My mother sent me this interesting video of some folks’ encounter with gorillas near Bwindi National Park:
They are so much like us.
I once encountered the phrase “fallen down the rabbit hole of YouTube animal videos,” and I think of it whenever I teeter on the edge of said abyss. Once you begin watching those short clips of adorable puppies, wacky parrots, and mischievous ferrets, you quickly find yourself having passed quite a spell in an unanticipated serial video orgy. Courtesy of my mother (who forwarded it to me) and ModernMom (another mother altogether), I offer “Sleepy Animals”:
Pugs are so ugly, but I found the collapsing one rather endearing.
My mother sent me some gardening humor that she knew I would appreciate:
Conversation between God and St. Francis about grass. This puts a whole different perspective on having a green lawn.
GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of birds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.
St. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
GOD: Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
St. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
St. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it - sometimes twice a week.
GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
St. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
St. FRANCIS: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
St. FRANCIS: Yes, Sir.
GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
St. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheers stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.
St. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
GOD: No! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in the fall to keep the soil moist and loose?
St. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
GOD: And where do they get this mulch?
St. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
St. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It’s a story about . . .
GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.
Aside from the theological stupidity (and to think that Saint Catherine would feature such an idiotic movie!), it is a funny story for those of us who despise the American obsession with sterile green space.
Last week, I read a story by Laura Poppick about the “retirement home” of N.I.H. research chimps: “Retired Research Chimps Get Second Chance at Life.” The article mentions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may change captive chimpanzees conservation status from threatened to endangered to match the status of wild chimps [click here for further details]. I wonder what prompted the feds to categorize captive chimpanzees differently. Anyway, what interested me most in the article was the application of Kantian liberalism to chimps:
Plans announced this week by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to retire most of its 360 research chimpanzees introduces the question of where these chimps will go. The answer has yet to be determined.
Regardless, the plan promises to offer more autonomy to these intelligent animals. . . .
“A chimp born in a research center may [have] never climbed a tree before. They will learn to climb a tree,” said Jackson. “At no point will they be forced to be inside. They can say, ‘I want to sleep outside amongst the trees and the breeze.’ They are given that free choice.”
The Republic is ever timely and prescient. From the eighth book:
And is not the avidity of democracy for that which is its definition and criterion of good the thing which dissolves it too?
What do you say its criterion to be?
Liberty, I replied, for you may hear it said that this is best managed in a democratic city, and for this reason that is the only city in which a man of free spirit will care to live.
Why, yes, he replied, you hear that saying everywhere.
Then, as I was about to observe, is it not the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship?
How? he said.
Why, when a democratic city athirst for liberty gets bad cupbearers for its leaders and is intoxicated by drinking too deep of that unmixed wine, and then, if its so-called governors are not extremely mild and gentle with it and do not dispense the liberty unstintedly, it chastises them and accuses them of being accursed oligarchs.
Yes, that is what they do, he replied.
But those who obey the rulers, I said, it reviles as willing slaves and men of nought, but it commends and honors in public and private rulers who resemble subjects and subjects who are like rulers. Is it not inevitable that in such a state the spirit of liberty should go to all lengths?
And this anarchic temper, said I, my friend, must penetrate into private homes and finally enter into the very animals.
Just what do we mean by that? he said.
Why, I said, the father habitually tries to resemble the child and is afraid of his sons, and the son likens himself to the father and feels no awe or fear of his parents, so that he may be forsooth a free man. And the resident alien feels himself equal to the citizen and the citizen to him, and the foreigner likewise.
Yes, these things do happen, he said.
They do, said I, and such other trifles as these. The teacher in such case fears and fawns upon the pupils, and the pupils pay no heed to the teacher or to their overseers either. And in general the young ape their elders and vie with them in speech and action, while the old, accommodating themselves to the young, are full of pleasantry and graciousness, imitating the young for fear they may be thought disagreeable and authoritative.
By all means, he said.
And the climax of popular liberty, my friend, I said, is attained in such a city when the purchased slaves, male and female, are no less free than the owners who paid for them. And I almost forgot to mention the spirit of freedom and equal rights in the relation of men to women and women to men.
Shall we not, then, said he, in Aeschylean phrase, say ‘whatever rises to our lips’?
Certainly, I said, so I will. Without experience of it no one would believe how much freer the very beasts subject to men are in such a city than elsewhere. The dogs literally verify the adage and ‘like their mistresses become.’ And likewise the horses and asses are wont to hold on their way with the utmost freedom and dignity, bumping into everyone who meets them and who does not step aside. And so all things everywhere are just bursting with the spirit of liberty.
Autonomy’s hunger will not be quenched. When a society deifies such a beast, it will eventually offer itself up to its god for propitiation.