Personal Journeys with Gramma

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Dominion Over Beasts?

Did you see the photo of the woman holding her newborn infant to the glass in a zoo where a gorilla mom presents her own baby in response? Both moms understood the situation. The first time I met the glare of a gorilla in a zoo I teared up. I was a child and already I felt guilty for staring at a being in so much misery, violating his privacy. I refused to enter the primate house after that.

Human beings don’t like to think of themselves as animals. Are animals different in kind or degree from us? Does the answer really matter? Either way, the assumption is that we’re vastly different—in spite of emerging evidence that at least some animals dream, sing, invent, even grieve. Scientists claim animals are extremely intelligent when you consider what they need to be able to do to survive. Their senses are tuned to the information they need—even information as hard for us to imagine as magnetic fields.

Recently, a woman walking her dogs in Colorado was killed by a mother bear. The fact that the bear had young ones with her explained the violence to people who are accustomed to living in close proximity with bears. Mother bears will die to defend their young from any perceived threat, and they don’t wait to ask questions about why an invader approached them. (Did you see the film THE REVENANT?) The fact that the mother and one of the young ones proceeded to devour human flesh afterward horrified readers, although I wrote about starving Ukrainian children forced to dine on their older brother due to Stalin’s cruel policies. Whether we like it or not, we’re red meat.

What lines can humans not cross—or are there any? How many religious followers were quick to condemn immigrant mothers who struggled for terrible, dangerous miles on foot to American borders desperately seeking safety for their children? Some conservatives talked of shooting them as casually as they would happily shoot the killer mother bear. Remember the lampshades made of the skin of Jewish victims of the Nazis? I saw one in the Denver Public Library. In one restaurant in Denver, you could dine beneath heads that might once have adorned your meal.

I don’t have to recount any of the cruelties visited on animals by humans who claim to believe animals can’t feel pain. Consider the film footage of the insurrectionists attacking the capital. Even modern humans are clearly capable of being as savage as any pack of carnivores. In fact, we can look around and easily spot the packs to which particular humans are loyal, and the atrocities we can visit on human packs we judge to be a threat to us.

We look to animals as role models, even though they’re not always as unapproachably good as we pretend they are. Pet owners understand full well the depth of the bond people can form with animals. Animals don’t lie, but they can tease. We say we need their unconditional love, but we frequently can’t replicate it with the humans around us. We feel too much fear. Animals can befriend natural enemies when threat levels are eliminated. We can’t usually live in the moment as animals do, forgiving, enduring, tolerating, exuding joy with little reason when their basic survival needs are met. We need them to need us, to obey our control. We laugh with delight as they follow us around. We often prefer dominion to communion. Perhaps that’s the point where we depart from animals.

2 comments on “Dominion Over Beasts?

  1. Frances Sullivan
    May 16, 2021

    Chilling piece. I so often feel removed or distant from this topic because I’m vegan. I’m not, of course. There is so much that makes little sense to me, like, for example, the adoration meat eaters heap on animals, extolling their human virtuousness by screaming out about abandoned dogs and the like. Your ending is rhetorical but in my opinion, I’m not sure society can support the human version of dominion-over much longer. Could it be time to give communion-with a go? It couldn’t hurt. Well done as always, Susan.

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