Hawks and Sparrows

Yesterday I watched a hawk and pigeon engage in mortal combat; or, rather, a pigeon struggling to escape a hawk that had homed in on it. The pigeon would escape one assault only to be attacked again, dodging and weaving until it succumbed to the hawk’s talons.

That spectacle prompted an acquaintance I was with to recall how he once saw a hawk pin a sparrow against the wall of his house. Impasse. No matter which way the poor terrified sparrow dodged and weaved, the hawk blocked every route of escape until it went in for the kill.

My acquaintance was rooting for the hawk. He doesn’t like sparrows or pigeons. He, like many farmers, considers them pests on the same low level as racoons or mice (for which he has a near pathological and neurotic hatred). In fact, there are not many beings amongst living nature for whom he has much appreciation or sympathy at all. I had once watched him insanely dive under a moving combine to try and kill a field mouse whose nest had been disturbed. His mad act, in which he risked severe injury and even death for himself just to try and kill a mouse, brought to mind Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest With a Plough” as contrast.  Burns could not speak of the mouse as an “it”. To him, the mouse was a “her”.

So, it was understandable that my acquaintance would identify with the hawk. He is not big on empathy. In fact, he is very narcissistic, and I know him to walk in all possible paths of human folly (but which he prefers to refer to as his distinguishing “eccentricities”).

My own feelings on observing the struggle of the hawk and the pigeon were more complex — a certain sadness at the spectacle along with a certain elation. The pigeon had run out of time. I felt compassion for the terror of the pigeon, the sparrow, and the mouse. I empathised with the hawk’s need and fierce exultation in the hunt. But mostly I felt that here was a perfect spectacle to serve as a parable — a dharma lesson — something that might bestir my acquaintance from his narcissistic stupour.

In some ways, the dramatic spectacle, and the story of the hawk and the sparrow, show why we do not live between the poles of “pleasure and pain” as the utilitarian ethic has it, but between terror and wonder. So I turned to my acquaintance and remarked to him that one day we are that hawk, but the next we are that sparrow and that pigeon, pinned against a wall with no escape.  The hawk is death, and none of us eludes it. We, too, end up as hunted beings pinned against a wall.

Whether it had the desired effect I don’t know. My intent was to arouse a sense of empathy and to induce a mood of sobriety in him because his follies — typical of the follies of the present — all arise from a delusion of personal immortality and self-importance, those things characteristic of narcissism and the culture of narcissism, and of what Ernest Becker called “the denial of death” which makes for childishness and infantilism.

There is a high degree of cowardice in only identifying with the hawk while refusing to recognise oneself and one’s  own inevitable fate also in the sparrow or the pigeon or the mouse.

My acquaintance is not unique (although he thinks he is). It is one of those great deficiencies of the mental-rational consciousness and its utilitarian ethic that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is considered the essence of the rational life (the secularised and rationalised theology of “good versus evil”).  And indeed it is, within that context. But there is more to us than pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance. Our contemporary pedagogy and culture not only induce narcissistic attitudes as the norm. It also cripples us for the task of achieving real and full maturity as human beings.

Castaneda’s don Juan stated that the art of the warrior and the man of knowledge was “to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive”. I perceived the truth of that in the lesson of the hawk and the pigeon. Don Juan’s formula generates a different kind of human being than the one who merely seeks pleasure and avoids pain, for whom the extremes of Disneyland versus Terrorism (or Jihad Versus McWorld) becomes the “new normal” instead, even as a distorted, surrogate form of truth.

The truth of ourselves and of our false consciousness about our real situation will not be denied for long. In one way or another, it will assert itself… even apocalyptically and catastrophically. Or even as farce.



8 responses to “Hawks and Sparrows”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    This took me back to the misjustified aggression on the Iraqi sparrows by the western hawks, remind me of the guns and roses I wrote then and how crises play a decisive role in exposing the sensitive Scott (Burns) from his insensitive acquaintance. It seems, it is a question of archetypes, that is, some are prone to be predators and others prey, with the possibility of exchanging roles in different context. Slave and master are always present in all different shades and modes, the problem is how to address without aggression. It is a question of justice and truth and not of democracy and law which are called into question. It is easy to falsify and mix the unmixable, like Mr Barber when talking about the dissenting minorities and include the Palestinian, even his comparison between the mcworld and jihad can be called into question also, especially his equating between the actor and the reactor. Jihad, in its authentic context, is fighting for truth, any other interpretation is distortion. As you said truth can not be denied for long, neither can the falsification endure for ever. Birds, animals, plants and everything that exist are schools for the human learning. Did not Cain learn the procedures of burning his kill from the crow. I think any talk away from the root is misleading. Remember god is with you wherever you are.No wonder all sages call for the return to the ever present origin. The truth of everything.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It seems, it is a question of archetypes, that is, some are prone to be predators and others prey, with the possibility of exchanging roles in different context.

      We do exchange. Inevitably so. The hunter is also always the hunted. Did not Rumi compare himself to the candle, and the crazy moth flying into it too?

      “I am morning mist,
      and the breathing of evening.
      I am wind in the top of a grove,
      and surf on the cliff.

      Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
      I am also the coral reef they founder on.”

      The hawk…. and the sparrow, too. The fish…. and the fisherman.

      By the way what is the story behind this? “Did not Cain learn the procedures of burning his kill from the crow.”

      • abdulmonem says :

        In chapter five of the Quran, called, the Lord Supper, in reference to the meal, Christ shared with his apostles. there are verses 27 to 31 that covers the story of Cain and Abel, in that story the incident of the crow as a teacher to Cain is mentioned, the crow as a messenger.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    I’m madly in love with animals and creatures of all kind (particularly, the tardigrade :))

    It seems to me that the pigeon may have allowed for its losing struggle with the hawk because it was tired of being a pigeon. The consciousness that was objectified in that pigeon may have planned a magnificent existence as a beaked whale in the next life, thereby, what better or more noble way for it to check out than making itself food for another creature that had not yet lost its will to live? Nature and what happens in it are just divine.

    Benjamin Barber may have been ahead of his time when he wrote that piece. But he leaves quite a bit to be argued. He says “My guess is that globalization will eventually vanquish retribalization.” I think not.

    The problem with globalization is the ‘agents’ of globalization; i.e. the multinationals. That’s why, in my opinion, this form of globalization that is being spearheaded by “Agent Smith” of this world will fail and will not lead to the integral consciousness that we all hope for. Globalization under the current banner is a recipe for complete deception.

    The regional divorces that Barber spoke about in his article have diverse roots, but they all converge – methinks – on the lack of adequate distribution of diminishing resources by the powers that have dominated these regions for some time; and compounded of course, by the ecological crisis. The dominant power structure in each of the regions mentioned in his article may have used religion, ethnic affiliation, etc. as various means to marginalize the local populations by dedicating less resources to them, but in the end, it’s all about that piece of the pie.

    Several years ago, I was having a discussion with a Ukrainian colleague about her experiences under the Soviet rule. The first thing she said when she complained about that era was that all the grains that were being produced by hard working farmers in Ukraine would be shipped to Moscow for distribution, leaving very little benefits to those who did the backbreaking work to produce the grains. Ethnical or religious strife were never part of her complaints about the old Soviet rule. Just lack of resources.

    There was a time when mankind didn’t have the ability to access all the resources of our planet. But that didn’t create much of a problem because there wasn’t that many of us. Now that we have either exhausted or in the process of exhausting our resources one by one, the situation will be very different. Scientific predictions (an example of which is in the Limits To Growth series of books/reports) paint a very grim picture by when the planet’s population hits the 9 billion mark.

    9 billion or more and very little accessible resources while we look to multinationals to decide who gets what? Oh boy!

    • Scott Preston says :

      It seems to me that the pigeon may have allowed for its losing struggle with the hawk because it was tired of being a pigeon

      If it had a death wish, it sure put up a struggle against it.

      That said, I have seen an animal commit suicide, in what seemed a deliberate act. It was a homeless dog. It was very sick and not in good shape. It simply lay down in the highway. It was sad. I stopped and tried to coax it off the highway, but it wouldn’t budge. It didn’t move at all to avoid vehicles. Eventually it was killed.

      That (and road kill more generally) always brings to mind the myth of the satyr Silenus and Midas which so impressed Nietzsche. You may recall that Midas, having asked the captive Silenus what was best for man, was told “never to have been born. Not to be. But the next best is to die soon”.

      It’s a common enough sentiment.. “I wish I’ld never been born!”. You hear it often enough. One wonders, though, whether animals might have something of the same sentiment, but not the means to articulate it, but only to act on it.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        The encounter with the dog is thought provoking.

        In March 2012, one rainy night as I was driving back from a late night trip to the grocery store, a medium sized raccoon ran in front of my car and got killed. It is the only time in my life when I struck a creature with my car and the incident happened so quickly that it was impossible to avoid.

        Ever since the incident, every time I remember it, it is striking to me how precisely it was timed. It never occurred to me that the animal might’ve deliberately jumped in front of my tires, but if you replace the raccoon with a human being and replay the act, it would look like nothing short of a suicide.

        The really odd thing about the incident is that it happened on Silicon Valley’s busiest roadway: EL Camino Real. I mean there’s nothing but shops, buildings, cars, and pedestrians in the area, and this raccoon was hiding in the narrow bushes that line the median in the boulevard. It must’ve taken the critter quite a bit of an effort just to get itself to that position in the city and then wait for the right moment to end its own life.

        Although, I can never be sure as to what were the intensions of the raccoon, it just goes to show how oblivious we are about the lives of other creatures – i.e. the lives of our very distant relatives.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    The verb is burying not burning, I am sorry for the error.

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