Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Butt-Sniffing, Pack Mentality of the Typical American Male.

It's increasingly clear that what most bothers me about humanity is its pack mentality. I understand that humans are "social animals", and to that end they are going to demonstrate certain behaviors. But the extent to which I see people regressing to a doglike worldview is troubling. Signifiers that man has not evolved beyond the basic struggle for dominance are pervasive in our media, our foreign policy, our streets and in our everyday routines.

What has me thinking about this today is my observation of a group of male staff at my workplace. They stand together in the morning and relate to each other on the basis of social standing and position. There are a few obvious topics of conversation, all of which happen to coincide with the seeming purpose of their daily ritual. The most common subject is sports. This is a natural fit for a collection of males attempting to find their respective places within the pack. Team sports are an atavistic relic from our formerly bestial existence. They are an expression of a seeming need to carve out territory, and define tribal groupings. Although there has arisen a complex science to analyze and assess the performances of the individual athletes, the root of the activity is a drive to delineate "winners" and "losers" through competition. What is especially intriguing about this ritualized struggle for dominance is that for the vast amount of "participants", it is a purely vicarious experience. It is almost as if its observers fetishize the competitors. "Fans" identify with a particular team or player, and display their allegiances through their words, or even on their clothing.

The other prevailing activity in this group of men is hazing. They are constantly coming up with one-liners and retorts, seeking to display a kind of verbal superiority over one another. It should be readily evident why this behavior is referred to as "putting one in one's place". This is how these individuals reinforce their perceived place within the pack hierarchy. It is all presented as mere fun, but if it is toward no other purpose, then why bother? Why has this practice come to be cloaked in a facade of "amusement"? It is not socially acceptable for these men to bare their teeth and charge their opponent, in an attempt to assert their dominance. So a virtual exchange of putdowns replaces overt aggression.

Interestingly, my attempt to opt out of this grouping is not altogether accepted. I am viewed with confusion and treated like a pariah for not engaging in the "game". By subtly dismissing me as an outcast, they believe they believe they strenthen the cohesion of the pack. But I resist their invitation to take a side (either for or against) because I realize that the contest is an illusion. We are not pitted against each other for a limited amount of available resources. Nor do we have similar goals or interests. The dominant males within the group do not arbitrarily get to mate with passing females. I'm not allowed to use my natural advantages in stature or intelligence to utterly vanquish a challenger, and if I do so I will be accused of antisocial behavior and likely lose my job. Participation under those limitations would be frustratingly futile. So I mostly watch them with a detached interest.

Perhaps I would be happier of I acceded to expectations, and engaged in this modern tribalism. But I'd much rather be a lone wolf than a beta male. Survival strategies in our contemporary society surely have progressed beyond that of the animal kingdom. There are complexities like altruism and freedom that, while abstract, cannot simply be explained away. However they are not consistent with the instinctual urges that get expressed through modern representations of dominance hierarchies. I'm not suggesting that everyone involved is consciously aware of the roles that they are enacting. But that doesn't mean all the butt-sniffing is going to bother me any less.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You left out the Pack Mentality of the typical American female.. and how vicious the pack can be, either you run with the pack, or get hunted down by them.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Y'see... that sounds like a lot more fun.

10:26 PM  
Blogger isthatc said...

I found this blog to be very interesting. Your observations are quite accurate of what I too see. I particularly liked your Beta male quote. There are any articles written on pack mentality and how violent it is, yet I have never to date had an issue with it. This is the advantage of being a Lone Wolf as you put it.
Violent Pack Mentality in my view is blown out of proportion by the mainstream media. There are more sensible family orientated individuals in the world by far. And rather than be an outcast if we are not part of the pack it is the pack who are really the outcasts in modern society. An example is over 1 billion indians, most who live in harmony with each other. Once again the issues they have with their neighbours Pakistan are genarated by a small pack, (the minority) hence most of us live in relative harmony with each other. The Pack is only an illusion, take out one very small cog and it ceases to work in any form of cohesion.
What I find extremely interesting in male pack mentality is its complete focus on other males, while the rest of us are out there finding a mate this lot are to busy trying to work out who top dog over his male rivals. They spend more time on jostling for position, preening etc than they do on searching for an ideal partner....or maybe they have found one in the Butt sniffing fellow pack member.

6:33 PM  
Blogger isthatc said...

I originally posted a different reply, but upon reflection I came to a different conclusion. Pack mentality is a natural order possibly of every species on the planet, maybe even the universe. The Term Pack Mentality is merely a media hype term. We all live in a hierachial system whether we like it or not, In humans the weak of mind generally gather together as do the physically weak, creating packs, but as a whole we have a structure the world over that is either divided into pockets, lines borders etc that try to work together for a common goal. This is an interesting blog, yet I would ask the author to look past the Butt Sniffers and have a look at his own place in the world, as I did, when you see the situation you are in it becomes even more difficult to find your place peacefully and you are forced to accept that to survive one must fight. Whether that be in a pack or on ones own is up to the individual though.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks for taking the time to post your insights. They are interesting. I'm still chagrined by pack mentality in public life, but I haven't obsessed over it in awhile.
If you get a chance- check out my new blog @


1:56 PM  
Anonymous lmikeisbell said...

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1:13 AM  

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