The cruelty of nature is shocking
The trials and sufferings of “wildlife” are hard to contemplate. Deer who starve in the winter, the mouse that becomes the toy of a cat and dies in misery, the slow and painful death of animals from disease, starvation, thirst. I won’t go on. You either accept this premise or, perhaps justifiably, want to blindly believe that animals don’t suffer pain the way humans do. Oh, how I wish I could believe that. But the value of survival strongly suggests that the goad of pain, hunger, and thirst are as sharp as possible for all species.
Today I found myself asking a neighbor, “Is this turtle yours?”
A turtle (actually a tortoise, see the first scene of Blade Runner for clarification) was walking across the street. I avoided hitting it, but realized that if the tortoise were to stay around (and stay round!), I had to go back. After a U-turn I saw a truck come so close that the tortoise pulled in his or her head and froze. I got out, picked up the still-closed shell, and yelled to a grey-haired man in his yard, “Is this your turtle?” Strangely, he knew the turtle. “He’s not mine but roams around the neighborhood. He was in my yard not that long ago. I thought he was a new rock. It’s surprising how quickly he gets around.”
“Slow and steady wins the race,” I said, handing him the tortoise, who had won the race by only a hare’s breadth.
Animals in the natural state suffer cruelty that abhors humans
We have difficulty watching nature programs that reveal “nature red in tooth and claw” and the relationship of predator and prey. The footage is edited to shorten the suffering. Humanity has the decency to shoot horses, put suffering diseased animals to sleep, and stop the pain that nature has inflicted on animals, including us and our ancestors, for millions of years.
Concern emerged recently
Nature doesn’t really care about anything but survival and reproduction. Suffering is a side effect of nervous systems designed for survival, and it goes on even when survival is no longer possible. Yet, somehow, nature has produced large-scale c0mpassion, but only recently, in the form of civilized and aware human beings. The consequence of this is that we have been put in a position of responsibility. We have cornered the compassion market.
Humans care about other species. That’s new.
This puts a lot of pressure on humanity. Compassion and a desire to reduce animal suffering, not previously apparent the history of the planet, even among early humans, certainly not among the Romans, or well formed in the early industrial age, have emerged recently with modern civilization. Education, awareness and the leisure time to address the problem have set higher standards for animal care and treatment on farms, in laboratories, which work as humanely as possible to combat disease in both humans and animals, and in daily life. Dog fights, cock fights, bull fighting are still tolerated in backward parts of the world. Cruelty, both oblivious and intentional, of course continues. But the trend is on the side of reducing animal suffering.
We now know that animals feel pain, and it’s our responsibility as civilized humans to end a suffering animal’s life quickly. Of course, if it’s feasible, administration of an anesthetic is even better if the animal has a chance of living without pain. If a cat brings you a mortally wounded a mouse or bird, it’s hard to do, but the alternative to a merciful blow of a shovel is much worse for the animal.
It’s not a pleasant topic, and not sure why I feel compelled to write about something so obvious, but we humans are in charge of the whole compassion franchise. The tortoise reminded me that we humans are in the driver’s seat. It’s not easy, in fact it’s impossible to stop all suffering in nature, a problem for some sects of Buddhism that define nirvana as the end of suffering not just for oneself but for all sentient beings.
As a practical concern, reducing animal suffering as much as we can is everybody’s job. And it’s the best job anyone has done since life emerged on planet Earth. Compassion is an emergent property of matter. Keep up the good work.