Sunday, March 05, 2006
r/K compassion for Oprah
We've just learned that one of our kittens has a congenital defect in her spine that is already causing her great pain and will only get worse. Not good news.
Biologists distinguish those organisms that have many young, most of which aren't expected to survive (fish, rats, most insects, etc.) from those that have few young, but invest heavily in their survival (whales, humans, elephants, etc.). These two approaches to survival are known as r-type or K-type selection. As humans, we respond to the death of a child with profound grief. If we were r-type organisms, we would presumably be far more philosophical about such a death, as it would be an ever-present part of family life. So how does a K-type animal (Casi and me) respond to the demise of our r-type pet? It's a strange conundrum.
Cats are not known for their sensitivity to the death of others. They characteristically seem to enjoy the suffering of the mouse they play with for hours before killing. Death seems neither shocking nor unfamiliar to our feline friends. While Casi and I are heart-broken over watching this little kitten suffer and the need to end her suffering ourselves, she would probably not understand what all the fuss was about, if she were in our position. She'd probably consider us to be pathetically sentimental. We hide from ourselves the fact that we participate in death every day -- we call the dead cow, "beef" and the dead pig, "pork" to better obscure the reality from ourselves. And only this self-deception allows us to think that the death of a sick kitten is tragic.
Or so I keep telling myself...
Posted by Christopher Ryan at 3:53 PM