"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Treetops Lodge–The Law Of Fang And Claw Seen From A Distance Is Still The Primitive Rule Of All

As part of the progressive reform of society, to make it a respectful, verdant, hopeful place – the natural world has taken on an added significance.  It is no longer the place of evolutionary survival,  but a place yearned for, unsullied by human endeavor, a pure, absolute, State of Nature – Hobbes, Locke, and Walden Pond in Africa.  A vacation to the Serengeti is not just a getaway from New York but an existential trip to universal harmony – lion and butterfly.

Image result for Images John Locke

The progressive chooses not to see the veldt and the jungle as the savage, uncompromising, fang-and-claw, dog-eat-dog environments that they are, but a beautiful, sainted Utopian place.  The progressive only sees unconflicted peaceful niches where the tortoise is not bothered by the panther nor the monkey by the crocodile. The rest of the world sees only bloody survival – the torn jugular of the wildebeest by the lion, the opportunism of the jackal and the vulture, the dung beetle, and the paramecium.

Image result for images lion kill on the savannah

And so it was that Janet and Harvey Finkel travelled to Tanzania, booked a weeklong stay at the Treetops Lodge, safaris to the most remote part of the park, and beaters and sharpshooters for their friends, the Beddings who would participate in the antelope cull, a government-sponsored hunting expedition to help re-calibrate the overpopulated ungulate population of the plains.

The trip was to be an adventurous exploration of the wild African savannah, living in the wild, and participating in a humane, environmentally-friendly animal hunt.  The Finkels had both brought their own copies of Hemingway.  He, more than any other author, had captured the essence of the wild untamed naturalness of the African veldt and the destiny of the hunter to track, hunt down, shoot, and kill its prey.  Hemingway understood both the human need for preservation and the instinct to kill.  While the Finkels were divided on this score, both agreed that Across the River and into the Trees and The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber were must reading.

Image result for imges short happy life of rancis macomber hemingway

Because they both shared a progressive world view – the perfectibility of man and the ineluctable progress of human society to a more harmonious, forgiving, generous, and peaceful place – and because they both intellectually shared  this generalized Utopian view of life, a trip to The Treetops would be perfect – not only a getaway from their demanding lives of twin K Street lawyers, but an embrace of environmental sanctity.  Both atheists, the Finkels nonetheless felt the existence – the presence – of something else, a Divine comprehensiveness which included man, animals, plants, stones, and trees.

Yet despite this marital harmony and intellectual communality, there were undisclosed cracks and fissures.  Harvey, despite the appeal of the progressive Utopian world limned by his wife and her friends, could only see the savage side of the Darwinian universe. While from a safe distance the playing out of evolutionary competitions seemed sensible – the species could only mature, develop, and evolve through competition – looked at close up, it was a bloody, savage, brutal struggle for survival, dominance, and superiority.  Harvey chose to dwell on this side of Darwin and saw no difference between the struggle of dung beetles, leopards and antelopes, and lions and crocodiles, and human beings.  Human nature was animal nature, as self-interested, survivalist, hungry, and implacable as animal nature.   Watching lions eviscerating prey on the plains below the Treetops was like watching Wall Street financiers search out the weak and unsuspecting, kill them, eat them, and glory in their defeat.

Image result for images crocodiles in a river

What Harvey thought would be marvelous sex – the scent of bloodlust, animality, and the roar of the forest – turned out to be a stalemate.  Because Harvey and Janet differed fundamentally on the law of fang and claw – she feeling that although mankind had not yet shed its primitive demands, it would soon would thanks to progressive efforts of equality and fair distribution; and he that human/animal nature would never change and the law of the veldt/Wall Street was permanent – sex was compromised.  Their existential doubts, supposed to be closeted and confined, were not supposed to expose themselves, least of all at a time of sexual promise.  Their sex was tepid, hesitant, and finally dutiful.  The Treetops had exposed a fundamental, primary difference between them.  Of course this would never have happened to any couple who had not been educated at Harvard, grown up and matured politically on the Upper West Side and the streets of Samuel Gompers, the Labor Movement, and the social interventionism of FDR. But to these upper middle class, Jewish, reformed, progressive intellectuals, it did – it had to.  Sex was always complicated by something other than sex.

The roar of lions, the chatter of monkeys, the slap of crocodile tails in the river, the incessant hum of insects in the African night, to most lovers aphrodisiacs were to the Finkels downers.  Who knew that Jewish guilt could ever extend this far down the scale and this far away from home?

To be honest, it was only Harvey who felt this political epiphany.  While Janet was quite happily immured within her romantic idealism – the lions, the crocodiles, the monkeys, and the parrots all living happily within a perfectly balanced society, a model of social equilibrium sought by political progressives – Harvey was irritable, restive, and angry.  How had he fallen for such treacly idealism?  How could he have possibly ignored millennia of human history? How had be been weaned away so easily from biological imperatives and Darwinism?

Once sex is a bust, everything is a bust; and although the  Finkels dutifully went about their safaris, WWF tours, and National Geographic photo shoots by day, they slept on the far edges of their queen bed, kept awake, not soothed, by the sounds of the jungle.

Both Janet and Harvey were impressionable people.  For many a trip to the Serengeti would be little more than an expanded visit to the zoo, but for them it highlighted things, put them into relief.  When they returned to New York amidst the social and civil unrest provoked by killings of black men on ghetto streets, Harvey, rejuvenated and juiced by the law of fang and claw, saw no grievances, justified disobedience, or understandable anger.  He saw wild hyenas over a kill,, ripping and shredding flesh, biting and clawing each other, wild with hunger and aggression.  Janet saw just the opposite, a temporary dysfunction in the smooth elision to a more perfect world.  Tolerance, love, and acceptance were the order of the day. 

Image result for images wild hyenas over a kill

As much as the Finkels tried to keep their sentiments to themselves, there was no immuring possible; and if they slept on opposite corners of the bed in The Treetops, they sought cots and sofas on 116th Street.  They had  been infected by the animal violence of the streets and could not make sense of it; or rather, they could not make common sense of it – how to find common ground between them.

It doesn’t matter that history was on Harvey’s side.  Only a cursory look at events since the dawn of European society reveals non-stop wars, pillage, rape, depredation, and bloody conflict.  The famous Pax Romana was a result of the dominant force of arms, savvy, unflinching and uncompromising rule, not love and harmony.  The world may or may not become a better place, but if it does, it will be a Darwinian peace – a bio-social Pax Romana, a standoff.

No trips to the Chesapeake, Bar Harbor, St Bart’s or Gstaad could cleanse the Finkels of their nasty political irritations; and sex since The Treetops was perfunctory, dutiful, and a chore.

Political philosophy is what most defines us, said a contemporary psychologist.  Our political view is our worldview.  We cannot separate corporate economics from personal ones; financial opportunity cost from marital cost.  We either believe in the possibility of a better world, or we do not; and so once these blinkered notions come to light, sex is no longer any fun at all.

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