Monday, March 13, 2006


I'm reading a book which reminded me of a debate I had back in college between a group of friends. The book is Life of Pi and the debate is about animals in zoos. The debate I had among friends started with pragmatic Ajay stating that animals in captivity (i.e. in the zoo) seem to lead a better life than animals in the wild. After all, there is no threat of predators, a constant supply of nutritional food, and healthcare when you are sick. I distinctly remember the liberal majority (i.e. Phil, Chris & Emily) staunchly attacking Ajay's claim and arguing for freedom as being of utmost importance. Without freedom, what is life? ... My opinion? It lies somewhere in between. If animals thought like humans, I suppose they would not be satisfied with mundane zoo life. But if animals did not care about such things and merely thought about survival, then sure, life in the zoo would be hands-down second to none. The only close scenario Joe and I could come up with on a human level was if our whole family got uprooted from a very dangerous, urban, crime-ridden area and sent to a monastery. But it wouldn't be a normal monastery, because it would also have TV, all the food we need, and all the modern amenities we have come to depend on (cable, internet, etc..). The only catch is that we could never leave. I'm sure no one would ever choose this life, but we are presupposing that animals think like us, which I'm pretty sure they don't. Okay, I admit, Joe and I sometimes have very abnormal conversations.

In Life of Pi it talks about this issue and poses this scenario: We as people find comfort in the homes we've built for ourselves. We have worked out a way to have running water, constant food supply, shelter and security provided to us, all under one roof. If a stranger were to come along and kick us out of our homes and say, "Go, be free," would our response be gratitude? I am in no way saying that zoo is the home that animals have chosen for themselves, but think about this: Animals choose and mark their territories. Even though they have all the world to explore and wander, they stay within a relatively small area only wandering outside in search of resources, because that is what they have claimed as their domain. After some time, if an animal were to become accustomed to their accommodations at the zoo, wouldn't they also mark their territory and set up camp as they would back in their own natural habitat? The added bonus is that they wouldn't have to wander off looking for food and they would not have to worry about predators and parasites. So, to answer the question (10 years later), I agree with you Ajay. Animals in the zoo do have it pretty good. One thing's for sure - I certainly prefer animals behind cages to animals in my backyard.

This topic is also making me think more about our own existence. We too give up certain freedoms to live behind secure walls. We limit ourselves to where we live, where we go, and what we do in order to feel safe, all deliberate choices in exchange for freedom. The growing acceptance of racial profiling and increasing government control post 9/11 are also examples of how we are willing to trade our freedom for walls. Some of us even live in gated communities where there are artificial parks and lakes, much like a larger zoo pen. Interesting.

For some reason, I seem to be the only one in our book club getting into this book. Anyone else read this book and have positive or negative reviews to give?

Anyway, I leave you with THIS, a truly amazing example of SKILL. I still can't decide if it's the craziest or the most brilliant thing I've ever seen.

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