An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
of July 11, 2004
issued from the woods a few miles east of
Natchez, Mississippi, USA


A couple of weeks ago a new person showed up in the neighborhood. What this means for me is that now each morning when I'm jogging and approach my turn-around point at a certain bridge there's a Doberman Pinscher there to bark at me. The dog simply goes wild, dances about yelping, but so far he's never bitten me. (Fang- marks from last year's dogbite still ornament my right calf.) Our daily encounter has become ritualized.

You can see it from the dog's point of view. In his mind he's fulfilling his watchdog task, and he gets to exercise his gut-felt aggression against territorial interlopers. Still, it's all pretty dumb. One wishes he would realize that, since I always turn around, such frenzied barking is wasted energy and that he actually looks a bit silly, even cowardly.

Here's the point I sometimes think about as I jog, though: Most humans, most of the time, at all levels of society, indulge in similar role playing and similar behaviors that in the short term are fun and self-serving but in the long term are destructive for themselves and others.

For example, a handful of international religious fanatics attacks the US, and our leadership, afraid of looking helpless, responds by attacking a country having nothing to do with the attack. The consequent war kills a lot of innocent people and stirs up the whole world against us, thus weakening our democracy and creating more danger for us in the future. However, right now the leaders get to look busy and tough. Bark, bark, bark!

Less easy to admit, but cumulatively more destructive in the long run, is that we all individually behave like this dog in our everyday lives, myself included. It's human nature to prefer to deal with immediate gut reactions -- to react to things the way our genes program us to react -- and superficial appearances instead of thinking things out and developing new living strategies. That latter approach is difficult, and most people oppose any kind of change.

Consequently, most of us devote enormous parts of our lives doing things we haven't thought that much about. Particularly we take jobs we may not like in order to earn money to buy things that, for the most part, we don't need, and often don't really care about, and the production of which is environmentally, if not socially and spiritually, destructive.

Each of us has a bit of the dog mindlessly, ridiculously and cowardly barking and dancing at the end of the road. Maybe life is mainly about each of us gaining enough character to stop behaving like that. Facebook Icon.