Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Animal Metaphors

One of the things that came up in my talk with Dr. Daniel Fincke was a concept of Nietzsche regarding types of people. I like these sort of models, but I feel I have to disagree with Nietzsche on some key points.

I’m sure he has great reasons for it, but I don’t much like the Camel/Lion/Child model. It’s eloquent in a way, because people move back and forth between stages as they intellectually develop, but there’s a few problems with it.

My first minor beef is with the choice of animals. I don’t think any of them make any sense. When I think of loyal and obedient, I have to say… camels don’t even cross my mind, perhaps because my mind is not a desert. I also don’t really imagine lions as being unmoved nay-sayers (lion tamers, anyone?), nor do I think of children as being constructive. I imagine Nietzsche never had children, or he would have realized children say, “No” all the time, especially at certain ages (there are two distinct “No” phases, once as toddlers and again as adolescents).

Based on the same model as Nietzsche, I would have gone with dogs, cats and ants. Dogs are loyal and obedient, cats do their own thing, and ants are builders who work well with others.

My biggest concern, however, is that not everyone has the same points of reference or overall attitudes. I believe in a model that exhibits more diversity through parallelism, which acknowledges many people develop in a similar manner, while not adopting the exact same traits.

I would prefer to think of people as being very different animals who change into different forms of that same animal. We all change through life, but there is almost always a set of characteristics which we maintain as constant and which shape how we exhibit our outlook.

For example, I see myself as a dog. It took a while to get to the point of being a dog again. See, I figure I was born a dog (or a puppy, I guess). I learned some tricks and I was loyal and obedient. Then, sometime in my teens, I became a wolf. I didn’t become a radically different animal all together, I just became a more feral version of what I was before.

But I ended up not staying a wolf, which I attribute to the fact that I never much had a pack mentality. I was always a lone wolf. I didn’t mind taking cruel shots at others on my own, but I didn’t much like the idea of being part of a group, coordinating attacks. It always really bothered me that packs of wolves always picked on the weak.

At some point I became domesticated again, and while I still howl from time to time, I don’t go on the rug anymore. I bark, but I won’t bite.

Other people are often completely different kinds of animals, because they had very different experiences in life than I did, or they may have even responded to nearly identical situations in a totally different manner.

I know a lot of people who are sheep. I’m guessing most atheists reading this are smiling to themselves, but you are usually sheep, as well. I don’t look down on you for being sheep… hell, I’m a dog. Part of my job is to protect you pansies from wolves, but don’t think I won’t nip at your heels, because I will.

But not all sheep are harmless; what an unfair characterization that would be. Just because someone in an ungulate in a herd doesn’t mean they can’t tangle with someone vicious. A lot of these sheep become confident rams who don’t mind butting heads.

There are millions of different types of people out there who don’t fit either of these models, but there are also millions of animals. I would be willing to bet if I was given the chance to get to know a person, I could combine this with my knowledge of biology (which is modest but ample) and come up with an animal to describe anyone.

And yes, that is a challenge.


  1. I believe I have always been a cat. I would like to think I was a dog or some other industrious sort but I'm more like a cat... lay around until some curiosity or hunger moves you. But this conversation is really over my head as it's been so long since I've read Nietzsche I have pretty well forgotten it all and, like a cat, I'm too lazy to refresh.

  2. I don't know if being a dog is very industrious... it's certainly not a noble calling. We're kind of like frat boys. We're always puking, peeing outside, and humping everything that moves.

  3. I've never read Nietzsche (other than quotes in other people's writing), so pardon my ignorance.

    I've been called a racehorse - focussed on the race, looking toward the finish line, charged on adrenaline.


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