Animal Pride

Posted June 10 2008

David Attenborough's spy cams show us the most gorgeous lion cubs. We see them learning to hunt.  And the adult lions drag down wildebeest from the great migratory horde which crosses the plains of Africa.  During the night I realize every last wildebeest we see on the screen will be taken by lions, dragged down, throat ripped open, and life torn from it.  If it escapes the lions it will be death by crocodile, or cheetah, and eventually picked clean by vultures. All the lions too, will be eaten. They all die... for what purpose? How is it different for us? We live in the tribe as long as we can. The Inuit, it is said, would abandon the old and frail to die in the cold. Are we any different putting them in the old folks' home? Perhaps a quick death would be preferable.

 So we are all trapped in the pride, obeying the rules of the ruling male. We get ahead when we can, grabbing an extra piece of food from the kill- scrap of meat and a big screen TV to keep us alive and living the dream. And we will all fade and outlive our use-by date.

All our belongings, all our technological prowess, all those "boulder-cams" taking close ups of the lions are just the struggle to stay alive. The cameras spying on the lions may persuade us we are different, above raw nature, but we are the same. We sentimentalise the cubs to avoid the pain of the sheer animality of all life. Looking down on them, spying and cooing, we can forget for a while the predatory lions which come to our own village, and break down the walls. Perhaps the lions will be in tanks and carry guns. Perhaps they will be cheap labour in a Chinese factory putting us out of work. But in the end we are prey and we will die. Maybe we shall rise to the chief's house, and become the Male of the pride. But we too will grow old and be left behind.

They say we are different from the animals. We feel, we choose, we are more self-conscious. Are we so different? The black cat came to my chair when I sat with my coffee this morning, and chirruped for permission to sit on my lap. We sat together, stroking, purring, murmuring. I could feel my yearning for comfort, and her desire to be close to me- perhaps not to talk, but a sort of longing beyond mere physical comfort. I think our differences are in degree only. When challenged on the train, or in the mall, we turn to snarling aggression no different than the lioness challenged in her pride.

 Faith in religion has little to say here. All it can say is that there is more- we think- or hope-  We hope life is not simply biological survival, and the passing on of genes. There are no proofs. There are only disputable glimpses of hope in the face of roaring lions and inevitable death. So much of people's certainty proves to be based on illusion or wistfulness. So much confident proclamation is based on an old book, read rote, blind to the tracks of the lions themselves through the pages. The uncertainty and pain, and the doubts and longings of the holy books themselves are ignored- too painful to see. And the defense of the faith is as tribal as the pride of lions. Question or doubt, and the pride will turn upon you.

 So I will do more. If this is all there is, I will still do and become more. I will not just live for my own survival. I will not live just for the pride of the tribe. I will live for humanity. I will live for the earth.

Such high ideals. And my family laughs at my shortcomings, and critcises my insensitivities. And they are right, I am not much of a person. I am weak, self centred, afraid, rarely selfless.  But what else can I do? If I will not seek to live for the whole, what am I? No more than hunter or prey on the plains.

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