Best World Ever

This being, as the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz calls it, the "best of all possible worlds"(Theodicy, 1710), you might imagine that any being would have all the required tools necessary to subsist within it's environment, especially having been born into it.  C.S. Lewis expressed similar sentiments in his book Mere Christianity when he wrote "If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will...then we may take it it is worth paying."  It seems obvious that the aforementioned german is expressing far more optimism than does Lewis, who in a way views the state of the world as almost a faustian bargain.  This motif can be heard echoing throughout modern discourse, in religion primarily, and philosophy generally.  Anyone who knows me will know that I disagree with both, and that sentiment is what motivates this tale:

As far as I know, the kitten didn't have a name.  It was simply another member of the feline gang that inhabits the small ecocosm casually referred to as the barn.  Much like the rest of the group, it was wary of people and animals alike, perched as it usually was on whatever hay island it could find.  The balance of it's day was spent napping with it's brothers and sisters.  The few moments the cat moved were to avoid a fast-moving wheelbarrow, a stray kick from a cow, or the bored preoccupations of a barely tame canine.  Evenings brought a half-bowl of cat food to share with seven or eight other cats, while mornings offered the opportunity to swipe what dog food wasn't wolfed down immediately.  Survival, for this unnamed creature, lies in capitalizing on these opportunities whilst avoiding, in many cases narrowly, all the pitfalls that could result in serious bodily damage.  That and enjoying frequent naps.

This creature, being perhaps 6 months old, was all but independent from maternal care, and the father lived a couple miles up the road.  A few days ago, I was moving hay the same way I do any day, and noticed a slight change in demeanor in this one small kitten.  It was less apt to leap out of my way, or if it did, did so much slower than normal.  I was forced to keep a sharper eye out so that I didn't inadvertently engage in cat-slaughter.  I twice buried it in a wheelbarrow-full of lightly chopped hay, the day after my initial observations and yesterday, from which I had to extricate it manually because it was apparently too weak to do so itself.  Yesterday afternoon found this pitiful creature in such a state of malnourishment and destitute that one eye had ceased functioning, and the bones could be seen clearly pushing against the taut, unkempt hide.  It wandered through the barn, mewing plaintively with a slight stutter and sway in it's step.  I knew that something sinister had latched upon the life of this creature and was rapidly dragging it down.  Whatever it was, the kitten never had a chance.

As I was finishing my rounds, and keeping an eye out for the kitten, I spotted it perched in a little ball beneath the head and against the chest of an older female cat, possibly the mother.  The one functioning eye was closed, with all four tiny paws pulled in and bunched neatly beneath it's scant frame.  Slowly, with little energy but great feeling, the dying kitten nuzzled against the soft chest of the larger cat.  This type of behavior is quite rare in the environment in which these cats live, and as such struck me silent and immobile as I observed, and was observed in turn, by the larger cat.  The kitten never so much as acknowledged my presence, and seemed oblivious to any stimuli but the warm fur it was pressed against.  As I gazed, contemplating the scene before me, I attempted to imagine the amount of pain and anguish that tiny body was suffering through.  The effort tightened my chest, and, having finished the days work, I hastened to depart and think of happier things.

I did not see that kitten alive again after that, and only briefly caught a glimpse as it rolled into the manure spreader, stiff and filthy, completely devoid of life and dignity.

I would ask you to remember that while I am telling a single tale of a single creature, this is by no means the only tale of this sort surrounding the only creature to have walked this path, nor is it the extent of the suffering I have seen.  Truth be told, I have witnessed a number of deaths just in the course of my short time on the farm, and others in my time alive.  No single death was quick or painless, every instance of departure was preceded by what I can only perceive to be vast amounts of suffering as each one struggled futilely against the inevitable.  Modern anthropology and biology tells a tale even more heart-wrenching, as approximately 98% of all species to ever live on this planet are now extinct, including our ancestors that may have even been self-aware.  Each and every one died, some perhaps instantly or while asleep, but a vast majority went through a process similar to the one I have described above.  How many were able to feel the comfort of a mother?  How many were the last of their family? or the last of their species?

You would have to be profoundly unimaginative, or simply a sociopath, to consider this "the best of all possible worlds."  Moreover, you would need to be both to have created such a place.


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