“I cannot persuade myself,” Darwin wrote, “that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” Actually, Darwin’s gradual loss of faith, which he downplayed for fear of upsetting his devout wife, Emma, had more complex causes. The macabre habits to which he referred are shared by their cousins, the digger wasps, whom we met in a previous chapter. A female digger wasp not only lays her eggs in a caterpillar (or a grasshopper or a bee) so that her larvae can feed on it, but she carefully guides her sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, so as to paralyze it but not kill it. This way, the meat stays fresh. It is not known whether the paralyisis acts as a general anesthetic, or if it is like curare in just freezing the victim’s ability to move. If the latter, the prey must be aware of being eaten alive from inside but unable to move a muscle to do anything about it. This sounds savagely cruel but, as we shall see, nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent.”

This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering,   lacking all purpose.”

So says Richard Dawkins in his: “ River out of Eden”, and goes on to say:  “During the moment it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease.  It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.”

Pretty rough, eh? But in this brutish jungle of ravenous, self-centered creatures, despite the always imminent danger, somehow little kittens survive. Little lion cubs, little baby elephants, little giraffes, unable to defend themselves, unable even to forage or feed themselves, still somehow live to maturity -else their species would have long since become extinct.

Love is a powerful genetic drive, so powerful that the full force of the jungle cannot force it to yield.  Brutish animals put their own needs aside to feed these little creatures, even forage for  them, even fight off dangerous predators, though they risk their own lives by doing so. Love inexorably forces selfishness to give way to compassion, to sharing.

No need for us to whistle in the dark , no need to think the world will fall apart. We don’t need to find excuses for our existence. The universe will continue to evolve as it should, whether we humans have words to describe our response to that or not.

Cheers,  Andy Mulcahy

LOVE: n, a genetic attribute, common to most mammals, that encourages copulation, cooperation and concerned parenting  – all necessary for species survival.   agm


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