Posts Tagged ‘Our Hunting Fathers’

Reason’s Gift

February 26, 2021

From thought and love and rhyme
To frontiers of space and time

From a mosque in Timbuktu
To the Dome of Xanadu

From protecting son and daughter
To industrialized slaughter

From a monkey standing tall
To the beast that wants it all

By Richard W. Bray

Walking Makes Humans What We Are

June 12, 2016


I have never hunted animals. And I used to wonder how hunters walking around lugging heavy guns could ever get close enough to their prey in order to shoot it. Most animals can easily smell/see/hear humans long before the hunters get into firing range and then they could simply run away. Meaty mammals tend to be much faster runners than humans. What I didn’t realize is that human beings are designed to walk and walk and walk until our prey is too exhausted to continue. Then we use our weapons to kill it. And then we cook it and eat it.

In Masters of the Planet, an excellent introduction to human evolution, Ian Tattersall describes how the ability to walk great distances was key to the hunting prowess of homo ergaster, “an extinct ancestral form on the evolutionary scale of the genus Homo” that “lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, that is, between 1.8 million and 1.3 million years ago.” Tattersall explains that “although homo ergaster would hardly have been fast compared to four-legged predators, its newer slender hips and long legs would have made members of the species exemplary distance runners.”

This evolutionary innovation gives homo sapiens a huge advantage over our prey because, unlike humans, “most mammals do not have the capacity to shed the heat load acquired and generated during sustained activity in the tropic sun, except by pausing in the shade while it slowly dissipates, largely through panting.” That’s why hunters will eventually catch their prey.   “In the heat of the day, the human ability to simply keep going would have allowed these lucky bipeds to single out, say, an antelope, and to keep chasing it, until it fell from heat prostrations” Or we can just kill it with our weapons when we get close enough.

Our ancestors made the remarkable transition from prey to predator.  Human beings are designed to vanquish by walking and running after animals until we get close enough to kill them.  This evolutionary history remains a major component of our collective psyche whether we like it or not.  And we should never forget this, even in an age when, for most of us, meat comes from the back of the supermarket.

So, Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, in addition to being a marvelous parable on the efficacy of slow and steady diligence, is also the true story of how Our Hunting Fathers survived. Human beings are designed to “simply keep going” and going and going.

And simply trudging along is how our species came to inhabit and dominate so much of the planet.

I’m really glad that I exist as a human being; I wouldn’t trade in this particular vehicle of consciousness for anything in the world.  But our evolutionary success has had ominous ramifications for many of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

As novelist Kurt Vonnegut notes, the human tendency to simply keep on walking and consuming has a dark side:

humanity itself had become an unstoppable glacier made of hot meat, which ate up everything in sight and then made love, and then doubled in size again.

Soldiers drilling, refugees fleeing, shoppers shopping, children strolling to school. Walking. It’s what we do and it’s one of the most essential things that makes us who we are.

Final word to Fats Domino:

By Richard W. Bray





Men and Sports

January 22, 2012

Men have an innate desire to celebrate athletic achievement. This is probably because Our Hunting Fathers relied upon their athletic prowess for survival, and it is no surprise that the best hunters and warriors are revered and rewarded in nomadic societies and lionized in folklore. Anthropology is the field which best explains why modern men are hardwired to want to be like Mike.

Professional sports–grown men playing children’s games in public for money—is a multibillion dollar obsession in this country. (Of course, this includes Division One college football and basketball—a malignant growth on our system of higher education, but that article has already been written.) Millions of American males (myself included) spend an absurd amount of time not merely witnessing this grand spectacle, but talking about it, reading about it, and digesting hours of sports radio and television shows.

Sports media is ultimately a discussion about morality. This is acutely apparent on sports talk radio, a large and growing presence in radio markets large and small. And sports talk radio is largely a debate about what constitutes manhood. (The overwhelming majority of the hosts and callers are male, and on the rare occasions when women’s sports are discussed, they are often held up for ridicule.) No matter what the subject, high salaries, steroids, what it takes to be a champion—it’s about what type of men these athletes are. The hosts and callers argue endlessly about whether particular athletes are winners, whiners, losers, or stand up guys.

But athletic competitions are not morality plays. Despite our inherent tendency to assign virtue to the victors, when one team defeats another on the sporting green, it signifies little about the actual character of the men involved. But something inside us wants to believe that the winners are more virtuous, or that they practiced harder, or that they are simply better people who deserved to win.

Sadly, however, grace under pressure in the athletic realm has no correlation to one’s behavior in real life. This is confirmed by a cursory look at the Jurisprudence section of the local sports page. The NFL is our favorite sport by far despite the frequency with which the exalted men who play professional football are being arrested for all manner of malfeasance, including rape, murder, assault, and drunken driving. (For a literary example of this phenomenon, see John Updike’s novel Rabbit Run. Like so many real life jocks, Rabbit Angstrom is a winner on the basketball court but a louse and a loser in his personal life who abandons his pregnant young wife and calls her a mutt).

When it comes to sports, people are inclined to ignore one of life’s basic lessons: an unexplainable alchemy of talent, luck, and preparation add up to worldly success. The winners are not necessarily superior to the losers, and Jesus doesn’t love them any better than He loves anyone else.

Hollywood understands all this
. Witness the perpetual onslaught of tedious formulaic movies where our hard-working and virtuous hero almost always wins. Movies like Rocky and The Karate Kid are more cliche than storytelling, where lovable underdogs prevail against opponents who are simply depraved monsters.

There are many outstanding sports movies which defy and often even ridicule our expectations, including Dodgeball, Happy Gilmore, CaddyShack, Raging Bull, White Men Can’t Jump, Eight Men Out, Moneyball, North Dallas Forty, Million Dollar Baby and Friday Night Lights.

by Richard W. Bray