24 February 2004

Mary Midgley on Wolves and Men

I once read a chatty journalistic book on wolves, which described in detail how wolves trapped in medieval France used to be flayed alive, with various appalling refinements. "Perhaps this was rather cruel," the author remarked, "but then the wolf is itself a cruel beast." The words sound so natural; it is quite difficult to ask oneself: do wolves in fact flay people alive? Or to take in the fact that the only animal that does this sort of thing is Homo sapiens. Another complaint that the author made against wolves was their treachery. They would creep up on people secretly, he said, and then attack so suddently [sic] that their victims did not have time to defend themselves. The idea that wolves would starve if they always gave fair warning never struck him. Wolves in fact, have traditionally been blamed for being carnivores, which is doubly surprising since the people who blamed them normally ate meat themselves, and were not, as the wolf is, compelled by their stomachs to do so.

(Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature [New York and Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, 1980 (1978)], 27 [italics in original])

No comments: