Ding Dong the Alpha Male is Dead – The Socjourn

A common bully?

Growing up as a small boy in a rinky-dink Canadian town, I was tortured a lot. Part of the problem I think was that I was always small and undernourished for my age. I was weak and an easy target. Not surprisingly, I was targeted a lot, bullied really, by students and teachers. In almost every year of my Catholic education past the grade of five, I have memories of abuse heaped upon me by all those in my life who were stronger than me. And since I was a child at the time, that pretty much amounted to everybody. But note, my small and timid stature was not the real cause of my abuse. To say such a thing is to blame the victim. The real cause of my abuse was the “social structure” that I was living in. I was living then, as we all are now, in a capitalist social structure and it is that social structure that was the cause of the bullying.

“What’s that you say, Dr S.”, social structure is the cause of your suffering.

“Why yes young padawan, you heard me correctly… it’s not the ‘force’ (dark or light) that is to blame, it is not our genetics that causes us to beat each other down, it is not evolution that brought us to this door, it is the social structure that causes us to be bullies.”

But “What’s Social Structure?” you ask, and “How can ‘social structure’ cause people to bully weak and defenseless children” you wonder?

“Good questions!” I say.

“Complicated ones indeed,” I nod, and ones that sociologists grapple with all the time. But, I don’t want to get into that here. Examination of “social structure” is the core of sociology and it’s just too complicated to sort out in a short article like this one. I will say this though; social structure determines behavior and if you don’t believe me, consider wolf behavior. As it turns out, and as you probably would never guess, the “simple” animal behavior of the wolf is totally determined by social structure.

It is true!

If you put wolves in one type of environment, you get one type of behavior; but, if you put them in another type of environment, you get another type of behavior altogether!

Don’t believe me?

Well, I’m not going to argue with you. If you want to resist, you can take your case to Dr. David L. Mech. Dr. Mech is the global authority on wolf behavior. This is the man that coined the term alpha male to describe the dominance and aggression that he observed in his “lab pack” over forty years ago. Dr. Mech observed that in any pack of wolves, there would be a leader that would, owing to its greater strength and greater aggressive drive, rise to the top and dominate the weak. He called these dominant males “alpha males,” called the behavior “natural” (because he observed it in a “natural” environment, cough cough), and the rest is ideological history! Nowadays, every violent, aggressive, and competitive male turned out by our competitive, aggressive, and violent system justifies their violent, aggressive, and competitive  behavior by calling themselves an “alpha male”, and pointing to the “natural” behavior of the adult male wolf to justify their abuse. And of course, it seems reasonable to say, especially since Dr. Mech said it. Thank you Dr. Mech.

But you know, Dr. Mech doesn’t say this anymore.

Nowadays, Dr. Mech says there is no such thing as an “alpha” male.

Nowadays, Dr. Mech says it is all a big mistake!

Nowadays, Dr. Mech admits he is the one responsible for this error.

Nowadays, Dr. Mech wishes he could just take back everything he originally said.

But don’t take my word for it, let’s listen to him explain it.

The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature; at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the books’ info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years than in all of previous history.

You can even see him explain it in this video where he points out that it unnatural all male Social Structures (kinda like what “the boys” get when they mosey on down to the Lodge, eh.) that cause “alpha” behaviour!


Yes, you heard him right young Skywalker…

He said, in an inappropriately understated fashion, given the global negative impact of his original error and the significance of this bombshell, that when males are taken from their families and thrown into all male structures they behave aggressively. On the other hand, in their natural environments it is natural for wolves to have families and settle down .


And if this revelation hasn’t blown your mind, consider this. Just about every bully on the planet is going to invoke, at some level or another, Dr. Mech’s “alpha” wolf to justify their domineering and aggressive behavior. They will say to themselves and anybody that will listen that it is “natural” that they should compete, “natural” that they should dominate, and “natural” that they be so aggressive. They will primp themselves with pride, puff out their chest, and sit righteously exploiting others all the while believing that what they are doing is “natural” wolf behavior.



A Good Daddy

In Sociology, we call this sort of thing IDEOLOGY. As I note in the SpiritWiki, Ideology is simply  an organized set of Archetypes that provide justification for the actions of individuals or groups (SpiritWiki entry). Ideology essentially gives us excuses, and boy is the archetype of the alpha male a great excuse! Everybody from the schoolyard bully to the Capitalist Conrad Black to the power hungry politician to the violent drug lord can trot out this ideology to justify and excuse. They are not bullies, they are “alpha males”. Of course, they don’t really have to trot it out because the ideology is so ingrained that we do it ourselves. Whenever we see a bully on the field, or a capitalist getting rich, or a dominating CEO, we mark it down as the “natural” behavior of the glorious Alpha Male. You can check it yourself by just being mindful of how you think.

Now, there is a lot that I could say about Dr. Mech’s revelation. I could point out that his erroneous concept has caused (or at least excused) a lot of global suffering.  Of course, children suffer. Children suffer in silence while bullies bully and teachers gawk on. Society and all people in them suffer as the “alphas” go about their business of dominate and possess. Even the alphas themselves suffer. Mech’s “alpha” wolves, you see, are not healthy wolves. Their behavior is pathological, probably caused by the emotional trauma of being ripped from their families. The same is true for human’s I’m sure. Adults whose natural inclination is to settle down with their families suffer incredible emotional and psychological anguish and disjuncture as they are ripped from their natural environments.

I could also point out the rather obvious and (if you are a natural scientist) embarrassing fact that it despite all its presumptuous and arrogant claims to Truth, it was “natural science” that provided this ideology.

I could trace the ideology to Hollywood, where every Marvel movie that’s made is a orgiastic homage to the “alpha” male.

I could point it out in our sports systems where the “alpha” is quite literally put on a pedestal.

I could point it out in the homes where the “man” sits at the head.

I could point it out in the workplace with its “alpha-like” bureaucratic structure.

I could, I could, I could, but instead I want to say that in all fairness Dr. Mech didn’t set out to provide “ideology.” He’s a scientist and he bases his theories on observations. The problem, as he notes, is that when he originally made these observations, he made them in “unnatural” settings. He then assumed (or maybe he just didn’t think) that he could generalize his observations of wolves in “unnatural settings” to wolves in natural settings. He made a methodological mistake, really, but to his credit he admits it. The real problem is that even though he has tried to get his book pulled out of print and amended, but the publisher refuses to allow him to retract his false statements, a fact made even more surprising when you find out that the publisher is the University of Minnesota Press .

Now, isn’t that interesting.

I bet you thought that the people who publish scientific books are all about presenting the truths of science to the world. I bet you thought that you could just trust them to do the right thing. I bet you thought they would simply let Dr Mech amend his error and change his tune. Well, if you did, I guess you were wrong about that too. For some reason the University of Minnesota is forcing us to keep reading what amounts to a patented falsehood. At some point I guess the error becomes an out right lie.

Now, in all fairness, not all publishers would probably be so insistent on maintaining ideology, but even so, some do. As every second year sociology student will know, we live in a SOCIAL CLASS SOCIETY; a capitalist society, and this society determines the behavior of rich publishers just like it determines the behavior of “alpha” males. It is not a one-to-one sort of thing and lots of other things are involved, but its certainly a powerful relationship. A person growing up and living in a capitalist society is going to behave much like the wolf pulled out of its natural environment; i.e. differently than a person brought up in a society with a different natural and social environment. You can argue with this if you want, but I think you’d be just wasting your energy. If a mere pack of dogs can be so powerfully influenced by structure, why can’t humans be? In fact, they can. As Zimbardo demonstrated in his class Stanford University Prison experiments, if you build it, they will conform. In other words, put the structure in place and the behaviors will “naturally” follow.

Now you know, there’s a lot going on in this intellectual space right now and a lot more could be said about Ideology, about Society, about Science as handmaiden to capitalism, about the desperate need for basic Sociology to be taught in the K-12 curriculum so that we can all understand what really makes us tick, and so on, but if there is one thing I want you to take away from this article, it is this — it is not genetics, it is not “soul”, it is not god (not that I have any issue with any of those things, you understand), it is not “the force” that determines who we are, what we are like, and how we behave, it is the “natural” and “social” structures of our societies (structures that – it should be strongly emphasized, WE BUILD) that determine our behavior! And that’s a big deal because this very basic sociological truth has vast implications for you and this world. This one basic truth, when fully elaborated in a sociological fabric of truth, helps you understand bullying, gender, economics, and a vast range of human phenomenon and human behavior. Certainly, no serious student of human nature should be without a basic understanding of Sociology .


Cite This Article

Dr. S. (2012). Ding Dong the Alpha Male is Dead. The Socjourn. [http://www.sociology.org/ding-dong-the-alpha-male-is-dead/]

By: Dr. S.

The Great Awakening: Concepts and Techniques for Successful Spiritual Practice (GA) is your key to initiation of spiritual Awakening. The book is a primer of right thinking and basic spiritual technique designed to point you in the right direction, give you the tools you need to get started, and set you on the fast path back home. The Great Awakening consists of a collection of short essays on basic spiritual topics like breathing, grounding, visualization, communicating with spirit, spiritual protection, and so on. The Great Awakening is not a long book nor a complicated book, but it is an important book. If you are going to navigate the early stages of your (voluntary or involuntary) spiritual awakening process as safely and effectively as possible, you need to know basic concepts and techniques in this book. Knowing the concepts in this book can make the difference between anxiety, confusion, pain, suffering, and even untimely death, and calm, measured advance forward towards glorious, divine, consciousness.

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