A/n: I am not a philosopher-king, so please don't be too hard on my thoughts. For that matter I'm not a Historian, either. Anyway. kthxbai!
"Holmes, I have an odd question on my mind."
"Excellent, let us hear it."
"Well, it's this: do you ever wish you were an animal, instead of a man?"
"That is odd indeed," he remarked, resting his finger on the side of his face. "Let me think on it while I pour the first round and chill the remainder in the icebox."
By the time he put a glass into my hand, the multiple threads of thought running round and round in my mind had gotten me into an agitated state, and I could scare hold back my words. When Holmes sat down across from me with his own drink, he perceived my eagerness and motioned that I speak first, which I was grateful for.
"Holmes, sometimes I can't help but think it would be better to be an animal, a squirrel, perhaps, or a fox or even a hawk. An animal lives on its instincts; it has no moral dilemmas, for it has no morals, only laws of its kind that are programmed into it at birth, it need never worry over this or that choice, it simply acts and does not deliberate. It must be much easier in its mind, for it lives from moment to the next, choice after choice faced without qualm, for there really is no choice; it will always do the sensible thing, never an idiotic act of cruelty as humans are wont. Humans will sometimes hurt themselves, if it means a chance to demean another they hate; animals don't have such nonsense in them."
Holmes considered, taking a sip of the Claret. "Animals are less intense in a way, is that what you are saying? They simply live, and do not involve themselves with mental complexities and follies as humans do?"
"Yes, something like that. Life can be so complex, sometimes—Holmes, you won't laugh?—well, sometimes I envy the simpler life of the animals, and I almost do wish I was a squirrel. I would so enjoy waking up when I liked, and going to gather breakfast without fussing over my dress, for I'd wear the same fur my whole life. Squirrels, nor any animal, aren't loaded down with a thousand thoughts of balancing cheque-books, growing their business, staying fit and returning letters. Even the Proverbs has several things to say about insects, how they live."
"Ah yes, the hard-working ants…consider them and be wise."
"But the second part, Holmes, 'they have no ruler…but still they gather food for winter.' They just know how to do it, no meetings to decide where the food will be stored, or of which kind. Or what about the locusts? They don't have a king, it says, but they're like—like soldiers, perfectly lined up! It's an instinct, they don't have to conduct training or drills or draw up great maps and battle plans. Animals may have a hard life (after all, they could be caught and eaten any time), but at least they have none of this—" I set aside my untouched drink and stepped to the window, gesturing to the outside world.
"Factories, mistreatment, money, poverty, filth and anger, unfair treatment and illness, and the moral deliberation of each alone and connected to the others?"
I nodded wearily, gazing into the street. "Sometimes it's all too much for me. Sometimes I wonder if we have it right, to prize progression. What is progression? What are we progressing to? How is it any better than before, when people are still getting sick and dying and hurting each other? It seems a tree is better than the most advanced factory, since it makes no waste, requires no coal or gas, and gives shelter and beauty year after year. When it dies, it decomposes and enriches the earth. How have we done better than that?"
"What, d'you want to be a leaf, now?" Holmes's voice had a kind smile in it. "Watson, I think the deeper question is this: can humans really be superior to nature, as they so often claim, when humanity is such a ruined thing, and humans seem to spend all their time devising new ways to inflict pain and humiliation on their fellow man?"
"Perhaps so," I said quietly, turning to face him. "Sometimes I think we're all deceiving ourselves."
Holmes nodded. "It is a difficult question, and I doubt I can answer it fully. I do think that as the human population grows, ways of living and governing may become inadequate, and more efficient means have to be found. But who is to say what the answer is? We can only try our best, and own when we make mistakes and must backtrack to find a better way. Perhaps factories will be abolished in a dozen years. Perhaps it will go down as the worst mistake in the world! We can't know, we can only try. It is the same when you look at the individual's life. We're not given a map, we can only try to meet the challenges you face, because the only alternative is standing still."
"The world grows more complex as it ages, just as a man's life becomes more and more loaded with responsibilities as he grows."
"It's true, Watson; we can't escape the pressures of modern civilization nor destiny. Again, who is to know how permanent this establishment is? As long as it remains, however, we are faced with many obstacles and I confess, Watson, speaking for myself—at times I'd much rather be a fox doing just as I like, then having to navigate this infernal maze of human life! What can I say? It is difficult, yet we have no choice. And we do have several advantages over animals."
I settled myself back down and sipped my drink. "Well—like what?"
"Consider: animals may have no morals, nothing beyond themselves that structures their everyday lives. But can they comprehend anything beyond themselves and their families? Their simplicity has a price of narrowing their world. When you have nothing but yourself to worry about, you have nothing but yourself to wonder about. I am glad I know of the problems of humanity, if for no other reason than I can use my God-given mind to solve them, and in that way I am contributing something of myself. I know I am being useful."
"I suppose it could be baffling, living in a world you don't understand," I mused.
"Yes, one can only imagine the shock a squirrel must feel, seeing acorns rain about him the first time and clueless as to Newton's principles! And to be an animal and not grasp the subtleties of death, but unable to shield your eyes from the hundred deaths that happen in the woods and meadows every day—no, I would rather I have my understanding, though it leads sometimes to grief. Do I weary you with talking?"
"No, it's only I'm confused—I just need a moment to absorb it all. How is your Claret?"
"Excellent, most excellent. I believe we should try the cooler version at dinner, and in the meantime allow me to take your mind onto something less exhausting. For while I believe in the strength of your faculties, I believe even more firmly that a man cannot escape unscathed from doing paperwork all through the night. Poor fellow, no wonder you'd rather be a squirrel curled up in your drey! Just bring down the collection of Meredith's poetry, will you?"