published May 11, 2007
this is column 51
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Issue: 8.04
The Food Chain

I had a conversation with a friend about my dog and her recent haircut. Unlike Samson of Biblical fame, her locks were not shorn to diminish her physical prowess, but to eliminate her matted hair and ‘air condition’ her for the summer. Actually, it’s kind of ludicrous to associate Daisy, my seven pound Yorkie with feats of strength, but interestingly, after her haircut, she became more skittish than ever, which led us to believe that her very full coat was her suit of armor.

I mentioned how Daisy used to sleep with one eye open and now, it seems at times that neither eye ever really closes. My friend smiled and said, “If you were a part of the food chain how well do you think you would sleep?”

I had never really given it much thought but I began to realize that every single creature on earth, with the exception of human beings, becomes part of the food chain.

What exactly is a food chain? Animals and fish eat. One way or another they must find food to survive. Whether it’s on land or in the sea, many animals, called herbivores, fill up on plants. Since many animals eat meat, we call them carnivores. They need to find prey and they have to avoid becoming prey themselves. Link those predators and prey together and you get a food chain. The important fact to remember is that you are only part of a food chain if you can be considered prey. Each chain is a series of animals that eat one another. Rabbits, for instance, might get eaten by a fox. Then the fox may become a snack for a tiger and the tiger could end up in the belly of a lion. It’s obvious that life in a food chain is stressful and its members must constantly remain vigilant. No wonder my dog never really enters a deep sleep. Not that we have any plans to eat her, but domesticated animals retain vestiges of their heritage which keep them on guard.

After considerable thought, I have come to believe that we humans are part of a food chain of a very different sort. Food chain in its literal sense is a misnomer but the expression, dog eat dog applies to many of the behaviors of human beings.

Animals stalk their prey because of a physiological hunger. Their bellies are empty and they need to fill them. Human beings are motivated by a need for power and our present administration is an example of that need and how it is sated. However, they didn’t invent the concept of dog eat dog which seems to come with the territory of those who rule.

In 1948, George Kennan, former head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, said that our country has about 60 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population and so we are the object of envy and resentment. He believed that we had to form relationships with other nations that allowed us to maintain this uneven ratio. He further advised that we forego such luxuries as altruism and world benefaction and stop promoting such vague objectives as human rights, the raising of standards of living and democratization. His exact words were, “The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

I think that day has come. I think if we were to ask those persons who are in power in our country, “Why do you destroy the environment, why do you ignore the impoverished and health impaired, why do you assume an imperialistic stance and fight with other nations, I think their answer would be, quite simply, “Because we can.”

For most of us, sleep when it comes can be deep and unguarded. Let us hope that never changes and we can reject a philosophy of dog eat dog.

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