On Violence

This is a quote from Ta-Nehesi Coates in the Atlantic, Violence and the Social Compact:

…the desire to dominate other people lurks under the surface of all humanity. I think this extends across all class boundaries. The project of a civil society is to curb this desire for violent domination. It is to recognize that there is an animal in us, and that, if we are left to our own devices, the animal will rule.

The question I want to pose is where does this violent animal in us come from?

Before reaching his conclusion, Coates sets forth the details of several incidences of violence against women perpetrated by husbands and boyfriends. Usually they are  ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends. The triggering event in each of case is rejection of the husband or boyfriend by the woman.

Coates is right about the animal within some of us, but not all of us. There are plenty of men that will take rejection, however much it may hurt, and will never resort to violence on any level. These are men who think positively about their own future and will not lightly indulge themselves in behavior likely to change their future dramatically for the worse. Even if it were otherwise they simply do not have the will to hurt other people, least of all someone they once cared deeply for.

As anyone can see, there’s also a large number of a different sort of man. These are men with a strong possessive and proprietary attitude toward wives and girlfriends.  These men want to dominate their lovers and they worry incessantly about the possibility of becoming a cuckold. I use that word because it derives from the cuckoo’s habit of laying its egg in another bird’s nest.

The explanation for why so many men are this way lies, I think, in the realm of evolutionary biology. In the vast space of time gone by, when the physically strongest ruled, these were the men most successful in passing their genes on to a sizable progeny. Their descendants came to outnumber those of the more mild mannered men. These were the men that turned other men into cuckolds.

Well-behaved men are aplenty today also, but they are the distant descendants of men who might have spent some of their resources unknowingly for the support of children not their own. These are what we would now call honorable men. They occupy a smaller part of the male universe and thus the lesser presence of their characteristics in the male gene pool.

None of this means the other subset of males are natural born brutes who can’t help themselves. An honorable man who wants fidelity from his wife or girlfriend no less than did his distant relatives may also have a working brain that tells him to always stay within the guardrails of the social order. Not merely for  his own good, but also for the good of all he cares about. In a civilized society the race is not always to the strong.

There remains on this earth certain other civilizations that are still mired in the social order of the primitive past.

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