There’s a widely-held view that humans are more evolved than other animals, and hence more accountable for their actions. That’s why a dog can quite contentedly piss on your leg and expect to get away with it. Birds shit all over the place, all the time, and do so with absolute impunity. My cat will disgorge a putrid clot of semi-digested fish wrapped in cat hair and just sit there looking at me with a ‘So? What you gonna do?’ expression. But try turning the tables on our interspecies oppressors and see what happens. Even when your motives are pure (‘Oh, my poor dog looks so thirsty! Here, boy! Have a beer!’) the killjoys from the RSPCA will be at your door with a warrant. Deny poor Schmoopy the hand-wrapped dog biscotti with whole blueberries (for the antioxidants), salmon oil (for a silky coat) and ‘wild prey’ meat (for playtime energy) for a mere $39.95 per tiny handful and you feel like an utter bastard.
True it is that we’ve been commodifying various animal species for millennia (for food, labor, or entertainment), yet somehow this contract has gone awry. For example, whenever animals attack, its human error. We should know that leaving our home is a hostile act of territorial encroachment, and that swimming in the same ocean as Carcharodon carcharias is tantamount to a declaration of war. God forbid you go jogging and disrupt the bucolic reverie of a rogue adult male kangaroo. And magpies! Don’t even go there! Just protecting their nests against all us tree-climbing, baby-bird-thieving cyclists! Humans are guilty by default, just because of our big, stupid brains. Well, I refuse to feel guilty. Guilt never got us to the top of the tree. That said, I’ve never put either of my cats into the microwave for a quick disciplinary minute on ‘HIGH’, not even at 2am when a certain somebody is tap-dancing on my head to be let out. That’s not to say I haven’t wanted to. I just haven’t. Yet. Looking at you, Hugo!
When all you nature-worshipping hippies are out there hugging trees, does it actually feel like the tree hugs you back? Reality check: I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. Probably the biggest favour you can do for a tree is to curl up and die. Add your blood and bone to the compost. Any wilderness romanticism you may harbour disappears very quickly once you’re actually in nature. Anyone who disagrees with me is invited to watch a season of ‘Alone’ on History Channel; or ‘Piranha 3DD’ (2012) for that matter (not even The Hoff can save you). Come back and rejoin the conversation when you’ve changed your mind, because big brain does not equal obligation to be the divine shepherd of nature. It just means the ants have more to digest when you die. Intelligence imparts no responsibility, just greater awareness; we use that awareness to ensure we don’t get eaten by the other animals, and to remember to turn the hotplate off and recharge our iPhones and stuff.
That said, there’s never any shortage of quality nominations for The Darwin Awards arising out of what nature-lovers euphemistically call ‘adverse animal/human interactions’. The woman killed by a tiger in Beijing after exiting her car in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary – stupid. The bloke who got eaten by a crocodile after walking past a crocodile warning sign to wade across the crocodile-infested Cahill’s Crossing in Kakadu – stupid. But we all hear those cautionary tales of mortal stupidity. There isn’t an elderly person in all of Japan whose sphincter does not pucker in terror at the mention of Australia’s redneck spider – smart. Crocodiles, sharks, blue-ringed octopi — blah, even the dumbest tourist knows to avoid those. Big brain put to good use, right? So why is it that your eyeballs don’t pop out of your head with fright when you see the biggest killer of them all?
That’s right. It’s Mr Ed. Followed by cows, dogs, kangaroos and bees. What’s sexy about a cow accidentally crushing you to death against a fence? Nothing. But it’s a helluva lot more dangerous than, say, a refugee from Syria. But even ‘adverse animal/human interactions’ don’t kill as many people as we do — suicide, alcohol, opioids, and lifestyle-related illnesses — for men and women in their prime (like me) it’s lung cancer and coronary heart disease. There aren’t enough bees in the world to sting to death all the people committing suicide on cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. This uniquely human way to die is contagious too, because it can be mapped to particular places in Western nations. So maybe President Trump needs to bring the Mexican Wall north and seal off West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas as well, before they can spread their poison. But then he’d be alienating his grassroots supporters, wouldn’t he.
Homo sapiens sapiens? Overrated. If we’ve truly got intelligence, then what say we start using some? Not in the mystic belly-rubbing Earth Mother sense, but in a hardline pragmatic sense. This ball of mud? It’s all we’ve got. We share it with other animals, other humans, and maybe even the odd extraterrestrial official come to process our visa application for entry into the Galactic Milieu (thanks Julian). Fingers crossed, because, who knows? Maybe the only thing holding us back from the next stage of evolution is this big, stupid brain of ours and our steadfast refusal to use it. I’m sure there’s a Yemeni philosopher who would articulate all of this much betterer than me, but we won’t know for sure until The Trump Organisation LLC starts building hotels there and they lift the ban. The gift of sapience, the burden of sentience, and the curse of nescience, all rolled into one. Try not to get eaten while you’re working it out.