Posts Tagged ‘Zebra’

Grant's Gazelles (Nanger granti), Serengeti Na...

Grant’s Gazelles (Nanger granti), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What! Another Parable?

Well, perhaps not really a parable. It seems that recently I have come across, in various guises the concept that the essential driving force of humanity or at least individual humans following their descent from the safety of the trees to lift their heads above the savannah was; Is it good to eat? Can I have sex with it? And, will it kill me? From these three elemental interests, it has in various ways been argued that our psychology and social arrangements can be deduced.

Now we all may agree that this is a bit simplistic. On the other hand, if we assume that these or some similar urges prompted our remote ancestors to take up life on the dangerous grassy world of the savannah, then I maintain there are at least two other impulses that at this important moment marked man from the other fauna around him (more if we were to discuss women the more subtle gender. But I will leave that for another day.)

The first is the remarkable facility of humans to confuse images with reality and find some utility in it that we call thought or ratiocination. This I also will not discuss here.

The second unique ability of humans is that when they raised their heads above the swaying frond of grass they also thought, Now who can I get to bring me my food, procure my sex for me and die instead of me if need be.

What, you say it is not separate from the first three but simply a mechanism to deal with them prompted by their confusion of metaphors that we later called thinking. I disagree.

It is distinctly rare in the animal kingdom for any species to behave in that way. Few if any species, for example, sit around and choose one or more members to die for them. Even the noble Naked Mole Rat, when faced with a predator that is too strong for the group to deal with would not send one of their number out to die. Instead one of these heroic if decidedly ugly creatures nobly offers himself or herself for the intruders’ dinner.

Humans do not behave that way. Generally, with humans, only someone conditioned by others who prefer not to die, will offer himself instead for their benefit and make the ultimate sacrifice.

Take the examples of the lions and gazelles sharing the same grassy world as the early humans. The lions are hungry. They stalk the gazelles through the grass. The gazelles see them and run away leaving to the lions the slow of foot, the sick and the lame.

Now suppose for some reason the same sickness as humans strike the gazelles and a group of them stop and say to each other. “This is stupid all this running around so that the slowest get eaten by the lions. It is exhausting, it interferes with our grazing and wasteful. Let’s choose someone we do not like very much or is not you know, really one of us, hamstring him and leave him for the lions.” And so they do just that.

Lo and behold the lions fall upon the surrogate and the gazelles go back to eating the grass.

Now assume this goes on for generations, the Lions lose their hunting skills and become fat and lazy. The clever gazelles realize this and begin leaving a little less each feeding time. After a suitable number of generations the lions beacon little more than the gazelles’ pets useless for nothing much more than scaring other predators off; after all, they have little enough of their own food. The gazelles, recognizing a good thing realize that they do not even have to sacrifice one of their own; they could hamstring a Gnu or a Zebra just as well.

Eventually, the lions are controlled and the gazelles increase and eat the Savannah grass until almost none is left but a few clumps here and there as the land begins to turn into a desert. The gazelle leaders meet to try to figure out what to do. They decide, reasonably, that the remaining grass should be reserved for only the leaders and the less successful will have to shift for themselves.

“But,” cries one of the soon to be starving gazelles, “it is us the gazelles who turned this paradise into a desert by over eating an overpopulating it and unless we all, gazelles, lions, gnus, and zebras get together all the grass will be gone.”

“Ha,” laughed the gazelle leaders, “do not be ridiculous, gazelles could not be the cause. Why a thousand years ago this land was a desert, then the rains came and the grass grew and the gazelles and the lions came and made the savannah a paradise through the efforts of the leaders who naturally and rightfully should enjoy the remaining grasslands until the rains come again.”

This infuriated the other gazelles and the lions who were listening so much that they attacked the leaders to take the remaining stands of grass away from them, but in so doing the battle destroyed those remaining few tufts grass anyway and the gazelles died and so did the lions.

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