The Myth of Human Weakness

Humans are much stronger than we like to think.

There is a prevailing narrative within the walls of civilisation that humans are weak, frail and oversensitive creatures that would never have survived for so long, if it weren’t for our superior intelligence that has allowed us to create countless highly specific tools, and eventually civilization itself. This of course couldn’t be further from the truth.

During a conversation with several of my friends one of them uttered a set of words I am unfortunately all too familiar with: “Our strong suit isn’t being… strong, it’s our intelligence. We have developed tools that make us strong everywhere.” A classic. The underdog story. It seems that everyone wants to live out a kind of power fantasy; they wish to be the nerdy kid who got bullied by the big, mean, strong kids, but ended up succeeding in life due to his smarts. While it sounds like they are putting themselves down, it’s actually the opposite — this is a type of performative humility used to elevate one’s sense of importance. It’s a way of saying: “I’m so incredibly cognitively developed, that I need absolutely nothing but my morbidly obese brain, to be the undisputed king of this world.”

This narrative of human weakness complimented by hyper-intelligence is most often bolstered by those, who blindly believe that technology is a kind of divine force of ultimate good, our salvation. Technophiles, futurists, transhumanists — these worshipers of scientific research forget all too often how unscientific their beliefs actually are. If they themselves look like and feel like a bunch of reanimated fetuses it does not automatically mean that is the default human bodily condition. Thankfully we have an otherworldly abundance of evidence that points completely against this deluded fantasy.

One of the first things that come to mind when strength and power are mentioned are muscles. “Let’s see how strong you are!” my dad often said, expecting me to flex my biceps. Muscle strength is something humans and especially other apes seem to excel at, probably due to a pretty long history of our ancestors living arboreal lifestyles. Chimpanzees (who still mostly dwell in trees) are known for their ridiculous strength, but are only 1.35 times stronger than us (they were thought to have been a lot stronger) due to higher fast-twitch fiber content.[1] Does this mean that chimps are weaker than we imagine, or does it mean we are stronger than we think? There are many cases of people lifting cars to save others, that’s something that comes to my mind often, and I certainly wouldn’t call a 60 to 80 kg animal that can lift a ton of metal weak.

“Why are humans so weak compared to other equally sized animals? We don’t even stand a chance in a fight against a dog, cat or primate half our size,” some curious man wanted to know on an online questions-and-answers forum Quora. I was baffled. This person thinks they can’t win against a cat… a fucking cat. If I am correct in my assumption, they were not talking about big cats, even though we can actually stand pretty decent chances against some of those, despite what the Human Weakness Myth dictates.

In 2021 an ordinary Indian man, Rajagopal Naik, strangled a leopard to death after it attacked him.[2] Carl Akeley, a man with a gross passion for killing animals and collecting their corpses got attacked by an angry leopard he shot; he was out of bullets and choked the large female cat (almost) to death before she could disembowel him.[3] It was in 2005, when a 73-year-old Kenyan grandpa killed an attacking leopard by ripping out its tongue with his bare hands.[4] Leopards are not the only big cats that met their end at the hands of unarmed humans; a Colorado runner choked an attacking mountain lion to death, before running for several miles to get stitches, according to a 2019 article from The Independent.[5] Perhaps the most unbelievable case would have to be that of an unarmed deathmatch between a Ugandan man and a male lion, from which the man emerged victorious; he had to visit the hospital, but lived to eat the lion afterwards.[6]

I could go on and on about us absolutely demolishing felids in combat, but there are some other interesting cases I want to highlight. A 48-year-old shepherd from Bosnia and Herzegovina killed a brown bear with his bare hands.[7] In order to protect her son, a 41-year-old mother from Ivujivik, Canada, fought a polar bear unarmed and emerged from the conflict unharmed.[8]

An absolutely pathetic article from 2021, titled “All the Animals American Men Think They Can Beat in a Fight and Why They Can’t” published in Gizmodo by an even more pathetic man, Tom McKay, underestimates human bodily strength in the most condescending and uninformed way imaginable. “The human is a weak fleshy sack of TV dinners and incorrect trivia answers and without the coward’s advantage of a weapon will lose every time,” the author writes.[9] While this statement might be true for the large majority of Westerners, particularly Americans, a lot of humans seem to be quite well equipped for bare-handed killing of some of nature’s top tier predators. McKay’s inability to do a few web searches, and just assume there is no animal we could fight successfully genuinely saddens me. I agree that fighting a gorilla, a chimp, an elephant, a crocodile, a bear and a lion might be pushing it, but there is little reason to fear most animals discussed in the article (rat, house cat, goose, medium size dog, eagle, large dog, king cobra, kangaroo, wolf), at least so long as it’s one-on-one. If Tom thinks he’d get his ass handed to him by a rat that’s ok, but I can’t say I appreciate him projecting his self-perceived incompetence on everyone else.

Many people probably imagine fighting other animals to death with extreme difficulty, since especially in the Western world we are conditioned to adopt the mindset of unarmed human’s weakness. When confronted with an aggressive animal countless Western urbanites just freeze in fear. How taboo any sort of “animal cruelty” has become even in cases of self-defense (despite unimaginable animal cruelty that we all know is being done behind the closed doors of animal farms) definitely doesn’t help, as beating an animal of similar size requires extreme ferocity, brutality. People are uncomfortable even thinking about viciously beating a living creature to death, mauling its face off, breaking its bones and tearing muscles off its body — things we are more than capable of doing. When two animals of similar size clash there usually are injuries on both sides, contrary to what some might believe, nobody said you will come out of a fight unscathed; some might think that getting injured automatically equals losing, a false notion.

Chimpanzees, our stronger ape cousins, don’t really have any other natural predators than leopards,[10] the cat that we seem to be capable of dealing with, so long as we see it coming. Though, to their credit, it should be noted that leopards kill 55 people on average every year in Nepal alone.[11] I never claimed we have no natural predators, the aim of this text is merely to prove that we are not weak defenseless wimps, that stand no chance without tools/weapons.

A few other awesome things about human bodies include being able to run for hours without overheating (pursuit hunting), having extremely tough skin and potentially having a very powerful bite. Human skin has evolved to allow maximum durability and flexibility, according to researchers from Binghamton University.[12] There is naturally a level of variation to this, as the civilised urban humans seem to have much weaker skin compared to contemporary hunter gatherers — another one of civilisation’s plights. Anyone that has ever bitten his opponent in a fight can attest to the tough and chewy nature of human skin; not that human bite strength isn’t a force to reckon with. The average human bite force is recorded at 162psi, but the most powerful recorded human bite was 975psi,[13] not too far from the bone-crushing bite of a spotted hyena (crocuta crocuta) commonly known to be 1100psi strong![14] Noteworthy is also our ability to withstand powerful insect and snake venom, as demonstrated in many Indigenous populations across the globe.

Although I embrace and wish to bring awareness to humans’ true powers and physical abilities, it is certainly not my aim to encourage anyone to go and commit pointless violence towards other animals. I would much rather befriend a leopard than fight it to death, even if God himself came down and assured me I’d come out of the brawl without a single scratch. Besides for food acquisition or preserving my own life, there is little to no reason for anyone to do such things — most animals avoid fighting if possible, and for a good reason.

The only actual source of physical (and even more so mental) weakness in humans is something that goes completely against the mainstream narrative: fire, extensive tool use, and civilisation. The very things we wrongfully credit with improving our lives. Research from Cambridge University, done across several thousands of years of human evolution has shown that our bones have become significantly lighter and more fragile since the advent of agriculture, this being a result of more sedentary lifestyles as we shifted from foraging to farming.[15] Overeating, consuming processed foods, and leading a sedentary lifestyle (all staples of civilisation) are terrible for our health when contrasted with eating reasonable portions of healthy, wholesome foods and regular exercise.[16] Any health advisor will usually recommend a lifestyle that goes in essence very much against the current of civilization. The amount of deformations that result from agricultural mode of subsistence is immense; the shift from wild food consumption to crop production has resulted in malocclusion (improper teeth alignment) affecting one in five people, a consequence of eating cooked cereals and legumes instead of raw vegetables and meat.[17]

Use of fire and clothing has enabled us to inhabit climates we are unfit for with our raw biological being, which results in humans having a very difficult time surviving without them in colder climates. Our lack of ability to live and flourish there without heavy reliance on tools and fire does not mean we are weak animals; no animal is suited to live tens of thousands of miles outside its natural ecosystem. Multiple millennia shaped us to live in a savanna, only for us to venture out into lands of sub-zero temperatures before we could properly adapt to them. When tools and fire became indispensable for human survival they started gradually substituting our biological being, under the guise of enhancement or improvement, channeling the power from us to the zygote of what became the civilizing machine. Diogenes famously threw away his drinking bowl after seeing kids use their hands to drink water, realising there was no need for it; this act seems so much more relevant in an age where everything revolves around property and possessions. Most human individuals have been completely deskilled, made dependent on an outside force, and reversing this will not be easy.

The Myth of Human Weakness is just that: a myth. Myths are usually not without implications and neither is this one. If humans truly were weak, frail, powerless, we would probably have to consider civilisation a blessing, a messianic creation that was born out of our ancestors’ sweat and tears to save us from hitting foodchain’s rock bottom. However, this notion is completely wrong. Civilisation has resulted in nothing but physical, mental and environmental degradation. Civilisation is trying to strip us of any kind of self-reliance and keep us subservient to rulers, clerics and bosses; this is in its best interest. Civilisation prefers weak, defenceless humans over wild and powerful ones, just like people (the creators of civilisation) prefer tame and obedient dogs over free and untamed wolves. If people realised they can live in the wild just as well or better than they can under civilisation’s clutches they’d leave, and many throughout history have.

Another aspect of this myth’s consequences is also the creation of an anti-nature mindset. If we were the weakest of animals, almost destined to die and suffer, the world of wilderness would seem like some great adversary to overcome. Many thinkers saw nature as something we need to triumph over, ignoring the simple truth that what remains our essence can only be overcome by our annihilation. Descartes and the like have imagined other animals to be mindless automatons contrasted to the thinking self-conscious man; we began to view the world through a false dichotomy that cuts us and our creation from the rest of the world. This dichotomy consists of intelligence and the realm of weak humans on one side, pitted against the unintelligent bio-machines of strength and endurance from the realm of animality on the other. The stereotypes of scrawny smart nerd and his opposite, a dumb muscly jock perhaps best embody this seeming incompatibility of strength and wits, both of which most mammals possess in large quantities.

A human weakness exists in our times, but rather than from our bodies it comes from our mindsets and lifestyles, things that we can luckily turn around. We don’t have powerful minds imprisoned in inherently weak bodies, we have minds weakened by conditioning that imprison powerful bodies.

Notes

1. O’Neill, Matthew C., et al. “Chimpanzee Super Strength and Human Skeletal Muscle Evolution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, no. 28, 2017, pp. 7343–48. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619071114.

2. India.com News Desk. “Karnataka Man Strangles Leopard to Death in Battle of Survival, Hailed as Real Life George Kutty.” India.Com, 25 Feb. 2021, https://www.india.com/news/india/karnataka-man-strangles-leopard-to-death-save-family-hailed-george-kutty-hassan-leopard-attack-video-4451382.

3. McCarthy, Erin. “The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands.” Mental Floss, 19 May 2018, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/80239/time-carl-akeley-killed-leopard-his-bare-hands.

4. NBC Universal. “Kenyan, 73, Kills Leopard with Bare Hands.” NBC News, 22 June 2005, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna8317484.

5. Cockburn, Harry. “Colorado Runner Who Choked Mountain Lion to Death Describes How It Attacked Him.” The Independent, 15 Feb. 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/colorado-runner-mountain-lion-attack-choke-video-travis-kauffman-fight-injuries-a8780381.html.

6. Wade-Palmer, Charles. “Man Kills Lion with His ‘bare Hands’ in Brutal Fight before Cooking and Eating Beast.” Dailystar.Co.Uk, 10 Apr. 2022, https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/world-news/man-kills-lion-bare-hands-26678809.

7. Croatiaweek. “Herzegovina Man Kills Bear With Bare Hands.” Croatia Week, 26 May 2013, https://www.croatiaweek.com/herzegovina-man-kills-bear-with-bare-hands.

8. George, Jane. “Polar Bear No Match for Fearsome Mother in Ivujivik.” Nunatsiaq News, 17 Feb. 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20070927011557/http:/www.nunatsiaq.com/archives/60217/news/nunavut/60217_03.html.

9. McKay, Tom. “All the Animals American Men Think They Can Beat in a Fight and Why They Can’t.” Gizmodo, 15 May 2021, https://gizmodo.com/all-the-animals-american-men-think-they-can-beat-in-a-f-1846900005.

10. Boesch, Christophe. “The Effects of Leopard Predation On Grouping Patterns in Forest Chimpanzees.” Behaviour, vol. 117, no. 3–4, 1991, pp. 220–41. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1163/156853991x00544.

11. Baral, Kedar, et al. “Characterization and Management of Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Mid-Hills Outside Protected Areas of Gandaki Province, Nepal.” PLOS ONE, edited by Lalit Kumar Sharma, vol. 16, no. 11, 2021, p. e0260307. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260307.

12. Maiorana, Christopher H., et al. “Biomechanical Fracture Mechanics of Composite Layered Skin-like Materials.” Soft Matter, vol. 18, no. 10, 2022, pp. 2104–12. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1039/d1sm01187a.

13. Gibbs, Charles H., et al. “Limits of Human Bite Strength.” The Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, vol. 56, no. 2, 1986, pp. 226–29. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-3913(86)90480-4.

14. Spanner, Holly. “Top 10: Which Animals Have the Strongest Bite?” Science Focus, 20 June 2022, https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/top-10-which-animals-have-the-strongest-bite.

15. “Hunter-Gatherer Past Shows Our Fragile Bones Result from Inactivity since Invention of Farming.” ScienceDaily, 22 Dec. 2014, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141222165033.htm.

16. Gallagher, Susan. “What Can Hunter-Gatherers Teach Us about Staying Healthy?” Duke Global Health Institute, 21 Apr. 2019, https://globalhealth.duke.edu/news/what-can-hunter-gatherers-teach-us-about-staying-healthy#:%7E:text=But%20Pontzer%2C%20an%20evolutionary%20anthropologist,the%20healthiest%20people%20on%20Earth.

17. Clark, Laura. “Before Agriculture, Human Jaws Were a Perfect Fit for Human Teeth.” Smithsonian Magazine, 6 Feb. 2015, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-dawn-farming-changed-our-mouths-worst-180954167.

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Kazimir Kharza

Kazimir Kharza

A lazy video creator and blogger. Anarcho-primitivist. Big hater of civilisation, even bigger enjoyer of nature.