We have a board book "Little Gorilla", which sits in our baby room book shelf. All 3 of our kids heard it many times. Not because it's our favorite book (it's a bit naive and repetitive as baby books often are). But because it's there. The book follows a familiar theme in kids books: animals all get along and help each other. It seems that to kids this is the most natural idea.
Fast forward to the real world. Naturalistically, the book has it all wrong. No surprise. Animals in the wild are generally on the edge of starvation. They are competing against other species and often their own species. The fittest and most ruthless survives.
The surprising thing to me is that the idealistic message turns out to be dead wrong as well. Although Little Gorilla (and gorillas in general) are intelligent and gentle creatures, living off plants in their environment and minding their own business, it turns out that we humans don't care a lick about them. In fact, we are doing everything in our power to make them extinct as quickly as possible.
Gorillas are in fact going extinct. They are numbered in the thousands, and their numbers are declining rapidly. They are falling victim to Ebola virus, poaching, logging, and general unrest from human conflict in Congo. It is likely gorillas will disappear in the wild in your lifetime.
Our response? Do we roar our loudest roar for him like the kindly lion? Do we carry him on our back like the grandmotherly hippo? Do we lovingly nurture him to grow and grow and grow like his parents and grandparents? No we do not. As adults, we learn that we must turn our backs to him. At best we look away with sadness, feeling powerless to help. At worst, we humans believe that our duty is to posture for our right wing agenda, which means dismissing the plight of the gorilla (and all of the natural world and the global environment for that matter) as a liberal cause, which we will rail against until our dying breath. We concern ourselves with things we learn on Fox News or at middle American church (where the words "habitat" and "biodiversity" come up about as often as "cotangent"). We call our congresspeople decrying government takeover of health care or conquest of our society by gays or in defense of Terry Schiavo. If Obama or some leader were to join a UN mission to intervene in the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, we would call our congressman to rail against that too.
The sad truth is, Little Gorilla, that we people don't want you to grow and grow and grow. We want you to die and die and die.
I understand that there are real world issues that seem far more important than the death of a few thousand "lower" primates. Losing your job is a desperately sad thing. But I contend that such concerns will always be there for humanity. The human journey will always include a struggle against unemployment, poverty, and these gays trying to take over our military. The question is-- while struggling against such things, will we lift a finger (a lousy few billion dollars) to save the Little Gorilla and all his friends in the jungle, or not? As a kid, I thought "of course we would". As an adult, I have learned "it's a nonstarter".
And this is sad because everyone should have the privilege of growing up in a world where there are Little Gorillas to love.