And, now, here is the concluding section of my mega-essay on friendship, which has remained so fresh, relevant and readable for more than 20 years now -- as I am sure it will remain for more than 50 years from now!
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Glossary & annotations
(in same order as in text)
Tom and Jerry -- Uproariously funny characters featured in a long series of classic Hollywood cartoon films, of an aggressive cat and a resourceful mouse engaged in an endless game of vigorous chasing and friendly fighting.
Tarzan -- Famous literary character created by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and glorified by American comics and cinema, of a dashing young man raised by apes in African jungles.
Mowgli -- Main character figuring in The Jungle Book written by British author Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), and in a full-length cartoon movie produced by Walt Disney in Hollywood, of a lively and charming man-cub raised by wolves in an Indian jungle.
pOPpe -- That's the way I sign my name when I write to my children and grandchildren.
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THE HINDU Sunday Magazine
Articulations - 11 Oct. 1992
Machines and other animals
There is a remarkable similarity between the relations which machines and animals have with human beings. In the preceding section of this essay (Sept. 20) we had noted that the friendliness or hostility of machines towards men can be broadly identified in terms of their constructive or destructive potential as well as their manoeuvrabilty by the users. In the same way, to the extent that animals interact with human beings, their attitude can be assessed in terms of their belligerent or peaceful nature and the co-operative spirit they show as close associates in work and play.
We must also consider another dimension of the question when we talk of friendship in relation to machines and animals. As conscious creatures, animals possess instincts of friendship or hostility not only vis-a-vis human beings, but also among themselves. A parallel phenomenon is the compatibility or incompatibility which exists between different machines; this concept is particularly important in the fields of electronics and computer technology.
Animal instincts and spirits
Friendship among animals is almost always collective in nature, and generally manifests itself between those which belong to the same species. This is essentially a result of necessity -- the need for protection against harmful elements of nature and more aggressive species of animals, or for some productive endeavor as in the case of a beehive.
It may be observed that generally the herd instinct is far more intense among vegetarian mammals than among carnivorous ones, and among milder varieties of birds than among predatory ones. The clan instinct is conspicuous in the case of elephants and cattle, gregarious birds like crows and migratory ones like flamingos. Have we ever seen eagles flying in a large formation, or ever heard of a battalion of tigers trekking in the forests?
Profound attachment between individual animals is very rare in real life, and even the intimate relations between protective parents and their offspring are generally short-lived. In the romantic imagination of men, however, different species of animals do pick up friendships with one another, whether collectively or individually. In the fanciful world of animated cartoons, animals which are enemies in real life often turn out to be good friends in the motion picture. Indeed, sometimes there is an undercurrent of goodwill even in the confrontation between mutually hostile animal characters. Perhaps the most striking example of this is provided by the hilarious travails of the cat and the mouse called Tom and Jerry, immortalized on colorful film by Hollywood -- although they are constantly engaged in an eventful personal war, one cannot help noticing that a deep and abiding friendship does exist between them.
In literary fiction almost all the animals in the jungle might love a Tarzan or a Mowgli, but in the real world very few animals develop strong emotional ties with human beings. The horse and the dog are exceptional cases of animals which offer warm companionship to their human masters. Here too the similarity with machines persists, in a subtle way. Some machines, especially those which have mechanical features, have a way of adjusting themselves to the handling of habitual users and responding better to their commands than to those of others. In fact, this kind of compatibility can sometimes create such a powerful bond that one might even imagine that the machine actually reciprocates the affection of its exclusive operator!
Human instincts and and attitudes
The collective attitude of human beings towards animals in an integral sense is closely related to their approach towards the natural environment as a whole. Just as mankind feels alarmed today by the progressive depletion of valuable natural resources and the suffocating pollution of the atmosphere caused by its own indiscriminate technological and commercial ventures, it also feels greatly concerned about the decimation of many animal species resulting from its own destructive activities or indifference.
One may compare this concern with the anxiety being felt by people all over the world today about the steady deterioration in their folk arts brought about by their own distortion or neglect of them. Just as all sensitive and unbiased persons have a compelling wish to see the surviving traditional arts preserved, they also recognize the need to protect the rich and varied animal wealth of the world. The primitive hunter's spirit, which even the most advanced human civilization has done nothing to mitigate, is today moderated by the fear of ruining the very pattern of life which has evolved on this planet. Out of this fear is born the 'friendly' attitude even towards wild and dangerous animals, as towards the whole environment.
When we consider the collective attitude of human beings towards machines, however, we find that the analogy with the case of animals is no longer valid. As machines become more and more versatile and indispensable, they tend to overpower people, undermining their affinity with nature and destroying their peace of mind. Quite understandably, the cumulative human response to this is not friendliness but ever-growing animosity.
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Additions and omissions
With that final spell of my reflections on friends and friendships, I did think I had written an absolutely comprehensive essay, which could be enlarged only in the light of entirely new factors likely to be caused in society, lifestyles and cultures by the relentless progress of modern science and technology. So I was quite surprised to get the following response to my recent posts, from Aparna, my daughter (-in-law technically) who lives in Australia:
"Dear pOPpe, . . . Perhaps you can add the cyberspace friendships that are now being formed, as an analogy to pen pals. . . "
What comes as a surprise in this comment is not the concept of Cyberian friendships (which was obviously crying out for fresh reflections), but her reference to pen pals. Of course, not mentioning them in my 'comprehensive' essay was a serious omission, of which I haven't been aware till now! And which, of course, immediately makes me think of radio friends, another serious omission.
Thank you, Aparna, for your sensitive reading of these tightly-written texts -- just wait a little for the sequel!