The Fawn; Irreducible Narcissism


This story represents questions whose answers I only hope to approach, since I know they are unanswerable. I think they may be the equivalent for an existentialist to the question of what the meaning of life is, for a fabulist, although I do have an answer of sorts to that one – that meaning is simply in our bonds of affection, and the sense of satisfaction we take from them. The wise will say so.

I will tell the story briefly, to shield you from feeling the full impact of it, in case you’re vulnerable like me. I’ve put this writing off for long, knowing I would have to feel the pain of it again; yet it’s central to my story.

When I was thirteen, working my first summer at a north woods camp in Wisconsin, the camp director, a retired Navy commander, football coach at the college that sponsored the camp, grabbed me early one morning. He wanted someone to go with him to kill a fawn lying in the road, injured by a car, so he could have it stuffed. He did it with a pocket knife, and it was so horrible I still remember it vividly, and it will torment me until death gives me oblivion at last.

I had seen the film “Bambi”, and I imagined the mother standing invisibly nearby in the forest, and hearing the bleating of her dying fawn. So I suppose I am a sap – a fool. I weep. But I am what I am.

 ****

I know that humans’ arrogance has kept us from recognizing how strongly other animals feel emotion – like we do (and there’s the rub). Only fifty years ago we were still pretending they had no feelings at all. Temple Grandin is the autistic woman who has a natural affinity with animals. Irene Pepperberg achieved remarkable things with her parrot, Alex. Both testify that it’s still difficult to get grants if they want to investigate human-like capabilities. So I am not alone in being foolish.

My fear is that we caused that mother deer avoidable, excruciating anguish. I understand that equivalent torments occur in infinite variety every instant in the animal world, but whether that should make a difference or not, it makes no difference to me. I feel obligated to try to do no harm myself. That may not be rational. Pffft.    

All politics is local. All ethics is local. All compassion. All meaning. When death looms for me, I want the satisfaction of knowing, or at least having reason to believe, that I did little harm, and did more good. Meantime, I feel lonely in my quest to understand pet bonds better. I am extremely sensitive to them. I’m currently infatuated with the idea of all life being shoots from a mystical subterranean rhizome – a numinous rhizomebut more as a poetic conceit than as doctrine.

What’s it like to be a bat, asked the philosopher Thomas Nagel; and I fear to know what it was like to be the fawn’s mother.

****

Why did that guy take me with him on that ruinous morning? To help make me a man, because I was fatherless? This exposes the sickness of our culture’s expectations of men. I am not meant to be a “man”. I have a different view of where further civilizing would land us. (First, everyone would be more like me!) I am androgynous, and rather than think myself lacking manliness, I consider myself part of a post-aggressive civilization.

I like women better than men. They are on average more egalitarian, and I preached their merits as managers when I was an IT director. I was a John the Baptist in the wilderness at the time, but today, gurus are overbalancing the bandwagon jumping aboard with such enthusiasm; while within the past year 3 male friends have let me know I was wrong about one or another of the human behavior issues I obsess over, whereas my women friends show more interest in figuring out the truth rather than winning. Or maybe they’re just more diplomatic. Either way… (Besides, I was right.)

I have trouble thinking of myself as the same species as him, or hunters, or fans of brutal sports, or the superstitious, or habitual liars… I’ll stop the rant. I know there are all kinds of minds I can’t resonate with at all. In the political realm, I secretly think that if I could just get perfect facts, and then explain them perfectly, opponents would change their minds. I also know that’s utterly stupid – in my mind; but in my guts it’s different!.

This is skirting the idea of irreducible narcissism. We outgrow the complete egocentrism of infancy – but how far do we get? Wherever “all the way” is, we don’t get there. Converting what Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Schizo Paul of the Burning Bush) said to the Corinthians to reality, we have “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I think as about an 8-year-old.”

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