Recent news events and unfashionable thoughts on male aggression

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LeviathanHere, have some unfashionable thoughts about human nature after listening to the terrible news out of Nigeria today (and the burgeoning international response to it). Now, as you read this, please take care to read what I actually wrote, and not what you think I wrote. This is an observation about men. It does not, even by implication, make any observations about women. Further, these are generalities, and, as is the case with all generalities, individual cases will vary. So….

In general, men are biologically predisposed to aggression, therefore making them more prone to committing violence. Now, as is amply demonstrated in the news on an almost daily basis, the world will always contain some men who put that natural aggression in service to ignoble or even horrific causes (e.g., killing villagers and kidnapping schoolgirls).

Even a cursory glance at the historical record shows this to be so. Even a cursory understanding of human nature shows this to be so.

As a result, the world will always need other men willing to put their aggression and willingness/capability to do violence in service to noble causes, whether that’s in service to country, family, or protecting the less strong. So, how does the world create the latter category of men?

By valorizing aggression and violence when it’s done in service to a noble cause. By valorizing the strong protecting the less strong. By recognizing that violence and aggression, so used, is a virtue. Let’s call it an archetypical masculine virtue, just to be arch (and perhaps that phrase rings a bell for some of you).

To wish away that aggression, to think its root a social construct, is both ahistorical and ignores the underlying biological reality. To think that discouraging the aggression, by naming it “no-virtue,” will de-glorify violence and make the world a peaceful place is, in my view, foolish, and disarms the world against the inevitable groups of men who do violence in service to the awful. It attempts to replace with an unachievable “ought,” the inevitable “is.” Male aggression/violence cannot be eliminated. But it can (and should) be channeled into socially desirable directions.

It’s not that you (me, we) want the male default to be fists and guns. We do want to tell young boys and men that they should, in general, use words and not weapons. But we ought also to recognize that words sometimes fail, that an awful use of violence sometimes needs to be checked by a noble use of violence, and that some things are worth fighting for.

As is often the case when considering matters of this kind, I’m reminded of Hobbes’s keen and unsentimental insights into human nature contained in The Leviathan. Consider all of the foregoing in light of the Hobbesian Fool:

“The fool hath said in his heart there is no such thing as justice, and sometimes also with his tongue, seriously alleging that every man’s conservation and contentment, being committed to his own care, there could be no reason why every man might not to do what he thought conduced thereunto.”

Hobbes’s Fool was no rare creature. He/she was, in fact, most of us.


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