It is remarkable that I know of no word in any language that deals with the phenomenon of predator-love. Yet the phenomenon is something that we all understand at least viscerally. Human beings are perhaps the only predatory species that exists that does not do so in good faith. One does not find lions or sharks feeling guilty about their predation. Most predatory animals glory and revel in their activity, while it is scavengers and pariahs that tend to slink (although vultures are lordly enough as animals). Yet human beings are predatory beings that feel bad about it. This is true even if predator love is something that humanity has in abundance. Let us first define our terms. Throughout the course of this (hopefully brief) series, and any time I mention the term afterwards, predator love will be defined as the sort of love that a being has for something (or someone) it deserves to possess or consume, especially to fill some sort of hunger or longing or desire. When viewed in its broadest sense, predator love is something that all or at least almost all of us can appreciate in some way, usually in a way that may appear comical or ridiculous to others but which we can understand ourselves.
Let us count the ways. It is Monday evening and I am sitting at the bar of my usual restaurant that evening with some books and I love the chicken parmesan that I am about to devour. I also love the books I devour hungrily in between devouring the food. Both of these are examples of predator love, as can be understood when Frances Hodgson Burnett refers to her “little princess” Sara Crewe as devouring books like a wolf, which is something I can certainly relate to. Let us say that the thought of a sale at an outlet mall or shoe store leads you to charge the store and collect shoes like you were Imelda Marcos. You too have predator love. There are certainly various kinds of predator love, to be sure. There may be collector love, that obsession with completing sets that leads you to play Pokemon or collect every nation’s stamps or postcards or to acquire several library’s worth of books. There may be consumer love in the way that leads you to binge-watch shows on Netflix or Hulu or to watch every movie in the Marvel Extended Universe whenever a new one comes out. But all of these sorts of love are acquisitive in nature and involve a feeding frenzy of some kind that demonstrates that we are predatory beings in some fashion.
It should be noted as well that predator love by nature tends to view its prey as an object. When I devour chicken paremesan (or some other food) in front of me, I am not concerned about the emotional state of the chicken(s) who gave their life so that I may enjoy a tasty supper. When I lived in Thailand, my apartment was next to a place where chicken were kept under plastic baskets before their execution and sale at the nearby village marketplace. I would jokingly name the chickens after favorite dishes. Not everyone views chickens in this way. I have a dear friend of mine whose family has raised chickens, and I can remember one time that he was so distraught over a raccoon that had killed some of his beloved chickens that he had to be talked out of violence against the predatory raccoon. I am not sure what aspect of his chickens prompted such love on his part. Perhaps they were fluffy and cuddly birds who tilted their head in a distinctive way and chirped happily while eating corn and were in general very lovable animals. Such a love of as my friend has is not predatory, because it was a love of the animals based on his own knowledge of them as individual beings with some aspect of personality and some fondness of their ways. My love of chickens has by and large been that of the raccoon, with a love of dinner and a fondness for filing my belly, but without a concern towards or interest in that dinner as a being on its own terms.
Some would argue that this does violence to the chicken, viewing it only as a potential or future meal and not as a being on its own terms. Certainly a sentimental attitude towards animals makes people feel guilty about being omnivorous. It is certainly striking that the biblical attitude towards the Passover lamb both prompts and then disabuses notes of sentimentality when dealing with the Passover lamb. As it is written in Exodus 12:3-11: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.”
Let us picture the scene. A father of the house goes to his flock of lambs or that of a neighbor in a small rural community and chooses a yearling lamb without blemish and brings it home for the next few days. Children being children, that adorable little lamb will likely receive a name, and then after knowing the lamb for a bit and seeing its ways, the lamb is then slaughtered, blood is smeared on the doorposts and the lamb is roasted and eaten by the household in haste. This is likely to be a great shock to the children who had over the course of a few days become fond of and perhaps a bit attached to the innocent and blameless lamb. This is all the more pointed when it is realized, if it is realized, that this lamb is symbolically being killed for the sins of mankind, including the sins of that household. Whether it is in the commission of predation or in the sacrificial offerings (including the offering of Jesus Christ as a substitionary offering in exchange for the lives of sinful but repentant humanity), the innocent have always suffered because of the wrongs of mankind. The Passover sacrifice of lambs is a particularly forceful aspect of this sacrifice, but its forcefulness hits us when we think of the logistics of keeping a lamb for the period of days for a household and reflecting on what that lamb suffers so that flawed human beings may live and not be judged and condemned. It is easier to sacrifice a lamb when we care nothing about it as a being on its own, but when we do reflect on the cuteness and innocence of the lamb, its sacrifice on our behalf allows us to see how monstrous we are as beings who slaughter the innocent for our own benefit.
And indeed, one of the things that is remarkable about the behavior of predators is how wasteful it is. A hyena, for example, will typically eat the entrails of live prey, and there are a variety of reasons why this is the case. Cheetahs will typically eat the haunches of an animal to get a lot of protein that is quickly accessed, and both of these animals appear to be motivated at least in part by the knowledge that taking too much time to eat may make them vulnerable to having their kill taken by larger predators like lions. At least when it comes to such matters the waste does not last, because scavenger animals like vultures make to finish devouring the food that is left behind by various predators. Yet we tend not to feel particularly happy about the behavior of either predators or scavengers even if the end result is efficient in making sure that everything that can be used is used in some fashion. When human beings prey on consumer goods, a great deal more waste is left behind with packaging and other related effluvia. That said, most predators are not so concerned with what is left behind. When they are done with what they have preyed upon they move on to their next meal.
Theoretically, at least, there should be a great deal of sympathy between predators. After all, predator love is something that all of them have in common, however differently their predator-love is directed. Those who bingewatch The Mandalorian because they think Baby Yoda is so cute should have some sympathy with those who binge-eat Popeye’s fried chicken sandwiches because they taste so good. Yet in practice, this is not the case. By and large, we can understand our own longings and compulsions, but we tend not to be so understanding with those of other people. If we love to collect books by the hundred or thousand, we may look askance at those who collect cars in their yard or someone who has tens of thousands of baseball cards. Yet all are collectors just the same. Indeed, someone who collects military history books may look down on someone who collects Harlequin romances, even if both of them are avid book collectors, and someone who collects another genre or type of writing may well look down on them both, despite the fact that they are all predators in related trades. The wine-lover who collects bottles of fine merlot may well look down on the one who collects beers or different varieties of vodka or whiskey, despite the fact that they are both predators when it comes to alcohol products. And so on it goes. Because we lack a recognition of predator love in an over-arching sense, we fail to recognize how the exploitation of objects to fulfill our own hunger and longing is itself a shared thing that may manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, and thus we tend to judge others harshly for things while not seeing ourselves as the same sorts of being ourselves, which tends to make us hypocritical and self-serving in our attempts to justify why our predation is not problematic or silly in the way that some other kind is. And all of this only blinds ourselves to what we are, and does not fool anyone else.