In chapter 8 of The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature titled “Marketing Hope by Selling Lies,” I offer an extensive analysis of various peddlers of hope that cater to our Darwinian-rooted insecurities. Of all such peddlers, none is as grand and as proficient as religion in its capacity to promise us endless benefits. Most notably, religions offer a “solution” to our inevitable mortality, the most profound existential angst that we face. To the best of our knowledge other animals do not possess the meta-knowledge of their looming mortality and hence go about their daily realities living in the moment (see my earlier posts about carpe diem and ways to achieve immortality here and here respectively). In a sense, our unique meta-awareness within the animal kingdom shackles us by forcing us to recognize our ephemeral existence. All other animals seem free of this existential curse. On a related note, some readers might be interested in the book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky.
A few days ago, I watched Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere, Jason Alexander, and Joan Allen. The film is an adapted tale of a true story that took place between 1925 and 1935 in Japan (see here). It is a devastatingly sad and moving account of a dog’s immeasurable love and loyalty to his human partner. Richard Gere plays the role of a professor who commutes by train from his small bucolic town to his university office. Each day at exactly 5:00 pm, Hachi proceeds alone from his home to the train station to wait for the return of his friend (in reality this human-canine bond is much more than a friendship bordering instead on a mystical union). Regrettably, Gere’s character dies one day while giving a lecture to obviously never return from his morning trip (Hachi had forewarned him on that fateful morning of his looming death). For the next ten years and until his own death, Hachi would return to the exact same spot at 5:00 pm to wait for his partner’s return. On the one hand, this is a tribute to a love that is impossible to describe in words. On the other hand, it is a tragic tale of a sentient being that is stuck in a grotesque form of “hope springs eternal” precisely because he is unaware of the concept of mortality. So he waits faithfully hoping that perhaps today is the day that his “daddy” will return home. Were he capable of understanding the finality of death, this would have liberated him from ten years of heart-wrenching daily disappointments. Instead, he is confined to reliving the same “Groundhog Day” albeit void of a positive dénouement (as depicted in the 1993 film).
Hachi is free from knowing about his own mortality and in this sense he is able to live in the moment. On the other hand, this “existential freedom” ends up being the most profound form of psychological and emotional prison when applied to his desire to be reunited with his human partner. The storyline triggered a Tsunami of sadness in me not only due to its tragic outcome but also because of the infinite grieving for having lost my eternal male Belgian shepherd earlier this year (see here for my tribute to Amar, my noble if not perfect companion).
If you’ve not seen the movie, I highly recommend it notwithstanding its cruel and indescribably sad ending.
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