Once a hog grew philosophical. Who could live the life of a swine, it reasoned, without having to be a bit philosophical? True, existence could be worse. The hog had to admit that it didn’t lack for physical ease. Day after day it ate its fill, then lay about the fattening pen with the other hogs and listened to them make contented noises. But each day brought an increasing sense of mental disquiet; the hog had existential doubts that simply refused to go away. The other hogs didn’t appreciate this tendency to mull the meaning of their lives. So long as there was slop in the trough and plenty of mud to wallow in, why expect anything more? Why not be satisfied with that and stop plaguing them with questions and hypotheses about the meaning of it all? “If you’re going to engage in idle navel-gazing, do us the favor of moving downwind. Who needs this?” Faced with these mocking gibes, the hog decided to withdraw to a corner of the pen where it could pursue its contemplative quest in peace and quiet. This wasn’t idle navel-gazing, it knew, but an effort to find answers to age-old questions. Where did it come from? Where was it going? Why was it here? And why here in the mud? Away in its corner, the hog read everything it could, from the ancient Greeks to the latest theories in astrobiology. It consulted the sacred texts of all major religions and pored over thick tomes with titles like Foundations of the West and Ageless Wisdom of the East. And still the crucial questions remained unanswered in the hog’s mind. Was this fattening pen real or was it an illusion? If it was real, why was the hog condemned to this single corner of reality in a cosmos presumably full of possibilities? If it wasn’t real, then why did the hog feel such pain whenever it was jabbed at through the fence? Was mere chance to blame for the hog’s situation, or was life predestined? Or was life a trial to be endured in hopes of rewards to come? Was it the consequence of actions in past lifetimes? Or was it simply absurd, with no meaning or justification whatsoever? Were judgments on the nature of existence in themselves irrelevant? The hog devoted so much time to these ponderings that it began neglecting to show up with the others at the trough, preferring not to be distracted for a moment from its speculations. It grew indifferent even to the weather and appeared not to notice when the mud around it steamed or turned dry. As might be expected, it began to lose weight and grow weak. For their part, the rest of the hogs, having other things to occupy them, gave less and less thought to their erstwhile companion until none of them could even recall where it had withdrawn to. The days came and went. New hogs arrived and old hogs were led away down a long chute, while in its remote part of the pen, the philosophical hog found it barely had the strength any longer to raise its heavy head. The end must be near, it concluded. Yet it didn’t complain about having been forgotten or having grown too weak to move, of being not much more now than skin and bones encrusted with muck. It took consolation in the thought that it had continued its quest undaunted to the very end. For truly, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans