In 2000, CBS News ran a story titled The Delinquents, which followed the story of South African wildlife parks that had been experiencing an alarming number of white rhino killings. At first thought to be the work of poachers, this theory was soon rejected after it was noted the horns were left intact.
At Pilanesberg Park, a staggering 39 rhinos had been killed. Who was to blame for these massive death counts?
As park rangers soon discovered, the culprits were overly aggressive teenage bull elephants. But why were these teenage elephants so abnormally aggressive toward the white rhinos and tourist vehicles?
The problem was 20 years in the making. South Africa’s largest conservation area, Kruger National Park, had an unsustainably large elephant population. To help alleviate the overpopulation conundrum, researchers decided to kill many of the older adult males and relocate the young offspring to other parks. It was a simple matter of logistics—young elephants are far easier to transport.
In the 1990s, researchers at various parks noted several trends among these unruly teenage bulls.
First, they came into musth much earlier than normal. Musth is a period when an elephant experiences raging sexual hormones, stands taller, head held high, and acts more aggressively toward other elephants and cohabitants. Thanks to raging levels of testosterone, these elephants were sexually active and aggressive at younger ages than normal—glands on their faces swelled and released fluids, while their back legs remained wet as they urinated on themselves far more frequently than normal. They also tended to stay in this state far longer than normal.
Second, these unruly teenage male elephants formed “street gangs” that gradually increased in violent behavior. On several occasions these elephants gored and harassed rhinos for no apparent reason, destroyed park vehicles and facilities, and caused problems for tourists. Perhaps the most notorious, Mafuta was a young bull that played the role of gang leader, inciting other young elephants to follow his brutal lead. He eventually had to be shot and killed, as did many of the other most aggressive elephants.
Missing the Obvious
What was to be done? In 1998, park rangers from Kruger National Park decided to relocate older, more dominant, and more mature bull elephants to these other locations where teenage bulls ran rampant. This decision was made after scientists and researchers noticed an all-too-obvious fact: these young, overly aggressive elephants lacked older role models.
Once older and more dominant elephants were introduced, the youngsters stopped going into premature musth, the unchecked violent aggression stopped immediately, and the rhino killings came to an end.
As one ecologist, Gus Van Dyk, said, it was as if a group of unruly teenagers at a party were suddenly confronted by their fathers.
The obvious feature of the created order—whether we’re talking about men or elephants—is that societies naturally organize around hierarchical structures, and every hierarchy needs dominant, mature, aggressive men at the top of it. In other words, young men need mature fathers to keep them in check, reign in otherwise unruly sexual hormones, exert dominance, and guide the youngsters into the normative practices of adult life.
Likewise, if there’s an absence of ruling fathers, there will be a superabundance of unruly sons.
And of course our society has born this truth out exactly: men without fathers (roughly 25 million in the U.S. alone) constitute 90 percent of those currently incarcerated; 85 percent of those arrested in the U.K. grew up without fathers; and, germane to current discussions about the black population, 56 percent of black children are raised without a father. According to the Journal in Research in Crime and Delinquency, the greatest predictor of violent crime is fatherlessness.
The second thing to notice is that a father’s physical dominance and mature, sexually driven aggressiveness is the only thing that can hold a teenage boy in check. Young boys need to feel the gravitas of an “old bull” when they are in his presence. They need to fear him as the sexually and physically superior presence.
This physical dominance of fathers is established from an early age with toddler spankings and physical restraint. It is particularly necessary in teenage years as boys exhibit natural pushback toward mothers (whom they realize they can now overpower and against whose maternal world they are pushing away from). The father is a restraining force, backed up by muscle, wisdom, and sexual maturity.
Leadership as a father, it turns out, has everything to do with powerful bodies, sexual potency, and moral competency. And a necessary component of that authority is the fear produced by a man’s hierarchical gravitas.
One example. The other day, my oldest (a young teenager) thought it good sport to clobber his younger brothers repeatedly whilst we were playing backyard football. Animosity boiled over. There was, without question, unruly aggression being unloaded between them all. Lawless chaos spread amongst the other siblings. How does a father solve that sort of thing?
Said teenager caught a pass, turned, and found a freight train called Dad bearing down on him. Yes, I held back. And yes, he was still leveled. Lying flat on his back, I asked if he was OK. He groaned and replied, sheepishly, “I’ve been run over by an oak tree.”
I never said a word, and he never touched his brothers again. The message was received, loud and clear. He’d forgotten that someone stronger and more dominant was on the top of the hierarchy. Later, I gave him an extended hug and told him how proud I was of the man he was becoming. Your status as a father and alpha has to be real and demonstrable, a bodily incarnation of covenant love.
The Current Bastardized Moment
When I look at the rich basic white girls and frail-boned, man-bun hipster dudes that make up the Antifa rallies and CHAZ debacles going on across our infantile country—those choking street preachers and hurling bricks through the windows of businesses real men spent years building—I see a herd of fatherless elephants desperately in need of aggressive masculine prowess. Where are the adults? They need fathers to show up with the iron fist of God and set things in order. I see sons whose fathers hated them enough not to spank them.
Let’s be clear: Some of those unruly bastards need to be shot. They can’t be fixed. The penalty for a son who cracks the skull of a police officer (read: God-ordained authority) with a skateboard or jumps him in a Wendy’s parking lot is death (Exodus 21:15). You play stupid games assaulting God-appointed authority, you might just win the stupid prize of getting shot.
I don’t blame the cop, in that case. I blame the fathers who either weren’t there or refused to discipline their sons. Any father too negligent to inflict physical punishment upon his son with the rod has already sentenced him to death (Proverbs 19:18).
But we are a society of fatherless bastards. The grown-up died long ago. Adults won’t tell their children “no.” Seattle is nothing more than the advanced stages of a toddler throwing an unchecked tantrum in the supermarket checkout line. The really stupid thing is that neutered authorities are standing by and letting this happen.
Reintroduction of Old Bulls
What you see in the streets of America today is at least 20 and 30 years in the making. It’s a generational failure of fatherhood and it won’t be fixed quickly—the solution lies in generations, not months or even years. And so, to correct the problem, men with young children still in the home and men who’ve yet to become fathers need to embrace a long-term vision for fatherly faithfulness. They need to learn how to become dominant physically, sexually, and morally.
In the ranching and working-class communities I grew up in, we experienced created order more directly: we hunted bull elk and bred bulls in the pasture. We watched every fall as aggressive bull elk drove off horny youngsters and beat them to dust in jaw-dropping sparring matches. As a result, we called tough old guys “old bulls.” Physically tough, aggressively masculine. The kind of guy that’d knock you on your ass if you got smart with him. If you spent a wild night shooting highway signs or smashing mailboxes, you didn’t have to fear the sheriff—you feared your old man, the toughest bull in the herd.
The trouble today is we’re trying to rebuild a 100,000-piece puzzle called masculinity without the box. And so we’ve got to start by confessing how much we don’t know. We’ve got to start looking at God’s design in nature, alongside the histories of older cultures and Scripture. In coming articles, we’ll discuss the characteristics of men that make them righteously dominant in their given milieu.
We can start by learning a lesson from the elephant: the world needs mature older men who exhibit hierarchical dominance. It needs fathers.