The Little Flowers of St Marc

December 7, 2010

The Fioretti tells of how St Francis becalmed a wolf that had terrorised the townsfolk of Gubbio. He braved wild territory and commanded the beast’s jaws close: “Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St Francis said.” Today’s most renowned interpreter of such signs is cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff. In lieu of the saintly boldness that made animals so immediately transparent and amenable to his Assisian precursor, he has spent decades analysing and unraveling the alien yet explicable intricacies of their behaviour, cognition and emotion. We were blessed to have Marc launch our Animals and Society research group on Friday with a casual lunch, an intense masterclass, and a impassioned if near-fatigued lecture. A couple of people remarked on the auratic charisma of his performance. In his late career activist role, he cheerfully wanders the world, preaching the news of interspecies connectivity and the ethical consequences that follow. A symposium in Zygon has explored areas of overlap with animism and theology; but a spirituality infuses not only his ideas but his character and example as well. His powerpoint full of friendly and wary encounters with wild beasts resembled nothing so much as a medieval saintly life. His humble demeanour demonstrated the empathy he insists is necessary to truthful experimental observation of the ensouled sentience of our nonhuman kin. A scientific fabulist, he shamed human failings with lively examples of animal cleverness and sociability. He believes wholeheartedly in creaturely goodness, and works tirelessly towards a peaceable kingdom where we no longer take part in cruelty between species. While not so quick as his forebear to demonise predation, he is a similar peacemaker between humans, their domesticated canids, and the latter’s wild cousins, a leading exemplar and enricher of secular Franciscan virtue.


2 Responses to “The Little Flowers of St Marc”

  1. I am certainly interested. Thanks for the links!

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