"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Law Of The Jungle - The Primitive Nature Of Governance And The Vanity Of Compassionate Rule

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a story of the darkness of the human soul; but also one which admits its profoundly moral nature.  Most importantly it is a story of a man who embraced man’s primitive side but with his last words, ‘The Horror…The Horror’ – he realized the terrifying nature of humanity which, while given to moral justice, is more often compelled by evil. 

The discovery was not one of moral redemption but tragedy.  Not only had his life of brutal rule, greed, and arrogation of supreme and divine authority meant nothing in face of its similarity to so many others; but at his end he could only conclude that a life of such universal barbaric similarity had to be both horrific and meaningless. 

Kurtz becomes more African than the Africans.  In arrogating divinity to himself through a manipulation of tribal beliefs; and by maintaining complete control over the natives because of this assumed power, he rules absolutely, amasses a fortune in ivory, and becomes megalomaniacal at best and bestial at worst, 

Kurtz never tamed the men or the jungle but ruled over both through fear, intimidation, and an expression of absolute and indomitable will.  As death approached he understood that he had neither civilized, nor exploited, nor governed; but by means of the same primitive savagery, he expressed the same amorality of a universally violent, aggressive, and insatiable human nature as he found in the natives. 

In Jack London’s Call of the Wild the wolf Buck is raised as a domestic animal in Southern California and becomes domesticated; but when he is forcibly taken to Alaska as a sled dog, he quickly realizes that the moral codes of his former human home do not apply.  There is only one law – the Law of Fang and Club – no law at all but a primitive, savage, rule of survival and dominance.

He adapts well to this new, unfamiliar, and this brutal new world; but more importantly he reverts to his truer, original nature.  The animal in him, so long repressed in his settled human-oriented life, emerges; and not long after his arrival in the North he becomes as savage, primitive, and animalistic as any of the dogs, wolves, and half-breeds he encounters.  He no longer thinks of the warmth, security, and peace of the South and only of fighting for food, killing his enemies, and leading the pack.  He is successful and not only as the fittest does he survive, but dominates.


The Call of the Wild is a metaphor for human nature – the ineluctability of a genetic hardwiring that has given us the aggressiveness, territorial imperative, economic and social self-interest, and family defensiveness that has characterized human society since the first settlements – and an endorsement of social Darwinism, the application of the same animal law of survival of the fittest to human beings.

Genghis Khan was a charismatic and fearsome figure.  He and his armies were known for their cruelty and barbarity, and the sight of them advancing across the battlefield in a storm of dust, the earth shaking with the thunder of 50,000 hooves, was enough to send enemies into retreat. The thought alone of this terrible, bloodthirsty, and mighty warrior was enough to rout enemy armies. Genghis Khan was a man of absolute will and power, a frightening presence of power and vengeance.  He was a horseman of the Apocalypse.

There have been many successful armies in the world.  Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Agrippa were as brilliant generals as Genghis Khan, and brought Roman organization, discipline, and management to the battle.  They won because of superior ability, armaments, and military thinking; yet it was Genghis Khan who, with an almost untamed savagery, conquered the world.  At its height the Mongol Empire extended from far eastern China to the Danube, the biggest empire the world has ever seen. 

Genghis Khan was a brilliant strategist, canny politician who through tact, intimidation, and offers of great spoils, enticed the warlike Turkic tribes to join his armies, nearly doubling their strength.  However, it was not only the might of his imposing armies, nor his ability to manage, discipline, and control such a large and diverse military force; nor even his tactical acumen and understanding of calculated risk which assured victory.  It was his indomitable, absolute, unalloyed will. 

Khan had no qualms, moral reservations, or ethical hesitancy.  Wars were for winning, civilians were complicit enemies, and total annihilation of any opposition was his modus belli. Not only would defeated populations be without the wherewithal to mount a resistance or counterattack, they would never dare to incite the bloody, murderous, savage wrath of the conqueror.

It is popular in this age of progressivism, to assume that a more peaceful, verdant, and communal world is within reach; that we have learned the lessons of history, given up the savagery of the past, and turned to a more compassionate vision of life. International conflicts can be resolved peaceably, and negotiated compromise can benefit both parties.  National divisions are only temporary interruptions of comity and cooperation; and once disputes have been settled in favor of social equality, society can return to a Jeffersonian vision of polity.

This view, however, ignores the unpleasant truth – the Twentieth Century was one of the bloodiest in human history.  There could be no negotiated settlements with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  These men, descendants of Genghis Khan and inheritors of the most basic, primitive, unalloyed wills were not anomalies, but characteristic leaders.  They, like Genghis Khan had no compunctions about the use or application of power to extend their influence, expand their territories, and rule their empires.

The Twenty-first Century has started off no differently.  While there have been no decimating wars, it has been characterized by smaller aggressive incursions.  The rise of ISIS and Islamic fundamentalist terror, the increasing nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran, the war in Ukraine, and the instability in nations of Africa and South America offer no suggestions of a coming world peace.

William Tecumseh Sherman understood this lesson well, and rode through South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union and fire the first shots against the North, intent on destroying every building, every crop, every monument, and every byway of the state to teach it an unforgettable lesson – the South will never rise again.

A century later Israeli Defense Forces followed the lessons of Sherman and Genghis Khan.  Attacks on the State of Israel would be met not only with reprisal, but with the full might of its military power.  It’s retaliation would  be complete, disproportionate, and annihilating.  The integrity and survival of the State of Israel would never, ever be compromised, and any action to assure its safety would be justified.

Progressives are undeterred by the brutality of ISIS, an amoral incarnation of Genghis Khan.  ISIS declared their intention to create a radical Islamic caliphate that would extend far beyond its narrow Middle Eastern lands.  ISIS was implacable, determined, and unbowed by any appeal to human dignity, compassion, or moral justice.  They were just as brutally savage as the armies of Genghis Khan, just as willful, and just as sure of victory.

Yes, say progressives, but ISIS was defeated by the forces of right, extinguished, eliminated from the world’s stage.  A smudge on history’s archives.  What these progressives choose to ignore was the frightening will and determination of ISIS – and by extension any human group - to act violently with brutal territorial aggression.   Worse, they chose to ignore irreducible, permanent, and inexhaustible human nature – a nature which is one of unmediated self-interest, self-defense, and territorial ambition; the nature of babies, children, adolescents, and adults; and by extension of tribes, communities, regions, and nations.

No amount of hopeful, wishful thinking, moral enterprise, or righteousness will purge, expunge, and relegate these human energies.  The only time in recorded human history that peace ruled the world was during the Pax Romana, a two hundred year period during which no serious armed threat was mounted against the Roman Empire. Of course this empire, extending impressively from east to west, although only half the size of conquered Mongol territories, was secured through military victory.  Compliance with Roman rule – the key to peace – was assured through brilliant civilian leadership, canny threat-and-reward diplomacy, and impressive administration and management.

For the rest of our 10,000 years, violence, brutality, conquest, and bloody empire have been the rule; and the acquisition, maintenance, and extension of power at all levels of human society is still our modus operandi.

Today’s political progressives choose to ignore Genghis Khan as an anomaly, a one-time phenomenon, a primitive throwback to the Stone Age.  There are no lessons to be taken from him, they say, except for his irrelevance to our newly aware, profoundly moral, utopian age.  Social progress will be assured through dialogue, diplomacy, and good will.  

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were no anomalies, no steps out of historical line.  They were the inheritors of Genghis Khan and his impressive modern exponents.  It is only vanity, historical ignorance, and incredible idealism which close the blinds on the Twentieth Century.  It is inevitable that men like these will return.

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