The dark side of the man

You love the thunder and you love the rain
What you see revealed within the anger is worth the pain
And before the lightning fades and you surrender
You’ve got a second to look at the dark side of the man.

Jackson Browne: You love the thunder.
Humans are a little like having a lion for a house-pet. Yeah, you raised it, trained it, fed it, cuddled it. It may die one day with its great head on your lap, having lived a happy, contented life with you, as your adored pet.

But there is always that chance… that something, somehow, will take it back to you being prey and it being a very powerful predator. The capacity is there, and, if it remains a lion, always will. Humans… well, I was on the periphery of a bunch of typical SJW attacking a bloke I know. He wouldn’t thank me for identifying him, so I’ll leave it at that. But while he was being gentlemanly and his usual polite self, it did occur to me to wonder if what would happen if, somehow, they took one step too far. I mean, they were norm for that type – internet ‘heroes’ with the physique of a tubercular chicken. And this was someone perfectly capable of tracking them down, ripping their arms off and beating them to death with the wet end, if he snapped.

It’s equally true that while the SJW ‘heroes’ were very ‘brave’ in a mob, on the safe physical distance of the internet and their attempt at anonymity, there is the real dark side to them, too. Yes, their choice is probably stabbing someone in the back while they’re asleep, or being part of a nice big lynch mob with an unarmed victim – but that same dark side is there. If anything, it’s closer to the surface, and less controlled. The same capability to do serious harm is pretty well part of being human. Even part of that Jain who goes out of his way not to even kill an ant. Lions are soft, cuddly and as dangerous as Koala bears compared to the dark side of humans.

Of course, the dark side has cookies.

It’s a choice of phrase that has been rather tainted by the associations with Star Wars. You might prefer to think of it as humans without that very thin veneer of civilization. Western civilization, and culture, are a thicker veneer than most (Yes, there are exceptions, like the Jains I mentioned earlier. But the exceptions only survive by being protected (and possibly, respected) by other, larger and thinner-veneered civilizations or extreme isolation (the Moriori as an example) but humans – and monkey tribes – are held in check from being permanent open season murder and rapine simple brute thuggery, by social mores – which 99% of the time most of us think are a good thing.

I mentioned the monkeys with some intent, as yes, it goes back a long way, even if — in the monkey troop — it was simply a social compact enforced by the biggest and meanest male in the troop who did the murder and rape… and largely restrained the rest (that is if his chosen mate of that moment was unwilling. Avoiding a long aside into animal behavior aside, that too is rare). Yes I know about bonobos. By all means feel free to explain to modern feminists just how to imitate female bonobos keep our society peaceful in an imitation of what is a female dominated and ‘ruled’ bonobo society. I’ll watch. In fact, I’ll sell tickets.

But… every now and again, people snap back into some degree of that highly unsocial beast. And, rather like looking at that lion or deadly taipan or great white shark – there is a horrid fascination to this. It’s part of the writer’s stock and trade. And part of that, of course, is that many of our nobler attributes, the people who run towards the sound of the guns/the disaster, stem from precisely that dark side. The lion remains a lion. If you didn’t want a lion, you should have got a sheep. They always run away, and won’t defend or help… but won’t eat you.

So: back to writing. There is very little for the story-teller in the life of untrammeled passive virtue. Overwhelmingly, our stories are about conflict between the dark sides of humans, or at least drawing on the courage that is an aspect of that. The conflict may be between the lion who tries not kill its beloved (the controlled or limited violence), and the lion that kills anything it can, or between two sets of lions with limits at least to their loyalties (a conflict between two foes, both loyal to their own) or degrees therein.

When you come down to analyzing and building your own heroes and villains, it really about how much of the primal dark side (which, yes, humans, particularly females, DO find attractive. It’s about survival-potential in the genes, not logic. It’s why the bad-boy (and lesserly girl) hero has sexual appeal – a step too many humans take in life, let alone fiction) and how that is expressed and controlled that makes them heroes or villains. And – because we’re a social species – it’s a conflict within the character we like to see won by control (not by turning into a sheep, but by turning into the lion that only eats the home-intruder, and merely intimidates your mother-in-law. Honestly, it’s better for domestic bliss than having mother-in-law scented belches from the pet lion, regardless of your opinion at the moment.)

Build the dark side, and the potential for it to be totally unleashed, for good or ill, into your hero… and you’ll have one worth reading about. Do without it and you have metrosexual milquetoast.

60 thoughts on “The dark side of the man

  1. Mr. Freer, a vanishingly small fraction of our culture recognizes, realizes, exactly how thin the veneer of polite, orderly, society is. The more refined among us would do well to understand just how quickly the wheels can come off. Shopping crowds punching each other over the last Elmo on sale at Walmart got nothing on the crowds currently trying to find antibiotics, pain meds, or even food in Venezuela cities.

    1. Correct. The Human depth of potential for barbarism which is held in by that very thin veneer… on the other hand I’ve seen humans take the most incredible risks for others – people they don’t know, even. It’s an odd species.

      1. Humanity is three good meals from barbarism. I think that is a Heinlein quote but i could be wrong.

        1. I thought the quote was. “Morality is the useful byproduct of a full stomach”, but I could be wrong

        2. Perhaps a little more, but not much. What will cause most people to snap is any threat to their children or spouse.
          Perhaps the “woke” ought to think of that, and the fact that the Normals are more likely to have those families. MIGHT be a problem if they get their little attitude on, and our kid/spouse is suffering.

      2. Lions and other predators can be gentle, of course. But they remain predators. A lion simply chooses when he wants to be gentle.

        BTW, today’s subject is something I don’t do well in characters. I know a hero has a bit of the predator, and heroes do show that side. But letting the reader know that side is there is something else.

    2. And a disappointingly large fraction believes that The Government will always be there to save them.

      1. Which for some reason reminded me of the old book, “The Lord of the Flies.” Which if I remember correctly showed at least one possibility of what might happen if a group of civilized boys (British, right?) were stranded outside…

    1. I’m not aware of any animal that does. Roaring (and equivalent acts) are what the dominant male does to mark his territory and scare off rivals.

      1. To include man. Ask any bar bouncer for confirmation. He’ll have seen hundreds of “hole me back, or I’m gonna kill this (whatever)” confrontations. Primates gotta bluster. (See howler monkeys)

          1. I have READ, (was it Kipling?) that tigers roar before springing on something like a deer. Said roar is supposed to cause a split second of delay before the animal can attempt to flee. I have no idea if this is true or just a tall tale.

            1. I don’t know about tigers, but I remember hearing about the scream of a hunting mountain lion, because they sound like a woman in pain or terror.

                1. Me, neither, but enough primary sources have told me about it that I believe it. I seem to recall the advice consisted of “get inside” and if you can’t do that, get your back to a fire and a gun in front of you.

                  Maybe they make the scary noises to get the prey flushed and frantic, and then are silent when they’re close enough to pounce?

                  1. I simply don’t know. Sounds like we need to hear from someone with first-hand experience. (shrugs) I do know that if I heard Shere Khan roar fifty feet from me, in the night jungle, I’d probably startle/freeze long enough for him to close that gap. That’s if I had an M-60 on me, loaded and ready to rock. A crying woman, or one in pain? Prolly not so much.

                    1. Not crying, screaming.

                      Mom’s heard it, I think it was with her dad– and dad’s family all knew it.

                      Instant justification of every “the evil women cursed because (whatever) are out hunting your soul” story ever, at least in the Americas. (I think they have some in south america…)

      2. Cats don’t roar, but they do have the butt wiggle right before they pounce. I wonder how many creatures have gotten away because they noticed the waving tail in the grass.

  2. When the hero runs up the Jolly Roger and runs out the guns, he’s got to have an endgame in mind beyond “I’m going to kill that guy.” The pointless violence of the movies where the “hero” loses his temper and mows down a bunch of henchmen, that irritates me to no end. And they -always- do it.

    Example, Batman vs. Superman. Most pointless battle scene in movie history.

    There needs to be a goal. The thinking man doesn’t lose his temper and go off after revenge. He husbands his ammunition closely, saving it for when it will help him get what he wants. If he’s not going to get anything from fighting, he will sneak off.

    1. Sheepdogs and wolves are brothers under the skin, with similar traits. They may even look the same to unfamiliar strangers. Only their motivations and goals differ.

  3. “Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

    I’ve been around predators, good predators, who didn’t bother trying to mask their predatory nature. They are scary people.

    Apparently the movie Labyrinth is going to have a theatrical re-release at the end of April. I’ve read a lot of women “oooh”ing and “Ahhh”ing over the Goblin King. Personally I want to back away slowly until I have room to 1) flee or 2) get my hands on a weapon, preferably a large caliber weapon.

      1. Goblin King. The women just leave me shaking my head and wondering how badly they will be hurt before they learn to recognize a predator in his own territory.

        1. I feel a degree of confusion at the number of women who seem fans of predators of that sort, who in other contexts are busy decrying the “patriarchy.”

          1. It’s very old. G.K. Chesterton commented on feminine fascination with the “caveman” in his day.

      1. I don’t think so. There is some new commentary before and after the feature, and an added short, from what I’ve read, but no changes to the film itself.

    1. If it were anyone other than David Bowie, I think people would have a more reasonable reaction to him. Of course, that’s the reason they cast him. They wanted him to be seductive.

      1. They wanted the notion that he might win via seduction as well as via power, and make it reasonable that SHE wouldn’t realize he actually had zero power over her .

      2. I enjoy Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King hugely…but never have I ever viewed the Goblin King as anything other than a predator/symbol of temptation. Even as a kid (and it is one of my most beloved childhood movies). Possibly easier as a kid, since it was clear he was wearing the ‘villain’ hat, and then upon a rewatch when I was thirteen or so (I think we had it recorded on VHS), Mom pointed out that he makes an admirable stand-in for the Devil, with the whole “Love me, serve me, do as I say and I will be your slave” nonsense.

        Best I figure, at least half the women drooling over him is because David Bowie. But the other half…yeah, they think they WANT a predator, and entirely forget the bit where this is ‘predator-as-villain’, not ‘predator-as-protector.’ (Which Twilight entirely failed at presenting as well, bleargh.)

        (I still want ALL the masquerade ball clothes though. I credit that movie with my love of elaborate masks. And I also credit it and Legend with a sneaking fondness for glitter that lingers to this day…)

      3. I haven’t seen Labyrinth but I suspect the ‘people love the Goblin King due to the actor’ is the same reason in more recent time Severus Snape gets so much love by female fandom due to the portrayal by Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter films. Snape in the books is a bigoted jerk and absolutely horrible teacher and person but they fell in lust with Rickman so Snape must be a bad boy they can save…

        1. Bigoted what huh? I can’t even think of an instance where he was especially nasty to Hermione, although being from that house and that background he probably should have been.

          I liked Snape in the books. He wasn’t pleasant, and he was rather unprofessional in his treatment of Potter…if you totally ignore that it was a minor counter-balanced how everyone else was showing insane favoritism towards him, and that I was able to correctly read that character arc from the first book as a teen. (My fear was that she’d decide to ditch it and simply destroy the character.)

          Reminded me of one of my favorite teachers, actually, especially the counter-balancing of sports star status.
          (Nickname: the Troll. English teacher. Qualified for college teaching, didn’t want the politics. Taught the class as if we were college kids anyways, actually challenged smart kids.)

        2. I have to agree with Foxfier. I haven’t read the books in a few years so my memory may be faulty, but Snape’s treatment of Harry is unique and he doesn’t treat other people nearly as nastily, except for those associated with Harry. It’s not bigotry, it’s personal: Harry is James Potter’s son, and Snape is taking out his anger at James on James’s son. Unfair and unprofessional, yes — but that’s not bigotry, since it had nothing to do with any category that Harry fell into.

    2. I’ve always loved that movie. But those types of men are only entertaining in fiction.

    3. For what it’s worth, I both really enjoy characters like the Goblin King, Gul Dukat, Garak, Loki (well, sometimes, sometimes he hits the Q annoying zone, sometimes he is just pathetically sympathetic), Spike from Buffy…and would, in real life, be figuring out the shortest distance to a firearm because KILL IT WITH FIRE NOW.

      They’re generally elegant, threatening, graceful, clever, have great lines, and quickkillthemNOWbeforeitistoolate.

      The characters that I adore are the sheep dogs, which coincidentally are usually playing against a really awesome villain like that– lots of similarities, but the good guy could do that…and chooses the better route. Batman and Joker are an example, though their styles are different.

      Without the villain, you wouldn’t even think about the options the good guy is passing by. Half the time or more, he doesn’t.

      1. ^ This. I “adore” Loki…but that is in large part because of the charm of the actor himself, and the fact that–so far as I can tell–Tom Hiddleston is one of the sweetest people on the planet.

        But meeting Loki in real life? Yep. Kill him with fire.

  4. Actually, turns out when a boss chimp behaves too much like a tyrant, pretty soon a few underlings get together to ambush and kill him. Not real different from what humans do, merely faster and more direct (chimps don’t do all the political posturing first).

  5. What evil lurks within the hearts of men?
    The Shadow knows…
    (Deranged laughter)

    You’re descended from a long line of stone-cold killers and utterly ruthless people who did unthinkable things just to survive.
    Too many people deny the darkness, and are caught unprepared when the monster rears his head.

  6. I grew up in a cop family, and I know exactly what kind of monsters exist outside of the streetlights.

    But, I also live in the SF Bay Area, and way too many of my “peers” have never understood where their food comes from, what it takes to keep things safe, what you have to do to prevent harm from coming to yourself and those you care about.

    I suspect that too many of them will find out the hard way.

  7. A question that has been rooting around in the back of my head for the last while is whether or not a thing I do is ‘normal’. I always thought I did it because I went to school with a target on my back (one of the smallest, one of the smartest, and the youngest. Hell, there were three kids in my class older than my older brother in elementary school) but as I get older I begin to think it’s something that most men do, whether consciously or unconsciously.

    It is examining other men upon first meeting them and deciding whether they could or could not be a threat, and if they are a threat what kind of threat they would be. Not as simple as ‘I can take him’, or ‘I can’t take him’, but degrees of difficulty. Would they go for the knees? Are they aggressive? Would they use a weapon? What kind of weapon? Will they hit on my wife when my back is turned? Would they run if I got big? It’s threat assessment, sure, but it’s more than that. It gives me a sense of how to interact with them and what is a good tack to avoid confrontation. Or if a confrontation is inevitable what would be the best way to approach it.

    I know I do that, I know I’ve done it for a long time, but I thought it was down to the way I was raised and not something that naturally occurs. Until I was talking to a friend and they happened to point to another friend and casually mentioned that the other friend had a black belt and could kick my ass. I didn’t know how to respond to that because there was no threat from the guy with the black belt. You can feel when there’s a threat. Doesn’t have to do with size exactly, just how tough an ‘out’ a guy would be. Hearts of lions can come in the body of Pomeranians. But there was no threat. Not because I was a hundred pounds heavier and a half-head taller, not because I worked a physical job and he worked a mental job, not because I was a decade younger but because there was no ‘threat’. The tingle at the back of your brain.

    Now, I didn’t want to dispute my friend and get into an argument about it as it seemed rude to talk about how you could beat someone up but the friend with the black belt leaned over to her and sighed. He mentioned that he hadn’t been in training for over a decade, pointed out the massive size discrepancy, the strength discrepancy, and most importantly the predator discrepancy. I was naturally aggressive and he was naturally passive (which is what my hind brain had picked up on) and the reason his parents had put him in the martial arts was to try to get that passivity beat out of him. In a match he could fake it but he assured our mutual friend in a real fight I’d be on him before he had a chance to even think.

    I’m not sure he was completely correct, in that his training might have allowed him to get in some blows, surprise me, gain him some time to recover his wits and then make it a fight. Possible. But he wasn’t a threat. And we both knew it.

    Which meant he did the same mental arithmetic upon meeting me as I had unconsciously (in that case) done upon meeting him.

    It makes sense that most men do that when I think about it, and I’m sure women have their own equivalent (about both men and women). Yet for some reason I had assumed I was different but more probably I was just closer to the surface. Aware of the back brain thoughts when you go through your formative years having to watch your own back.

    The oddest thing about that though is how our mutual friend didn’t have those instincts and was flummoxed by our mutual assumption. Me, personally? I think when you read books (and watch movies and TV shows) about doing things (like fighting) and never actually do those things you get a very distorted feel for those things and it can mess up your natural threat assessment (and this applies equally to men and women).


      1. I hope so, and I always felt so, I assumed I only did the threat assessment thing because of things like getting my head slammed into lockers from behind in elementary school and getting punished when I reacted aggressively to those kinds of attack. Not every day, but often enough that I developed some instincts and have a high degree of wariness.

        My friend with the black belt never got into fights but because he knows he has a high degree of passivity he developed the same kind of instincts. I truly don’t know if it is ubiquitous among men, or if it is only those of us who grew up with those kinds of stimuli (his worry about being possibly attacked and my certainty that I would be attacked probably feels roughly the same in terms of the stress raising awareness).

        My theory, and it is just a theory, is that all men have the same types of instincts but the less you exercise them the less aware you are of them. For me those instincts are nearer the surface, some others it might be foremost in their thoughts, and for others it might be more a subconscious thing. Something they’re not aware of but they do nonetheless.

        Truly, I do not know. But I thought it was an interesting perspective to share, one that people who may not be aware of that kind of thinking might be able to incorporate into their writing and give it an air of authenticity, or even maybe just a different flavor.

        I could be wrong. I often am.


    1. I’ve been wrong before, am wrong about something now, and will be wrong in the future. Having opinions has a cost.

      I don’t routinely do “I can take him” analysis with humans.

      I do routinely sink a lot of energy into assessing psychological state for danger signs. Someone with self control will warn me off. Someone coming unglued will not. Who do I need to hide from or avoid offending? I’m reclusive and avoid crowds.

      I have a phobia of dogs. I have been able to tell the difference between a dog that merely triggers my phobia and one that does and is additionally mean and dangerous.

    2. I don’t do it consciously, usually. I have absolutely no gaydar, but I have a good danger sense. When it alerts me, then I do the conscious evaluation.

      One of the few people I’ve kicked out of my life triggered that feeling like mad. He wasn’t a bad or particularly dangerous person, but disaster followed in his wake with him always skating out of it and leaving everyone else in the lurch. It never happened to me, but stories from mutual friends and that sense triggering was sufficient.

      On the sheepdog front, I know a former Marine sniper and he’s one of the nicest, most laid-back people I know. I would never piss him off, though.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: