The “Nature” of the “Beast”

“In imperial Vietnam, tiger/elephant fights were staged for the emperor. But the tiger’s teeth were blunted and its claws cut short: the elephant was the symbol of the emperor, and so of course it always had to win. In one fight the tiger leapt onto the elephant’s back,and the elephant crushed it, like a mosquito, against the side of the Royal Arena in Hue.”

from a zine

What do we learn from this? Other than that human beings are miserable wicked creatures who continue to play out the fear and hatred of big cats our species doubtless embedded in its bones during the long long time when we were prey to any self-respecting carnivore on the African savannah?

I contend that we learn that those in charge use stories (as in, fables) from “nature” to justify the way they do things, the way things are. And it can extend even to the way that careful observers see things. Early (white) “explorers”(fn1) in Africa described the noble lion tucking in to a meal of dead antelope while a ring of skulking miserable hyenas waited to eat the left-overs. Except of course, it was the hyenas who did the hard graft (most powerful jaws of any creatrue, as memory serves) and then the lazy-ass lion comes along and invites himself to dinner.

And this use of “nature” to justify hierarchy continues down unto this day. It’s gotten a little more sophisticated than slavery being justified by the curse of Ham/the thickness of crania, and women being denied the vote because their uteruses move around and make them hysterical. Now the existence of the urban underclass is down to mysterious and scientifical things like “genes”. Ditto for obesity.

Except of course that genes change over generations, not within them. And human generations, even among the “underclass” are about 20 years. So you have to look elsewhere for an explanation for the causes of the sharp rise in obesity (High-fructose corn syrup anyone?) (fn2)

And given the very dodgy history, and very poor explanatory power of “natural”/genetic explanations, isn’t it about time those who propound such stories considered alternatives? I mean, genes can’t even tell Mrs Alligator if she’s going to need blue or pink bonnets for her bairns.

fn 1- in Portuguese there is one word – exploracao to cover both exploration and exploitation. Honest of them, no?
fn 2 this is not to say there aren’t genetic pre-dispositions, different ways of metabolising for specific groups with specific genes. But that’s a VERY different argument to things being “hard-wired” and a straight line of causation from gene x to problem y…
Fn 3 male and female alligators are genetically identical. The expression of maleness or femaleness depends on the temperature the eggs incubate at. True story.

See also
Great Chain of Being
Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA by Richard Lewontin
Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature by Donna Haraway

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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4 Responses to The “Nature” of the “Beast”

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