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Distinguishing Combat From Display
Mating season, the bucks butt their antlers together, showing how tough they are. In any season, if they smell lion, they run.
The lion roars and the tribesmen tremble. They know the lion is fast, strong, has teeth, kills.
In Troy one army produces a “Goliath,” dares any Greek to challenge him. Agamenmon calls for Achilles. The Goliath shakes his armor, his shield, his weapons. Everyone trembles. Achilles runs up and plunges the length of his sword between neck and shoulder. The Goliath was displaying; Achilles was killing.
We tell the children that the bucks are “fighting.” Well, they are: but it’s a display fight, not a killing fight (not that death can’t occur). The bucks are displaying their maleness for the females: competing not for food but for harems. (Meantime, one of the losers can be tupping one of the females: it’s a system, but not a perfect system — that is, the actual perfection may not be the apparent perfection.)
We humans are forever classifying behaviors: competition, mating, combat. As we see more, we reclassify. Society mixes individuals using this year’s classification with last year’s … with others using classifications from Cro-Magnon times: or earlier.
If a Sikh man draws his blade, tradition dictates that that blade must draw blood before it is resheathed. The Samurai say that a good sword stays sheathed. In Yojimbo the ragtag soldiers yank out their swords at a sneeze; in contrast, the hero never draws until he’s decided to kill. In Shane the clod buster draws first, leaving Jack Palance’s professional gunslinger, Wilson, plenty of time to kill him.
If the combatting bucks had the best contemporary human classifications, scientific classifications of lion behavior, hearing the lion roar, they could go right on with their harem combats. If the lion wants to eat antelope, he doesn’t proclaim his presence to the whole savanna. No, he sneaks up. (In fact, he doesn’t sneak up: he lets the females sneak up: kill his food for him.) No, the lion roars not as a prelude to killing, but to proclaim territory: This is my turf. The roaring isn’t for the antelope: it’s for other male lions (though the whole savanna may appreciate the din: know that the lion is really tough.
The female lions also hear the roaring: Hey, that’s some male we got! Other males may hear it: Uh oh. Look elsewhere (for territory, for females …) (The downside is that some really really tough male lion might take the roar for an invitation.) (Another upside is that some widowed female might hear, go Oh, and come sidling up.)
(That’s another thing: the female lion isn’t intimidated by the male’s roar. She knows it’s a male thing. When the guys start duking it up in the bar, the girls don’t flee; they watch. It’s for them! The buck doesn’t defeat the male buck, then show the truth of it by goring all the females. No, you defeat the male to mate with the females.)
Why am I saying this? Because I believe that many of my contemporaries routinely misclassify behavior. We don’t make the wisest survival choices.
The sheep observe stalking behavior from the sheep dog: Uh oh, a predator: better move away from him. Right into the sheepfold, the pen, the abattoir.
Guy pulls a gun on us: Uh oh, he’s going to kill me! If you see the gun, he probably hasn’t shot you. Worry about the guy you don’t even know if he has a gun.
Governments know this. Governments know that you never have to kill more than ten percent of your own population to get them to believe your threats. Governments are happy to beat up ten percent of their populations: then everybody pays taxes, goes to school, believes the assigned superstitions: like government can control … the economy, our safety, our honesty, our intelligence …
2013 08 25 Jan and I have been pigging out on DVDs of classic Disney, saw Fantasia not that long ago. Bet your life on it: a tyrannosaurus rex marches up, and displays! as though it’s roaring! Bullshit, you wouldn’t know he was near till he’d bitten your head off.
Lots of creatures classify, then reclassify. Not all classifications are wise, not all reclassifications are wise. Males dogs play by pretending to fight. Suddenly the fight can become real. Play resembles fight: play gets mistaken for fight: play-become-fight becomes deadly.
We do it too. I’m reminded of a joke:
Doc gives Paddy a bottle, tells him to bring back a specimen. Paddy goes home.
|“What’s a specimen?”
Nobody knows. “Ask O’Brien upstairs.”
“O’Brien, what’s a specimen?”
“Piss in a bottle.”
“Shit in your hat.”
And the fight was on.
I was told that joke in its “dumb Irish” casting. All such ethnic castings may be offensive. Change the casting if you don’t like it. Make it Graf Bobby or Lula May. But such jokes do work best if they’re offensive to somebody.