In general terms this phrase has come to be synonymous with other catch-phrases such as; ‘dog eat dog’, ‘only the strong survive’, ‘every man (sic) for himself’, ‘kill or be killed.’ Harsh, terrifying, and ultimately degrading, both to us as humans, and also to the inhabitants of jungles.
Is the Law of the Jungle so brutish, violent, and full of such terror? Indeed, is there a law of the jungle?
The phrase Law of the Jungle is only a little over 100 years old. It was coined by Rudyard Kipling in his The Second Jungle Book.1
In that book Kipling wrote a poem that outlined The Law for the Wolves. It is noteworthy that it was the wolf pack that raised Mowgli – a human child.
Early in the poem Kipling writes this line:
“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”This is an acknowledgement of co-operation, mutuality, and inter-connection – a far cry from the associations we have today of the law of the jungle.
When we do enter the jungle, or any natural environment, we observe a law (lore) that speaks of reciprocity and connectivity. Yes, there may be killing and death; what is far more noticeable is abundant life, staggering diversity, and a mutuality of associations.
Noticing this about the jungle we might come up with catch-phrases such as ‘give and take’, ‘live and let live’, ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, or ‘we’re all in this together.’
So, where do the harsh, terrifying, catch-phrases come from?
We have come to fear the jungle. We have come to fear nature. Our fear is derived from our disconnection from nature. A disconnect that began 5,000 – 10,000 years ago when we began to domesticate plants and animals, and to settle in one location. The Industrial Revolution exacerbated this disconnection within western-styled cultures.
Nature had to be “tamed” in order for us to progress and overcome the fear that had become so embedded within our collective psyche.
In western-styled cultures, and cultures that are not nature-based, our fear is so embedded that we no longer recognise the basis of that fear. The modern associations with the Law of the Jungle become normalised.
Not only has our disconnect from nature given rise to a fear of nature, it has promoted disconnection from one another, and a fear of other humans. The catch-phrase ‘every man (sic) for himself’ epitomises this disconnect and fear.
Overcoming The Fear
How do we overcome this fear?
By delving into it. Not by pushing it aside, or trying to nullify it. But by jumping into it, and exploring it. How does this fear feel in my body? What beliefs do I have that support my fear? What lies behind my fear?
Once we have done that we may decide to spend some time in nature. Doing so can help overcome our fear, it can also assist with our general well-being.
We can explore how each of our exterior senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing) is stimulated by trees, creeks, birds, earth, insects, rocks, ferns. Doing so may enliven our inner senses too – our intuition, our inner radar, our proprioception, our imagination.
Overcoming our fear and reconnecting with nature in this way may lead us o discover quite a different understanding of what is meant by the Law of the Jungle.
1. Rudyard Kipling, The Second Jungle Book, UK, 1895.