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To say we are bird-brained is not so much to scramble as to fry a truth overeasy.
Yet we’re not so different from the crow, who avoids that garden with the great-horned plastic owl perched at its gate. Like that scared crow, some part of the human brain mistakes counterfeits of nature for nature, and takes flight.
When my children were younger — about two and three years old — we’d go shopping for clothes. I’d get a kick watching them react to mannequins. Sometimes, the mannequins modeled dresses, and my kids would sneak up, lift the dresses, and peek. I’d check over my shoulder, blush, laugh, and redirect their attention. Look, over there! It’s Dora The Explorer! And off they’d go.
(Come to think of it, they never once asked if this or that Dora was the real Dora. And a monkey in boots never once troubled them. Little literalists, they, believing as they did in The Map. What they’d see is what they’d get, and that’s the way it was — our childhood is more ancient than we suppose.)
I’m really not so different from my children, though I’m a bit less literal, a bit less inclined to pull up a mannequin’s dress. Still, I’ve noticed that I’m wired to do something quite the same, and as literal — but in the yoga-pants aisle. Passing those well-muscled mannequins, perched as they are above an ancient garden, my eyes, of their own accord and disobedient, peek.
I mean, I catch myself, and I avoid gawking. (I am, afterall, a grown and civilized man, who does his best not to embarrass his family.) Yet my eyes, my eyes the windows of a soul much older than my own, duck-like, take flight without me, in the direction of an ancient objective, blind to the fact that these yoga-pants but cover a well-placed decoy. And unlike my eyes — or that unconscious part of my brain which has intention but not volition — I know this world to be filled with duck blinds, behind which hunters take aim at our wallets, treating our credit cards like sporting clays.
Our modern world is much made up of such plastic illusions. Just as in a dream, during which that part of us sleeps that might call the dream a dream, we mistake our visions for reality; so in waking, we respond to what we see, in part, as it were the Great-Horned Owl itself, perched at the gate. Part of us does not distinguish between the real and the unreal. For that part of us, what we see is what we get. For that part of us — as old as the most ancient of fish — it is all real. (It is not for that other, newer part of ourselves to distinguish between light and shadow, but to distinguish between meals, lures, and lies.)
Once, in Costco, approaching Halloween, pushing my then four-year-old daughter along in a shopping cart, I spotted decorations — pumpkins, skeletons, scarecrows — and grew excited at the prospect of decorating our home for all the little trick-or-treaters who were to come for candy. But as we rounded the corner, my daughter panicked, crow-like, on spotting three life-sized witches stirring their wicked brew in a wicked cauldron while laughing their wicked laughs, with their eyes lighting red, and with lightning flashing against a backdrop of night.
One of the trio turned her head directly to my daughter, chanting Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! My little girl burst immediately into tears, screaming for me to turn around, which I did, after what was for her a forever moment.
But, being a dad, and curious, I got no farther than the underwear aisle, when I got bored, and found my eyes taking flight, bat-like; and the cart’s wheels found themselves following, slowly, slowly, until we could hear a witch laughing again: I come, Graymalkin! My daughter’s eyes turned to me, her protector, as if to ask, Really, Daddy? Are you fucking with me? We’re going back there?
Of course we were.
But as we again approached the corner, and she began to cry, I told her not to worry, that the witches are not real, that they are just plugged-in plastic, a superstition. What she said next exactly defines what separates us from fishes, birds and bats: “I know they’re not real, Daddy! But they scare me anyway!”
“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
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
The hijab, along with its other, more oppressive, counterparts, is a symbol which belongs to a particular vocabulary; in which, what is man and what is woman is defined in a way antithetical to the vocabulary of equal rights; and to use the vocabulary of human rights in order to justify this symbol is paradoxical and absurd as to use democratic systems in order to elect a tyrant.
Yes, I support, in principal, that a woman would have a choice to wear or not wear the hijab, just as I support, in principal, that a person would have the choice to practice this or that religion freely. It does not follow that I would not criticize this or that religion; and therefore, I criticize the wrong-headedness of those who would speak of the freedom of the hijab.
The hijab implies a set of gender roles in accordance with a system and model of the universe, human nature, and government, which is incompatible with the human rights I take to be the greatest achievement of humankind.
Yes, the argument is riddled with paradox: the freedom to wear what would negate that freedom. I get it.
Part of the problem with the veil, which is more oppressive than the hijab, is that it is a community value, a symbol in a mode of community, and mode of communication itself; and these communities are seeking to become a part of a newer mode of community which would not have the woman so defined, as we have found that there are profound benefits to understanding gender differently.
Then, these kind of arguments go to push these vocabularies into the dusty old shelves of antiquated lexicons–lexicons which worked on binary oppositions, and set one term of each opposition as less worthy, as more object than subject.
This I wrote in response to this article.
The metaphorical entails the literal, but not vice versa.
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.