Of Warriors Born
Every now and then I’ll surface from my mostly-hibernating state and notice another twit rabbiting on about whirled peas and how any form of force or competition is evil, bad, and causes pimples or something. Most of the time I have a quiet little giggle to myself about stupid people and hope for the poor deluded fool to have a Darwin-worthy ending.
Because competition of the red-in-tooth-and-claw kind is built in to every living thing, and there isn’t a single animal that survives without at minimum harming some other living thing. Yes, even the herbivores. Aside from them killing parts of plants when they eat, many of them have some pretty damn vicious fights over which one gets to lead the herd or mate with the female or whatever. Plus there’s evidence that plants communicate, making them at least as aware as an animal, even if there’s not a whole lot of consensus on just how they communicate at least the last time I checked.
Every last human has killed any number of insects, whether by swatting them personally (or is that insectally?), spraying pesticide, or just stepping on them. Some of us have killed larger beings – I personally eliminated rather a lot of cane toads when I was growing up in Brisbane, by the simple method of hitting them on the head with a shovel then flipping them out onto the busy road we lived on. They were a menace, and if we didn’t keep at them, we’d find them in the loo, which is a startling experience to say the least. Plus if the cats found them the cat could be poisoned.
That’s not counting the animals that die so we get nice juicy steaks, bacon, and of course the old joke of devouring the unborn in the form of a nice omelet.
It’s bred in. Everything alive right now is the result of untold generations of cut-throat competition for scarce resources, up until very recently. We’re mostly in an era of unimaginable plenty, to where the normal economy of scarcity is falling apart. It’s kind of hard to work with the usual scarcity rules of fighting for food and fighting for a partner so you can live long enough to have kids and be immortal in the sense of having generations following you through centuries to come when pretty much everyone is able to stay fed and has the luxury to search world-wide to find a partner.
That might be why we humans crave extreme anything – I don’t think it’s an accident that extreme sports have become a thing after a relatively long period of peace that’s still mostly holding on. Just as I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the most impressive works of art and scientific advancements happened in times of terrible wars. As the old joke goes, Switzerland has been neutral for centuries and what is it known for? Watches and cuckoo clocks.
Similarly, you put someone into a situation where they have everything they need and they don’t have to struggle for anything, they’re likely to either stagnate or take up something risky. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the love of – and often fanatic following of – sports has its origins. Apparently we need that adrenaline boost of our lives being in danger to push us to our limits, as long as it’s not a permanent thing.
It might be weird needing to have a modest amount of threat to our well-being in some form in order to thrive while increasing the threat level ultimately leads to what gets called everything from burnout (in its minor forms) to shellshock. Then again, if that’s what drives us as a species to push ourselves to overcome our normal limits, maybe not so weird.
As long as we don’t forget that it’s part of being human to be fiercely competitive and to have the urge to see our rivals and enemies not merely defeated but utterly crushed (because then they’re not a danger to us), it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge that we’re the descendants of many thousands of people who beat someone else to the goodies as it were. Or to accept that sometimes, violence is the only way to solve a problem.
It’s figuring out which problems need violence and which can be handled by other means that’s the challenging part.