Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

Mary Eberstadt writes in this 2019 book:

* Wolves live the way people do, in families made up of a mom, a dad, and their children. Sometimes an unrelated wolf can be adopted into a pack, or one of the mom’s or dad’s relatives is part of the pack (the “maiden aunt”). . . . But mostly wolf packs are just a mom, a dad, and their pups.

* New investigations into the social lives of animals also reveal this corollary: though many human beings might play today by the rules of the TV comedy Modern Family , according to which a “family” is whatever its self-appointed members say it is, other animals do not. Thus, by way of a few examples, what goes for wolves goes also for coyotes and many other mammals: they live in nuclear or extended biological families. 4 Orca offspring live with their parents all their lives. 5 Barring capture, female elephants stay with their mothers until one or the other dies, and baby elephants remain within some fifteen feet of their mothers for the first eight years of life. 6 Bottlenose dolphins can recognize related dolphins after being separated for twenty years. 7 And so on.

* Most complex animal societies are actually families in which group members are related and therefore share a high proportion of their genes. The cooperative and often complex collective action that arises from such family groups is a product of the interaction of individuals seeking to maximize their own evolutionary fitness.

* Why did anyone believe in the myth of the “lone wolf” in the first place? Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson theorize that people missed the truth initially because most research on wolves was done on animals in captivity. Animals in captivity—typically separated from their families and surrounded by nonrelated animals in an unnatural setting—exhibit behaviors markedly dissimilar from those left in nature. These effects range from heightened anxieties and aggression to the development of “stereotypies,” or compulsive repetitive tics, and other self-destructive habits that do not arise in the animal’s native ecosystem. 16 Animals can indeed live in “forced packs” (i.e., among unrelated members of their kind). But it is in forced packs that problems of dominance and hierarchies become accentuated, as animals deprived of familial order must then develop new strategies for competition. Wolves living in families, explain Grandin and Johnson, do not have dominance fights.

* Premonitions of social and political catastrophe abound. “In America, Talk Turns to Something Not Spoken of for 150 Years: Civil War,” warned a 2019 headline in the Washington Post . 22 Citing a “hyper-partisan atmosphere” and “a crumbling of confidence in the country’s democratic institutions and its paralyzed federal government,” the piece went on to quote forbidding forecasts of serious unrest by leading politicians and pundits. Similar grim assessments ricochet throughout the media. The Atlantic has foretold “the end of the American order.” 23 New York magazine has described the United States as “ripe for tyranny.” 24 Project Syndicate speaks of “Apocalypse Trump” 25 and is not alone.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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