A natural science of morality. –Robert M. Shelby, 4-29-11. [1095 txt wds]

“Sadly, humans are animals that see their own qualities and outlook in the others.”

[Attributed to]  Professor Wheeling Chambers Vast


Rats can accept and seriously ingest things you wouldn’t or couldn’t stomach. A rat wants and needs anything you want or need except culture. It will exercise the most fiendish ingenuity, amounting to trans-moral genius, to get it, no matter what treasures of nature, art or literature you cherish and try to protect. The rat will foul or destroy whatever you love in the course of getting to it and enjoying it.

Wild hogs, rats and coyotes have much in common. Hogs and coyotes are mostly too big to get inside attics, basements and henhouses or they would be more danger to chickens and rats. Skunks do better with chickens and little, masked racoon bandits often get into attics or the crawl spaces under houses. Fortunately, few people can keep henhouses any more since we can’t bear an occasional whiff of barnyard odor from our neighbors’ properties and now rely on massive egg factories and fryer plants. Of all these, wild hogs do the most damage to landscapes, though domestic hog factories do huge damage to river systems. Wild hogs gradually ruin the water-retaining capacity of watersheds and denude slopes. Whatever was the glory of ancient Greece, it happened before wild hogs uprooted the soil and gave it over to erosion so bad that mainly cypress trees, olives and grapes can grow on the rocky ridges. Well, yes, there is some good farmland in parts of greece, where hog-washed land has run down into ravines and disgorged out on to flat regions where hogs can be controlled.

Controlling wild hogs has long been a social enterprise because it was too big a job for individual farmers alone. One can suppose the ancient Israelites and Judaeans wisely condemned the eating of swine for reasons other than trichinosis or cholesterol, regarding which there was yet no science. Early folks knew whole families could  mysteriously  sicken and die from association with swine. Moreover, in the early days of gardening, omnivorous hogs were sharp competitors for edible produce and could quickly uproot field-rows.

By the time Moses’ people got free of Egypt and desert, and had taken up real agriculture in the land of milk and honey, God knew very well what effect a loose tribe of wild hogs had on a hand-tended countryside of terraced hillsides. Lord knows, hog flesh tastes wonderful, not unlike our own human flesh, it is said. Eating of human flesh was further frowned upon for limiting population growth of one’s people and for risk of mystical assimilation of foreigner’s unspiritual qualities. Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Philistines and Phoenicians were likely addicted to pork as well as were feral and nomadic hunter-herdsmen. Maybe they had learned enough good sense always to cook the devil out of hog meat. Render out that grease and kill any spirochetes.

God knows to this day how hard it is, even with firm and constant attention, to keep hogs, rats and coyotes absolutely restricted and excluded by means of hog-wire, chicken-wire, hardware cloth, rewire-reinforced concrete and electric cyclone-fence. Bears are pussycats except to campers out in the woods. Imagine trying to cope with home invasions from the aforesaid menagery in early times! Historically, people have teamed up with dogs and cats to control rats, but what system is perfect? One night in 1993 or ‘4, I was pistol-whipped and robbed of pittance and a small token of sentiment by a young gang-rat trying to prove himself better than the pied or pinto rats that slipped across the walk to duck into the rock-holes and drain-pipes in Lake Merritt, Oakland’s, masonry embankment, proving that domestic and wild rats managed to make free with each other. This young rat was about equal parts black and white, though a bit green at his job and verging on too yellow to do it. I kicked myself for letting him get away with it. If his mother had known he had access to a pistol, she might have kept him from acting such a bad-ass that I was sorry for him.


Hogs dig up ground that should be left alone and multiply quickly. Coyotes bite the hand that makes them get closer to it than they want to be. The coyote’s main role in the ecological scheme, besides eating all the smaller animals it can, is to get eaten by cougars, lynxes, lucky wildcats and unlucky wolves, who eat a lot of rodents and are unlucky enough to fall afoul of the ranching community’s superstitious ineptitude at dealing with them. While rats eat any living thing smaller than itself, they get eaten by every predator including its own kind, rats have the interesting role of negatively infusing human esthetic sensibility by infiltrating civilization while ignoring culture. It brings into question all our measures for separting garden from wilderness, bathroom from kitchen and bedroom from the amusement park.


Do they hold nothing sacred but what scares the peace out of them? We set great store by things we can store up where moth and rust can corrupt. Don’t you hate opening a coor to the closet where you had put your favorite, dry preserves and memorables only to find a confluence of rat-gnawed holes and leavings? Too many a family whose posterity did not go to the dogs has had its finances fall into rat bellies. But, how can one be angry? Didn’t those rats just do what came naturally to them?


Thoughtful reader that you are, you have questioned the surface of my remarks, looking for parable, metaphor and parallel. There are none. You know beyond question, the issue is not how to define or characterize rats or distinguish them from snakes. They avoid rigorous definition or self-examination unless it grooms a way to the good cheese.


A rat may have traces of individuality but can never truthfully be said to be a fully individuated person or to possess good character. You know that the real issues are those of identification, of determining who these wild hogs, coyotes and rats are. We have to define ourselves very carefully to avoid discovering, by our actions, that we have joined in on all the wild merriment. Tragedy, that’s our stuff! The long, rigidly severe mask. Comedy, the wide, flabbily smiling mask; and Farce, the clowns wearing either one or the other, switching back and forth among those who do not know who is wearing a mask or putting one on.

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