Political Animals

Here’s how the people of India are treating each other nowadays:

And here’s how its big cats are:

In other words, the feline predators of India are overcoming their tribal allegiances and learning the virtues of co-existence. Meanwhile, its human overlords are invoking obscure tribal allegiances to become a bunch of bipedal cannibals. Homo sapiens sapiens, Lord of the Biosphere, has been morally outdone by a bunch of overgrown cats. Sad but true.

It all reminds me of that famous passage in Locke’s Second Treatise, where he’s describing life in the State of Nature:

[A] criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature…(Second Treatise, I.11)

Frankly, the “wild savage beasts” ought to be insulted by that comparison. Yes, lions and tigers have their faults, but it seems gratuitous to compare them to humans. I can only imagine how the feline edition of the Second Treatise goes: “…and therefore may be destroyed as a Hindu or a Muslim, one of those wild savage beasts with whom neither lion nor tiger can have society or security...” 

As usual, Aristotle got it right:

For as man is the best of the animals when perfected, so he is the worst of all when sundered from law and justice. For unrighteousness is most pernicious when possessed of weapons, and man is born possessing weapons for the use of wisdom and virtue, which it is possible to employ entirely for the opposite ends. Hence when devoid of virtue man is the most unholy and savage of animals, and the worst in regard to sexual indulgence and gluttony (Politics I.2).

Problem is, nobody’s perfect.

In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein famously said something like, “if a lion could speak, we would not understand it.” I used to think I understood and agreed with this, but I’m not sure I buy it any more. If a lioness could talk, she’d probably call us out for our murderous hubris, and our tedious, ignorant self-righteousness. What else could she say? And how hard is it to understand?

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