Whether the Kingdom
The boy thinks he is dying, because he’s volunteered his blood to the girl. The doctor asks if it hurts him any, when he sees how the boy sobs. The boy, lying with the needle in his arm, shakes his head. No, it doesn’t hurt him any, dying. It’s just that he will miss the world so much. How long will it take to drain this blood? When will the light drain from the room? (Who hasn’t heard this story?)
The confusion is cleared up by a nurse who speaks the local language.
Why would he do such a thing? she asks. “Because she is my friend.”
Or consider the pair of hamerkop storks in their enclosure at the Bronx Zoo.
“She is greedy,” says the woman who feeds them. “He will let her eat everything out of the pan, because he loves her so much.”
You begin to wonder whether the whole kingdom of creatures works like this: each one throwing itself on the spit so that the girl—your dearest, your friend—might live.
And what about the girl? That stork, where her mate, in the cage, wastes away? “Compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of an animal being eaten,” suggests Schopenhauer.
The girl in the bombed-out village stretched there beside the boy where he makes his gift. What pleasure is there for her? She’s lost, already, so much blood – there isn’t enough to bring heat to her hands. Pleasure doesn’t enter, either, for the bird, whose mindless feeding approaches that of the slug.
“I’ve never understood it when a mother eats her young,” the world’s greatest living naturalist says. Neither does that child, I think.
Here, then, is the rule (is this tiresome, my insisting, like this, on some rule?): the one finds no joy in the feast; the other, no relief.
Unless there exists some other rule; unless the rule is this: you only think you are dying, laid flat on the slab.
The February 13, 1987 issue of The Missileer, a U.S. Air Force newspaper, ran a story by Colonel John W. Mansur about the young Vietnamese boy, Hung.
The June 2012 issue of Harper’s reports the story of the storks along with the naturalist’s comments in David Samuels’ article, “Wild Things: Animal Nature, Human Racism, and the Future of Zoos.”
To counter the notion that the world contains more pleasure than pain, Arthur Schopenhauer advises us to weigh the feelings of a predator against those of its prey. See his essay, “On the Suffering of the World.”