Dudecology 101: There’s an Ecological Connection
By Rev. Art Schaub
Relax a moment. Take a breath and let’s all enjoy a collective acid flashback for a minute here. Remember those crazy long haired hippies with flowers and bandanas, smoking jays, listening to music, peacefully partaking in many a natural and zesty enterprise. Afterwards, still high on all the pacifism and a strict drug regimen, they named their kids ‘Stardust’ and ‘Sunbeam’ to show how in touch with nature they were. And even though it sounds goofy these days, they really were onto something significant with those handles. Now, before you go blowing off Dudeman Nature as some posy-snortin’ flower child, hang with me a moment. I’m not suggesting giving your kid a name that will get his ass kicked at school. Hell, I’m not even advocating that you have any little brats; I’m just saying it really is all about ‘Stardust’ and ‘Sunbeams’, ecologically speaking.
Here, in a nutshell, is how it all works–life, the universe and everything:
Our star, the sun, beams light down onto the planet. Plants absorb this light and together with some ‘stardust’ (carbon dioxide and water–products of the big bang which created the earth and pretty much everything else) they miraculously create simple sugars which are what perpetuate the whole durn natural comedy, down through the ages. Herbivorous animals eat this sunlight and stardust and through miracles of metabolism and cell division minus the costs of respiration and locomotion turn it into flesh and bone. Carnivorous animals, preferring steak over salad, consume the herbivores, which in essence are simply stardust and sunbeam in a more concentrated form.
Alongside this drama between carnivore and herbivore or, using the parlance of our times, predator and prey, there are other critters hanging on the sidelines with various strategies for obtaining the necessary doses of sunstuff to survive. Scavengers and parasites are two that come to mind: Scavengers eat things that are already dead, getting the benefit of a highly concentrated meat energy without having to put in the energy to hunt it down and kill it. Vultures, opossums and skunks are some of the less-than-glamorous creatures that fit this mold. Parasites feed off of other animals or plants while they are still alive, generally causing them harm with no benefit to the parasites’ host.
So, whether it be a wolf, iguana, gorilla, opossum or tick, if it’s a living critter on the planet it has a strategy to get its piece of the sun.
So what about us advanced, upright, primate critters? What about our ecology? As intelligent animals we have evolved to depart from the natural order of things. We once lived in bands of hunting/gathering omnivores. Now, thanks to technological innovation and our advanced societies the majority of people live, transport and work in boxes that quite effectively buffer us from nature. We still depend, more than most of us realize, on nature but yet, are quite detached from it. However, even within our advanced societies we have created niches that we each end up filling in order to feed the monkey. I would suggest that there are, in a literal connection, human survival strategies that resemble quite closely those that we find in nature. After all, we are all still animals. Gotta feed the monkey!
Most species in nature have one primary strategy to survive. For example, wolves are mainly carnivorous predators that will scavenge only when times are tough, whereas one of their prey species, the moose, is always an herbivore. This makes us a unique species in that we can collectively act somewhat as predator, prey, scavenger and parasite to get our bits of sun and stardust. We humans have a more complex arrangement of personal attributes, tendencies, environmental influences and choices of strategy then any other species known yet to exist.
Unlike other animals personal dietary choices in humans have little to do with life strategy. The diet is not the issue here, dude. In the human-contrived ecology, the food chain can be seen as synonymous with economics. Where you fit in our human ecology generally depends on what you do for employment and how much wealth you have accumulated. The human ecology is full of predators, often disguised as the highly aggressive achievers, besting competitors and overcoming obstacles, they are generally admired as the utmost of human potential the same way we admire lions and cheetahs for being so darn good at ruling the food chain. They run companies, lead governments and build cities, etc. They also turn out to be the some of the sleaziest, greediest, selfish and exploitative folks to ever walk the earth. Kenneth Lay and Dick Cheney come to my mind here.
Of course, a predator cannot exist without prey and for the food chain to work correctly there needs to be many prey per predator. The blue collar worker getting up and going off to work every morning to please The Man and collect a check seems to fit the ticket as herbivorous prey in our human contrived ecology. These are the folks that, for a very modest piece of the sun, take the raw materials and turn them into the more concentrated, profitable stuff that the predator company heads and share holders then sell for greater profit. Just like in nature as energy becomes more concentrated as it moves up the food chain from plant to herbivore to carnivore, wealth becomes more concentrated as it moves up through the economy from worker to manager, to corporate leader. In short, if you’re working for The Man you are being exploited by a predator which makes you, metaphorically at least, herbivorous prey.
Ah, shucks, I’ve done introduces this concept enough and I hope you’re followin ‘er. Now let’s look at a few of the characters from our favorite sacred story:
So, how about the Dude? We know he fits right in there but how does he in an ecological sense? We see The Dude takin’ er easy and not serving The Man. He’s no herbivorous prey patsy, which may be why an (supposedly) top predator like the Big L is so judgmental about the Dude’s lack of employment. If you are not working you are not being exploited by a predator which means he is not making profit off of you. In our society it has become a major tool of corporate propaganda to promote the non-worker as a shameful, deadbeat, loser that needs to do what his parents did and get a job, sir. Yet, the vast majority of us have had a job or even many jobs where no matter what our effort or output was, we still felt like we were being taken advantage of. Oh no, the Dude is not buying it, he must abide, that is to endure without yielding, as the Arch Dudeship states in a past article.
The best way to abide in this system if you are not imbued with predatory instinct and are too rebellious, wary and lazy to take on the role of prey is to be a scavenger. Scavengers are the uncelebrated, low profile dudes of the whole ecological comedy. They sit at the sidelines and avoid all the energy-draining drama and hassle of being plugged into the predator/prey system. They exploit a highly-concentrated energy source without partaking in the danger of being a predator. Let’s face it: not all herbivores are meek sheep; wolves get their skulls crushed by moose hooves; lions get gored by Cape buffalo; and kings and queens get guillotined on occasion. Being a top predator may be great for the ego but it is riddled with danger. Social scavengers realize that there is abundance of waste in our western society and that there is plenty to live off of after the predators make a kill. Just as in nature where predators sometimes kill in excess of what they need to eat, our society is full of extra stuff that no one wants or needs. In this sense the scavenger performs an important ecological duty as a recycler. The scavenger is the ultimate ‘green’ citizen.
There is plenty of evidence of the Dude’s scavenger-like behavior in The Big Lebowski. Notice how he keeps a low profile and does not feel the need to promote himself or keep up with the Joneses. He has successfully done the ‘eastern thing’ and let go of the ego that would make him go out and be a predatory achiever or at least put him in the status quo as working man (prey). His old Grand Torino makes it from A to B just fine, at least when it’s not on fire, rust coloration, busted windshield and all. A modest apartment and old recliner are plenty good as long as there is a rug to tie the place together. The Dude is not above smoking his jay right down to the nubbins or using non-dairy creamer for his white Russians when the fine stuff is not there. Bowling is an all absorbing and relatively inexpensive hobby for The Dude. He is obviously not a golfer, largely due to the expense and social implications of the game – golf is primarily for predators and wannabe predators.
Dude makes do with what is his lot in life and seems to thrive on the lack of stress that accompanies the humility of not being an ego-driven perfectionist. Such are the attributes of the scavenger, they humbly clean up what is leftover and the world is a better place for it. The Dude needs not look big, strong, or sleek to keep his place in the food chain. Though lions, tigers and wolves make for cool looking T-shirts and tattoos, opossums, skunks and vultures generally do not feature as a symbol of natural strength and beauty in human culture. Yet, on a practical level not having to keep up appearances can be a very freeing and empowering lifestyle choice. The Dude can simply walk into the store in his robe and sandals with no concern of being seen as slovenly because he’s got nothing to hide and nobody is really looking at him anyway.
Even the voice of The Dude depicts an efficient scavenger mind as we can plainly hear in the dialogue. He makes many of his points and creates new thoughts out of words and phrases floating in his head from previous encounters. "This aggression will not stand" from George Bush, “In the parlance of our times” from Maude and even “The Dude Abides” is taken from The Big L himself saying he will not "abide" another toe.
Treehorn is the ultimate alpha male predator. A well dressed, entertainer surrounded by material possession and beautiful looking people with a whole pack of subordinate predator thugs working for his gain. Even the Malibu chief of police does his bidding. He exploits the prey population to produce low quality pornography and has accumulated great wealth in the process. Now, not all predators are bad guys: some use their power combined with morality to do great things for humanity. In this way a predator can take on the role of a shepherd and "truly be his brother’s keeper," as a wiser feller than me once said. The problem is being a predator is that it comes with no moral obligation–particularly in our modern culture, where making profit is more important then serving the common good and nobody gives a shit about the fucking rules.
The Dude is not submissive or intimidated when in the presence of a top predator like Jackie Treehorn because he recognizes he is not prey for Jackie. They need not cross paths or see each other socially in the normal course of their chosen niches. However, sometimes scavengers get in trouble with predators. Predators don’t like deadbeats who take a short cut around hunting even if they themselves have enough to eat. They don’t like seeing there hard earned kills benefiting scavengers. They don’t like their jerkoff names, they don’t like their jerkoff faces and they don’t like…well, you get the picture. For example, wolves that catch a coyote scavenging one of their kills will run it down and kill it if they can. The Dudes scavenging lifestyle would remain peaceful if it where not for the greed of predators and his own blunders when he steps out of his chosen niche. Indeed, The Dude is often Un-Dude during the movie because of the stress caused when he leaves the role he is best adapted for.
Even her name — Bunny (or moreover, her real name, Fawn) says it all. She is perfect prey. Her best quality is her tendency to compulsively fornicate. This is a valuable attribute of prey, there needs to be a lot of them if predators are going to survive by exploiting them. Bunny has acquired a nice den by becoming a Lebowski but still, her proclivity for being prey has her on the run from known predatory pornographers – and that’s cool, that’s cool but sounds kind of stressful and could be potentially fatal.
The Big Lebowski
The Big L comes across as a top-notch alpha predator, achieving, besting and overcoming obstacles all without the use of his legs. You need not run if you have big enough tooth and claw, I suppose. However, we eventually find out he is a goldbricking phony. This is interesting because it’s not without an analogy in nature. Nature has lots of examples of mimicry: It shows up often in insects as camouflage. There are insects that look exactly like sticks and are actually called ‘walking sticks’. Others look amazingly identical to the leaves of the trees they inhabit. It’s a great adaptation if you are tasty and do not want to be eaten.
There is another kind of mimicry out there in nature as well, it is called Batesian Mimicry and it is the type that the Big L utilizes. In this type of mimicry one species that is relatively defenseless, harmless or tasty (exploitable by predators), takes on the visual and sometimes even auditory characteristics of an animal that is dangerous or toxic. This type of mimicry has been most famously documented in butterflies – some tasty, non toxic species of butterfly look almost identical to completely unrelated species that are toxic or unpalatable to birds and other predators. Your chances of being eaten are seriously diminished if a predator thinks it is going to get sick from eating you. Hence, by increasing the chances of you surviving long enough to get laid before something eats you the survival of your species is that much more probable. Evolution happens and mimicry is a pretty cool example of how extreme natural selection can be.
I have witnessed this type of mimicry first-hand in a non poisonous, relatively harmless snake that lives way out west, called a gopher snake. In several cases, I have startled these snakes while walking through the desert. They tend to take the coiled pose of a rattlesnake and their head swells up from its relatively diminutive size at rest, to appear to be the wedge shaped head of a viper. Further more, the end of their tail starts to move very quickly and if up against dry vegetation even makes a rattling noise. They even have a color pattern similar to a rattlesnake and certainly fooled and scared the bejesus out of me more than once. So, a harmless, venomless snake trying to pass as a dangerous, toxic snake, sounds a lot like the Big L’s approach to living. He is such a good predator mimic you can’t blame Walter for thinking he must be faking his paralysis too!
The Nihilists may first appear as predators yet they lack the cunning and constitution needed for the role. There is, in nature, a group of organism considered by many to be the lowliest of creatures. They take without giving, slowly draining other organism of their life force often without the dignity of even showing themselves. Ticks are a good example of an organism with this lifestyle. You can’t even tell they are there until you find them embedded in your skin, bloated on your blood with the possibility of having transmitted a debilitating ailment like Lyme’s disease. Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of exploitative predation, at least it’s an ethos!
The Nihilists are parasites, attempting to suck up some blood money with complete disregard for the welfare of the host. Without the skills of a predator, the parasite Nihilist plays on an uneven field, they do not face their would be prey or take on the potential dangers of predation. They hide out using a bogus kidnapping and a ransom note to try to gain quick riches. These men are cowards undeserving of even pocket change. Unfortunately for them they were trying to exploit a mimic who had no blood to be sucked.
Obsequious and pathetic Brant is the ultimate kiss ass and a perfect phony sidekick for a mimic acting like a top predator. He most reminds me of a cleaning wrasse, a type of small fish that is constantly glued to a large predator fish like a shark. This relationship is a form of mutualism where the shark doesn’t eat the wrasse because it performs the great service of cleaning parasites and other degenerative build up off the body of the predator. Now, eating parasites is not a diet anyone would self apply where I come from but hey, it feeds the monkey if you are a cleaner wrasse.
The wrasse sticks close to the sharks side because it is puny and slow and would be quickly eaten by another predator which did not recognize or care to recognize the wrasses ability to literally kiss ass. It is a busy, uptight and rather gutless existence but it allows for Brant to survive on a nice protective reef in an ocean that would otherwise be a world of pain for him. I wonder though if Brant fully realizes that his protective shark is actually a toothless mimic?
Wrappin up the wrappin up
So that about wraps her up. Perhaps you can now amuse yourself by trying to figure out how folks around you fit into the whole human comedy in an ecological connection or where you yourself fit right in there. I’ll tell what: if you’re a deadbeat, a loser that the square community doesn’t give a shit about, then you are probably doing pretty well for yourself. Sure seems like a more peaceful existence then taking on the stress and hassle of being a predator or the humiliation and stress of working for one and you are worlds above being a lowly parasite or a servile, brown-nosed cleaning wrasse.
So, grab yourself an oat soda and celebrate you role as a scavenger! If your fridge is beerless, drive the beater to Ralph’s in your robe and sandals and pick some up because, Fuck it, scavengers need not keep up appearances. They just need to keep their cool.