Those Pesky “Lone Wolf” and “Alpha Wolf” Metaphors

I’m pretty sure that if any of the single guys, politicians, independent spirits, and mismatchers out there had read Temple Grandin’s excellent research of the nature of wolves, they would stop referring to themselves as “lone wolves” or “alpha wolves” (or just about any of the common and romanticized wolf metaphors.)  If you want to read Grandin, start with Animals Make Us Human and go from there.

Let’s just get rid of that alpha wolf thing right off the bat.  According to Grandin, the alpha wolf is an invention of man that does not occur in nature without the intervention of men.  Wolves left to their own pack behavior are familial.  What we have misinterpreted as the archetype “alpha” is really just the Papa figure in the pack.  He doesn’t have to be the strongest, the biggest, the best hunter, the meanest, the grumpiest or the highest wage earner.  He just has to be the papa.  He points the pack in the right direction because of experience, not because of power in the capitalist sense, or superiority in the competitive sense.  In human tribal terms, he’s the chief because he’s somehow proven himself to be worth following.  Maybe he’s the smartest.  Maybe he’s the oldest.  Maybe he’s the most tender-hearted or compassionate.  But it’s a pack thing.  And a papa thing.

It’s very human (and very American Capitalist) to want the young, strong male wolf to challenge the old, tired, worn-out wolf for the leadership position.  This is the final rung on the ladder to the American Capitalist top.

But it doesn’t have anything to do with wolves in their natural state.

And neither does the “lone wolf” metaphor have anything to do with wolves in their natural state.  Once again, any wolf out on his own is man made.  If you destroy the pack so that only one wolf remains — then you have made a lone wolf.  But you really do have to either kill off the rest of the pack, or somehow capture and cage a wolf to get it to suffer isolation.

But the romanticized idea of a wolf of such independent spirit that it finds its own way, follows its own rules, breaks all ties with its own wolfish past, rebels against the norm of the pack, and takes pride in its ability to survive alone — has nothing to do with wolf nature.  It has to do with human nature, and humans search for ways to romanticize and legitimize their own aberrant behavior.

Wolves are pack animals — family animals.  And this means pack/tribe/family by their wolf definition, not by man’s.  They want the company.  They want to belong and they feel no shame in wanting the security and safety of the pack.  They live together, they cooperate, they follow the leader, and they allow themselves to need the pack — without recrimination.

A wolf alone is a wolf broken and a wolf damaged.

Lone is just lonely.  You can put it in high heels and hand it a double barrel shot gun — but alone is still alone.


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