Nothing says that we are simply human beings quite like a pandemic.
I used to go hunting with my father. For a long time I would shoot deer, skin and gut them, and then we would bring the meat to be processed into burger and sausage. For a long time growing up I lived on an unintentionally healthy diet. My father and I would fish so we ate trout and flounder and red snapper.
The order of the world from this vantage point was one of dominance. We would go and demand of the world to be tamed and we would eat from it, and never did we live in any sort of fear. This is the story told from the book of Genesis from the Christian Bible. “Multiply,” it says. “Inherit the Earth,” it says.
One time while hunting with my father I botched a shot and struck a doe in the spine. This was in the hillcountry of Southwest Texas, and the wind was biting cold in the dual tripods we sat in. My father groaned something deep next to me, while holding his binoculars, glassing the horizon where I had just shot. He handed me the smaller .22 caliber rifle, and told me to finish the job. It was one of the most upset times I had ever seen him.
I climbed down the steps and walked the 150 yards to the doe, who was sitting, paralyzed, waiting for me to come to her and finish her. Her spine was most likely broken, but she had the top half of her body up, seeing me, staring without a blink or movement. For some strange reason I tried to walk quietly on the grass, dodging leaves, as if I could keep this horrific moment from invading other senses. She must have been terrified. Between her dark eyes, and the dark glass of the binoculars I could see my dad watching from, never have I felt so pinned into something in life I wanted no part of.
I think that was the beginning of the idea that animals must be conscious too. The idea that suffering was a general part of existence and that just because I could communicate that in language in a way we all assumed to be “rational,” does not mean that animals don’t have the capacity to suffer or feel fear. And the sterile way of hunting that we had done for some time was made close and stark to me then. I don’t recall killing another deer after that.
There are many meanings that can be taken from any anecdote, any story. Was this a decision to think twice about hunting? Was this simply a gesture to the audience to pick your shots carefully? Was this an identity story about a young man separating his personality from that of his father? All these things and more, but I bring the story up here to talk about how moments in life and events have made me realize that human beings are simply one species on this Earth.
Viruses remind us that for a long time in our history, we had to succumb to the natural processes of the Earth. Think of natural selection as the best research and development team ever devised, but don’t expect results for thousands of years. Giving birth is painful because it’s a big head out of a small hole, but natural selection doesn’t care about pain: it only cares if it works.
In much the same way, as long as life is available on Earth, it could care less if the life is a giant mastodon, or a thousand tiny cockroaches.
It is so startling to see how precarious our economic systems are. Especially in the United States, to have citizens barely getting by in the span of two weeks. Doesn’t “stability” mean something bigger? Doesn’t it mean that the very definition of a stable economy involves weathering a shock like this?
The natural world has paralyzed us, and it’s a good lesson to keep in mind when we think globally.
The time for parochial understandings of our world are over.
Despite the fact that we still cling to the 20th century and its nations, we find that wet markets in China cause deaths in Italy. We find that research of St. Louis and Pittsburgh in 1918 have an effect on school closures in 2020. It is important to realize that space and time are being bent and molded like the images to portray Einstein’s relativity. We are being leveled into systems that other plants and animals have dealt with for eons. We’ve always been that way too, but now we’ve been reminded.