I know I’ve said it before, but the human is truly the strangest creature to ever have walked upon the Earth. While the rest get on with being creatures, we sit back and debate what being really is. While the rest get on with doing what creatures do, we hold awards ceremonies.
Just think about it. Ants, so far as we know, have never handed out prizes for the most eco-friendly mound. Nor, we are reasonably certain, have otters held architecture exhibits. Cheetahs, it seems quite plain, have failed to organise anything remotely like an annual world sprinting championship.
Humankind alone bothers to critique itself, and then goes the extraordinarily strange extra step of picking out and celebrating what it decides are particularly good examples of excellence. Truly, we are the planet’s greatest oddball. We engage in something no other creature does. We reason.
Nevertheless, despite how remarkable they make us, we seem awfully willing to throw our brains away.
Cecil the lion got me thinking about all of this. The poor sod was killed by an even poorer (not literally) sod when both of them were off doing exactly the sort of thing they liked to do. Cecil the lion went for a walk and Walter Palmer the dentist went for a hunt.
Neither of them realised how badly it would end. The lion’s walk ended in death, and the dentist’s hunt ended in the next closest thing: death threats, global humiliation and rejection, and being chased from his home and business for fear of his life.
It was all a very sad affair, and no doubt deeply regrettable for both. But it was how the rest of us reacted that is the most curious part of the story.
For we creatures with remarkable brains set out to show how much we hated hunting by going on a hunt. A manhunt. We set out to show how precious magnificent creatures are by trying to destroy one. Those among us who claimed to really like animals called for the hanging of the most amazing animal of all. Those among us who sort of liked animals called for the most precious one to be driven out of his habitat. A rather large number of us got involved in one way or another.
It’s not the sort of behaviour that makes our powers of reasoning look particularly compelling. In fact, it seems to show that we’re even rarer among the animals. Not only do we have remarkable ability to reason, we also have a remarkable ability not to.
And most of the time, when we make reason redundant, it seems to involve another human’s suffering. It might even involve lots of humans’ suffering. Not many of us, by the way, like suffering. Nor do we ever seem to think causing it was, in hindsight, a good idea. In fact, most of the time, we insist humanity could never be that stupid again.
That’s why I say we are strange creatures indeed. We alone have the extraordinary gift of reason and know the heights to which it can carry us. But we alone insist upon turning it off.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz