If I had lived in a less civilized era, I would have become a killer and conqueror.
In a more savage society, men took what they wanted in ways that seem vicious and cruel by our standards. If a man wanted more material goods, he would lead his tribe to raid the territory of rivals and take whatever he could get away with. If a man wanted a woman, he would take her by force. If he wanted a woman who belonged to another man, he would kill the man and take her.
It was a world in which the strong competed with the strong for resources and mating rights. Those who weren’t strong accepted whatever was left after the winners took what they wanted.
This is antithetical to all of our modern values. We know not to kill. We know not to steal. We know not to take women against their will.
I’m a modern, civilized man — with modern values and a modern ethical code. I have made a conscious decision to try to love others and do what I consider to be right. Even so, I wrestle with the savagery in my DNA. There is a part of me — a part which frequently tries to bubble to the surface — which wants nothing more than to be that savage warrior king of the past. More than anything, this part of me wants to win — to kill and plunder and take exactly what I want.
Our modern values protect all of us. I know that. I’m not suggesting we should discard them. I’m saying that the savage still lives inside of us — and it’s more of a struggle for some of us than others.
There are times when I feel that more than other times, and tonight happens to be one of them. I have an urge to disregard everything I believe in and simply start scheming to take what I want, by force if necessary. In the modern world, you can’t openly steal from the neighboring tribe. You can’t go the the home of a woman you love and kill anybody who gets in the way of you taking her.
But there are times when the desire in me to win is so strong that I have the need to ignore society’s rules and ethics and morals — and to just find a way to take what I want.
When I was a child, I closely identified with King David in Hebrew scriptures. It wasn’t just that we had the same name, although I did like that. Immersing myself in his stories — imagining it was me — was the only way I knew as a 10-year-old to combine the religious values of goodness I was learning with the desire to conquer which was so much a part of my heart.
King David conquered much of the world that was known to the Jewish people. He didn’t ask those people whether they wanted to be conquered. He didn’t ask if they wanted to live under his rule. He simply took what he wanted.
Even when King David did something which was wrong, the story shows something glorious coming from it. When David fell in love with Bathsheba, he arranged to have her husband killed in battle — so he could have her. Although he paid a price for killing Urriah, Bathsheba became his faithful wife and bore Solomon, who succeeded David as king. (Bathsheba is one of only five women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus in the New Testament.) The savage part of me isn’t really bothered that he murdered Urriah.
Our civilized values don’t allow men to be the conquering creatures who battled with one another for all of human history until recently. One of the flaws in modern culture is that it increasingly asks men to pretend not to be what they’ve always been — not only to stop killing and stealing and taking women against their will, but to stop being the competitive and combative people we’ve always been.
I feel as though there are two parts of me. One part is the loving and civilized man who wants nothing more than to make art and help to change the world. Another part is a cunning and vicious killer who needs to take what he wants without regard to what anyone else might prefer. That part of me is a savage but he’s a winner.
I’m feeling this struggle intensely tonight.
At this moment, I just want to take resources and glory and a woman. I don’t want to ask anyone’s permission. I want to kill anybody who gets in my way. I simply want to win — and I want only other winners in my life.
The civilized part of me is horrified to admit this. The civilized part doesn’t want you to know that desire is even there. The civilized part wants to be loving and show good will toward all — or at least to pretend that’s all I feel.
But the savage in my soul — in my Germanic or Anglo-Saxon or Celtic ancestry — wants to win. He wants to take what he wants. If that part of me were ever released against the world, only God could help anyone who tried to stop me.
Was I born too late? Or is there still a way for a civilized man to channel the savage in his soul? I still don’t know the answer. I just know there’s a part of me which needs to conquer — which needs to win all the things that I want.