The Art of Manliness has a post on the subject of alpha wolves. It's insightful.
Popular culture soon took this conception of the alpha wolf, along with the whole alpha vs beta distinction, and applied it to humans — especially men. Hence, the idea that to be an alpha male, you’ve got to take no prisoners, f*** s*** up each and every day, take what’s yours, and never say sorry.

There’s just one problem with this idea.

The research it’s based on turned out to be hugely flawed....

For most of the 20th century, researchers believed that gray wolf packs formed each winter among independent and unrelated wolves that lived near each other. They had reached this conclusion from observing groups of wolves that had been taken from various zoos and thrown together in captivity.

Under these circumstances, researchers observed that wolves would organize the pack hierarchy based on physical aggression and dominance. The alpha male wolf, indeed, was the wolf that kicked ass and took names....

Instead of forming packs of unrelated individuals, in which alphas compete to rise to the top, researchers discovered that wild wolf packs actually consist of little nuclear wolf families. Wolves are in fact a generally monogamous species, in which males and females pair off and mate for life.... by virtue of being parents, and leading their “subordinate” children, the mates represent a pair of “alphas.” The alpha male, or papa wolf, sits at the top of the male hierarchy in the family and the alpha female, or mamma wolf, sits atop the female hierarchy in the family.

In other words, male alpha wolves don’t gain their status through aggression and the dominance of other males, but because the other wolves in the pack are his mate and kiddos. He’s the pack patriarch. The Pater Familias. Dear Old Dad.

And like any good family man, a male alpha wolf protects his family and treats them with kindness, generosity, and love.
I don't know why this wasn't obvious from the beginning, but it should have been. Something about the 20th century really let people buy into some strange notions about the world and how it works. Urbanization? The rise of psychology, with its assumption that our real motivations are hidden and mysterious?

Go to the Wild and you find the truth. You might die, of course. But you'll learn something.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tanistry of a primitive sort

Grim said...

Primitive is just another way of saying barbaric. Conan would understand why it works this way, and no other way.

Anonymous said...

The 20th century also saw the rise of totalitarianism, and enormous tolerance for The Big Lie as a political tool. I wonder if acceptance of non reality as the equivalent of truth has something to do with it.


Ymar Sakar said...

Whenever I used the word "Alpha", I normally thought of the details in that story more than what popular culture meant by "Alpha". Which is, of course, a statement of contention as usual things go.

Even if I stated that Lincoln was a patriot that used government power only to protect individuals in the union, other people will say that Lincoln was a tyrant. Both may recognize that he was the Alpha leader, but there is no agreement on what made him a leader. Just as Democrats and Republicans think differently of how Hussein came to power.