Americans have a powerful affinity for predators. Our national symbol, the American eagle, is a flesh-eating raptor, the top predator of the skies. The pets we dote on, cats and dogs, are carnivores. We kill for them and invite them into our homes, even into our beds. When Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe, we went into hysterics of outrage. On Facebook, Cecil was described as a “noble animal.” What is noble about a four-legged killing machine? Tigers get the same kind of devoted sympathy. Even sharks have loyal fans. There has been much protest about the “cruelty” of keeping killer whales in captivity in marine theme parks. Pity the poor, mistreated flesh eaters! T. Rex is everybody’s favorite dinosaur, because of its ferocity. Never mind that the biggest dinosaurs were vegetarians.
Granted that carnivores play an important role in ecological balance. Granted that some of them (wolves and coyotes) are regarded as pests if they impact someone’s bottom line. But I’m talking about emotional attachments here.
And how do we treat animals that are not predators? We shoot them for sport or eat them for breakfast. We murder them by the billions, under conditions of horrible brutality, in slaughter houses across the land. With impunity; no one cares.
This kind of affinity for carnivores would be understandable if we were carnivores ourselves, but a study of the human digestive system reveals fundamental differences from those of carnivores and omnivores. Whether or not we eat meat, our bodies are still those of frugivores (fruit-eaters). As Herbert M. Shelton said, “Although man has included meat in his diet for thousands of years, his anatomy and physiology, and the chemistry of his digestive juices, are still unmistakably those of a frugivorous animal.”
A frugivorous animal that identifies with and sympathizes with carnivores! Why? Why don’t we identify with our own kind? Why don’t we behave like frugivores? Why do we kill for carnivores? Why do we spend more money on dog food than on cancer research? Does our affinity for predators explain our propensity for predation? For violence?
Anthropologist Raymond Dart said that our ancestors were killer apes; I disagree. No doubt they sometimes had to kill for food, out of necessity, because famines were regular features of their lives. But that did not change their natures.
Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are fruit-eating apes, but they are not ferocious enough for us. We want to be at the top of the food chain. And so we are. We have succeeded in putting ourselves at the top of the food chain—the most dangerous predator on the planet.
P.J. Sullivan is the author of three books of historical nonfiction, including “Mostly Rapscallions,” a book of satire about the jokers in history’s deck.