The best survival strategy is to team up with other young males and form a bachelor herd. It's safer, but still lonely. Hence a bachelor springbok will repeatedly challenge the dominant male, risking injury and death.
It's not easy being the dominant male, either. Dominant male springbok are so busy mating with females, stopping members of their harem from wandering off, and fending off challengers that they have no time to eat. After a short period of dominance, they are so weakened by their efforts that they, too, become easy pickings for predators.
From time to time one reads an article claiming that men are "tomorrow's second sex" or worrying about the disappearance of manhood. Men are failing at school, these articles claim. Women dominate employment in the sectors that are growing in modern economies, while traditionally male jobs are in decline. Men won't take traditionally female jobs, hence are stuck in joblessness. Men without work don't get married, don't form families, aren't socialized to behave in a responsible fashion, and are a generally a social problem.
Yet a brief tour of the natural world suggests that, far from being exceptional, social exclusion of males - and accompanying social problems - is perfectly normal. Young male lions, just kicked out of the pride, are the ones who wander into villages, attack farm animals, and cause many lion-human conflicts. Young male baboons are the adventurous ones breaking into houses and stealing food from kitchens. Lone bull elephants are dangerous and potentially deadly.
Biology is not destiny, and humans are much smarter and more flexible than lions and springboks. Still, observing other species is a way of opening our minds, and re-thinking what we "know" about ourselves. Take, for example, the claim made by Hanna Rossin - famous for her book "The End of Men and the Rise of Women" - that "Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind." If our earliest ancestors were anything like other large African mammals, they might have lived in communities where a few men were dominant, and a lot of men were marginalized and socially excluded.
Observing other species calls into question the idea that the failure of some men to succeed is the fault of feminism, or those who would "civilize boys by diminishing their masculinity. Christina Hoff Sommers - author of "The War Against Boys" - argues that boys are falling behind in school because peope are following "Gloria Steinem's advice" to "Raise boys like we raise girls".
In the wild, it's the dominant males who push out the "teenage" males. In business? Which story do you think is more plausible: (a) senior (mostly male) executives choose to hire women because they work hard, don't demand such high salaries, are well-trained, don't make trouble, and aren't a threat (b) senior (mostly male) executives choose to hire women in response to pressure from feminist groups. I'm going with (a) - as one entrepreneur told me recently (in a moment of truth) "I don't hire men; they drink too much and they're not reliable."
Considering other species makes one realize the crucial importance of productive and reproductive technologies. A single male springbok can mate with many females and have many offspring because, basically, the male springbok contributes nothing but sperm to the process of reproduction. Hornbills have to be monogamous because both males and females play crucial nuturing roles. The female hornbill and the couples' eggs are enclosed in a nest that is almost completely sealed off. The female relies upon her partner to bring her food. Without him, she would starve.
Humans are endlessly adaptable. Washing machines and microwaves, food processors and vaccuum cleaners are engines of liberation. It's technology, not ideology, that has freed women from the life of hornbills, sequestered in the nest, completely reliant on their partner for sustenance. Technology also means that men don't have to be like hornbills, either, desperately trying to find enough food for themselves and their partners and the chicks. Men just need to find food for one person - themselves - and then they can bog off down to the pub.
It's telling, I think, that so many of the people who write about the decline of men - Christina Hoff Sommers, Hanna Rossin - are women. It's partly, I suspect, that some are mothers, and deeply concerned about their sons. It's partly that women are more comfortable criticizing feminists, and more likely to think feminism is important and worth criticizing, than men are.
But I'm also wondering if the male of the species, stepping back and looking at things from a rational, self-interested, economic perspective, has decided that a carefree life in the bachelor herd is better than fighting a battle he knows he can't win.
[this post has been edited in response to comments below].