CHAPTER ONE: Chaos
Chaos is the state of uncontrollable circumstance.
Although Chaos reigns equally over each of the Earth’s biological kingdoms, it is only the species of homo sapiens who are aware of it, because it is humans alone among Animalia who can form a view of their own existence.
Perhaps that is why we refer to ourselves not merely as humans, but as human beings. In this context, “being” is a verb (the present participle of be) which means to exist. To call oneself a “human being” then, is to say, “I am a member of the homo sapien species who exists”. Seems redundant, but I suppose that reflects how obsessed we human beings are with our own existence. On matters of great importance to us, we tend to repeat ourselves.
We don’t extend this sense of existence to any other species. We would never call a member of the canis familiaris species a “dog being”, even though dogs exist to the same degree that humans do. That’s because while we know that dogs exist, we don’t believe that they are aware of their existence in the way humans are. They exist but are blissfully ignorant of the finite nature of that existence. Unlike us, dogs are not consumed by anxiety over what will come after they cease to exist. Dogs don’t concern themselves with the Chaos of their impending death. Only humans do that.
When my family took in a second dog, she quickly became fast friends with our first dog, who was ten years older. My teen-aged daughter remarked that it would be sad for the second dog when the first dog died, because there would be no way to explain to her what had happened to her friend. He would just be there one day and the next day, not—and that would be impossible for her to understand.
I thought that was an interesting observation, but I don’t fully agree with it because it presumes that dogs need an explanation for things, they don’t understand in the way humans do. They don’t. Dogs simply accept Chaos for what it is, uncontrollable circumstance, and adapt to it. It’s only humans that try to control the terms of their own existence. We alone demand an explanation for why a friend was taken from us. We alone think that we deserve a determinative role in our own existence. No other creature on Earth does that.
I’ve noticed when I gather with men in a circle to pray together, any dogs we have with us will crowd into the center of the group and remain very quiet, as if they too are observing the solemnity of the moment. I asked my friend Snoop, who has been a dog trainer his entire life, if he thought that dogs might be capable of understanding what we were doing, in some small dog-like way.
“Nah,” he said. “They are just responding to the mood of their masters. They don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Well, what’s going through their minds?” I asked.
“Nothing really. When a dog doesn’t understand what his master is saying or doing, he’ll just hunker down and wait for a recognizable command.” Snoop said. “Of course, that’s only true if the dog trusts his master.”
“What happens if he doesn’t?”
“Well, that’s when a dog will take matter into his own hands, or his paws I guess.” Snoop said, laughing. “That’s when they do dumb stuff that can get them run over by a car or something.”
Unlike dogs, we humans are painfully aware of our existence. But that doesn’t mean that we have any more control over the terms of that existence than a dog does or are owed an explanation for the Chaos that afflicts us all if we live long enough.
Thinking otherwise is leads a man doing dumb stuff.