Predation

Posted: July 3, 2020 in Crime, Culture, Idle Nonsense, Outrage
Tags: , , ,

News aggregators such as Yahoo! are known to publish videos seeking help identifying perpetrators of crime caught on camera. There is no one canonical example, but those that pop for me usually depict some young dude mugging and robbing an old woman, presumably for whatever the contents of her purse might be. It’s disheartening to witness (at some remove) common street crime perpetrated so casually. Right, wrong, and one’s position in relation to those categories can’t be so difficult that criminals don’t know the difference. Yet they commit crime anyway. Then it struck me, “why, of course! We’re predators.” More than that, we’re apex predators. Let me explain.

Everything alive eats (and poops). Food for animals is mostly other living things, both plants and other animals. Accordingly, the basic relationship of animals to each another, even the noncarnivorous ones, is predator and prey. Predatory behavior usually occurs across species boundaries for social species but sometimes within. Besides crime videos, one can go online to watch vicariously as predators dispatch their prey. I recall being astounded to see golden eagles snatch goats off the sides of mountains or ravines only to release them from a height sufficient to result in impact death. They aren’t called birds of prey for nothing. If goats in this instance die quickly albeit painfully, the same can’t be said for victims of bears, which are known to pin down their prey and just start eating before the victim is even dead. Not all predators use size advantage, either. Some swarm their victims, others use disproportionate strength or immobilizing poison, and others sting and extract (without killing directly) or burrow and bore into their victims and consume them from inside. Sometimes, as in the insect world, a host organism is used as an incubator for a brood of offspring. Nature evolved a multiplicity of mechanisms and strategies for eating, for survival. Many are absolutely horrific to contemplate, but in a state of nature, they occur without implied moral weight.

It’s different (but then not so different) for humans, who no longer live in a strict state of nature but are instead members of civilized societies. We evolved and developed mechanisms, strategies, and tools to dominate all of nature and have essentially taken over the planet as the most successful of all apex predators — at least temporarily. It’s in our nature to do so, just as a big cat or alligator clamps its jaws on its prey. Billions of fowl, swine, and beef farmed for food production in frankly appalling conditions (thus the need for Ag Gag laws) attest to our callous treatment of other species. But humans have moral, ethical, and legal restraints when it comes to intraspecies predation. Some observe those restraints, others do not. Muggers and purse snatchers occupy middle ground, since killing isn’t necessary to secure food (or money) to survive. Writ large, exploitation of labor by the ownership class is arguably part of that middle ground, too. The main difference is that survival for corporate entities such as Walmart and Amazon (or their multibillionaire owners) is far less precarious than for a coyote stealing chickens out of backyards for its next meal.

Comments
  1. Greg Knepp says:

    Nice post!

    Even as omnivores, we humans engage in a fair amount of predation. Chimpanzees do much the same. In fact, most primates are generalists, and will eat damn near anything that isn’t nailed down or poisonous. Sans intertribal covenants, mutual defense pacts and the like, interspecies predation is freely carried on between competing clans, tribes and nations, but discouraged WITHIN such units. To humans, as with most social species, gene pool preservation instincts would be the factor discouraging intragroup violence.

    Cain, “am I my brother’s keeper?”…God, “fuckin’ a!” All good, but apparently, that seems to be about where the responsibility ends.

    The larger and more complex human organizations (nations and empires) enact laws and promote ethically based religions to enforce gene pool protection instincts – the power of such unconscious motivations often tattered by the social pressures of living within the civilized format. Sometimes these constraints work, sometimes not….hence, the proverbial street mugger and the little old lady.

    • Brutus says:

      I suppose I should admit after a few days that despite the appearance of having explained away the mugger/old lady example by positioning it within a wider context, I’m still irrationally indignant about these examples multiplying in the public sphere. Perhaps the old lady is the proverbial low hanging fruit most easily “harvested” by the mugger, but c’mon, really! It that your best play?

      • Greg Knepp says:

        Nothing serious going on here; muggers targeting old ladies is probably a rare event in the real world. That’s why it’s ‘proverbial’. It might be seen as a type of literary cartoon – terse but definitive…perhaps even ‘reductive’.

  2. Roger Fox says:

    I love your thesis: “The main difference is that survival for corporate entities such as Walmart and Amazon (or their multibillionaire owners) is far less precarious than for a coyote stealing chickens out of backyards for its next meal.”

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