I was stopped at a red light this morning, staring blankly at the lush green tree tops that seemed bare only weeks ago, when a flock of birds rose up from within them taking flight. They moved in unison, dark forms against a bright blue sky and it made me wonder if perhaps we humans are actually the lesser species on this earth.
I know, that seems utterly ridiculous given our mental capacity and the few natural predators we have. But as I watched the birds gracefully dance, seemingly immune to the natural forces of gravity, it made me think about how we are a species full of self harm and harm to one another. That perhaps all the advances we have made throughout the millenia, the taming of our predators and even nature itself, has left us feeling too safe, with too much time to let our brains go into those dark places of self-doubt, too much thought of how we are perceived, too much ego, and too much want. Perhaps no longer having to survive any number of unknown threats has made us less able to survive the biggest threat, the one that is our idle selves.
The more I thought about it, the more it stung. We are the only species to take drugs, consume alcohol, and smoke, basically poison ourselves, on purpose. Granted, we do not eat our young, but we also lack the instinct to not kill unless necessary. Wolves, when in a battle over pack or territory, will fight until the weaker wolf sits and bares his neck allowing the stronger wolf to kill him. In that moment, the more dominant wolf lets the weaker wolf leave the territory or fall back into the pack. There is no grudge held, no deep-seated need to plan the next battle, no gloating by the wolf that won. They go on, surviving. And the same goes for lions and tigers. They lay about while gazelles and zebras graze nearby. Sure, they could destroy the both herds in one fell swoop, but for what purpose? They only kill what they need to survive. In between, everything remains quite peaceful. The zebras aren’t choosing the weirdo zebra to throw out to the lions the next time they’re hungry, nor are they devising a plan to destroy the lioness’ babies while they play about, before they become a threat. No. They just go on doing their thing, no grudge, keenly aware of their own need to stick together and remain aware of the predators close by. Humans on the other hand, being enlightened enough to find god, or powerful enough to call himself king, have destroyed whole countries based on religion, ego, greed, and fear. We murdered millions in the Crusades, millions during World War II and millions more in events that came before, after and in between those. We enslaved, raped, and beat millions more. And none of the killings was just because we were hungry. These acts of violence took place out of desire for power, a desire to force one person’s worldview, faith, or ideals on another. A need to have more land, more oil, more people under our command. A need to feel important. And when we humans win, be it a basketball game, a game show, the presidency, or a war, we gloat. We rub it in the losers’ faces. We make sure they know who’s better, who’s more important, who’s in charge. And the losers take it to heart and either go on feeling like losers, or plan their revenge; a coup, a comeback, or a public embarrassment. And we have spent our entire history repeating this pattern in one form or another. It happens in offices, school yards, homes, the DMV, everywhere.
If humankind is superior to all the other species on earth, then why is it we take pleasure in hurting one another. In the most harmless of examples, we’ve all been there, that moment you can throw some shade or a snide comment at another, or purposefully leave someone out while making sure they know they are left out, that they are “less than.” In the most dangerous of examples, assault, rape, murder, war. Even more perplexing is the harm we do to ourselves, not for survival, but for recognition, retribution, self-worth, etc. We starve ourselves, we over eat, we abuse drugs and alcohol, we self harm, and we commit suicide. Many species of animals stop eating or hide to die because they are physically sick. We actually stop eating, abuse drugs, commit suicide because our brains are sick. Not our bodies.
So perhaps the gift of being human, of being the superior species, was actually a trade-off. Perhaps in exchange for our ability to create easier lives where we worked less with our hands and bodies, where feeding ourselves was not about hunting and foraging but about where the closest parking spot to the front door of ShopRite is, where developing vaccines and medicines to stop diseases, or make them manageable instead of deadly, we traded safety in numbers, safety in belonging to a community, and overall mental safety. The fact that we no longer have to worry about being eaten while trying to put together dinner means our minds are left to wander. Perhaps having so few predators (beasts, diseases, weather) has left us being our own worst predator. And if that’s the case, I envy those birds. They’re not feeling hate or fear or embarrassment. There are no grudges, no unseated desires to take over the world. They go to sleep each night in their nests knowing they made it safely despite the hawks and foxes and speeding cars. And they made it safely to their nests together, as a flock.