“When I consider the curious habits of dogs, I am compelled to conclude that man is the superior animal. When I consider the curious habits of man, I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.”
Ezra Pound's Meditatio.
Characters in the three-act play.
Rondo: 65-pound canine mutt. Surrendered to the cops in Pawnee County. Delivered to the humane society. Adopted by Better Half and me about five years ago after our dog Blackie died in my arms at the vet. (Rondo is named after a former Boston Celtics point guard.)
Sparky F: Kitten abandoned two months ago by someone or something a half-mile south of our metropolis. Better Half heard meowing on her walk with Rondo. Found and rescued same day by Better Half and me. Cuddles, plays with everything. Learning to be nice to my naked toes. The F stands for Flatulence. (Better Half hates four-letter words.)
George: Skin-and-bones gray fuzzball over by Angela's, close to the church. Curled up at the bottom of the hedge. Rondo saw him first. Eyes mattered shut. Grass-burr embedded under his chin. Snot coming out his nose. He'd been wandering the street for a couple days, we were told. Maybe 3 weeks old, 10 ounces by the kitchen scale. Nobody we asked wanted him. Better Half said, “Well, you name him then.”
Today, as I write, George is at the vet in Plainville. We're hoping he survives.*
Could be that watching the new public television series on the Vietnam War inspired — if that's the right word — the column today. Dunno. As I watched the so-human organized inhumanity — which not incidentally, rhymes with insanity — I was reminded of Ezra Pound's little poem above.
I was reminded of the horror of war, where youngsters are carefully trained to put aside all those “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and do what they're told to kill people they've never met.
Other than humans (supposedly the superior work of God) only ants and chimpanzees organize to wage war against others of their species. And, when you think about it, maybe some humans are just chimps with less hair. More than a few attend official religious meeting rooms faithfully.
It made me think of another satirical quote pinned to my bulletin board, this one from the French enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, writing centuries ago: “I know I am among civilized men because they are fighting so savagely.”
Well, maybe we should just give up and admit it: Inhumanity is genetic. The do-unto-others sermon is mostly pious poop. Maybe whoever came up with it should have his head examined. Maybe it's applicable only when convenient, where there's no territory, no valuable natural resources to gain, no opportunity to make a few more bucks at the expense of somebody or somebodies less important or insufficiently armed.
That might help to explain our species' all too common superior attitude toward other species. If they're good eating, kill 'em and eat 'em. If they're not good to eat, just shoot 'em for fun. If they're not fun to shoot, save your ammo. If they're in that category of inferior creatures some call pets and you got one you like, is cute or that you find useful to round up cattle, OK. Others you have no affection for are too much trouble. They can stray until somebody picks them up, or they die — one way or another. Only people really count. At least some of them.
Well, as for multi-colored Rondo and black and white Sparky: It's taken a little coaching of do-unto-others but the two get along amazingly well and it's not too much to say we love them all more than we do some people we know. With hard work and patience, maybe our inhumane species can become truly superior animals instead of just bragging about it. At the moment, I'm not convinced the odds are good. A frustrated Mark Twain called ours “the damned human race.”
*Just before I finished today's column, the phone rang. I had a premonition. Dr. Mack (the vet) called to say, “George didn't make it through the night.”
This afternoon, we'll pick up the lifeless little ball of gray we came to love, and see he gets a respectful burial. He was a miracle who deserved much better than he got. And we'll miss him. Better Half and I will share our tears.
We're just sad you didn't get to know George. You might have loved him, too.
Bob Hooper, a fourth-generation western Kansan, writes from his home in Bogue.