If you’re ever in the mood for a glimpse of raw nature that closely parallels the human condition, read Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. We are all, in her well-documented tale, mantises eating and being eaten, mindlessly thrusting and flailing about in activity that would make little sense to a visitor from another space-time. What mimics the pelvic thrust of the male mantis is really the struggling ego of the human being, stretching for more habitable space, gasping (metaphorically) for purer air, reaching for dominance over what we know not. Herman Melville, speaking through the visage of Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, writes that “all mortal greatness is but a disease.” The egos that seek renown, however, are hard to kill and expert at masquerading and wearing disguises. Even those advocating or living by the Golden Rule can be held suspect to some chemical – this time above the belt – that says, “Look at me, look at me.” Presidents, Dalai Lamas, and yes, bond managers are more than likely infected and affected as opposed to philanthropically or altruistically directed and intentioned.
If so, I’m not sure how one escapes from the philosophical darkness of this self-described “Tinker Creek.” Eastern religions speak to seeking the Buddha mind – an “unconscious” consciousness that supposedly confirms an “inner worldly” worldliness. Theoretically this can lead to Nirvana, which is the absence of ego – an antibody against Ahab’s mortal disease. “Nirvana” it is said, “soars on wings that whisper.” Perhaps, but almost all of us come into this world screaming and the decibels diminish but never really whisper as the chemicals of old age work their will. We are all, more than likely, doomed to be mantis-like – some of us eating, some of us being eaten, but none quite aware as to why we are at the dinner table in the first place.
Americans, unlike their developed world counterparts, have been eating their fill lately, and supping at a dinner table laden with pork and tax breaks for all. Unequivocally, we have been playing the part of the female mantis, munching on the theoretical heads of future generations, while paying no mind to the wretches that will eventually be called upon to pay the bills.