Tuesday, 8 May 2012
What Does It Feel Like to be a Gosling?
Two geese have been sitting on a nest in turns for what seems like weeks. They have hatched a brood of goslings, eight dusky yellow balls of fluff, each the same size, the same shape, the same swift, darting movements, the same little black beak and round, alert head. They are never seen more than a few inches away from their parents. When swimming, the goslings file along in a straight line, with one parent leading from the front and the other bringing up the rear. At other times, they feed on water weed (as above), or peck energetically at the grass on dry land.
What does it feel like to be one of eight siblings, all born on the same day, identical, no names or quirky little habits to distinguish them? They have no purpose in life other than to learn to eat and to swim, to stay close to Mum and Dad, and avoid being eaten by foxes, dogs, poachers or illegal immigrants.
Mum and Dad are model parents, teaching, protecting, and staying together. The parents stand or sit on guard the whole time. Neither wanders off, or seeks other entertainment, or flirts with the swan or the moorhen seen from time to time on the water.
Why have humans evolved so differently? These goslings have no need to fear Shakespeare, Latin, French, algebra or quadratic equations. They will not overfeed themselves to the point of mortal illness. They will not damage their livers with toxic chemical concoctions, or pounce ecstatically on a passing stranger goose, thinking that a new coupling will solve all their problems and drive away the fear of death. They simply live to feed and breed and start all over again next year.
No one will tell them they don't have to do this. No goose has developed a contraceptive which will save all the trouble. None boasts of enjoying much more stimulating and fun activities without the responsibilities of bringing up young. They don't have a choice.
I wonder where the human race is going next, with its control over everything but its own passions.