I Would Rather Have Been Born an Orca



No kidding.  I really would.  What sets me off can be just about any account of an atrocity, because my first thought is:  no orca ever does this.  The latest was reading about the “desaparecidos” in Argentina during the years of the junta, the brutal dictatorship that “disappeared,” i.e., murdered some 30,000 people from 1976 until 1983.  In my latest book I wrote about the fact that humans had killed some 200,000,000 of our own kind during the 20th century alone, and during that same time, orcas had killed exactly zero of their kind.  Reading in my favorite new site, “The Dodo” about the female orca who is 103 years old, made me think about her life.  She is surrounded by her children and grandchildren.  She travels constantly, sometimes 100 miles in a single day.  She eats what she has been taught to eat, but other than that, causes no harm to any other living being.  Most definitely not to other orcas. 


Is it possible to really think about the life of another creature?  It is hard, and even novelists have a tough time convincing us what living as a chimp, a wolf, an elephant, or a whale would be like (let alone an animal even more remote from us, such as a parrot).  Still, it is something that occurs to me a lot recently, as I open my newspaper and read about Syria, and the Ukraine, and as I ponder the history of the 20th century.  What is it that appeals to me most?  I guess the idea of causing little if any suffering to another being.  True, I try to do that as a human, but I find myself part of a species where this is hardly an ideal.   My own president sees no problem in hunting down other Americans with a drone because somebody has convinced him they are worth killing and need not stand trial.  My heroes, people like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, are rare at any time in history.  And many people would be happy to see them dead, just as the Germans wanted men like Primo Levi (another hero of mine) dead. 


There may be no orca heroes, but nor are there orca psychopaths (unless we cage them in an overgrown bathtub for years.  They go about their gentle lives without leaving enormous suffering behind them.  They never seek us out to harm us, even though you might expect they would, since we kill approximately 1400 of them every year.  No orca has ever killed a human in the wild.  Why not?  We will probably never know.  Maybe simply because they don’t kill for fun or even for revenge.  They only kill to eat. 


Had I been born an orca, what kind of consciousness would I have?  Impossible to say.  But I suspect I would know that in comparison to that other apex predator, the one on land, humans, I was better off.  My life was simple, but the joys I had on a daily basis were enormous and I suspect they were, by and large, greater than the joys of humans.  So if somebody offered me a choice, I would choose to be an orca.  I wonder how many people think they would have been better off had they been born a different animal?

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608196159/ or the eBook http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608199914/
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5 Responses to I Would Rather Have Been Born an Orca

  1. diana karrandjas says:

    I am a fervent follower of yours books and website, and am asking a favour.
    As a local vegan storyteller here abouts, I like to include readings in my performances(volunteer) and am requesting permission to include your telling Orca piece in an upcoming Literary Festival in eastern Ontario.

  2. Fee says:

    With what is going on presently, you’ve hit the nail on the head with the way animals live compared to humans …. we are the cruelest, the greediest, stupidest and most selfish species on the planet. However, I guess I will continue walking through my life with rose coloured glasses on doing my bit for the animals and my environment and try not to let it get to me.

  3. I don’t see how wholesale self loathing can help. I am not anti-human. Some of my best friends are human. And if all sentient beings are important, then why is it that humans killing their own species is judged more harshly than orcas killing seals for example. Other animals do kill for fun, not just for food as can be seen not only in domestic cats but in big cats in the wild.

  4. Phillip Ernest says:

    [Primo Levi (another hero of mine)]

    This is interesting. Elsewhere on this blog, while writing about William Styron and David Foster Wallace, you’ve talked about depression and suicide in a way that is remarkably cold and judgemental for a former crusader against the inhumanity and insensitivity of psychiatry. But of course, a lot of people deny that Levi’s death was a suicide.

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