June 10, 2017

Source: Bigstock

What does it mean, this fury against previous owners? I suspect that it indicates an attempted denial of mortality, an assertion that the book has now fallen into the hands of its rightful and final owner, that it will remain his (I think this is an almost exclusively male phenomenon) till the end of time. The evidence of previous ownership is thus a reminder of how futile such a wish is”€”a reminder that one does not own anything, certainly nothing of any value such as a book that one wishes to preserve, by more than temporary leasehold. We are keepers of our valuables rather than owners of them, at least if we feel it wrong to destroy them. 

To return from the world of the personal library to that in which people tattoo the names of their lovers and children on their arms (they seldom coincide, these two worlds): The latter is the world of serial stepfatherhood, in which violence toward stepchildren is common.

Evolutionary psychologists have explained this violence by the fact that stepchildren do not carry the stepfather’s genes, and therefore any solicitude by the stepfather toward his stepchildren is a waste of effort, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of propagating his own genes. If the stepfather should have any children by his stepchildren’s mother, his own children will be in competition with his stepchildren for resources. Best, then, to be cruel toward them, and abuse them, thereby reducing their reproductive fitness.

There is an alternative explanation, however. Stepchildren are for some men a permanent reminder of their mother’s capacity for infidelity, and of the man’s temporary ownership of the mother. By beating the child, he hopes to erase evidence of previous ownership, as it were. Killing the child would be best, but itself has certain drawbacks, at least when detected, as it usually is.

Let us, therefore, praise Ariana Grande’s profound and moving gesture.


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