Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Stupido and Retardo and the Lessons They Teach

My family has two cats. I call them Stupido and Retardo. Those aren't their real names, of course, they are, respectively, Simpson and Mabel. This post isn't about cats, really, it is more about the genetic makeup of creatures large and small. Our genes program us and our behaviour to a large degree and a surefire way to ignite a lively and interesting conversation in any social setting is to begin a nurture versus nature debate.

Simpson is boss. Mable cowers. When Simpson saunters into a room, Mabel disappears in a hurry. Occasionally, if Simpson is asleep, she will hang around for a while. Each cat has its own character but their behaviour is largely driven by instinct. Simpson even thinks that he is boss over the humans in the home, quite a silly conceit, really, with two human alpha males in the household. But that is how he is programmed. He is programmed to dominate and he does everything he can to do just that.

Mabel is allowed to move about, eat out of her dish, poop in the litter box, curl up on a chair or sofa... as long as Simpson doesn't happen to want to do that very same thing at the same time. If he does, Mabel waits.

Now, how does that all fit into the larger picture of our lives and our place in the universe? Are human beings just like Stupido and Retardo, where everyone knows their place and where nothing we might wish that is contrary to the status quo could ever come to pass?

I don't think so. I do, however appear to be in the minority with my thinking. And you, dear reader, if you read these words of mine from time to time, are likely in that same minority. My views can hardly be characterized as mainstream and yours likely aren't either. We think that while there is indeed some genetic programming in us, it dictates our looks, our size, our hair and eye colour and our disposition, but it doesn't completely dictate how we think. We have at least a modicum of free will, some choice in our lives. We can choose to be ignorant or informed, followers or leaders, irresponsible or not, wishy-washy or steadfast. We can choose, but we often don't. For some of us, it is too much work. And that is why we are cursed with thugs running the streets of our cities, idiots at the helms of government, and a screwed-up world.

I feel hopeful when I roam about the blogosphere and read posts that show me that many of us are searching for a better way. I feel discouraged when I read demands for ever more laws, regulations and restrictions. I am joyful when I read about individual human courage and responsibility. I feel despair when I read about oppression and injustice.

We may be animals but we are animals with a difference. We can think. We can learn from our mistakes. It just appears that we don't want to do either.

I wouldn't even begin to attempt to reprogram our family cats. It would be hopeless to attempt such a task. They are what they are. I do, however, attempt to teach my son that he is responsible for everything he does and says, that no-one on earth owes him anything, that he must earn the respect of those around him, that self-esteem comes from within, not without. He is a human being and he is capable of learning these things.

I hope to live long enough to see a day when we all look to ourselves for answers, not to an omnipresent but inevitably incompetent, evil, big-brother government.

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