Chickenhearted Kings of Stupidity

February 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.
—Chesterton

This came to mind when I was thinking about the chimpanzee, Travis, who ripped a woman’s face off. In particular I was thinking how unpredictable in their violence and general behavior chimps can be, because they are like us, and how it is that people forget this when they fall in love with chimps because they are like us.

There are many conjectures on the Web as to why Travis behaved as he did. He’s getting a lot more sympathy than the victim. Because he wasn’t human, he’s forgiven as a psychopath never would be; we assume the mauling was an instinctive response to the promptings of fear, hormones or illness-derived brain dysfunction. Maybe; probably; I don’t know. I’m of the opinion that intelligent animals have some degree of free will. My mother’s poodle certainly does.

Of course, for apes as for men, there are patterns and reasons for violence, needs and impulses that can be understood—but what does it mean to say a man can understand a chimpanzee? a) It’s presumptuous, and b) it’s like saying one criminal understands another.

This reminds me of another favorite quote of mine, from Chekhov, “The stupider the peasant, the better his horse understands him.” Maybe if we continue on as we have been, the chimps will eventually understand us. Take the money and stay put: that’s something a chimp would do.

And, yes, I too am more inclined to forgive a chimp than a human (assuming the human has done something more destructive than get out of her car). But if animals R us, don’t look for saints or cuddle toys. And on the subject of stupidity—which the Chesterton quote alludes to, unless it’s alluding to madness, and unless there’s a significant difference—

Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you’ll know. It’s the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world.
—Werner Herzog

I got sidetracked talking about violence and chimpanzees. That interests me but what weighs on me is that the world is leaking stupid and I’m picking it up on my shoes. I live in Manhattan, currently full of the cannibalistic, nightmarish and chickenhearted kings of stupidity.

I feel stupid too. If only I had a horse.

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