Territoriality Triumphs Over Shared Space and Teaches Fear
When done in the name of good, does territoriality work to keep us safe?
Posted Dec 07, 2018
A little allegory. Once upon a time, I ran into a dung beetle. Not a literal one, a metaphorical one. The dung beetle and I had shared space, each ignoring the other yet keeping an amicable eye out, harmoniously using the space as we needed to, it with its balls, me with my routines. But one day, from out of the blue, the dung beetle appeared in the path of my usual way, facing me, its armoured legs poised to scurry forwards or backwards, sideways or other sideways, whichever way I went to prevent me walking forwards into our shared space. The dung beetle told me I could no longer use this space, that I could go this way or that way but not forward. One way was a long way into unfamiliar territory that I could not navigate on my own; the other way put me into danger. "Why did you change the space?" I asked the dung beetle.
The dung beetle puffed its mighty little chest out and repeated, "You can go this way or that way but you may not walk in the way you always have. I have my new set of little balls to guard, and I have brought them here where they cannot be stolen." Behind the dung beetle were neat, little balls it had rolled up from material near and far. The balls were lined up in tidy rows, stacked several deep. They were nascent balls, in unfamiliar territory, not knowing what they were. They watched the dung beetle for clues on how to treat the unfamiliar, the unknown.
The dung beetle remonstrated: "You're not safe, anymore, for us. You may not pass." It rustled its black armour; it hammered the ground with its chitinous feet. It liked the blunt instrument it had chosen to solve its theft problem. It liked the power it had given itself.
The little balls vibrated as they absorbed this teaching.
I said, "Confusion wreathes my head. I cannot walk the way I don't know, and the other way is a threat—"
"Not my problem!" triumphed the dung beetle.
"You created this problem. What am I to do?" I pleaded.
"Not my problem. I'm not listening," sang the dung beetle as it stuck its snout in the air while keeping its black eyes on me.
The little balls vibrated again, absorbing this message. One little ball vibrated so hard, it rolled into the one next to it. That one pushed back with force. It bossed, "You cannot pass into my space!"
Unable to stop the force of the push, the innocent trespasser rolled like a bowling ball back towards the other balls in their neat little rows. They jerked out of the way and vibrated fearfully. The innocent trespasser came to a stop and noticed it had lost some of its matter and trembled to the pusher, "Why did you do that?"
"I was protecting my space. This is my space, now."
The innocent trespasser pleaded, "It was our shared space. I lost matter when you took it for--."
"We're not listening! Not our problem," chorused the balls.
The dung beetle, its back to its balls, scurried sideways as I attempted to enter the familiar, shared space, mindful to skirt the balls while I kept myself safe. "You may not do that!" scolded the dung beetle, its back legs narrowly missing the trespassing ball who was rolling away from the chorus, lead by the pusher, and losing more matter, bit by bit.
I stepped one way; the dung beetle scurried that way. I stepped another way; the dung beetle dashed that way, and the innocent trespasser rolled faster and faster behind the outraged dung beetle, shedding matter, shrinking rapidly, as the chorus of balls behind their protector chased it down, screaming at it, "Not our problem!"
I had to make a decision. I chose danger as the less impossible new way. Fury threw its red-hot tentacles into me. I raged at the dung beetle, "Hypocrite!" and stalked off into the threatening way.
The dung beetle expanded its casing victoriously.
The dung beetle turned back to see its neat little rows of nascent balls had transformed into a hunting pack baying "Not my problem!" at the almost-gone one innocent ball fleeing into the distance.