phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

The law of the jungle

Posted by WordCamel on April 21, 2002

In Reply to: The law of the jungle posted by ESC on April 21, 2002

: : You hear derogatory references comparing situations to to "the way of the jungle" or "the way of the jungle" and similar phrases. I always took this to mean fullbore competition. Does it mean something more than that? Something specific?

: : Does it mean just something vicious? Or does it mean tribalism, or what? Thnx.

: : Pivvy

: What is the "law of the jungle"? Kill or be killed? And the first rule of survival is - don't look like lunch. This first reference implies that it is more a general principle than a law:

: LAW OF THE JUNGLE - "Some people; by words and actions, insist that we still live by 'the law of the jungle,' that is, like animals not governed by the rules of civilization. The term probably dates back to the late 19th century. 'Law of the prairie,' a similar U.S. term, is first recorded in 1823." From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). "Ruthless competition, especially when motivated by self-interest. The phrase was popularized by Kipling's 'Jungle Book' : 'The Law of the Jungle, which never orders anything without a reason, forbids every beast to eat Man except when he is teaching his children how to kill. 'Mowgli's Brothers'." From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

: I don't think it is about being vicious. It's about survival -- living at all costs.

Kipling would have been influenced by social darwinists who crassly applied Darwin's concept of natural selection - or survival of the fittest to explain and naturalise social inequality and colonialism. You can see this Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden". Where he describes the subjects of colonialism as "Half devil and half child". Though reading the poem makes us cringe now, it is a great example of how colonialists justified what they were doing to themselves.

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