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A totem is a stipulated ancestor of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe.

Totems support larger groups than the individual person. In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Normally this belief is accompanied by a totemic myth.

Although the term is of Ojibwe origin in North America, totemistic beliefs are not limited to Native Americans. Similar totem-like beliefs have been historically present in societies throughout much of the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region.

In modern times, some single individuals, not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion, have chosen to adopt a personal spirit animal helper, which has special meaning to them, and may refer to this as a totem. This non-traditional usage of the term is prevalent in the New Age movement, and the mythopoetic men’s movement.

Wolf and Man

Eagle (Arn) is a symbol of leadership and forsight but man knows that his roots are closer to the wolf. The wolf is very dear to man and represent the purity of heart he has lost in his quest for  godness. The wolf is a loner that fights to death for the clan if need comes.

Gray wolves are social predators that live in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, their offspring and, occasionally, adopted immature wolves. They primarily feed on ungulates, which they hunt by wearing them down in short chases. Gray wolves are typically apex predators throughout their range, with only humans and tigers posing significant threats to them.

The genetic relationship between wolves and dogs was elucidated by Robert WAYNE and Carles VILÀ, opening the possibility that the split between wolves and dogs may date back as far as 135,000 years before present. Such a long common history of dogs and modern humans begs the question as to the dog’s part in the endeavor of humans to take control of the world, and led to the formulation of a hypothetical “lupification” of human behavior, habits, and even ethics.

There is something in the bond among wolves and between dogs and humans that goes beyond that between us and our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees. Here we are not talking about intelligence, but about what we may poetically associate with kindness of heart.

Wolves were pack animals. They survive as a result of teamwork. They hunt together, den together, raise pups together. This ancient social order has been helpful in the domestication of the dog. Chimpanzees are individualists. They are boisterous and volatile in the wild. They are always on the lookout for opportunities to get the better of each other. They are not pack animals. If you watch wolves within a pack, nuzzling each other, wagging their tails in greeting, licking and protecting the pups, you see all the characteristics we love in dogs, including loyalty. If you watch wild chimps, you see the love between mother and offspring, and the bonds between siblings. Other relationships tend to be opportunistic. And even between family members, disputes often rise that may even lead to fights.

The good relationship as we have with our dogs is not related to intelligence, but to the desire to help, to be obedient, to gain our approval.

E Pluribus Unum

From many, one. Many people, many peoples, one nation. But also, if two or more persons can agree to cooperate, they are stronger than a single person. As a rule, the bigger the group, the easier it can subdue a single person or a few, or force them to comply. That is the basis of majority-ruled democracy. There is a catch, however: the members of the group must cooperate, communicate, and agree on a common goal.

That is not as easy as it sounds, even for intelligent human beings. The old primate trait of selfishness and MACHIAVELLIAN reasoning get in the way of our behaving communally. Let others take the risk and reap the gain for oneself and one’s kin. Self interest first, and if there is a little surplus: practice nepotism. In theory, of course, we praise it as the highest expression of humaneness when, on rare occasion, a hero or saint can overcome temptations of selfishness. We preach love thy neighbor and ask our brave boys in uniform to be prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their families, community, and nation; we admire the age-old saying, Sweet it is to die for one’s country.

Strangely, there are indications that such humaneness, which many admire and hold, at least in theory, to be the highest achievement of humanity, was invented millions of years ago by early canids.

It is practiced to this very day by some of their descendents and honed to perfection by members of the pack-hunting canid species: notably the gray wolf, but maybe even more so by the wild dog of Africa (Lycaon pictus), the dhole of India (Cuon alpinus) and, to a lesser extent, the bush dog of South America (Spethos venaticus).

In fact, some of today’s wolves may well be less social than their ancestors, as they have lost access to big herds of ungulates and now tend more toward a lifestyle similar to their “minor brothers:” coyotes, jackals, or even foxes.

Among all the canids one species became the most successful mammalian predator ever: Canis lupus, the gray wolf. It roamed over all the northern hemisphere north of 15˚N. In some areas the gray wolf coexisted with less social members of the genus, and in India it was sympatric with the whole. The ubiquity of the gray wolf is apparently due to its rich behavioral repertoire and the ability to adapt its life style opportunistically to local and temporal conditions: most successfully as a pack hunter of midsize ungulates, but able to squeeze by on the diet and life style of a fox: hunting mice and picking berries.

What is it that makes the ancient pack social system so successful? Well, it is not a single life history trait, anatomical feature, or type of physiology or behavior. It is a whole array of specific adaptations which make communal life possible. Social pack forming canids are essentially monogamous. Even though there may be several sexually mature adults in a pack, as a rule, only one pair breeds, but all members share food and parental care generously. Even siblings and friends share food and affection (unlike in chimps, lions, tigers, hyenas, where the strong tend to take from the meek).

The long-legged social canids are not only fast and long-distance runners, they are able to run as a single group, apparently well aware not only that another pack member is running where, but which individual. This awareness makes it possible for a team of dogs to pull a sled and run for hours without changing places, or for two dogs to race at full speed while holding onto a stick of wood.

Typically predators, when going for the kill, avoid the risk of disabling injury that would prevent them from hunting. The attacks on prey by lions, tigers, sharks, and the like conjure up images of bravery and fury. In reality, however, they are low-risk performances by smooth butchers. Only when they turn on each other, as, for example, in conspecific fighting over a limited resource (e.g. a female), do they incur high risk of getting seriously injured.

When canids hunt as a pack, they can, because of their focused attention and close cooperation, act much more as an integrated system than any group of chimps or lions, where the individual that makes the kill and can maintain possession of the carcass, or take it over by force, will get “the lion’s share”. In wolves each pack member can accept greater risks when attacking, because, when injured, the needy will be fed by the other pack members.

This cooperation and risk sharing not only among close relatives, but among individuals bonded as mated pairs or by lasting friendships among individuals of the same gender, is the central feature of canid pack living.

When wolves feed on a kill, there is growling and snarling, of course, and a low ranking pack member may have to wait, but compared to other predators there is little overt competition among pack members. All is tuned to swallow as much as possible as fast as possible (which is the basis for the story of Fenris-Wolf gulping down Odin, and for Grimm’s fairy tale bad wolf swallowing grandmother and Little Red Ridinghood).

Wolfing down prey is apparently an ancient canid trait: Around 11 Ma BP a wolf-type canid (Strobodon stirtoni) roamed Nebraska, and a skeleton of this species on display in the Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. reveals an amazing story: in the region of the ribcage one can see quantities of broken and etched bone representing at least two individuals of small antelope, leg bones articulated and neatly folded-up in the area where once the canid’s stomach had been.

Wolfing down prey is but the first phase of feeding, which allows pack members to make maximal use of each kill and to leave little for others. By the time jackals, hyenas, and vultures arrive, there is usually not much left.

The second phase of feeding starts when the wolves have reached a cozy place for a rest some distance from the kill, or when they get home to the den. They then regurgitate the large chunks, sharing  with those that did not participate in the hunt, especially the pups and their babysitter, and carefully go over what they brought home in their stomach shopping bags. What had been carried communally, such as a leg of a prey, too large to swallow, is cut down to size, and pulled apart in a “tug of war”, with “real growls”, but actually quite playfully, and very different from the fighting over a kill, e.g., in hyenas. The pack at the den can process its loot in peace and spend time resting and digesting.

MACHIAVELLIANS, however, consider such doggish behavior—accommodating rather than fighting— as cowardly. Yet it is precisely what keeps canid pack members from incessant quarreling, as, for example, the way hyenas do, or from playing macho the way chimps or some humans cannot do without.

Arnulf von Wolfenstein

About arnulfo

veterano del ciberespacio
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