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“No one screams louder for their rights than one whose privilege has recently been revoked.”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