plenty of Alphas with much more nuanced ideas about what that means to them, and what identifying with wolves or bears means to them, what being on a warrior path means to them, and so forth.

      Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the guys who go off about Might Makes Right have much more nuanced, deeply personal views on the topic that they’re just not elucidating on the occasions they start ranting about this. Nobody is so simple that they can be summarized only by the one trait, after all. But of course, no blog essay can ever go into the full complications of any human behavior, either.

      -E-

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  3. I would debate that all berserk elements must come from Odin. That was said by one of Odin’s poets. 😉 Still, our ancestors were big on law and thought as WELL AS strength.

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    • EmberVoices says:

      I don’t believe I said anything to contradict that Berzerkr are traditionally assigned to Odin…?

      Only that it does not make sense for them, AS followers of Odin, to declare that His *other* gifts are worthless.

      He’s not the only god of ecstatic trance, per se. Just the most prominent. But yeah, I tend to think Freyja’s warriors are more controlled in battle than Berzerkr

      -E-

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    • EmberVoices says:

      Oh, I think I see what you’re responding to. It’s not that battle ecstasy in other circumstances is per se someone else’s – well, in other cultures it would be. I’m not going to argue with The Morrigan on that point, after all – it’s that Battle Ecstasy *only applies to battle*. The specific circumstances I’m referring to are to emphasize that every day life is not actually a battlefield, pithy metaphors aside.

      -E-

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