I have a theory about our human interactions with one another and with other species.
Compared to other species, we humans are alpha predators at the top of the food chain. And within our own human society, we are in turn dominated by leaders who sometimes act like alpha predators.
I have come to this realization after years of getting to know Canadian Inuit. I learned from them that we humans are animals, not disembodied rational beings in some fantasy world, subject to lists of abstract theological or ethical or political rules. I say this, knowing Inuit are about as cheerful and generous and community-minded a people as I have ever encountered. But they know that deep down, we humans are animals.
In modern societies, arguments about the rule of law, ethics vs. interests, ideology and other motivating factors come as justifications-after-the-fact, that fall well short of reality. Many alpha predators towering over modern societies, whether capitalist, theocratic or communist, take a catch-me-if-you-can attitude. They know how to bend the law to their advantage, how to break laws without getting caught, and how to make it virtually impossible for the victims of their actions to defend themselves. From the alpha predator viewpoint, laws are made to be broken: laws are only intended to regulate the behaviour of the dominated.
I have long been concerned with ethics. When I won the Michener Fellowship, it was to study the ethics of journalism in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and France. I met with leading media organizations in these four countries, as well as editors, journalists, broadcasters, graduate degree programmes in journalism, and trade unions. I wrote up my findings in Le 30, the magazine of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, (the Federation of Quebec Journalists) which had sponsored my application for the fellowship.
The problem with most discourse on ethics is that it sets up a dense framework of moralistic rules that only make sense to the dominated, once problems have already occurred. We see this time and again in the political field. Journalists express shock and dismay when alpha predators act unethically, break laws or rules, or even change the rules to their own advantage. In reporting on political misdeeds, journalists themselves sometimes break the law or ethical rules.
In my youth, I remember being told to place my trust in other people, because this would surely make them trustworthy. This shifts the burden of responsibility for bad actions from the predator to the prey! The Christian injunction in Matthew 7:1 is very clear – “Judge not, that you be not judged.” According to this view, no one is harmless – therefore each of us is potentially as bad as the bad person harming us. It is a way of neutralizing people who are already vulnerable, rather than giving them the means to defend themselves. Alpha predators treat other people badly; they just love it when the vulnerable refuse to defend themselves; and I doubt everyone has it in them – even potentially – to be an alpha predator victimizing, crushing, bullying, intimidating and terrorizing others.
In the cultural field, I have seen many organizations both public and private do lip service to legality and ethics, while wantonly stealing intellectual property, defrauding creative artists and exploiting their work for free.
In the financial sector, alpha predators make a business of assaulting the vulnerable, which involves identifying potential victims, then ensnaring them like prey to be hunted and exploited, while emptying their bank accounts.
Maybe we are just asking for it! In popular culture, we would be bored by TV shows about thoroughly respectful people. We prefer characters with delinquent behaviour. It is as if we like seeing characters with a catch-me-if-you-can mentality, defying laws and rules, because their fear of getting caught creates dramatic tension.
Alpha predators take what they want, without asking; they see vulnerability in others as an opportunity; they prey on weaker people and other animals; they live off others, like parasites. Being a predator means being supremely individualistic.
I am actually writing this blog in a mischievous frame of mind. When dealing with alpha predators, caution is important – not exposing oneself to harm – not putting oneself in a situation where one is likely to be assaulted. So is a vigorous attitude of self-defence. A good sense of humour also helps – especially if you get the last laugh. Because then, no matter what happens … at least you’re laughing!