King of the Castle

Octavia Butler got it right in Xenogenesis when the aliens identified one of our fatal flaws as that of being hierarchy-driven (they fixed us with a bit of genetic engineering) – but she failed to associate the flaw predominantly with males.

And Steven Goldberg got it right in Why Men Rule when he explained that men are genetically predisposed to hierarchy (fetal masculinization of the central nervous system renders males more sensitive to the dominance-related properties of testosterone) – but he presented that as an explanation for why men rule and not also for why men kill.

And Arthur Koestler got it right in The Call Girls when, recognizing that the survival of the human species is unlikely, a select group of geniuses meet at a special ‘Approaches to Survival’ symposium (and fail to agree on a survival plan) – but I’m not sure he realized (oh of course he did) that one of his character’s early reference to a previous symposium on ‘Hierarchic Order in Primate Societies’ was foreshadowing.

The reason the human species will not survive is simple: the males can’t help playing King of the Castle – all the time, everywhere, with everyone.  Talk about aggression and violence, greed, or competition is all very good, but these things are secondary: aggression and violence are means to the end of becoming King of the Castle; it’s not really that men are greedy, they just want more than the next guy, they want to be better, higher than the next guy, then the next, and the next, until they get to the top; and competition, well, competition is just another word for trying to become King of the Castle.

And once they become King of the Castle, they see, from up there, that there’s another castle to become King of.  Once they’ve got the one-bedroom apartment, they go for the two-bedroom.  Then the duplex, then the single-family dwelling.  Once they get a house, they need a cottage too.  And once they get the cottage, then they need a summer home.  Then a yacht.  They can’t stop adding and upgrading.  Whether it’s homes or cars, stereo systems or computers – nothing is ever (good) enough.  Nothing satisfies.  Sold one million?  Let’s aim for two million.  This year’s profit is X?  Let’s set a target of double X for next year.  Consider the business graph of success – more, more, more…  They cannot ‘say when’.  Contentment forever eludes them. The only joy in their lives is that associated with achievement, with getting a toehold a little higher on the hill, winning an extra inch.  They can’t play without keeping score.  They can’t go canoeing without a destination and an arrival time.  They cannot concede, surrender, or lose without shame.

It’s not about the pursuit of excellence, don’t let them kid you: there’s no standard of intrinsic quality involved; comparison is all.  And it’s not about self-improvement: being King of the Castle seldom improves the self.

The end result to this deadly game they play will be the same, whether it’s achieved by genocidal war, environmental destruction, or the global marketplace: loss of diversity.  It’s the kiss of death for any, for every, species.  (Unless, of course, some Nero goes nuclear first.)

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