Posted in Rants on December 13th, 2010 by Ed

I watched an unreasonably large number of those 70s/80s style nature films when I was a kid. Richard Attenborough, Marlin Perkins, and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom were regular guests in our home. They also served regularly as time-fillers on the frequent days on which my 3rd grade teacher was hung over or possibly still drunk. I always enjoyed them, but I think kids end up seeing a lot of these things as a form of social conditioning (even though I doubt most adults realize it). This is life in the U-S of A, kids. Law of the jungle. Survival of the fittest. The weak eaten by the strong. Everything is a competition. Some baby bunnies live and others get eaten; that's just the way of the world. No point in trying to change it.

Even at a young age I had some issues with the way this rather ham-fisted metaphor was presented. I suppose there are some life lessons to be extracted from nature, but like most things we selectively learn only the worst lessons. Glorify the predator, have only token sympathy for the prey (whose sole reason for existing is to be eaten), and solve the problem of being abused in a hierarchy by rising to the top of it. Only the strong survive, so be as strong as possible. Just think how great life will be when everyone else is afraid of you. Do I read too much into these things? Sure, probably. But that doesn't mean there aren't lessons worth learning amongst the bad ones.

Every prey animal has some kind of defensive adaptation. When the Big Cat attacks the herd of antelope, they scatter in different directions. It's not a terrible plan. The lion can only chase (and potentially eat) one of them. Being a smart predator, she chases the most vulnerable ones. So the young and the old get eaten and, hey, fuck 'em. The old are useless and the young ones who aren't smart enough to escape are better weeded out of the herd. The problem, of course, is that eventually every antelope becomes the one that isn't fast enough to run away. It's only a matter of time until all of them meet the same fate when they're too old to be useful anymore.

The water buffalo isn't fast enough to run away. They get into that sweet little defensive circle (adults outside, the young and old inside). When the lion comes looking she has to think a bit harder; how hungry am I? There are a lot of them and those horns look pretty sharp. I might be able to get one, but is it worth the risk? It would be so easy if there was some way to make them scatter. Ah, crap. Looks like they're going to stick together. Where are the antelope?

Social Darwinism and the "life is like the jungle" attitude that are so pervasive in our society have a single purpose: to convince you that you are an antelope. The only thing you can do is run away. You'll be OK so long as there are other people around who are even more vulnerable. You could try to stop them, but why? Every time they eat the poor, the geezers, and the kids who are defenseless, you live another day. Don't try holding your ground against the big, strong predator. Don't stick together or they'll eat all of you.

Just imagine how much different our politics and society would be if we were less eager to say "As long as they're eating someone else, I don't care" and more apt to get in a big group and ask the lion if it feels lucky.