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image credit: Brent Staplekamp

image credit: Brent Staplekamp

I imagine if you were to lay Homo sapiens out upon the anthropological slab and dissect him as a species you would come up with a number of anomalies. He is an ape, yet not – we can’t be sure. He has a large brain, yet not the largest. The brains of several less versatile species are larger. His opposable thumbs have been cited incessantly as explanation for his dominance, whilst that is as likely to be explained by his upright stance and his strong tribal leanings. In large measure these are traits shared by all the greater anthropoids – the chimpanzee, the orangutan, the gorilla, and so on.

I am not an anthropologist, and this first paragraph is merely stating the patently b****ing obvious. It needs to be said, though, because apparently it is not obvious – not to a substantial slice of our kind. That strange, developed brain of ours is capable of endless self-justifications and delusions; the most poisonous of which insists that none of that first paragraph is true.

Poisonous? Well, yes, because we put that argument, in most cases, to toxic use. If we say we did not evolve naturally into our present state, but were created somehow by a superior being who – guess what – looks just like us, we can justify slaughter without conscience. We can divorce ourselves from the rest of the inhabitants of this planet and plunder their species, torture them, then finally drive them to extinction without regard to morality. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ only refers to another one of our own, doesn’t it? Animals are ‘beasts’. They have no value.

Thus it is perfectly possible to reconcile religious and moral rectitude on Sunday with a hunting expedition on Monday which might involve shooting a lion, whether or not the shooter is hungry for its meat. We can self-justify, describing the process of slaughter as a pastime, even a ‘skill’, when all we are really doing is satisfying a primitive blood-lust. Some go further; they describe this barbaric trait as ‘Sport’.

We don’t seem able to rid ourselves of a ghoulish urge to destroy. In establishing our dominance we became omnivorous. We learned to eat animal flesh when fruit and berries failed us. That was reason enough to treat a hairy mammoth like a pin cushion to bring him down, before beating his brains out with rocks, but those times are long gone. We still eat our fellow species, we still treat them in an unforgivable way. We have made some improvements, even made token gestures towards mitigating their death agonies, although, intriguingly enough, we explain our reasons as ‘improving the quality of the meat’. In the interests of ‘Sport’ though, all rules are suspended.

‘Sport’ is unique, in that it has created its own societal structure. The social elevation of the blood-thirsty is enhanced by its kill tally. Apparently a perverted status attaches itself to the trophy, to the photograph of the killer standing triumphantly over the victim. It is often considered a rite of passage. The old need for self-justification creeps back in to insist there is some sort of equality in the battle with the lion, or the charging rhino, or the mighty buffalo. Equal battle? A battalion of beaters standing close by? All those guns against a set of claws and a sense of outraged privacy is hardly a fair fight, is it, especially since we picked it in the first place?

Long ago, we as a species became lords of the earth. Infestation though we are, only Nature can unseat us, and at the last she surely will, but while we stay here we have a duty to remember we share our world with its other rightful tenants, and we should respect them, because in a time to come we may need their mercy. They would be wholly justified in showing us none.

A curious apparatus, that Homo sapiens brain. Somewhere inside it there lurks a streak of supreme arrogance that will, eventually, provide the fuse for its own destruction.