Wicked Mammals

The wife and I went to see “Jane” a few weeks ago, and totally loved it. We totally love pretty much all animal documentaries. But we don’t love everything these documentaries tell us about our part of the creation wheel. Lately, watching the Republican-controlled government knock the underpinnings out of so many of our lives, it’s the grim and gruesome, more than the happy-happy, that speaks to us from the animal films we see. Here are things we are seeing in the government now, that make us unhappy when we see them in animal documentaries.

1) Eugenic selection. Animals do this in so many ways. Eagles and other large birds will deliver two eggs, let them both hatch, and then either watch or help as the older or larger starves, and then drives out, its weaker sibling. Usually it’s the older one who triumphs, but if the older one has some “failure to thrive”, the younger will take over as aggressor. Among herd animals, if one becomes weak or lost, the others will often move away, knowing its frailty will attract — and distract — predators. (Indeed, this might be the origin of the human instinct to seek and join, rather than rebuking or punishing acts of bullying.) We have even seen pregnant mother animals drive off older offspring in favor of the newborn, knowing the older one has some weakness that soon will end its life.

2) Interspecies group warfare. We don’t turn out to be the only species that engages in cicil war, genocide, even cannibalism. Southern Poverty Law Center could do no better than show the episode in “Jane” when part of Jane’s tribe tries to leave, and is followed and killed off by the ones who control the original territory. And then there are the dominant males who form new troupes and move to take away the territory, possibly mates and offspring, of another male less strong. It is not uncommon in these cases for the victor to kill the loser’s offspring.

These patterns don’t take away from all the good and spiritual we see in so many species. But perhaps what makes us different is that we know these things and some of us try to build within ourselves a culture and strength to do otherwise. To heal and not to hurt. To adopt and not to kill. To house and not drive away. It could be that’s the real distinction between religions: some want to set up tribalisms in support of these horrible animal drives, while others strive mightily to build community in support of those who need help but are not ourselves.

Both of these are animal behaviors: including and excluding both show up repeatedly in these films. But lately, among ourselves, the documentary evidence is getting a wee bit scary.

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