Of geese and men
Anyone who knows me well can attest to my
hatred of lack of fondness for geese. Actually, for domestic birds in general. They are rude, constantly defecating squatters…on our lawn, in the outer wall space of our home, on our decks. And wherever else they darn well please, ‘cause they don’t care.
Geese are incredibly stubborn and defiant too. I have chased them on our lawnmower into our little lake to have them waddle out on the other side where I would come around and chase them back in. And when I was able to come between them and their watery haven (where I couldn’t get to them and from where I’m sure they were laughing at me) they would simply scatter…loudly honking “ha-ha” as they divided and conquered, obstinately refusing to fly away. They were leading me in a real-life game of Duck, Duck, Goose, but it was not fun.
Now the other day we had squatters of a different sort. A couple of teenage boys spotted our lake on an aerial view of the neighborhood and just decided to come fishing here. When I confronted them, again on my lawnmower, they claimed not to know it was private property. I was a bit skeptical as it’s right in our backyard and the area is well-mowed (yes…by me) and there are numerous personal-type items about, like patio tables and chairs, hanging plants, and tiki torches.
Not surprisingly, I did not go after these human intruders on my Toro like I did with the pesky geese. I simply told them they had to go and they apologized and did. But what if they hadn’t? What if they, like the ill-mannered and intransigent waterfowl, thumbed their beaks at me and continued making themselves at home on my property? Well, I certainly wouldn’t have given up and resigned myself to their unwelcome presence, like I’m forced to with the geese. I would have called the cops.
So now we come to the point of my tale of two intruders…man and fowl. There are laws regarding geese, such as those that restrict hunting them to certain times and seasons, but no laws FOR geese. As irritated and angry as I get at those annoying critters, I know they have no moral obligation to respect my property, because they have no moral capacity. They’re animals, and we recognize that, bad dog videos notwithstanding, animals do not truly apprehend right from wrong and can’t be held morally culpable.
But there ARE laws for men…and women…and teens. There are laws imposed on us from without, primarily because there are also laws that impose themselves on us from within. Those boys didn’t need me to tell them WHY they had to go. They didn’t need to have seen a NO TRESPASSING sign, nor be familiar with the state laws, nor even to have been told by a parent or teacher that it’s wrong to help yourself to other people’s property. They knew it innately because humans have a moral sense that’s as real as our physical senses.
But unlike our physical senses that simply gather information, our moral sense tells us more than what IS right or wrong, good or bad. It tells us that we OUGHT to do right and ought not do wrong. Where does that impression of obligation come from if we are just higher up on the food chain than foul fowl? And from where comes the moral data that our sense is picking up?
I know that my anger at and disdain for geese is without basis because they really are just dancing to their DNA. They can’t help it. But if there is no God, we too are merely doing the double-helix disco. And though a person’s style and execution of the dance may be less than attractive and on point, we can only judge by giving a low score. We can’t judge that their performance is right or wrong.