Isms (27/6/2013)

I should be writing a book right now. My writing partner is going to cry because I’m not. But it’s turned into one of those days where I mostly just want to kill myself[1] and I haven’t got the Bock[2] for wrangling with the personal problems of two women from the thirty-fourth century right now. So here’s a story about lions and zebras instead.

One upon a time on the Serengeti there lived herds and herds of zebras and pride after pride of lions. There also lived all sorts of other animals but for the purposes of this story their relevance is precisely as an excuse for the numbers of zebras and lions to be about the same. Yeah, take that ecology and damn did those lions eat a lot of wildebeest. And for a long time there was a sort of steady situation in which lions ate zebras any time they felt like it and zebras basically felt pretty shit about life but on the whole they didn’t make a fuss and kept quiet about it because it generally wasn’t a good idea to stand out from the herd when there were always a hungry lion about the place. But as time went by, they slowly got more antsy about it. Some baboons took surveys of the zebras, asking them how they felt about the general state of affairs. Significant disenchantment was noted. The zebras started talking about making some changes.

The lions responded to the first few surveys by eating the baboons. When that didn’t change anything they had a go at eating a lot more zebras than normal on the off-chance that the zebras might shut up their moaning and also because, being lions, they rather liked eating zebras. If anything this seemed to make the general level of zebra dissatisfaction worse. Some lions were bemused by this. A lot of the lions wondered why the hell any of the other lions gave a shit what zebras thought. A few lions noticed that by actually talking to the zebras and pretending to give a shit about their feelings, they were able to lure a zebra away from the herd now and then which made it much easier to eat them. A few lions got really good at that, which pissed off a lot of the other lions, most of whom did frankly fancy an easy ride when it came to eating a zebra.

On the whole it was quite hard for lions and zebras to be friends but that didn’t stop a few of them from trying. The plains would be a better place, they thought, if lions and zebras could learn to get along and the lions could stop eating zebras and just eat more wildebeest instead. A lot of zebras agreed with this for obvious reasons. A lot of lions thought this was a crock of shit and laughed but a few of them tried anyway. They tried really hard. The wildebeest, by the way, weren’t best pleased but nobody had bothered to ask them and they’re not supposed to figure in this story anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like to be a zebra,” said the first zebra.

“You don’t know what it’s like to be a lion,” said the first lion. “But we could both try.” So the first lion and the first zebra both tried. They tried very hard but they were new at this and unable to break past expressing basic carnivore/herbivore stereotypes and ended up both pretty offended. The zebra expressed its offence through snorts and foot-stamping. The lions expressed its offence by eating the zebra.

The second lion and the second zebra managed a little better. “Zebras are cowardly and always run away,” said the second lion.

“Not so,” said the second zebra. “Some zebras are like that, others aren’t.”

The second lion gaped in wonder, having learned something new. “Well I never,” it said. “I didn’t think zebras could be so different. Tell me more.” So the second zebra told the second lion some more and the second lion listened in amazement. “I never knew zebras were so diverse and complex,” it said when the second zebra was done.

“Lions are stupid and always angry,” said the second zebra, allowing for a joyful moment the elusive  ideal of some true inter-species understanding to get in the way of common sense.

“Not all of us,” said the second lion angrily.

“But a lot of you.”

“I suppose you have a point there,” said the second lion and ate the second zebra.

“See!” shouted a third zebra from a good safe distance. “That’s why in the quest for inter-species harmony and understanding it’s always incumbent on the species in the position of power to understand that the generalisations it makes of the dis-enfranchised species are far more damaging and re-enforcing of existing sub-texts of of dis-empowerment! Your generalisations demean and lessen us and take away our individuality when we are powerless to denounce them yet our generalisations can never hurt you for as long as you can turn around and eat us by way of rebuttal!”

Exactly one lion across the Serengeti was actually capable of understanding this but unfortunately it was somewhere else and didn’t hear. Most of the lions who gave a shit at all, which wasn’t very many, laughed and pointed out how obviously wrong it was and that it was the zebras who ought to be careful about their generalisations if they didn’t want to be eaten. To be honest, not a lot of the zebras understood it either.

The baboons[4] meanwhile, fed up of being eaten for doing surveys the lions didn’t like, had all gone away for a long time to study kung-fu and now came back (all except the one who stayed with a red panda and a turtle). They were still pretty pissed at the lions and decided they would teach the zebras kung-fu too. Thus began no end of trouble.

Eventually, when the dust settled and the sounds of roars and spinning back-hoof-kicks died away, there was only one lion and one zebra left (surrounded by a horde of cheering wildebeest who were none too keen on lions nor on the zebras either after the previous attempted betrayal of their herbivore comrades).

“You kept eating us,” said the zebra, shifting to a preying-mantis stance.

“You kept making all these generalisations,” complained the lion.

I never made any generalisations,” said the zebra.

“And I never ate a zebra,” said the lion.

“But lots of other lions did,” said the zebra.

“So you just treat us all the same then?” asked the lion.

The zebra rolled its eyes. “Oh for pity’s sake! You can hardly go through life without making any generalisations and assumptions about the people you meet, can you? You’d be having week-long conversations with every animal you ever met! You’d never get anything done! It would be ridiculous. Sorry mate, but you have to take some responsibility for the actions of your species as a whole.”

“I suppose,” said the lion. “But then so do you. And I don’t know about zebras, but lions can change as the situation changes around them. Sometimes I want to eat a zebra, sometimes I don’t. We’re all individuals aren’t we?”

“But you’re still a lion.”

“See, there you go with the generalisations again. You can’t possibly know who I am better than I know myself.”

“Really?” countered the zebra. And when neither the lion nor the surrounding wildebeest were prepared to have any of that crap, the zebra went on at great length about something the baboons had brought back called the Johari window and proved to the lion that yes, sometimes a zebra could know what a lion was thinking better than the lion could, and sometimes a lion could understand a zebra better than the zebra understood itself. Which, frankly, made both the lion and the zebra a touch uneasy.

“But that still doesn’t mean you know me better than I know myself,” said the lion.

Eventually they agreed that the only way to really get along was for both lions and zebras to treat each other with respect, as individuals, to make allowances for the occasionally wrong and hurtful assumptions that both parties would make as a necessary part of getting on with life and to accept challenges to those assumptions with good grace. When they were done, the lion and the zebra gave each other a big hug. It was a pity, they agreed, that every other zebra and lion had to die to reach such an understanding.

And then the lion ate the zebra because, well, it was still a lion and it was really, really hungry. And then, since it was the only lion left, the wildebeest kicked it to death and lived happily ever after.

The End.

(brought to you by the wildebeest)

[1] Not really. Well, mostly not really.

[2] A German word that should be in general circulation. “I haven’t got the Bock for this” = “I seem to be unable to raise even the first jot of the necessary enthusiasm to engage with the proposed activity.”

[3] OK, I lied about the relevance of other animals.

[4] Survey monkeys. Ba-boom tish.

2 Responses to “Isms (27/6/2013)”

  1. Stephen says:

    Updated – I spelled “Bock” incorrectly to begin with.

  2. AndyBB says:

    Thanks, I really enjoyed that. I only came here after landing on a Ben Aaronovitch review elsewhere. After getting to heartily dislike the author of the review and then you popping up to tell her she should avoid your next book I thought, he must be a decent fella, and here I am.
    I’m off to buy your books now. Perhaps the wimmin over at The Book Smugglers would benefit from reading your short story too.

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