I raise some questions in my book “Sam (a pastoral)” about how we treat animals and each other. Ruthie, my young heroine, loses her temper and takes it out on Sam. She tells no one, but the guilty feeling that the horse will always remember the abuse and never trust her again, is eating away at her. After a bitter fight with her sister about the human and animal slavery, Ruthie asks her Dad to clarify this question for them. Here are a few bits Dad’s philosophy.
“When you face facts you see that Fear and Hunger are the only forces in the world. There’s no such thing as love. Nobody, man nor beast, works because he loves it. I get up and commute to the office every day because I am afraid of getting fired and going hungry. If I could arrange things to suit myself, I wouldn’t have a wife and kids, ha ha, and right now I’d be asleep under a palm tree in the South Sea Islands, with a few lines out to catch fish for dinner….
“Every animal in the world–and we are animals too– is driven by Fear and Hunger and nothing else. Is that good? Is that bad? It’s just reality. Sam obeys you because the whip and the bit give him pain, and he fears pain…that’s the way the world works, for all of us….”
Ruthie absorbs several ideas from Dad’s lecture. First, that her Dad does not love her or want her. Second, that kindness doesn’t matter. As she lies sleepless in her bed that night she thinks:
I could yank Sam’s mouth and beat and starve him and it wouldn’t make any difference. I just believed all that gushy oh-my-pony-loves-me stuff so I could get to ride. What Dad said was true. Sam was my slave.
It takes a while for Ruthie to dig out from under this stark view of the world. But we have hope that she is going to, because this view makes her feel even worse than she did when she was writhing with guilt about hurting her horse and betraying their bond. But the questions remain in her heart, and ours: do we take care of each other, or do we exploit each other?