Escaping the Zoo

By Robert P. contributor

I often talk with my son about the superlative attributes of various animals. A lion has razor sharp teeth, a grizzly bear has chimp zooimmense strength, a horse is really fast, etc. A human, of course, has a powerful mind. Moreover, humans glorify the power of reason and creativity above all else, partly out of vanity but also because they really are the best tools to have.

I drove home the point by asking my son to imagine that aliens abducted samples of all the species on Earth and put them in some kind of giant arena to battle each other. If there were no time to prepare, the lion (say) would obviously rip the human to shreds. But if the human had a few hours to get ready, and if the environment had enough resources to work with, then the human would probably be able to devise ways to defend him or herself from the other creatures, and eventually would be able to build weapons with which to vanquish the other animals.

I stressed to my son that the important element in all of this is that the human would realize something was terribly awry, and would know to begin plotting ways to protect himself (let’s just assume it’s a guy). In particular, the human would know something really weird was going on when he got abducted by the aliens, and would recognize that the arena into which he was placed was completely foreign. He would immediately begin taking steps to secure his safety, and eventually he would try to devise a plot to free himself from the alien prison.

In contrast, the other animals would be disoriented at first, but they would–in the grand scheme–really have no clue what was going on. So long as the aliens provided enough of the necessities in the new environment, the animals would eventually resume their old way of living, as much as that were possible. They certainly wouldn’t realize that they should be preparing for an attack from a hairless ape two kilometers away, who was busy sharpening a tree branch into a spear. I said to my son, “Basically the other animals would become docile and live like they were in a big zoo. But the human wouldn’t do that.”

Then I had a flash of insight. Curious to see if my son would see it, I said, “Actually, maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of the humans. Maybe they would be content to live in a giant zoo, so long as they had enough resources to survive. Maybe they would settle down and not even realize they were in a giant prison with rulers controlling them.”

My son didn’t really get what I was saying. Do you?



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