A bench in a city, some leftover bread after a mobile lunch.
Before I go, I decide to give the bread to the mass of pigeons that have been watching me greedily, keeping a safe distance so long as I have the baguette near my mouth, cautiously moving in when they see it go down on to the bench beside me.
I tear it into chunks and throw them into the crowd of birds. All the struggle of nature instantly manifests, right here before me, in this mundane little public square.
I give many crumbs at a time, so more than just the largest few can feed. But no matter how I make the division, the squabbling and merciless contestation is omnipresent. The stronger, faster, and bolder chase off the others, or simply take the bread directly from their beaks.
It is pristinely simple, the rule that motivates all that happens here, and a little reflection reveals that this is the same rule nearly everywhere.
Because we humans have amended the rule, however imperfectly, to at least occasionally reduce its brutality, I find it hard to accept that the pigeons handle their business in this atrocious manner. I try to legislate, fool that I am, caught up in my cultural game of fairness and equity and sharing and other such things. I go so far as to give crumbs to weaker birds and then stand between them and their larger antagonists. I chase away the most aggressive birds.
But they return immediately as soon as I retreat or when they sense that I am too focused on some other aggressor to attend to them. Even as I endeavor to isolate the smaller birds in order to feed them, the victims spontaneously convert to victimizers and began bullying one another, and a new hierarchy of power is imposed that is the perfect copy with different participants of the hierarchy I disrupted.
My efforts prove wholly without results, or in any event the results I hoped to achieve are not produced. The pigeons are uninterested in my prejudices. They prefer their own.
Might and aggression mixed with some luck gets a bit of bread, weakness and pacifism only and always starves.
Cold, pure, uncompromising, utterly separated from the world we hairless apes have devised out of our ability to produce sounds and then etch symbols representing the sounds on parchment and then name some among us as the guardians of these sacred symbols that we desire so desperately to be eternal rules for the governing of our commerce with one another.
As the pigeons continue their war of all against all, I notice something I had not seen before.
There are perhaps three or four dozen birds gathered around the bench, hard to count as they bustle about in the furious competition like balls of feathers in the wind. But of all the birds I study to verify the point, not one has two intact feet.
All are missing toes or have other horrible deformities. Some have no foot at all on one leg, just a stump. These hobble about pathetically, yet impervious to my compassion for them. They feed when I give them the opportunity to do so by intimidating their intimidators, and then they adopt the same amoral rigor in their competition with still smaller, weaker, more severely crippled fellows. My pity for their condition plays precisely no role in the mechanism of the malevolent machinery.
I return to my bench, thoroughly defeated. It is difficult to look hard at such things. Doing so inevitably reminds one of how much of this is contained in us too.