Alpha deconstructs Cinderella!

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a news story of the sort I've seen many times. So many times that it might as well be generic. A small child was killed by his mother's boyfriend:

A 21-year-old Nicetown man, who police said fatally struck a toddler he had been disciplining, was formally charged Sunday with murder.

Malik Powell, of the 3800 block of North 18th Street in Philadelphia, was charged with killing his girlfriend's son, 20-month-old Rashaan Anderson, Friday afternoon.

They said he fell, of course. But later came an admission of sorts:
Police initially were told the child had fallen out of bed. But they said Powell admitted that while showering the child, he struck the boy in the chest for misbehaving, causing the toddler to fall into the tub.

The child was pronounced dead about 5 p.m. Friday at Temple University Hospital. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a homicide, caused by blunt-force impact to the torso.

It takes a lot of blunt-force impact to the torso kill a child. And what I would like to ask the mom's boyfriend is precisely what is it that could possibly constitute "misbehavior" by a 20 month old boy when he is being given a shower by a man who is not his father (and not only has no reason to love and nurture him, but probably resents the hell out of his mere presence)?

Might the baby have cried?

According to studies, crying is precisely what has triggered many a so-called "alpha male" to murder the child of what I guess should be called a "rival."

No matter how good our protective or preventive measures, there will always be parents who will harm or even kill their children. Whether the killer is their biological father or their stepfather may not seem that relevant when it comes to informing preventive policies, but research suggests otherwise.

In 1988, US data showed that children aged up to two are at about 100 times greater risk of being killed by their stepfather than their biological father. Psychologists call this the Cinderella effect. The research went on to look at British data, concluding that it indicated "considerable excess risk at the hands of stepfathers".

The Cinderella Effect? Why would they call it that? It's been some time since I've read the tale, but I think most people know that Cinderella was persecuted (not murdered) by a wicked stepmother who favored her own daughters, and not by a stepfather. The monstrous phenomenon of "alpha males" killing a child of a live-in girlfriend, while the subject of much online discussion, can hardly be called comparable to the story of Cinderella, and I think the use of that term only trivializes it.

I also wonder why they're conflating the term "stepfather" to include men who haven't the slightest intention of marrying their live-ins with those who have made such a commitment. But what do I know? Besides, I haven't got a Ph.D. in social science, so I doubt those who are in charge of these things would pay attention to me. They're too busy writing public policy designed to conflate law-abiding tax-payers and the criminal subculture. That way, they can say "we are all at risk!", put stacks of preachy pamphlets in every bathroom, and regard all parents as suspects.

With the rates of remarriage, divorce and cohabitation steadily increasing, giving rise to more stepfamilies, this is a disturbing thought. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2006 84% of stepfamilies consisted of a stepfather and biological mother living with children from her previous relationship.

Research suggests that whereas genetic fathers often kill their children "more in sorrow than in anger", out of perceived necessity and/or as part of a suicide, homicides committed by stepfathers tend to be more rage driven, impulsive acts motivated by hostility towards the child and characterised by violently beating or shaking them.

Despite this evidence, some researchers believe that minimal attention has been given to stepfathers - or mothers' boyfriends - as the perpetrators of these crimes and the reasons behind them.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center in the US, says: "Sociobiologists point out that these are men who have no genetic stake in this child and see them as competition for attention and time, and their own offspring. Among other primates it's not unknown for a new alpha male to kill the children of the dominant male when he comes into a group."

Other primates, huh? Is that what being an alpha male is all about? Tell me more, Dr. Finkelhor! I'm intrigued. Obviously, I am not an alpha male, because I cannot imagine circumstances which would possess me to kill a woman's child. I'm assuming that these boyfriends ("stepfather" strikes me as an inaccurate term) must love the women they move in with, right? And if you love someone, even if that love did not necessarily flow to loving that person's child, wouldn't you at least possess a sufficient modicum of good will to refrain from murdering the child? What am I not getting about "alpha male" here? Does the term simply mean the antithesis of "civilized"? According to some definitions, yes.

In any event, being nurturing is not one of them.

But Finkelhor believes the reasons are simpler than that. "That has some reality to it, but I think it operates through more familiar psychological mechanisms; that these aren't men who feel a natural affinity or protectiveness about the children of the women they are involved with. These are not men who are nurturing."

This squares with the fact that a child's inconsolable crying is one of the main triggers for these homicides.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the expression "alpha male" in the context of child murderers. I've read a lot of rot about alpha males, and there are some very popular blogs I will not name written by self-styled alpha male leaders. Bombastic as I think they often are, I doubt very much they would countenance (much less advocate) murdering a girlfriend's children. But what do I know? I don't even know the exact meaning of the term, much less whether it is a good or a bad thing to imagine being.

MSN Encarta seems to know (and it's headed ultimately by Bill Gates, who is obviously the Alpha Male's Alpha Male, right?)

1. dominant male animal: a male in a pack of wolves, or a similar pack or troop of animals, that other members submit to and follow and that takes priority in mating with females

2. dominant man: a man who controls the activities of a group and to whom others defer ( informal )

I knew a guy who was a total asshole who managed to control nearly everyone around him simply because they never knew what to do or where to go in social situations and he would always be the first to loudly declare where everyone should go and what they should do. Now, no one had to follow this guy, who was rude and obnoxious. But I noticed that the people who did were not so much following him as they were making their lives easier by jointly deciding to let him decide. Otherwise, the group would have wasted huge amounts of time aimlessly wandering around debating. And whether they had a good time or not, it wasn't their fault; it was Mr. Alpha's! I thought he was being used by the group he "led" whether he knew it or not. (Personally, I would have hated being in his position.) Interestingly enough, there were a number of men who had no time for him or for the group and just avoided him entirely. I guess you could call them "anti-social," but they didn't want to be led as part of the group, nor did they want to lead the group. I like such people, but I guess they're not alphas, because it seems to be expected of an alpha that he be in a group, otherwise how could he lead it?

However, the issue at hand is the alpha male as a child killer, and I am almost certain that the alpha male asshole I knew would never murder a child -- neither his nor anyone else's.

You think defining alphahood is bad, try getting reliable statistics about child murders. For starters, the vast majority of murdered children are in their late teens (which means not children to me), but don't try looking for statistics about "infanticide," because that term is generally limited to mothers killing children, and newborn children at that. Which means that when you see statistics appearing to show that mothers kill their babies at a higher rate than stepfathers or live-ins, they are skewed by the fact that vast majority of babies murdered by their mothers don't make it past their first year, with being simply snuffed out at birth:

In the United States, you are 10 times more likely to die by homicide -- to be murdered -- on the day you are born than at any other time during your life, according to a study just released by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC).

Even if you make through your first day, you still risk a better chance of being murdered during your first year of life than in any other year of childhood before you turn 17, according to the CDC.

Interesting use of the word "you," isn't it? I can't remember whether they told me when I was born that I was more likely to be murdered on that day than at any other day of my life.

Trying to narrow it down to children killed by live-in alpha male non-parents is a tall order. According to a pair of Canadian authors who have repeatedly studied the matter, American statistics gatherers fail to differentiate between parents and stepparents:

Although stepparents in some societies are related to the children, Daly and Wilson reasoned that stepparents are not generally kin to their stepchildren, at least not in most Western societies. Therefore, we might expect that they would show no predilection to sacrifice themselves (in large or even small ways) on a stepchild's behalf. They sought to find out if this hypothesis, based on Hamilton's extension of Darwin's ideas, was true.

Wilson says, "We were astonished to find that it was not easy even to begin to explore this hypothesis. Official statistics from the United States didn't reveal whether parents who abused children were step or biological. It just didn't occur to criminologists that the nature of the relationship was important, so they generally didn't bother to record it." She and Daly had to took beyond the official statistics, to the raw data of case histories. By 1980 they had demonstrated that children under three years of age are at least seven times more likely to be abused by stepparents than by biological parents.

Daly and Wilson believed, however, that statistics for child abuse in general might be biased by underreporting or incomplete reporting. After all, parents don't want to admit that they have beaten their children; there are plenty of ways to conceal abuse or to explain away injuries. To gain a truer picture, the researchers decided to focus specifically on a form of abuse that is exceedingly difficult to cover up: homicide. Once again -- even more astonishingly -- most official statistics, including the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, the U.S. national archive, did not differentiate between killings by stepparents or by biological parents. But Statistics Canada from 1974 to 1990 did contain relevant data.

Its figures showed that children under the age of two were at least one hundred times more likely to be killed by stepparents -- particularly stepfathers -- than by biological parents. "Of course," Daly stresses, "most stepparents take to the task extremely well, and generally make loving substitute parents. The incidence of abuse is low." Nonetheless, for stepparents the homicide rate comes out at about 600 per million parent-child groups living together, compared with just a handful for biological parents. Further examination of records in the United States and Britain revealed an increased risk for children with stepparents.

That sounds like an easy accusation for Canadians to level at Americans, but if the government language here is any indication, the concern appears well-founded. From a report titled "Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities: Statistics and Interventions"
Research indicates that very young children (ages 3 and younger) are the most frequent victims of child fatalities. NCANDS data for 2007 demonstrated that children younger than 1 year accounted for 42.2 percent of fatalities, while children younger than 4 years accounted for more than three-quarters (75.7 percent) of fatalities. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves.


No matter how the fatal abuse occurs, one fact of great concern is that the perpetrators are, by definition, individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims. In 2007, one or both parents were responsible for 69.9 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities. More than one-quarter (27.1 percent) of these fatalities were perpetrated by the mother acting alone. Child fatalities with unknown perpetrators accounted for 16.4 percent of the total.

There is no single profile of a perpetrator of fatal child abuse, although certain characteristics reappear in many studies. Frequently, the perpetrator is a young adult in his or her mid-20s, without a high school diploma, living at or below the poverty level, depressed, and who may have difficulty coping with stressful situations. In many instances, the perpetrator has experienced violence firsthand. Most fatalities from physical abuse are caused by fathers and other male caregivers. Mothers are most often held responsible for deaths resulting from child neglect (U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1995).

Note the phrase "fathers and other male caregivers." The government statisticians are not only lumping stepfathers in with live-in boyfriends, they're lumping them in with real fathers.

Next they'll be saying that babies are being killed by the "macho male culture." (Yes, even though most babies are killed by their mothers, macho male culture puts us all at risk!)

What worries me is the conflation that's going on. A psychopathic subset of predatory criminals who do unthinkable things to children are called "alpha males" and the government refers to them as "individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims" and lumps them in with actual fathers
and real stepfathers who have married the mothers, and broadly worded calls for "intervention" are issued by the experts.

And now I am at the end of a post I started because I was confused, and I find myself more confused than I was when I started. I'll never understand the stuff these experts spout. The more they try to explain, the more confused I get.

It wouldn't be so bad if I could just ignore them. But for whatever reason, they have enormous control over policy (which is then implemented by social workers who have the power to intervene).

I never cease to marvel over how a group of people get do all of these things without ever being elected to anything. (Talk about alphas!)

Being ruled by the social science people is worse than taxation without representation.

posted by Eric on 07.05.10 at 01:23 PM


"... Among other primates ..."

I suggest that we are not "other primates".

"Nicetown" - fascinating name.

ZZMike   ·  July 5, 2010 7:53 PM

There are the "sheepdog" type alphas and "wolf" type alphas.

So you could be an alpha.

M. Simon   ·  July 6, 2010 11:15 AM

These "studies" are blinding themselves by excluding the social group that most of these "boyfriends" and their women hail from.

There is a certain devolution towards primitive tribalism and even animal behavior pervading the inner-city culture. We see it in the gang wars over turf, people being killed for "dissing" another, and yes, the complete lack of concern for the offspring of another man.

Political Correctness prevents us from acknowledging such things.

brian   ·  July 6, 2010 12:16 PM

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