Posts Tagged ‘social animals’

Many conservatives, especially the more conservative and extremists among conservatives, like to think of themselves as lone wolves.  They decry the “nanny state” and proudly state that they can stand on their own feet.  Often they claim that they do not need government or society or civilization since they know how to survive on their own.

So, I thought it might be enlightening to find out about lone wolves in real life, and then see if that sheds light on the more extreme claims of these conservatives.

A lone wolf in the American mythos is a noble beast, strong and capable of forging without others. However, the reality of the lone wolf is substantially different than the myth – just as is these conservatives’ claims.

Wolves are pack animals, social animals. It is part of how they survive. A lone wolf is typically one that is pushed out by the dominant wolves of the pack. Usually they are young, just reaching sexual maturity between 1 and 2 years of age. Often they are the runts, the sick ones.  Sometimes they are older wolves who can no longer fend with the pack and keep up with it.

Either way, this is not usually some noble decision on the part of the individual wolf, but a role forced upon it.  Not quite the image these conservatives have in mind.


Further, these lone wolves usually have a hard time surviving without the help and protection of the pack. They typically forage for hundreds of miles trying to avoid the other wolf packs’ territory, or try to haunt the edges of those boundaries. They limit their howling so as not to attract the attention of the wolf packs.

Again, not quite the image these conservatives have in mind.

Lone wolves have more difficulties in finding and getting food, especially the larger game that the pack usually attacks together, a pack that is no longer his or hers. They have to move carefully for fear of attack. And, they have a harder time finding a mate. And, even when they do, isolated from the pack as they are, their lives are usually shorter and harder.

Which is why, sometimes, these lone wolves manage to find themselves a new pack to become a part of.

I find this difference between the myth and the reality of the lone wolf of interest because it so closely parallels the failure in thinking of these conservatives who espouse this ideal.  This idea that they can do it alone and stand tall and brave, and do not need government nor society nor civilization.

Of course, doing so involves driving off in a vehicle whose reliability and safety has been created by government and built by a factory, which involves a civilization.  That’s not even considering the gasoline used to fuel the vehicle, made by companies subsidized by government and whose interests are protected by government.  And the business that creates this gas does so through technology, much of which was created by government funded science, and all of it dependent up on civilization.

So, no driving off in the sunset then for these people if they truly wish to stand on their own.

And no walking on the roads or sidewalks since they too are the work of governments both large and small.

No groceries either, no food whose safety is protected by government agencies, and who had a role in the farmers growing of the food and the safe transport of their efforts to grocery stores across the US.  Hunt and fish and grow your own lone wolf.  Even in the depths of winter.

Oh, the gun that you are using – give it up. It was produced by factories, as was the gunpowder used in the bullets, and the bullets themselves.  Factories are civilization.  The ability of factories to safely produce this product is the courtesy of government. As is the safe transportation of all goods across state lines and from overseas to here.  Take up knapping if you really want to stand on your own without the help of society or civilization.

Oh again,, and speaking of safety, give up thinking you are a fierce lone wolf who can take on all people with the thirty or forty guns strapped to your waist and back and the dozen of knives strapped to your legs. Since you are now a lone wolf society no longer protects you and your family. Neither law enforcement nor the judicial system.

Yes, you may well be able take out a few. But consider this, once the word goes out that even if the police were standing next to you, they would do nothing to stop them from attacking, from raping, from robbing you and yours. No court will find them guilty, no jail time short or long for them.  Anyone can do anything to you and your family with no consequences to them from society and government, cause, you are, after all, the Lone Wolf.

And we haven’t even discussed medicine, and doctors.

Now this lovely myth no longer sounds so lovely.

The reality is that our species survived due to two things – our high intelligence, and our high socialization. Without either our species fails. We can argue about the best way to create a society, but to think that we can survive and thrive on our own without society is ignorant at best. And when used to promote policies, it a dangerous ignorance impacting all of society and our survival.


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At this time of great loss and tragedy, when the lives of so many young children were mercilessly extinguished forever, many in our nation are praying – for the children lost, for the children left behind who now must deal with matters beyond their years, for the grieving parents who have lost their child, and for the many parents who have been freshly made aware of how precious is the life they have engendered and how fragile.  Some among my atheist community have strongly questioned these prayers.

Sandy Hook Use

Too often too many atheists blow off and denigrate prayer.  Often they should; I myself have done so at times, even to the extent of writing a blog doing so.  When prayer comes at the expense of action, when it is done for selfish gain and purposes then it should be held up and mocked.

However not all prayers are like this.  Probably not even most.

While I agree that prayers do not connect with a divine being and will not have a supernatural effect, they nonetheless do connect; they do have an effect, often a beneficial, one for the believers.

Humans are social animals.  In times of pain and suffering, in times of loss and grief, we find the presence of others not only helpful but needful.  We need the presence of a comforting friend, of a supporting touch, of a shoulder to lean on and cry on.  When people hear that someone is praying for them they feel all of this; they feel that social contact and that human support.  When people hear that someone is praying for them they derive some measure of comfort and strength.  They connect.

When people gather and pray together they feel a sense of shared loss and shared pain and in that sharing derive some measure of comfort and strength.  It is not only an individual who has suffered loss here but that of the whole community.  This sharing of prayer, of gathering in prayer is the community of believers sharing their grief and finding strength in each other.

Religion is a social construct that has existed for so long because it does meet human needs.  This is one such need.

Yes, it fails in regards to doing anything objectively for the children, but it helps in terms of meeting simple human needs.   And yes, it is possible to do the same without the superstition of a God, but for most it does no harm to have it with the belief in God.

For the majority prayer does not cause them to do nothing – many go on to work for good causes and to change things for the better:  gun control, foundations set up in memory that provides education for others or help victims of violence to recover, etc.  Prayer and action are not an either/or proposition; it can and often is both.

For the majority of believers praying does not mean that they will not grieve, they will.  It does not mean that they will be happy that the child that they loved and cherished is no longer with them for them to share in that child’s growing; they most assuredly will not.

For the majority of them, it does not lead to any mad plans or actions.

For the majority of theists prayer provides a means of social support and comfort that they can derive strength from.

I do not begrudge them this.

While I do not pray since I am an atheist, my thoughts are with them along with my best wishes in their time of sorrow, fear, and loss.  My wishes are just as effectual as prayers in regards to changing what has happened, but it too is meant as a means of human support.

At these times we need to share our humanity and wait to argue our differences on how best to derive comfort for another time.

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