On the Nature of Gods and Beasts
You shouldn’t think of people as animals. However, there are plenty of folks who make this difficult. When you try to give someone credit for being a person, and then they behave like a beast, it can damage your faith in humanity itself. If you think of people as animals, you will never be disappointed. But this in insulting. How would you feel if someone though of you as an animal?
For several years I have had an upstairs neighbor who behaves like an animal. This guy is twice my age. On paper, he is more successful, more important, and more powerful than I. H clearly makes a lot of money, and enjoys some level of status. This helps to confirm that money and status are meaningless, because this upstairs neighbor hasn’t figured out how to be a person.
We call him Peggy Bunt. Bunt, because that is the kind of name you give an idiot, and Peggy because it sounds like he is walking on a pair of peg legs when he stomps around upstairs. I know it’s not nice, be he is like a beast. His laugh is like a baboon’s howl. He is constantly yelling and arguing, like a beta male desperate for dominance. He comes and goes at all hours, which wouldn’t be such a big deal, if he could close a door without slamming it. But he can’t. He doesn’t understand doors.
His mind is, for the most part, incomprehensible to me. I feel like Jane Goodall studying the apes. I think I may have learned a few things. The guy is absolutely desperate for acceptance. Every weekend he goes out to the bars. When they close, he invites bar patrons over to his second-story condo to party. This condo is located in what is essentially a retirement community. Lots of old people who like the quiet.
The people he invites over are college-aged, in their late teens and early twenties. Peggy Bunt is forty-five. He invites kids over to his house to party, without any concern for his neighbors. But the kids he invites over are people. They get to his depressing condo and they realize there are far superior places to party. Places where they won’t bother people. Places where there isn’t a creepy old guy trying to be cool.
So the kids leave. They don’t want to hang out with Bunt. Peggy Bunt is a beast who doesn’t understand. He gets sad when his “friends” leave. When he gets sad, he gets angry. When he gets angry he makes noise. He makes noise all the time.
One day, when Bunt was causing thunder upstairs, I sort of had an epiphany. It caused me to start thinking of Bunt in a different way. Not as one of the beasts, but as one of the gods.
Not God, to be clear, but a god. Like Zeus of Thor or Tezcatlipoca.
To ancient people, the gods were always around. Not unlike an annoying neighbor. The gods held immense power. They were thought of as thinking beings, but you could never really understand their motivations as a mortal.
It is raining because the gods are sad. Why are the gods sad? It doesn’t matter. It matters that it is raining and ruining your fields. Even if you knew why they cry, it’s not like you could console the gods. They affect you, but you can’t affect them. The lightning is Jupiter’s fury. It doesn’t matter why he is mad. You can’t do anything about it. Just keep your head down and hope it stops soon.
Gods aren’t any better than people, just more powerful. With all their strength, the average mortal is better-adjusted than your average god. Gods are jealous and paranoid. They are listless and sad. But why? What’s the point?
Gods and beasts are actually quite similar. Gods have minds, but you don’t know what they are thinking. They have feelings, but you can’t really empathize with them. They are more alien than familiar.
Animals have minds, but we don’t know how they think. They have feelings, but we can’t know how they feel. Gods and animals are the same. They are both incomprehensible creatures. Maybe that’s why so many traditional gods are animals, like the bear, the coyote, and the wolf.
People would be insulted to be thought of as animals. But maybe it is really a compliment. Comparing a person to the animals is like comparing them to the gods.
If you think of troublesome people as animals, you will never be disappointed with them. Animals do what they do. If you think of troublesome people as gods, beings who can effect your life but whose minds are unknowable, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Gods, like beasts, simply do what they do. They are slaves to their nature.
But you should always try to think of people as people. Even the annoying ones. They will let you down. They will ruin your day. Still, thinking of people as people is the only way you have a chance at understanding them.
P.S. Peggy Bunt’s actual last name is Noyes, and it is pronounced “noise.” The loud person is actually named Noise. Maybe when he is loud, he is actually upholding ancient traditions. He is saying, “My father made noise, and his father before him, and so on.” Maybe he is preserving the honor of his ancestors by being so loud…