Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

The interview with Lierre Keith got me thinking a lot about the suffering and death that is so intricately woven in to life and evolution. We have compassion and most of us hate to see suffering - especially in mammals. But we would also find it within ourselves to rescue a dog or cat from a pound or feed a duck at the village pond, and then go home and wipe your kitchen work-surface down with an anti-bacterial agent!

This got me thinking about Richard Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth' which I had read over Christmas (a very good read which I recommend along with Jerry Coynes 'Why Evolution is True'). One passage in TGSOE in particular stuck out and has stayed with (haunted) me ever since (and is actually extracted in TGSOE from 'The Devils Chaplain'). It ties in neatly with some of what Lierre Keith was getting at:
  • "The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease."

Grim stuff I am sure you will agree, but it is what follows that really shook me,

  • "It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored".

He is right isn't he? An abundance will automatically lead to a 'corrective adjustment'. The 'natural state' is evidently one of 'starvation and misery'. We got here through competition. Our ancestors were successful in this struggle. We were forged in these brutal fires. Just think what some of our ancestors must have endured. It kind of makes me not want to 'blow' my 'three score and ten'!

Death twitches my ear. "Live," he says, "I am coming." ~Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), Minor Poems, Copa

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