The Cave Beast


Most of us are civilized. We open doors for old people and self-deprecate so that everyone feels at ease. We drink whiskey on the rocks because it’s crude to drink from the bottle and always in moderation because it’s even less refined to lose control. We turn off lights in other people’s offices because we want to minimize the environmental impact of electricity generation. We make sure to leave the toilette seat down.

And all of this is fine. It’s good, it’s needed. The people around us certainly prefer we continue to do these things, which is why it’s a problem that there’s an animal inside that would really like to open the door for that friendly stranger, exchange three glances and then fuck like rabbits. Or how about the cave-beast three millimeters under the surface who fantasizes about spilling the blood of enemies, glorying in their cries, laughing as they beg? That guy who doesn’t want peace or prosperity or equality. His idea of animal rights, to the extent it exists at all, means crushing a snake’s head between his teeth before he pulls out the guts. He’s scary, deeply anti-social and he isn’t going to be moralized, civilized or monitored away. Somebody’s got to give him his blood.

I’ll tell you how this guy feels to me. He’s purity like a blizzard. Life that rubs your throat raw. A primal fury buried so deep under all the scruples and plans and humanity and cerebral cortex that it’s somehow even more base than fear. Letting him out is like carrying an annoying cripple on your back for months, dropping him on the floor and then pissing in his hair. When this cave-beast gets loose the world melts away to nothing but the absolute essentials. The sound of a beating heart, the impact of skin on muscle on bone, gusts of wind over sweaty cheeks.

He is incompatible with safety. He does not desire comfort. He wants combat and sensation and to look death in the eyes. Left to his own devices, he is a menace.


Upper and middle class parents are increasingly shielding their children from traditional tough-guy sports. White families are fleeing from football. Boxing, once the realm of people like Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, has become the province of disposable, lower-class boys. Sport, somehow, has gotten mixed up with the Mario Brothers.

The genteel, understandably, want to shield their kids from concussions and broken fingers and torn rotator cuffs. Pain is bad, after all, and Junior should experience as little of that as possible. Heaven forbid little Mary suffer, realize pain isn’t so bad and overcome her healthy, abundant fears. As for the caveman inside, well, that’s what we have repression for. Who cares if they grow up to be pussies? That’s what trust funds are for.


I have dislocated my right kneecap six times. There’s arthritis inside the joint that will continue to degenerate for the rest of my life. My left arm isn’t entirely straight because I once caused the radius to fracture and displace sufficiently to jam into my ulna. Imagine your forearm reshaped as a question mark and you’ll get the idea what that looks like. A 215 pound wrestler with 6% body fat once threw me onto my head sufficiently hard that I kicked myself in the nose. I’ve blown involuntary snot bubbles after a steroid abusing linebacker speared me in the chest with the top of his helmet. I’ve jumped motorcycles both successfully and unsuccessfully, which is to say I know how it feels to bail off a bike 10 feet in the air at 40 mph. I’ve run until my field of vision contracted down to nothing and the world turned purple.

All of these things hurt, hurt a lot. I don’t want to dislocate my knee again or re-break my radius. I don’t particularly want to run until I lose my sight. But honestly, there’s approximately a zero percent chance I’m giving up my dangerous hobbies.

The first reason I’m not going to stop is I feel like these painful experiences taught me about myself. Despite the things the proponents of cheap self-esteem would have you believe, true self-regard is earned. I know I can function with a broken arm. I know I don’t panic at the sight of my own blood. I know that I’m a tough person because I’ve proven it dozens of times. Without those broken bones and impacts, I would hope that when things got hard, I could endure. But I don’t have to hope, I know. The amount of confidence this gives me has been a huge advantage in more ways than I can count.

The second reason is that smashing some dude on a football field, feeling the impact of a head-and-shoulder throw in a wrestling match, jumping a motorcycle and sliding a car at 120 mph feels amazing. It’s like having fifty orgasms, overdosing on heroine and listening to Mozart live all at the same time. My cave-beast loves violence and chaos, but thankfully, he isn’t so picky on the forms that violence and chaos come in. A football game or a mugging, the wild thing inside doesn’t care. A left hook in a boxing ring, or a straight jab into a passerby’s nose, makes no difference to the animal. Seems like those dangerous sports upper and middle class families are keeping their kids out of serve a very pro-social function, seems like combat sports and motorcycle racing are not only harmless outlets for the cave-beast but crucibles within which our civilized selves can earn self-regard.

I wonder how those children of padded families, so safe, so built up with unearned self-esteem and cossetted in safety – I wonder what their cavemen do.


If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying the author’s novel.

For customers living in East Asia.



  1. “When this cave-beast gets loose the world melts away to nothing but the absolute essentials. The sound of a beating heart, the impact of skin on muscle on bone, gusts of wind over sweaty cheeks.”

    This sounds like what the fighters and coaches I interviewed were describing. A most interesting perspective on living, how these moments bring you UP CLOSE to what is elemental as you possibly can, where colors and sound scream, on the razor sharp divide between (the question of whose) power and (whose) vulnerability.

    Have to demur on one point: brutality is not the only way to earn self-regard.

    And as a protective middle-class mom, Yours Truly believes in keeping boys active (without socking someone’s eye out) and trained in the skills to ward off cavemen who might want to go animal on her son.

    Great writing, B.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree it’s not the only way. It was an important way for me personally, but it’s certainly not the only foundation for my self regard. However, while physical violence is not necessary, I would argue that hardship, exertion and high stakes are.

      Motherhood would seem to include all three.

      1. Nodded (esp as a Korean-American): “I would argue that hardship, exertion and high stakes are.”

        “Motherhood would seem to include all three” And then you won me for good. LOL.

      2. Hahaha, well I obviously can’t know from experience, but I’d be willing to bet childbirth in itself fits the criteria. Hard, painful and the stakes are two human lives. It’s an amazing thing.

      3. And you feel every bit of it through and through when you do it without numbing yourself as I did at home!

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