Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

Natural Rhythms: Small Desert Animal Psychology

I'm sitting here in an arid Baja California environ...listening & looking for small animals. Finding each one, I track its progress for a while. Lizards, birds, butterflies. I shoot several minutes of film, off and on.

For all their possible exoticism, I see that these animals expend effort in two basic modes: plodding and waiting. From my macroscopic, modern (sub)urbanite perspective, there's strikingly little movement out there. Small desert animals are not big personalities. They would cling to the edges at any discotheque. Maybe they're INTPs. Maybe these natural phlegmatics (slugs) do speed up when in a rare animal-to-animal window of opportunity -- like a Linux developer on a hot date -- but I didn't see any of that this week & anyway I'm here to take a long/temperament view...

The small desert animals have a major tortoise vibe going. A hare would be very out of place.

These animals are so patient. Too patient for our taste; they accomplish so much less than most of us. It's good that they have much lower energy requirements, less concern about the gaps in their resumes, greater appreciation for raw foods...

Life-enhancing action opportunities are rare for these creatures. They spend basically all their time looking for them.

Contrast this with the netizen's immediate options. Savvy First World humans are always surrounded by action-worthy opportunities. There are so many words you should write, so many phone calls you should make, so many movies you'd been meaning to rent...

When you reach out to another busy human (and every modern is very busy in his own ways), you're speaking through a din of opportunity costs. There are so many Amazing Things that he at some level knows he can be doing, that most everything new gets approached half-guiltily -- with one eye on the clock or on the door, with an ear tuned to its possible dangers. Even when interacting with you is clearly right there on someone's optimal plate (e.g., you're offering them work they love at a wonderful rate), you're still reaching through a sea of emotional filters built on a bedrock of assuming high opportunity costs. We jaded moderns are so hard to engage. Call it wary, call it impassive, call it cool, call it deliberate. In a world flush with opportunities & "distractions" (our word for opportunities that just aren't right for us!), it is The Rule. It is the dominant social emotion for strangers. The more diffuse the opportunities that abound, the more dominant it gets.

This is the reason I tend to prefer small communities to big cities. (Sometimes I sense that ubiquitous computing is eroding all such distinction in uncomfortable ways, the way cellphones have hurt Hollywood Production Assistants' home lives...the creeping monoculture, with no respect for time/space boundaries.)

I recently skimmed & tossed a boring book called Speed Is Life. In this kind of world, we can certainly use some powerful images to reground ourselves in the virtuous parts of phlegmaticism: peaceful, easygoing, not in a hurry, doesn't get upset easily, steadily competent, patiently searching for the most important personal values.

Small desert animals provide those powerful images, anchoring those virtues. That sunning lizard, that unflappable nectar-hunting butterfly, the sharp-eyed bird quietly approaching its megacaloric meals...

"So pure, such an expression."
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