It seems likely that early humans lived in a very dangerous environment, and had to be violent, aggressive, wily and deeply competitive as a way of compensating for their relatively small stature, just to survive. Any that lacked these qualities probably didn’t last long enough to produce children. Understanding why this way of responding to the world evolved at an early stage in our development helps explain the violent history of humanity, as well as the continuing aggressive behaviour of many men today.
It was probably men who needed to be the main perpetrators of violence in their role as providers, and in competition with other men and animals for scarce resources — as well as being protectors of their tribes and families. Even psychopaths apparently had their place as members of the community who were ruthless and without fear, and who may have inadvertently brought an element of safety to fellow tribe members, if their only interest was in self-preservation and status.
Those who didn’t have sufficient capacity for aggression sought the protection of those who did, and deferred to them, or formed alliances with others so they could exert power collectively over anyone who threatened to take away the resources they needed, and would try to kill and fight off anyone who tried. In other words, we respected violence at a deep level as the source of our continued existence. We still celebrate violence the best way to achieving our aims – in our readiness to wage war for example, or in our appreciation of the more ritualized violence of sport. And we seem unable to control the way we instinctively resort to violence when we feel humiliated or threatened in any way, in conflict with those who hold different beliefs than ours and even in our intimate relationships.
But violence is no longer an effective way for us to protect tribe members and ourselves, or for advancing our interests in any way. This male drive to have power over others has become so self-destructive it feels that from this point we will either develop a more collaborative ‘feminine’ culture, or we will kill each other off. No wonder so many of our visions of the future represented in books and films are dystopian nightmares; because we know at some level where our current alliance with violence is inexorably leading us.
Such instinctive and deeply rooted traits are obviously hard for us to change – even when it’s clear that they are not ‘fit for purpose.’ And when we judge the male violence of the past as being only ‘bad’, something we should feel ashamed of, it creates a sense of guilt which put us on the defensive and into the kind of reactive mode that blocks our ability to evolve in the ways which will be good for us, good for our families and good for the planet.
When we feel under threat we instinctively dig our heels in and go to ground, which is exactly the opposite of the mindset that’s needed now — one which is open to new ideas, and courageous enough to adopt them. So we need to understand and forgive ourselves for the violence of the past, in order to be able to redefine masculinity in a way that will be constructive and courageous in building the new kind of future we want — working more closely with women to create a ‘kinder’ more collaborative culture, at the same time as recognising the feminine in all its manifestations as the basis for the new world of mutual tolerance and appreciation that we need if we are to survive this next stage in human evolution.
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