Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jungle And Generosity

My student friend says people are animals, you can't expect them to be generous. You're a philosopher, he mocks, what do you think? I agree, but add that when people feel safe they are usually kind. A fundamental of social contract theory. People nevertheless often act like animals, they enjoy hunting each other. This morning crossing a street on the way to Century City a car makes a left turn in front of me. I stop, but when I can go on the "don't walk" indicator is blinking. I run to get across, and a whoop whoop races from across the intersection. It is a motorcycle policemen. Just to be safe I step into the high rise building on the corner. The receptionist security officer asks, how can I help you young man? I explain my precautionary measure against unjust accusations, comment I am young enough to take them. She says the back door to the loading dock is just around the corner. Everyone is a young man or young woman to her, except the children, denominated little boys and girls who now pour out of the day school in the lobby. Each gets an animal cracker from her. Notice that we have everything in this incident of two guardians, both jungle and generosity.

Last night I watched a documentary about dolphins captured and taught to perform for us at aquariums. The world's most famous dolphin, who played the role of "Flipper" in the TV show of that name, apparently swam into the arms of her trainer and voluntarily stopped her breathing, unable to bear her life as a captive performer. Her heart stopped and she sank to the bottom of the aquarium.

The story is so moving because we understand that we do to our children what is being done to dolphins, we take them out of innocence and introduce them to the hunts and often meaningless and destructive role play of adult life. And whereas the children cannot stay children the dolphins can very well remain where we took them from. The sadness and guilt we feel hearing for the first time the story of "Flipper" comes from our knowing, just as well as the dolphins, what terrible things we do with our lives.