words about things

What follows is my subtle attempt at honesty.

owl pellets : the carrot or the stick

Humans are unique among other animals in their use of idioms. One of the most well understood is "the carrot or the stick" it contrasts the use of rewards and punishments to convince someone to give you a desired result. IE: you can lead a donkey with the promise of a carrot or beat it in the direction you want with a stick. (This is some old testament bullshit as donkeys were prevalent in northern Africa for the last 6000 years and they made easy metaphors for human behavior) The point is, if you want to motivate simple animals (or simple people) you can either promise them a reward or chase them with pain until they do what you want. In nature, however, the carrot and the stick are not so easily separated. You can't give rewards if there are no punishments. Evolutionarily speaking, every reward risks punishment (there's that old testament thing again). Our simpler animal brethren understand that to pursue the rewards of life (such as breeding and eating) you run the risk of being eaten or denied the ability to breed.

The other day I was walking in the woods where I often see barred owls and noticed a thin young tree with a conspicuous branch about 9 feet off the ground and under said branch where several owl pellets (a mass of hair and bones that owls cough up after eating rodents and other small mammals). These masses of hair, teeth, and long bones reminded me that we humans face many, many dangers but none with feathers and talons.

So what does this have to do with idioms, carrots, or sticks? Well, as primates we face almost no avian dangers (with a couple of notable exceptions in South America). As humans we face very few predatory challenges (with a few notable feline exceptions in Africa and SE Asia). As modern men we face only other men as competitors for resources. But even in the absolute worst of circumstances there's no one who wants to eat us whole and cough up our teeth. If the greatest philosophers of the enlightenment could see us today they would note that we are almost all carrots and no sticks. Your worst experience was probably one in which someone promised you something you didn't want rather than hurting you until you capitulated. I am a little bit grateful that my worst enemies are humans and not owls.