Nature Shows

I have, of late, taken to watching quite a few programs of this genre.  The cinematography tends to be wonderful, especially with my high-definition television.  These shows are quite compelling to watch.

One thing that immediately strikes me is how the world’s species are focused on eating each other. The dynamics of the food chains are dramatic.  Spring brings forth a wealth of youngsters, that other species find delectable.

I once heard a statement that captures it all.  The objective of every species is “a good day today and more youngsters tomorrow.”  All species want to eat and procreate.  Once those needs are satisfied, they sleep.  They do not seem to have social events or community committee meetings.

From that perspective, humans seem rather different.  They like eating, procreating, and sleeping, but humans seem to have longer-term outlooks than just today.  They are typically concerned with long-term prospects for themselves, families, organizations, and society.  They invest in pursuit of these prospects.

Moreover, humans have created institutions that focus on these concerns.  Perhaps this ability to organize pursuits of such aspirations is uniquely human.  Of course, there are costs to such ambitions.  There are endless meetings and arguments.  Conflicting opinions and occasional invectives arise.  But, society evolves.

Coming back to animals other than humans, why does it seem a shame when the wolves eat the rabbits?  Perhaps this reflects our tendency to anthropomorphize other mammals, i.e., think that they think about things as we do.  This tendency was probably a significant influence on my becoming a vegetarian roughly 50 years ago.

But, I think there is more going on here. I think we are programmed to ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”  Can’t the lions and the lambs just cuddle together?  There are two problems with this idea.  Carnivores may biologically need more than broccoli and lettuce.  Further, how can an ecosystem provide for an exponentially increasing population of uneaten rabbits?

Beyond predators, availability of food can provide another balancing loop that keeps things from getting out of hand.  This is, of course, true for humans as well.  Although, there are other forces in human society.  As people become educated and achieve increased economic success, the sizes of families tend to decrease.  Various experts predict that this declining fertility rate will result in a stable global population over the next century.

That is likely good news, but resource constraints may still be a challenge.  While we won’t run out of land, water could be a problem unless desalinization is affordable, which will depend on inexpensive energy sources, likely solar.  The greatest challenge will be protein.  Cattle are a very expensive source of protein.  Fish supplies are challenged.  Insects are the largest potential source of protein, but will require a bit of culinary creativity.

Reflecting on the above thoughts, it strikes me this morning that we are all participants in a large nature show.  Birds build nests, beavers build dams, and people build houses.  We all hunt, eat, procreate, and sleep.  And we play.  For the young animals in these nature shows I have been watching, rough and tumble play is central to growing up.  We are similar.  As we get older, we watch others play an enormous range of sports.

For humans, professional sports tend to be highly compensated play.  On the nature shows, in contrast, the best player gets to dominate the colony (rabbits), flock (birds), herd (elk), gaggle (geese), murder (crows), pack (wolves), prickle (porcupines), pride (lions), or shadow (jaguars).  It would be interesting to know how these names came about.

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