DENIAL OF INSTINCT
MAN: THE MOST STUPID SPECIES
By Jeremy Bate
Picture it if you can. A guy drenches himself in deer piss and goes wandering out into the woods with his reluctant, handycam-toting wife, thinking he'll somehow "attract" a friendly deer to come over and maybe lick his face, while his wife gets it all on tape for the entertainment of his hunting buddies, failing to take into account that male deer are in the habit of beating the crap out of each other on a daily basis during rutting season. The "timid" woodland creature eventually approaches, and, smelling a rival perhaps, rears up on his hind legs and proceeds to pummel the Helpless Hominid with his front hooves. We can only watch as Man's "dominion" over the fauna of the Earth is mocked, while his dutiful wife keeps the camera running. Perhaps she was thinking, "Well HE thought of this. I told him it was a bad idea. But if HE wanted a video of himself playin' with a deer to amuse his pals, that's exactly what he's gonna get!" So she stands and videotapes her husband's near-death experience, holding the camera on the action as he pleads for help.
This was on television. It was on one of those "reality" shows that the Fox Network runs during sweeps week. The ones where people are killed in horribly stupid car stunts or airshow disasters; tragic and senseless deaths of hundreds of people made all the more lurid and intensely real by the low resolution home videos of the events. I like to tape them. This particular show was called When Animals Attack, and of all of the reality-based-amateur-video shows I have ever seen, it is unquestionably the best. There have since been two sequels. It should be called, "When People Are Dumbshits". It is a testament to the pervasive and unrelenting arrogance and stupidity of man, and an hysterically cathartic orgy of vengeance by Nature upon those who deserve it most- those sad, large-brained primates who, with all of their intellect and worldwide telecommunications, have lost the common sense that the Great Spirit gave to an earwig.
In nearly every case where an animal attacks a human, at least in the context of this documentary, the human is either WAY out of his element, like in the ocean, or doing something so utterly stupid that we would be disappointed if the animal DIDN'T attack. A guy tries to feed a mountain lion. An Australian macho-man sticks his arm in the mouth of a crocodile. A girl climbs the railing around the polar bear habitat and leans against the bars so that her friend can take a picture. When the polar bear reaches through the bars and grabs her, the look of astonishment on her face is priceless. The tragedy is, even after the girl was rescued alive, the polar bear was probably killed, as if the animal was somehow more wild and dangerous after the attack than it was before. Through the stupidity of one tourist, a great beast is now destroyed, for the crime of doing what it does naturally.
Even in the cases where the animals seem to attack unprovoked, the hand of man is ubiquitous. There is the black bear with a ring in his nose who mauls a taunting talk-show host. And there is the rogue circus elephant, his tusks removed, but no-less a behemoth, who yet still attacks his handler and trainer, to the exclusion of all others. It is clear that the elephant has a specific score to settle. It is a tragedy not only for the trainer that his ignorance and abuse should come back to haunt him with such violence, and certainly for the elephant who could take confinement and enslavement no longer, and who is destined for destruction, but also for the hapless children whose day at the circus has turned into a bloodbath, and who will grow up with the unshakable belief that elephants are vicious monsters.
These creatures simply respond to their environment in a way their instincts deem appropriate. In nature it seems, things like this don't happen without a reason, and the prevailing motivation is usually survival.
There is a logic and a sense to the survivalism which characterizes the behavior of the "lower" classes of life on this planet. A logic which frequently seems lost on humans. A desert rat knows, when confronted by the rattlesnake which has crawled into its burrow, that if it stays very very still, the snake, unable to see it clearly until it moves, will eventually slither away. A human is the only creature who would say, "Sheeooot, Vern, lookie there, a rattler. Let's go git it!" and get bitten and killed by a creature better left alone. The rat knew what to do when confronted by the snake. He didn't have to go and watch some nature documentary or need a degree in herpetology to know to keep still. But it seems like most people do, even those who you would think would know better. Until fairly recently in fact, most of our best minds believed that the reason the rat stood still was because the snake hypnotized it. Many still do. You can't very well talk to the rat, can you?
Many still cling to the image provided by Genesis of the evil serpent. For that matter many believe animals in general are denizens of Satan's domain. Even more level-headed biblical types still take literally the decree that Man has dominion over the Earth. This premise is so far reaching that even many of our modern scientists, while on the one hand presenting their craft as a "rational" alternative to religion, behave as if to further the self-same concept of dominion as a thoroughly modern and acceptable assumption. This hidden variable rears its ugly head when the discussion of animal experimentation comes up. It's as if the primary concepts of Judeo-Christianity are so imprinted upon our collective psyches that the most ardent debunkers of religion arise as Elmer Gantry in a lab coat when you poke them in their big brass balls of anthropocentric conceit.
At www.aynrand.com, you will see just such an example of anthropocentrism and the Tyranny of Dominion in all it's shit-kicking glory. This most blatant example of intellectual smoke-blowing since Mensa comes in the form of a small but unabashedly self-important society of cerebral Olympians known as "Objectivists". What exactly is an Objectivist, and why would he call himself such? The implication is that Objectivism is the antithesis of Subjectivism, that the Objectivist has no real opinions-that everything he utters is a fact, ergo anyone who disagrees with him is wrong. To call oneself an objectivist is to imply that one cannot be argued with. In actuality it is defined as a tendency to stress the external elements of cognition, to lay focus on the those things outside of the self, rather than on thoughts and feelings. In either case the result is the same-a denial of instinct and an insensitivity to the suffering of others. The gatekeeper of AynRandLand, in his specious attack on animal rights activists, suggests that the sole criterion upon which should be granted the rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is the ability to reason, and therefore, animals are not entitled to those rights. If one must prove the ability to reason in order to be granted the rights mentioned above like so much manna from Heaven, then millions of people around the world are shit out of luck. And I'm not just talking about those poor souls who have, through brain damage, Down's Syndrome, Alzheimer's Disease, or whatever, lost or been denied this ability. I'm talking about people you've seen walking around the mall. I'll get back to that one.
I would dearly love to debate this clown on the topic of whether the above mentioned mental impairments preclude a person from the right to a life free from suffering, but I already anticipate his response. By his logic, the answer would be an unequivocal yes, but I suspect he would either modify or set aside his premise and grant these subjects special privileges on the sole virtue of their humanity. Speaking from my own experience with these sort of debates, I can confidently say that the question of cognitive ability is merely propaganda, and that the qualifications are based on species, and not some arbitrary definition of intelligence, as measured against some barometer of relative I.Q. or brain size. And therefore his entire premise is self-disposable, since he either has to lay it aside himself, or create a very flexible definition of critical intelligence, in order to include those in the above categories, which would broaden the field far enough that a few non-humans might just slip in. Or he must, if pressured, admit that, since the brain-damaged or retarded cannot reason as well as he, then they are not entitled to the same rights, and should be placed in a category closer to experimental lab rats.
And who started this whole discussion anyway? Who decided that the ability to reason was the price of admission into the happy club? Was it Ayn Rand? Thomas Jefferson? And who were they, gods?
But these are subtleties, compared to the big question: What constitutes "reason"? And how the hell do we know that we have a monopoly on it? Is there any way for a species to define objectively that one criterion which gives it special rights? Is it any more reasonable to say that humans deserve Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Really Neat Toys because we can do arithmetic and crossword puzzles, than it is for white people to say that the sole criterion for the right to vote is whiteness? It's just doublespeak at that point. It reminds me of a joke from the old "Weekend Update" segment of Saturday Night Live. Jane Curtin was talking about some congressman or other who was trying to cover his ass for making a racist statement. In the joke news report he was quoted as saying, "I don't judge a man by the color of his skin. I judge him by how well you can see him in the dark when he smiles." Get it? It's doublespeak. We still think we're the end of the evolutionary ladder, that somehow God, or Darwin, or whatever gods of science and time and space may creep into our sterile, narrow little worldview have decreed that we may dish it out all we want, and consequences be damned for whoever or whatever gets in our way because were HUMAN, GODDAMMIT!!! We're better than the rest. Kill 'em all, let.... uh... whoever... sort 'em out! But we lie. We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that animals don't feel pain. We get into absurd debates over sentience and cognition and neurological evolution which are designed primarily to assuage our guilt over the unending and unimaginable suffering we dish out upon the creatures we share this planet with. Suffering which is a by-product of expedience and greed. Period.
Oh yeah. Back to those people in the mall. Remember Dawn of the Dead? All the zombies just wanted to get in the shopping center, because it was somehow imprinted on their nervous systems that this was the place to be, even after they had become shambling corpses. They weren't after the people holed up in there, or even the contents of the stores themselves. They just wanted to walk around the mall. Rent the movie, and then go to your local mall and watch the shoppers. It'll creep you out, man.
Here we are, at the top of the food chain, and we can't even think for ourselves. We need someone or something to remind us to wipe. Notice your cat. How clean she is! She even licks her nasty old butt, because it's that important to be clean. And she won't ever shit where she eats, will she? Now go into the nearest public men's room, even where you work. Notice the walls. I won't gross you out with the details. Suffice it to say some humanoid has taken it upon himself to mark his territory with his own effluvia. This is a man you might see working in the food service industry or interacting with your children. He pays taxes just like you. He probably has kids of his own, and I'll bet you a dollar that they have the same bathroom habits he has.
What's my point? I don't know. People are gross, that's all. We have barely dragged ourselves onto two feet this week, and we are already congratulating ourselves on the many large rockpiles and overpriced cuckoo clocks we have tinkered together in our mad rush to Godhood. But when we marvel at the Seven Wonders of the World, we conveniently overlook the grotesque amount of slave labor required to construct them. When we laud the noble feats of our great heroes, we are blissfully unaware, thanks to centuries of historical revisionism, of what slimeballs many of them were. The point is, we think much too much of ourselves. Well what do you expect? It's what happens when survival instinct and territorial imperative, which were so necessary on the veldt, atrophy through disuse into a lump, like a second stomach which becomes an appendix and sometimes has to be removed. In humans these once important functionaries of natural selection have, in their idleness, been metastasized by intellect into a deadly disease called EGO--that sense of self-importance exclusive to humans. Oh what highs of demigodhood are to be had for the lucky human animal! Unfortunately, the come-down's a bitch: a mortal and existential terror. A fear of destruction unknown to the animals, who are too busy surviving to pay much attention to their own mortality. Kind of ironic, huh? A species who has been "blessed" with such exquisite tools for world domination, lying at night in cowering fear of the inevitable, while the "dumb brutes" who think only of their next meal or getting a good scratch in before dinner, don't even think about it. Thomas Pynchon said it beautifully, in Gravity's Rainbow: So how do we get free of our sweaty midnight fears of dissolution? Do we overcompensate with polemics on the prosaic certainty of our evolutionary stature, or our aloneness in the universe? Or do we accept our mortality and insignificance in the face of geologic time, and get on with our pointless little lives. I believe we've probably been visited hundreds of times throughout our history by every manner of interstellar tourist or primatologist, but were found either too boring and crude too waste time on, or somehow "cute", and entertaining the way a pet store full of puppies might be. Either way, the observers might find it rather amusing that so many of us cling to the notion that WE'RE IT. Frankly, in that context it's rather laughable.
Laughable, yet perpetual.
And still, our awe of our own technology continues to suppress our critical faculties.
The Excluded Middle | Back Issues | Current Issue | Ordering Info | LINKS!
©2000 The Excluded Middle Magazine