Saturday, July 07, 2007

Man vs. Wild

Several months ago, I saw this video and it got me thinking (I would post the video, but then I would have to use YouTube's rather pathetic posting tool, and this will be a long post, but the video is important, so go watch the video and then come back and read the post. Go ahead. It's okay. I'll wait.): what self-respecting man, not to mention a hunter, lets a damn deer beat the crap out of him? I don't consider myself to be a paragon of manhood, but I can sure as crap beat the hell out of a damn deer. Size up the opposition: no claws, no useful teeth, no strong legs for kicking, weighs about as much as I do. All you have to do is get in close, grab ahold of that deer, throw it to the ground, stay on top of it and commence to whuppin'. Game over, man, game over!

But my thoughts ultimately went beyond deer (as, indeed, all thoughts eventually must). Having devoted a fair amount of time to thinking about it, I have narrowed the debate down to a simple scenario, which I share with you so that you, too, can ponder it. Consider the following:

If you were placed in a pit, roughly the size of a basketball court, and allowed to arm yourself as you saw fit (but no firearms), what is the most vicious animal you'd be willing to fight?

As you ponder that, let's first discuss the limitations. If at all possible, you should limit yourself to human-powered weapons, like swords, lances, spears, etc. Powered weapons (like a chainsaw) are allowable only if you're fighting a truly dangerous animal (like a bear). You can equip yourself with any style of shield you like, from the very large (modern SWAT or heavy knight) to the relatively small (classic Roman footsoldiers had shields maybe 2 feet in diameter). Other armor is also permissible, but weight often makes it a bad idea. You can put simple obstacles in the pit, but only in balance with the danger level of the animal you're fighting, and nothing that gives you an unfair advantage (like a high platform you can perch on and stab down at the animal). My primary obstacle (when I considered it) was a steel column about four feet in diameter. See, 4-legged animals have poor turning radii, so if you were going to fight something very dangerous (bear's a good example) you'd need something which you could put (and keep) between you and the animal.

As you continue to ponder your battle animal, and now that you understand some of the basic limitations, let's talk about why this is a relevant question. I think the issue is important because I'm alarmed at what I can only call the pussification of humanity in general and men in particular. The fact is, humans are incredibly rugged, tough animals and we're build to fight well and fight hard. And yet, several months ago, I was eating at a restaurant and saw a group of people flee a table because a cricket had hopped under the table. An extreme example, I grant, but the fact is that people have lost touch with our innate ability to fight, mano a mano, with animals. We're turning into a society of men more in touch with manscaping and creme rinses than with physical confrontation. You might argue that the recent global outbreak of war and violence suggests otherwise, but let me retort. At least with respect to Americans, even the way we go to war allows us to maintain a safe distance between ourselves and those we're killing. Navy ships fire cruise missiles from total safety hundreds of miles out to sea. Planes drop bombs from 30,000 above. Cannons lob shells at targets miles away. Tank commanders pull the trigger from inside a totally bulletproof war machine. Even foot soldiers keep maximum distance while shooting at the enemy.

Want proof I'm right? Watch the final battle scene from Saving Private Ryan. In 30 minutes of film, all of which is routinely bloody, there's only one scene which regularly gets my heart beating hard and me holding my breath: the scene where the Brooklyn Jew and the Nazi are wrestling each other with the knife. Instinctively, our mind understands the difference between shooting at people a hundred yards away and wrestling with your opponent face-to-face. Both may well be terrifying, but only one activates the primal responses in the depths of our brains.

Our distant ancestors fought saber-tooth tigers, giant bears, and woolly mammoths for survival (for any born-again Christians who are reading, your ancestors also battled T-Rexs, brontosauri, velociraptors, and all manner of deadly thunder lizards because, as the Bible theoritically says, we all lived on the planet at the same time, back when Earth was brand new, about 6000 years ago). And they did it with crude stone spears and wooden clubs. And if humans weren't capable of winning those battles, we wouldn't be here today. We have the physical capacity to square up with animals, we have just lost the mental confidence to do so.

Let me use a concrete example: battling a bull. Having had the opportunity to observe many bulls up close and personal over the years, I can assure you they are dangerous animals. Large, heavy, aggressive, horned, and fully capable of killing you. And yet, on a weekly basis, 120-pound Spanish men in fancy-pants suits go mano a toro equipped with little else but a tablecloth and a number of swords, and walk out unscathed. It can be done. And, to steal a line from Anthony Hopkins, what one man can do, another can do.

Let me use another example: battling a wolf. Wolves are scary, and may have killed one or more of your ancestors back in the day. But battling a wolf would not really be that hard. Here's my advice. I would wear a hockey-style catcher's mask and I'd strap two soccer shin guards to my left arm. Best weapon is a cutlass (a heavy, double-sided sword). The mask protects my face and neck. As the wolf ran at me, I'd crouch slightly and hold my left arm in front of me. 99 times out of 100, the wolf will bite the left arm (protected by shin guards) and start shaking. All I need is to land one good blow with the heavy cutlass, and the wolf is either killed outright or so badly hurt that the coup de grace will be easy to land.

So, take some time and ponder the question. What's the most vicious animal you'd fight, and how would you do it? So far, the only animals I've ruled out are the big cats (lion, tiger, etc.), bears, and huge African herbivores (elephants, hippos, rhinos). Other than those, I think I could devise a way to kill any of God's other creatures. Which is only reasonable, because humans are the pinnacle predator on this planet.


ptg said...

I'd be willing to try a mountain lion armed with a spear. I'd need plenty of room, and more terrain than just a pole to get behind. I'd like something for the cat to think it could hide behind as well.

For one man with a Samurai sword, a pack of medium large dogs would make a great fight. Fighting dog packs is like chess, very cerebral.

Lord Bling said...

Hey CowboyLaw ... how high were you when you came up with this? :)

I'd fight a wolverine with a SARS mask and a pair of nunchucks.

Ryan the Angry Midget said...

I was going to go with Wolverine as well, since I think the X-Men series has consistently over-rated the fighting skills of Wolverines.

I think it would be a close battle, but I'd have to go with a mountain lion. I would arm myself with a morning star and a shirt made out of that stuff that people wear when they swim with sharks that's like chain mail. No mask or helmet either. I want to be able to eat the mountain lion's still-beating heart when I finish it off.

CowboyLaw said...

I wish I could use inebriation as an excuse. The sad thing is, this is how my brain works sober.

It's always tempting to go with a long weapon like a spear or a lance, with the thinking that you can shiskabob the animal from relative safety. Consider, however, that if you miss, you're fucked, because the weapon is too long to give you a second chance. I've been pondering for a long time the merits of taking on a bear armed with a lance and (as backup) a short-bladed chainsaw. You'd want to wear the chainsaw on some kind of sling around your body, so you could start it before the battle begins and go to it quickly if the lance missed or didn't work.

One incredibly useful weapon from feudal times to keep in mind: a combination poleaxe and sword. I.e., a long staff with an axe on one end and a long blade on the other end. Slash and hack all in one.

CampBlood said...

I'll take a large machete against a wild-eyed crackhead.... If I can't have the crackhead, I'll take a pack of rabid weasels...

ptg said...

I'm wary of anything in the weasel/wolverine family. For lighter sport I think taking on angry badgers armed with only a hoe and a garden trowel could be a sort of 'real world scenario'. You could wear boots, but no chain mail.

This exercise must be what the technical staff at the Roman Colosseum did to plan the day's games. They had more or less standardized matches between specialized gladiators called bestiari and vicious animals from all over the Empire.

ptg said...

I feel I should explain my fascination with this stuff, so you won't think I'm dangerous. When I was just a youngster I got hold of a copy of Those about to Die by DP Mannix. Here is a sample, via Kurt Saxon, the father of survivalism. The book was almost like pornography to me.

Lord Bling said...

Well, you can read your 'almost pornography.' I'll stick to the real thing.