Updated: Oct 12, 2021
The following question was posed during a recent conversation with a friend:
“Are human beings innately cruel, and therefore need to be taught kindness, or are we innately kind and then learn to be cruel?” ~ Anonymous
Such black-and-white questions are seldom answerable without deferring to the Zen Buddhist concept of ‘Isness’ wherein the answer would likely be something to the effect of: Some are; Some aren’t.
Today, at Emigrant Lake in Ashland Oregon, I observed a speedboat plow into a gaggle of geese, followed by a crazed jet skier yelling, Wooo, Yeah! as he proceeded to brutalize the remaining few…
At the helm, your average sadist, producing extreme sounds of pleasure – along with the ghastly machine noise of the boat’s engine – as he approached his target. Most of his compatriots cheered along with glee – so much camaraderie and elevated, anticipatory energy! A few women on the boat screamed in horror, and this seemed only to embolden the driver.
As the speedboat tore through the tranquil birds, tossing them wildly to each side, my face dropped. The terror felt by these geese was visceral from the shore, and again, the driver appeared to be receiving total euphoria from it. As soon as the event was over, everything immediately went back to a state of neutrality on the boat. As though it had never happened, the women leaned back in their cushioned vinyl seats and stared off at the horizon. The dude-bros – sorry it’s really the best descriptor for them – gave each other congratulatory high fives for their collective cruelty and the group of boat-goers returned to an eerie state of homeostasis; status quo.
The speedboat raced across the lake and out of earshot. Only the high-pitched squeal of jet skis remained present, a reminder to any stray goose who may think of stepping out of line.
I perched on the edge of my yard sale lawn chair, bewildered (as per usual) by what drives people to such things, such acts of domination and sadism. After just finishing “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl a few day ago, the topic of genocide is fresh in my mind. The image of one goose scrambling to avoid being impaled, wings flapping desperately, not fully lifting himself out of the water in time… I think about the driver of the boat: The man physically holding the steering wheel; the one in control, very literally carrying everyone along with him on his rampage…
Then I think about the other men on the boat: what were their thoughts as it became apparent what the driver intended to do? I wonder how many people thought it was a perfectly reasonable use of time? I wonder who was mortified and didn’t speak up? I wonder who was on the fence? It’s my hunch (as risky as those can be) that the majority of them were in ‘self-preservation’ mode. Preserving status, popularity, physical safety, not wanting to be the one person to speak up. It was quite apparent how the few women on the boat felt; Their screams were louder than the boat’s throttle, but they didn’t necessarily oppose the situation. They appeared to be in too much shock – similar to me honestly…
I’m curious how this story lands with folks. Please reply in the comments section if you feel moved to do so.
~ Abram R. Katz
Fun fact: The collective noun for a group of geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team, or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump.