“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” — Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird
Show me a racist, and I’ll show you a fool. We now have evidence — strong scientific evidence — linking racism to stupidity. Scientists have linked racism with low intelligence in what is called a meta-analysis. That is, they have done a study of studies. Doing meta-analyses allows scientists to see wide patterns — kind of like looking at a forest instead of the trees.
Controlling for factors like education and economic status, scientists have found that lower intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood (Busseri). In one specific study, scientists examined how well young children could notice, when water was poured from a short-fat glass into a tall-skinny glass, that the amount of water remains the same. Children usually develop this ability — called conservation — by age seven. In the study, white children of the target age who had more difficulty noticing that the amount of water stayed the same were more likely to hold negative views of black children (Herbert).
Thinking in the abstract takes intelligence. Thinking in the abstract entails the ability to recognize that things which appear to be different may in reality be the same. For example, it is because we can think abstractly that we can recognize that snow, water, and steam, despite appearances, are all the same substance. H2O is the abstraction of water.
Things which appear on the surface to be different may in reality be identical. Four quarters make a dollar; and a short-fat glass can be the equivalent of a tall-skinny glass. Reality and appearance are not the same, which confuses our more dim-witted fellows. On the surface, people appear different. Some are dark, and some are light. So they must be different, right? After all, we have a word for these differences: race.
Let’s dismantle the word race, and expose it for the fraud it is. And let us begin this dismantling by examining the whale, which, on first glance, appears to be a fish. We once called whales fish, despite several anomalies. Here are two key anomalies which led scientists to say that’s strange. First, whales birth their young live. Second, they have horizontal tails. Fish lay eggs and have vertical tails.
Focusing on these anomalies, scientists discovered that whales and dolphins and porpoises have more in common with people than with fish, despite appearances. We find evidence for this in their spines. Whale spines, like our spines, bend forward and backward. Fish spines, unlike our spines, bend side to side. Whales once walked on land, and were wolf-like creatures. Notice in this image of the early whale called dorudon that it had hind legs — for walking (“The Evolution of Whales”).
Things which appear to be the same may be in reality quite different; things which appear quite different may in reality be quite similar. And things which appear to be different may in the abstract be the same. Whales and dolphins are not fish; they are mammals, like us.
People appear to be different; and so we use the word race as if there are in reality different species of humans. There are not. Scout is right. “[T]here’s just one kind of folks. Folks” (Harper, 304).
Closer inspection proves that the word race points to a mere shadow, not to a reality. Like the people in Plato’s Cave of Ignorance, racists take pride in how they name shadows. Often, they name shadows with dehumanizing words — like the N-word. So let us cut to the chase. There is only one species of human: homo sapiens.
Understanding what a species is entails an understanding of sex. Species are distinguished from one another along reproductive lines. To have a baby requires that a sperm and an egg would successfully combine to create an individual, who could, on average, reproduce. That is, the DNA of the father and mother must be of a common kind. A hippo and a housecat cannot breed. The hippo is therefore a different species from a housecat.
Yet there are species who are nearly the same species, such as the lion and the tiger. Only about 5 million years ago, lions and tigers were the same species. Then two groups of this species got isolated and did not interbreed. Slowly, they became lions and tigers. But five million years is short in evolutionary terms; so the DNA of lions and tigers only slightly differs. With some difficulty can interbreed lions and tigers, and get the biggest cat in the world: the liger. What we cannot do is get a second generation. So lions and tigers are as near as two species can be to one another while yet remaining different species.
Humans from any part of the world can easily have children with humans from any other part of the world; and those children can easily grow up and easily have children with humans from any part of the world. Humans are not genetically diverse. Our genetic family ties are tight.
Humans have had little time to genetically drift from one another. Roughly 70,000 years ago, humans almost went extinct. We lost most of our genetic diversity. All people can trace their family tree to a population in Africa between of fewer than 10,000 individuals (“Humans”). We are all Africans.
Whereas lions and tigers have had five million years to drift apart, we have only had 70,000 years — an evolutionary eye-blink. That’s the difference between a seventy-one yard rush and a one-yard rush. Inside of a yard, a fullback can only do so many spins, tucks and turns.
In order to become separate species, we would have to remain isolated from one another for millions and millions and millions of years. I prefer to travel. And having travelled much, I have seen many of my friends fall in love with people from other cultures. I have seen whites marry blacks, blacks marry asians, and asians marry whites. In every case, the result was the same: kids.
Though people appear quite different, we are very much the same. There is no single gene that distinguishes, say, Japanese from French (Roach). And having two beautiful children of my own from an intercultural marriage, I can attest that only ideas separate people.
Not all ideas are equal. Some ideas are plain stupid. Stupid ideas cannot stand once we know the facts — unless we choose to ignore the facts. But what intelligent person would choose to be ignorant? What intelligent person would prefer to remain in The Cave of Ignorance? None but a caveman.
Here is why this all matters: we are a nation of laws. Not many would argue that cows should get equal protection under the law — this is because cows are a different species. We are equal before the law because we are equally human. This is the great idea which makes America exceptional: we are all created equal. The evidence is in our DNA.
Yet in the United States, we have a history of treating people who look different as less than human. As we read To Kill a Mockingbird, keep this in mind: we are equal before the law because we are equal in our humanity. Atticus Finch will prove to be a fine man who recognizes the humanity in others, and practices law according to this deep principal.
To understand the superficial differences between people, consider the following. As our ancestors migrated out of Africa, they adapted to different environments. Being human, they used the UV-B rays in sunlight to create vitamin D in their skin. We all need vitamin D. So, as they travelled north, where there is less UV-B radiation, their skin lightened. That way, they were able to get the more UV-B rays to synthesize the vitamin D they needed. It is a tradeoff: less UV protection for more vitamin D.
This adaptation in no way made them more or less human. We’ve been fully human for about 200,000 years (Avasthi).
Humans who migrated farther north got less UV light, and so grew more lightly pigmented — whiter. That’s it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
Avasthi, Amitabh. “After Near Extinction, Humans Split Into Isolated Bands.” National Geographic.
National Geographic Society, 24 Apr. 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2015
Busseri, Michael A., and Gordon Hodson. “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes Lower Cognitive
Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup
Contact.” Psychological Science. Association for Psychological Science, 25 July 2011.
Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
“The Evolution of Whales.” The Evolution of Whales. Berekely, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central, 1982. Print.
Herbert, Wray. “Is Racism Just a Form of Stupidity?” Association for Psychological Science
RSS. Association for Psychological Science, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
“Humans Change the World.” Humans Change the World. Smithsonian Institute, 02 Feb.
- Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
Roach, John. “Massive Genetic Study Supports “Out of Africa” Theory.” N.p., 21 Feb. 2008. Web.
We have little problem when a Dostoyevski brings us up a set of stairs to bury an ax in an old woman’s head. But when Nabokov brings us on a little tour of the United States and has Humbert Humbert bury himself in his insane fantasy of a twelve year old nymphet, we are quick to call Nabokov an immoral pervert who encourages pedophilia. Indeed, when vandals attacked the St.Petersburg museum dedicated to Nobokov, they left a note which read, “How can you remain unafraid of God’s wrath promoting Nabokov’s pedophilia?”
Yet even literate readers level a similar charge against Nabokov.
Just this week, I debated a scientifically-minded philosopher on the topic. He told me that Nabokov is a horrible man for penning such immoral smut. He told me that such a book does not belong on any shelf a teenager might peruse. He admitted that he had not read the book.
Having got his confession, I told him that when my one year old daughter is literate and mature enough, I want her to read the book — the sooner the better. I want her to be wise to the Humbert Humberts of the world.
We should be thankful that we have such a beautiful, moral book as Lolita. We should be thankful we have this first-person account so that we may explore perversion sublimated par excellence. I for one am thankful for having been made wiser to the world for having read this first person account of a cruel, mad mind, driven to divine idolatry.
Countering, my philosopher friend gave an account of a scientific book which gives us to understand how rape is an unsavory impulse embedded in our genetic pattern, and that understanding this scientific account can help us to understand why we should not throw gasoline on that little red coal which burns in the darker corners of the human genome, of hotels, and of Hollywood.
And yet he did not think his scientific book an immoral book. Yet he, like so many, considers Lolita smut, perverse and pornographic.
I pressed him to distinguish why Nabokov’s account of a child rapist is a sick and immoral account, while the scientific account is not.
I asked him if it had to do with presentation, if it had to do with our relation to pronouns, if it had to do with the fact that a scientific account is not given in the first person, but is rather given in the third person or in the passive voice, in which the personal pronoun is neatly and happily hidden, like so many in our culture.
(According to Humbert Humbert, some seventeen percent of men have enjoyed a nymphet — yet Humbert Humbert is not a scientist. He is an unreliable narrator, and Lolita is unreliably narrated.)
My philosopher friend considered, and we have yet to conclude this conversation. Nonetheless, this lively debate led me to think about what we fancy Literature to be, and what we imagine Literature to give us. Scientific Literature, the prejudice goes, gives us knowledge — impersonal, sane and sanitary. Literature Literature, on the other hand, can give us a Humbert Humbert — but not knowledge.
Literature Literature alone can present for us the first person account, alone can present us with precision an individual, and alone can widen our understanding, knowledge, and humanity as the third person or passive voice cannot. Literature Literature can show us with precision what the scientific imagination alone cannot.
“A writer should have the precision of a poet, and the imagination of a scientist.” —Nabokov
The Lord of The Flies is a kind of Eden in reverse, with a touch of wicked irony, which finds paradise to be run by a group not unlike the Taliban.
Rather than starting with children who realize their nudity, feel shame, and so clothe themselves, Golding presents us with boys wrecked on an island wearing school uniforms. They are civilized, and dress as would make a father proud, with tight haircuts. But in this tropical paradise without fatherly supervision, and with girls conspicuously absent, the boys begin to strip down to swim. Ralph, the main character, even releases the “snake clasp” of his belt.
This stripping off of clothing is the stripping off of civilization, a peeling back of the layers of human nature, in order to discover our original nature. As the book progresses, this natural self grows ever dirtier, ever more disgusting, cruel, savage and shameless. “What is the dirtiest thing?” asks a boy trying to explain why things fall apart, why the center cannot hold.
By the end of the book, Ralph’s rival, Jack, sits atop his throne: a tyrant. The symbol of free speech and cooperation is shattered: the conch. Democratically elected Ralph’s most valued partner is dead: scientific Piggy. This return to the innocent paradise reveals a veritable hell on earth, like Swat Valley in Pakistan, where the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head for fighting for her rights.
When in the opening pages the boys discover the conch, it is cream colored with fading pink. The boys then elect Ralph their leader, and whoever holds this conch has the right to speak. By the closing pages, the conch is sun-bleached white, without a trace of pink, and patriarchal authority is become absolute. Significantly, as Jack strips his layers of clothing away, and takes small steps toward savagery and tyranny, he takes to painting his face white and red, the combination of which is pink.
The white and red of Jack’s mask are separated by a black line from his right ear to the left side of his jaw; even as boys and girls would be separated and put into separate roles; even as a personality would be split by tyrannical misogynistic father figures; even as a culture would whisper into a boy’s ear what it deems right and what it deems wrong, superior and inferior; even as a boy is like to repeat what he is told: right ear to the left of his jaw, this black line. And Jack often shows his teeth to tell the fat and effeminate Piggy to Shut up!
Pink we understand in The West to be at once a color of femininity, and of vulnerability. In men, we take femininity and vulnerability to be signs of weakness and inferiority. The misogynist loathes femininity, and would attack any signs of femininity other men even as he would repress it in himself, telling it Shut up!
When Jack paints his face white and red, he covers his sense of shame and inferiority and discovers in his reflection an awesome stranger: a powerful, manly hunter, who spills the blood of little pink piggies. As Golding strips even more layers of civilization off of his characters, he describes Jack hunting. Jack creeps through the green forest, wearing it as it were his clothes.
By the time he gains his throne, this naked emperor’s face is painted green and black. And his hair now grown long is pulled back “like a girl.” This boy-patriarch has managed from behind his mask to release what Father Culture had condemned in him, and to repress as he has been repressed. This he does with the full force of hatred. And he takes power, thrusting his spear into the air, as only one with a profound sense of inferiority would, compensating for his former impotence, like a Taliban fighter would hold his RPG Launcher up for the world to see, though his face were covered, compensating for his sense of powerlessness.
Jack’s society is replete with punishment, whipping, and torture. No one dares to challenge his power. His henchman, Roger, is cruel, masked, and sharpens a stick at both ends as he hunts for the head of the last living democrat of the rival tribe, for by now the white conch of democracy free speech has been shattered.
Looking into Pakistan’s Swat Valley, I see Jack’s society. After years of war in the region, the layers of civilization have been stripped away, and the savage has taken power. The Taliban whips who would disobey their power, while wearing bushy beards and black masks. They cut off the heads of dissenters and leave them on display for all to see, like a crude offering to their God, The Lord of The Flies.
The Taliban have shot a little girl in the head for raising her democratic voice, and demanding her right to an education. She is a powerful little girl, the fading pink over which savages tyrannize, and which they fear, as fundamentalists fear the feminine. Her education reflects their ignorance, and threatens their power. For, where civil education is strong, The Taliban are weak.
This little girl, Malala Yousafzai, like millions of women in the middle east, wants to take off the mask she has been forced to wear, and put on modern clothes. She has the right to wear school uniform–which each of our boys stripped off before descending into savagery.
But now a word on savagery. It is not so clear as the ignorant poster recently posted in New York subways would have it. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” (Perhaps we can tease out some further irony if we recall that when the Egyptian-American columnist defaced the poster, she did so with pink spray paint.)
No, it is not so simple as to say that muslims are savage and we westerners or the Israelis are civilized. Mind you, this little girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, with her progressive and strong mind, is also a muslim. And Jack, mind you, is a Christian English choir-boy, who becomes the beast, all the while thinking the English are best at everything.
Simon is strange. Like Piggy, he does not believe in the beast. When the other boys went up the mountain and saw the beast, both Simon and Piggy were down below taking care of the littluns (Golding104). Neither saw the beast for himself. The other boys come back to the camp, panicked and afraid. Having seen the beast atop the mountain, the boys are too afraid to go to the top of the mountain ato tend to the fire.
Simon is not convinced there is a beast, and so decides to go up the mountain by himself. Piggy stays below, happy that Ralph has gone, and he convinces the other boys to build a fire down below. Piggy is the only one to “have the intellectual daring to suggest moving the fire from the mountain” (Golding, 115). Here we see an important contrast. The more intuitive Simon has the daring to go up the mountain to check on the fire himself. Piggy is intellectually daring, and would challenge the boys to reorganize their society. Yet neither boy “believes” in the beast.
When the the boys realize that Simon has gone, Piggy remarks that Simon is “cracked” (Golding, 118). By this, Piggy means he is strange, even crazy. Yet we must wonder. If Piggy does not believe in the beast, what would be so crazy about Simon climbing up the mountain? Perhaps we can see a “crack” in Piggy’s self-assured intellectualism. Perhaps he believes in the beast after all.
William Golding gave a Nobel Lecture in 1983. During this lecture, he said, “It is at least scientifically respectable to postulate that at the centre of a black hole the laws of nature no longer apply. Since most scientists are just a bit religious and most religious are seldom wholly unscientific we find humanity in a comical position. His scientific intellect believes in the possibility of miracles inside a black hole while his religious intellect believes in the outside it” (“Nobel”).
Piggy represents here the scientific man, and Simon represents the religious man. The black hole is a kind of crack, a space where the laws of science break down. When Ralph asks Piggy if there are ghosts or beasts, Piggy answers that there are not, and explains that there are none because “things wouldn’t make sense. Houses an’ streets, an’–TV–they wouldn’t work” (Golding, 80).
Piggy is sure of his science. There are no gaps. The laws of science are universal, and don’t allow for such silly things as ghosts or beasts. Yet it is significant that when the other boys climb up the mountain to see if the beast is real, they spot the beast through a “gap in [a] rock” (Golding, 109). A crack is a kind of gap, a kind of black hole, where the laws of science and reason break down.
Again, Piggy and Simon agree that there is no beast. But Piggy’s actions begin to show little cracks in his reason, and he calls Simon “cracked” when Simon goes up the mountain to see for himself. Meanwhile, Jack had gone hunting, and had killed a pig. He orders the other boys to leave an offering to the beast, who is beginning to resemble a god. He orders the boys to put the pig’s head on a stick, and to put that stick into the earth. They boys discover that the earth is rock, so Jack orders them, “Jam [the stick] in that crack” (Golding, 122).
Piggy’s logic and science, we might say, is rock hard. The laws of science are universal, and break down only in black holes. Yet Piggy thinks that Simon is “cracked” for going up the mountain, where the beast lives. Of course the beast is not real. And Jack, where he finds a crack in the rock, finds space to erect an offering to his god.
From this angle, we can see a kind of continuum. At one extreme, we have Jack, who in the later chapters moves to “theological speculation” (Golding, 144). Jack is convinced there is a beast, and offers it meat. On the other side of the continuum, we have Piggy, who denies that there is a beast. Between these extremes, we have “cracked” Simon, who at first does not believe in the beast, and then meets with the beast face-to-face.
The crack in Simons head, we might say, is really in powerless Piggy’s head. If we look through this crack, if we look through this gap, we can see the beast on the other side, sitting in his throne, and making his offerings to his god. This beast in his throne is Jack, Piggy’s unconscious other.
But his crack is also in Simon’s head, as perhaps it is in all of our heads. And it is from out of this inner crack that the beast raises its ugly head. Simon is the first to see The Lord of The Flies, and he speaks with him.The voice of The Lord is Simon’s own (Golding, 122). The Lord of The Flies speaks down to Simon, calls him a “silly little boy”; even as Jack as chief speaks down on others; even as the boys tease Piggy (Golding, 127; 133).
The Lord of The Flies is a pig’s head; and Piggy’s name bears a striking resemblance to a pig. Piggy claims not to believe in ghosts and beasts. He is more scientific. Scientists only accept miracles to happen in black holes, where logic and science break down. A scientist would feel embarrassment, even shame, for talking about miracles as happening outside of black holes, where the rules of science reign supreme. The scientific schoolmaster would call a science student who spoke of ghosts and beasts “a silly little boy.” There are no gaps, such a Lord would speculate from his theological throne.
Yet Piggy, for all his science skepticism, calls Simon “cracked.” This name calling shows where the crack might well be: in Piggy’s head. “Pig’s head on a stick” (Golding, 128). The head is Piggy’s. And it is this unconscious belief in ghosts which may help us in part to make sense of his “ass-mar.”
“It’s come!” gasped Piggy. “[The beast] is real!” [ . . . ] Piggy kept still for a moment, then he had his asthma” (Golding, 149).
We can understand all of these characters–Piggy,Jack, and Simon–to represent different aspects of one mind, just as different characters of a dream represent the dreamer. Likewise, we can understand all of the characters of one person’s waking life to represent internal conflicts. Our conflicts with others represent our own internal struggles. The names we call others are like confessions. Piggy calls Simon “cracked.” Reading carefully, we discover the crack in Piggy’s own mind, through which The Lord of The Flies raises his ugly head. The Lord of The Flies turns out to be Piggy’s head on a stick.
Golding, William. Lord of The Flies. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.
Golding, William. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1983”. Nobel Prize.org. Nobel Prize. 7 Dec.
1983. Web. 27 Sept. 2012
White Fang is born in the wild, in a cave, in which his mother is the center, a veritable goddess. The cave itself represents the womb, the body of which is mother earth, the maternal material out of which all life emerges, and to which all life returns, settling to sleep the mysterious and unconscious sleep in the deep tomb.
White Fang is to begin with unconscious, but a blind will, like unto a plant, ever striving upward out of the earth, for the power of the Sun. He is born blind, his eyes shut, with no sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, his eyes open, and by the light and through the eye, he gains a sense of an ‘I.’ Slowly, by the course of nature, he become conscious, more than a mere blind will, and gains, slowly and be degrees, the power to choose.
This cave is mother’s lair. It is safe, warm, kind, though with some pain. From her, he begins to learn limitation. With the sharp nudge of her nose, and with sufficient nips and bites, she begins to teach him ‘no,’ which, when internalized, becomes an essential feature of consciousness and conscious choice.
As he becomes increasingly aware, his eye takes note of another in the cave: his father. His father has special powers, for he can come and go as he pleases, and pass through the wall of light, which is the cave entrance.
Father can go into the other world, the world beyond, whereas White Fang cannot. Whereas White Fang cannot pass through the back walls of the cave, owing to some mysterious law; and whereas White Fang cannot even approach the wall of light, owing to mother’s law which forbids his even approaching the light, White Fang gets the impression that his father is above the law, a kind of supernatural being endowed with godly powers. Father has some power which White Fang lacks.
Tragically, White Fang’s father is killed, and stops returning to the cave, though White Fang neither knows or speculates on the reason why. It is just a fact that his father is absent; it is an unconscious fact, and a constituent feature of his consciousness that he lacks a father. This his journey to self discovery will be in pursuit of a lack: in this case, White Fang’s journey will be a quest for father.
As White Fang becomes more and more conscious, and grow strong, he begins to struggle with a set of opposites: his mother’s ‘no,’ and his organic and natural ‘yes.’ His mother has forbidden that he approach the wall of light, but the life stuff of which he is composed reaches for the light. Eventually, the growth imperative forces him out of the cave, in a symbolic birth. He crosses this threshold, and enters into a new and strange world.
In this new world, he learns a great deal, and begins to categorize and formulate laws by which he will be able to understand this world, and by which he will be able to effectively negotiate between his ‘no’ and his ‘yes.’ With these laws, he will master his world, learning to avoid all that would harm him, and learning to get what he wants and needs. With these laws, he will minimize all that would diminish his power, and maximize all that would augment his power; for, life is The Will to Power.
White Fang slowly begins to master his world, though he is yet profoundly dependent on his mother. His universe is still centered on the feminine. But, as the Sun is born in the east and ascends to noon, or as life is born in the spring after a long winter’s night, so White Fang will, like all life, reach toward the light. His young male mind will, Icarus-like, ascend to the Sun. Thus, as the Sun rises, the moon will wane. In this quest for Father, White Fang’s world will grow by degrees more masculine, even to the extreme, before it will find balance, atonement, and equilibrium.
As the story continues, White Fang and his mother move out of Mother Nature and the rule of natural law, and into a Patriarchally ordered village, in which Gods make and enforce their laws.
One day, White Fang happens upon men in the outer world which was once the sole domain of his now absent father. His mother rushes to the scene to protect her boy from these dangerous creatures, as she has many times before, each time demonstrating her absolute power. But this time, things are different.
White Fang’s mother is half domestic dog, and half wolf; and it just so happens that she was born among these very men. White Fang expects his mother-goddess to do as she always has, and to overwhelm these men with her power, but she does not. One of the men recognizes her, calls her by her name, Kiche, and she submits to his will. This man is Grey Beaver, a Native American, and how powerful he must be that mother would bow to him! What a god!
Grey Beaver takes possession of his old dog, Kiche, and her puppy, White Fang. At first, the little White Fang refuses to submit to this god, but for this he gets a horrible beating. Grey Beaver put the fear of god into him, and White Fang submits. Grey Beaver becomes a surrogate father for White Fang, though this is no loving father.
When White Fang was still in his mother’s cave, his father came and went as he pleased, and was somehow above the law. The world outside was an unknown world, and carried with it an anxious association of the terrible unknown, the approach of which brought with it punishment. When White Fang first sees Grey Beaver in the chapter entitled “The Makers of Fire,” London writes, that here “was the unknown, objectified at last, in concrete flesh and blood”. And when Grey Beaver picks up the puppy and gets bit, he punishes him. Thus, the the father image, which was unconsciously a defining lack in White Fang’s psychic constitutions, begins to transfer to this Father-god.
White Fang is weak and impotent before this omnipotent god. Neither his mother nor his absent father can protect him. But Grey Beaver proves himself to be a just but unloving god, for White Fang has other emasculating foes. The other dogs in the village attack him at first, and Grey Beaver protects him. Thus, Grey Beaver is an extension of White Fang’s power; more precisely, Grey Beaver is the thing which White Fang lacks. That Grey Beaver empowers and protects White Fang legitimates his rule, and mitigates his resentment for his master.
Grey Beaver represents the master who is lacking none. His superfluous power overflows, and benefits his inferior slave-dog. He feeds his dog and protects him; yet White Fang wishes to be free, independent and wild, in mother nature. As White Fang grows himself in power, he masters the other dogs by the rule he has learned from Grey Beaver, the godly legislature, namely, to obey power and to oppress weakness. Thus, White Fang is simultaneously a master and a slave: he has killed his former rival, Lip-Lip, and become the top-dog; but he dare not challenge his master.
During a famine, Grey Beaver’s village goes hungry, and White Fang takes his chance to gain freedom. He returns to nature but for a moment, but this world is wild and unruly; it is chaotic, dangerous, and carries with it the mortal threat, the nothingness, the pronounced and formless anxiety which is a lack: Death.
Fear and anxiety resemble each other in all respects, save one. Whereas fear has an object, anxiety has none. Fear is always of some particular thing, which can be controlled. Anxiety is the ever looming possibility of an absolute impossibility: death. And whereas life rejoices in the free expression of power, it revolts at every possibility of powerlessness, and the ultimate powerlessness which the nothingness of death is. Anxiety is the ever-looming presence of an absence, a lack; it is the ever looming opposite of omnipotence, which is absolute impotence.
White Fang enjoyed his god’s unloving rule exactly insofar as this god empowered him and made him by the enforcement of his law potent. But when the superfluidity of his master’s power dried up in the famine, he choose to follow his inward call to independence and went into the forest. But this lawless region is without master, and White Fang was not willing to take the absolute chance which mastering the wild would be. So he chose to flee from his freedom. Paradoxically, he chose to return to his master, and chose his slavery, owing to the anxiety of death. The absolute lack loomed large in the forest, and so he pronounced the no his mother taught him, and returned into bondage.
Later, when Grey Beaver decides to go to the village of the white gods, London introduces us to another character, who represents the resentment of slavery. This man is sarcastically named “Beauty Smith”; for, he is ugly, small, weak, impotent, emasculated among men, and pregnant with evil. This man lacks, is castrated, and sees in White Fang, who is potent and a master of the other dogs, that thing which he lacks: potency.
At first, Grey Beaver refuses to sell his dog, for he has no need to sell the dog, and he likes having the dog. But Beauty Smith is cunning in backwater ways, and brings Grey Beaver whiskey, and makes him dependent and a slave of it. As Grey Beaver’s thirst grows, he loses control, and eventually sells the dog in order to get more whiskey.
When Beauty Smith takes charge of White Fang, he does so with a club, which is a clear phallic symbol. Since Beauty Smith lacks the physical power to master this thing he wants, he takes up the club, the shadow of which is a lack. In Beauty Smith’s case, this lack is his psychological castration. He enjoys possessing this weapon, which extends his power, and he enjoys sadistically beating White Fang, for it makes this impotent man feel omnipotent and god-like. But what’s more, White Fang himself, as a potent master and killer of other dogs, represents the phallus which Beauty Smith lacks. That is, in possessing White Fang, Beauty Smith possesses a potent phallus; ergo, White Fang becomes Beauty’s phallus.
White Fang does not consent to this god, and resents his power terribly. He is not a just god, like Grey beaver. White Fang resents having a lesser and emasculated master, for this master does not empower him, but rather possesses him as a phallus. Therefore, Beauty Smith is illegitimate.
Grey Beaver is a just and legitimate god precisely because he empowers White Fang. Grey Beaver sees White Fang as a good dog to have because the dog symbolizes his already abundant power. Grey Beaver lack in loving the dog, but does not phallically lack. Grey Beaver is the master of his world, unlike Beauty Smith. But that White Fang choses that Grey Beaver would be his master implies that White Fang is not a master of that world, and that White Fang lacks. As a symbol which extends the power which White Fang lacks, Grey Beaver is White Fang’s phallus.
And herein lies the difference between the two masters. Beauty Smith enslaves White Fang in order to posses a phallus. Beauty Smith is motivated by a lack. Grey Beaver does not seek to possess a phallus in White Fang. He keeps the dog out of a feeling of abundance, not of lack. Whereas Beauty Smith emasculates White Fang in order to possess him as a phallus, Grey Beaver empowers him. Further, Grey Beaver is for White Fang the phallus. He is that symbol of power–like the club–by which he controls his world. White Fang possesses a master, who is his phallus, the shadow of whom represents the lack.
In Beauty Smith’s possession, White Fang is made to fight; and in fighting, he gets his only sense of power. This sense of power is, within the pit, absolute. The dog is an omnipotent fighter, which gives the possessor of this phallus the vicarious thrill of omnipotent godliness. Everywhere out of the pit, White Fang has no choice, no freedom. Only in the pit can he express the will to power which he is.
But things are horribly out of joint, twisted, and unbalanced. This world of the phallus is hyper-masculine. The goddess whom he had known in puppihood is gone. The moon has completely waned. Correspondingly, the female counterbalance plays no regulatory function in his soul. He knows only expressions of dominance and submission, and nowhere is there care or concern. There is only higher and lower, master and slave, no recognition, no compassion, no equality.
In his final fight, he meets death, which is the absolute impotency, in the form of a bulldog named Cherokee. In this pit, the bulldog’s jaws of death slowly pursue him, and lock about his throat. And here we see the absolute extinguishment of White Fang’s free will and potency: absolute castration. And in this pit, with the jaws of death locked around his throat, in contradistinction with the waxing of his consciousness the cave, his consciousness is completely snuffed out. He succumbs to complete panic, with no control whatsoever. He has no will, and the sense of ‘I’ is completely extinguished.
Yet it follows, as the night the day, as yin yang, that when one extreme reaches fullness, the opposite is already growing. Just as the feminine principle has completely waned and the masculine completely waxed, in White Fang’s absolute castration the balancing feminine principle arrives in the form of a man, who will prove to be loving, caring, and kind; one who will recognize in White Fang an equal being worthy of compassion.
“Henry, squatting over the fire and settling the pot of coffee with a piece of ice, nodded. Nor did he speak till he had taken his seat on the coffin and begun to eat.” –Chapter 1
In Jack London’s White Fang, the second law of thermodynamics reigns king. Life is an entropic struggle, a struggle against entropy, a struggle for survival. It is the struggle of highly organized systems battling against the universal process of entropy, which is the tendency for all things to disorganize and dissolve. Indeed, this is much the reason why Schrodenger called life negative entropy.
The concept of entropy rests squarely on the second law of thermodynamics, which states that, in a closed system, heat cannot transfer from a cooler body to a warmer one. If, for example, we pour hot water into a bucket of ice, the heat will transfer to the ice. The ice will absorb the heat, and the hot water will cool, until all that is left is water of one temperature.
Ice is more organized an less random than is water. By adding the hot water, the ice becomes a liquid, and the whole system thereby increases its overall level of entropy. It is less organized than before, more random.
Though we have looked at the bucket as if it were a closed system, a bucket is not a closed system. No system is closed, except the universe itself. The heat of the hot water disorganized the ice, and the temperature equalized; but, assuming the room still cooler than the water in the bucket, this process towards equalization will continue, until at last, at some moment ages and ages hence, the universe itself will disorganize to a state of perfect simplicity, utterly undifferentiated — Nothingness.
But until that happens, particular systems can increase in complexity. But this increase in complexity is finite, and the overall level of entropy is toward perfect and simple equilibrium. For example, we can build a freezer, and make ice cubes. But to make these stable little cubes, we must burn, perhaps, coal, and by the time we have ice cubes, there is less overall structure in the universe. That is, we lose energy and heat in creating the ice cubes. Simply feeling the warmth behind the freezer can confirm this. There is much more heat behind the freezer than was extracted from the water to decrease its randomness and make it stable ice.
Our flesh is like the ice, and the life we eat is like the coal. Turning plants and animals into complex proteins adds to to level of entropy in the universe. That is, though we ever evolve into more complex structures, we have to disorganize other structures, and the over all level of entropy is always increasing. Life struggles to maintain itself, as against the flow of a great cosmic glacier.
We can think of the earth as a single system, finite but not self-contained. The earth itself can increase in complexity, but the universe as a whole will move towards disorganization and extinction. The sun radiates energy as its entropy increases. The heat of the sun moves out into the cold, black deep. The earth absorbs some of that heat. Plants gather light, and photosynthesize it, gaining the energy to fold matter into complex patterns. Rocks and dirt also absorb the heat, just as ice will absorb heat. But the earth will not hold the energy if the adjacent system is cooler.
During the day, the earth gains energy, but it is only day on one side of the earth. On the dark side, energy radiates out into the dark deep. Indeed, even where it is dawn, the earth still loses energy. It takes several minutes for the light of day to reverse the trend, and for the sun to reverse the process, which is why the coldest time of day is just after dawn.
In what London calls “the savage, frozen-hearted Northland,” the dawn comes late in wintertime, and the sun replenishes adds very little energy to the system during the day, so that in the winter, there is more loss than gain. Then, life is most cruel, most hungry, most savage.
In the savage, frozen-hearted Northland, every calorie matters. Negative entropy, like a freezer, needs energy to organize. A mouthful of food is the difference between motion and absolute stillness. In this frozen-hearted Nothland — in this bucket of ice — we meet two men and their six dogs, who depend absolutely on adding energy to their own negatively-entropic system in order to counter the entropy, and keep from melting, like so many ice cubes, into their environment, into the belly of the universe, and becoming indistinguishable from it.
In order to keep from death, these men must keep an orderly and calculated system, which is symbolized by the circle of safety around their campfire. The campfire itself symbolizes their complex intelligence, and also the process which Heraclitus described thousands of years ago, when he called the universe by the metaphor of fire.
“This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it has always been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measure and going out by regular measures.” –Heraclitus
Early in White Fang, when it is dark and hard to see except by the light of the campfire, one of the men goes to feed the six dogs with six fish, but notices that one mouth goes unfed. A dog-like wolf had broken their circle, had acted as one of his dogs, and has stolen some of their energy: one fish. That night, one of the six dogs disappears, is eaten, metabolized, and turned to protein and steaming dung. Thus the circle grows smaller, colder, quieter, with less organized mass and less organized energy.
The dog-like wolf who breaks the line of the camp circle and steals a fish to eat, and who later lures out a dog to eat, is herself a member of another cooperative and organized system — a larger circle, a wolf-pack. This larger circle encompasses this smaller camp-circle, almost as a stomach would enclose its meat. This larger circle is like the belly of the universe itself; it is that which would draw all energy to equilibrium, all movement to stillness, all noise to silence, through its snake-like digestive tract. The circle of life is Ouroboros, the snake consuming itself, forming a circle as it eats its own tail. Life feeds on life.
The hunger and drive to gain energy is a consequence of life’s futile struggle against entropy. Recall that entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder in a system. Now recall our bucket of ice. The bucket of ice had a certain level of organization, and when we added hot water to the ice, the amount of entropy in the system increased. That is, the ice molecules had a certain level of organization and structure. But the energy we added turned the ice into liquid. Liquid is more chaotic than ice. So, the overall state of the system, with the added energy, is more chaotic, less organized, and has more entropy, and radiates heat.
Now think of the wolf as an isolated system, like the bucket itself. This system has a high level of organization. Indeed, it is an organism. The wolf eats meat. The meat is itself highly organized, like the ice. The wolf’s stomach adds acid and churns the meat, which is the equivalent of adding hot water to the ice. The meat digests and changes from a solid to a liquid, or from a lower to a higher entropic state. A byproduct of this digestive process is heat, which is still less organized than liquid.
As digestion continues, the digestive processes transport the nutrients and energy around the wolf’s body, and integrates the energy and nutrients into its own flesh and activity. It reorganizes its meal into its own flesh. The more chaotic and less organized liquid is organized and folded according to genetic patterns. Yet the sum of this process leads to greater, not less, entropy. That is, the wolf itself is not a closed system. The wolf only transforms a part of the meat into a more organized state; much order is lost in the form of heat and stool. The wolf itself is a process is negative entropy; it is creating a high state of order out of disorder; but the whole system–wolf, prey, and environment–has a net gain in entropy. The universe, by a tiny fraction, becomes less organized than before.
Watching the action in the beginning of White Fang, we can see behind the language and action entropy and negative entropy. In terms of entropy, we can see in London’s negative language the process of order moving to disorder. Heat moves to cold, motion to stillness, sound to silence. But complex life, in a futile struggle against this entropic process, must consume energy and other life, like Ouroboros, the snake which forms a circle consuming itself, in order to maintain itself.
As the dogs and men move as an organized unit toward their village, the wolves move as an organized unit in order to consume the meat, which the men and dogs are. As one at a time the she-wolf, with her cunning and highly complex mind, calculates and lures out less complex and less intelligent dogs; as this she-wolf, with her canine theory of mind anticipates the sex the male dogs desire and so lures them out and traps them; as this she-wolf lies to these dogs and makes them her meal, the circle becomes smaller and smaller until only one man and two dogs remain.
The last man’s circle grows smaller and smaller. He chooses, as a last defense, to not burn his fire in the middle of the circle, but to rather make the perimeter itself the fire; and in so doing burns the last of his available wood, disintegrating his circle. When the man is as near to total annihilation as a man can be; when the wolves are charging him from every angle; the man is surprised that the wolves leave their prize behind. The man is saved by another, well-organized circle, which is greater in cunning and available energy than is the wolves’ circle: his comrades.
Siddartha has three distinct phases, which move on in a kind of metamorphosis. The first stage is the mind, the second is the body, and the third is integration. In the first stage, Siddartha seeks understanding by denying the body, and trying to master the mind. His counterpart is Govinda, who is male. The name Govinda is linked with Krishna, and literally means “cow god.” You can also understand the name to mean “cow herd,” or shepherd. The name is connected with the godhead, which is unchanging. He is the keeper.
To understand the significance more deeply, you can think of a distinction between appearance and reality. The appearance of things flows like a river, and is never twice the same. Reality is always the same. In Western Philosophy, which shares historical and linguistic roots with Hindu Philosophy, this is a central distinction. In the west, the eternal and unchanging is associated with Reason or Mind, which are both associated with masculinity. Reason, like the proposition that 2+2=4, is always the same.
In Greek philosophy, you can see the quest for the eternal expressed in Plato’s doctrine of the Forms. Further, you can look at his Allegory of The Cave. The world of illusion and change are the shadows at the back of the cave. The true world is represented out of the cave in the symbol of the Sun, which stands for masculine Reason. The Cave itself represents a kind of womb. The seeker is born, as it were, into the light of Reason. Mythologically, this is the quest for Father. As with the myth of Christ, one must be “born again.”
Remembering that there are important differences between eastern and western enlightenment, let’s look again at Siddartha’s companion. Govinda and Siddartha practice denying the body as ascetic monks, in order to know the mind, in order to know the eternal and unchanging self. They become monks. But this direction of self-denial does not work for Siddartha. He is still incomplete. So he parts with his friend, Govinda.
At this stage of the novel, he encounters a female, named Kamala, whose name is connected to Lakshmi or Durga. Laksmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Durga is the mother goddess. Kamala is the female aspect of the Self. She represents the opposite of what Govinda represents, which is the masculine aspect of the self. Both Kamala and Govinda represent aspects of Siddartha.
Kamala is at once the lover and the mother. As her name relates to Lakshmi, she represents worldly desire. Through her, Siddartha indulges into desire, instead of denying it, as he did with Govinda. You perhaps have already realized that her name Kamala is related to the name we know well in the west, Kama Sutra, which is the ancient Indian practice of enlightenment through sensuous pleasure. It is this sensuous pleasure that leads naturally to the other aspect of her name, Durga. The lover becomes the Mother.
Let’s take at some linguistic artifacts in order to drive the point home. In English, which is deeply related to the Hindu language Sanskrit, we can see the etymology which connects the word “mother” with the body. In order to get the connection, we need to look at another indo-european language, Greek. The Greek goddess Demeter is the earth goddess. We can see in her name the English word “meter,’ which is a unit for measuring physical “matter,” the earth body. “Meter” and “matter” are both words are connected to the English word “mother.” Meter, matter, mother. Mater, material, maternity, etc. In fact, in all of the Indo-European languages, we can find the old association between “matter” and “mother.” In Russian, mother is ‘mat;’ in Hindi, ‘maataa;’ in German “mutter.” In our old mythologies, Earth is Mother, and Heaven is Father. The earth is matter, and heaven is mind.
Let’s make one more quick digression before continuing on, for there is an old historical relationship between Hesse’s Germany, and Siddartha’s India. You see, the Aryans, who migrated north to England, Germany, and Russia, also migrated to India, and with them they brought their language, which evolved into the various forms of of language in the into-european language family tree. The Aryans started out in an area which approximates modern day Iran (Iran = Aryan.) And it is this history which Hitler exploited when he called the Aryan race the master race. He took from this tradition the infamous swastika, and reversed it. You can find the swastika in both Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which have aryan roots. The language, mythology, and philosophy of all the into-european languages share in the same migratory roots.
But back to Kamala. Kamala represents the ever-changing body; Govinda represents the unchanging mind. Siddartha could not find completeness as a monk with Govinda. He needed to understand his body. So he leaves Govinda and meets Kamala. Having mastered his mind, he is ready to know the body. And when he knows both mind and body, these two opposites can integrate into a whole. Siddartha can integrate male and female, the two poles of the Self. And it is thus that Siddartha conceives a child, and becomes a father. This represents a new birth of the self. But he is not finished. His realization is not complete.
And so we enter into the third and final stage of the book. Having integrated male and female, the eternal and the temporal, the mind and the body, he gets his son. He was once a son; and now he, like his father before him, has become a father. Through all the change, something has remained the same. Yet he hasn’t realized this yet. In this third stage, he must realize and apprehend this whole, and so we meet the ferryman, Vasudeva.
Vasudeva is Krishna’s father, and his name means “the one who is the form of knowledge.” Vasudeva lives by the river, which appears always to change; and through meditation on the river, at the side of Vasudeva, Siddartha comes to realize the eternal Form. Like the river, life eternally changes. Though everything has changed, nothing has changed. Ever-changing appearance is eternal reality.
In this last stage, Siddartha again meets his brother, Govinda. Govinda has not changed; yet Govinda does not recognize Siddartha, for Siddartha has changed so much.