The Great Cow Empire

an allegorical warning


Wayne Schmidt

May, 2015


In that dim age between the fall of the dinosaurs and the rise of man, the forces of nature produced several species who attempted to claim the earth. None was more successful, nor more tragic, than the empire of the cows.

Contrary to the ruminants we know today, they lived separately rather than in groups. Their tendency of keeping their heads down to nibble grass made them easy prey for the wolf-like carnivores that shared their epoch. But this was about to change.

On a fateful morning, one cow raised his head at the snap of a twig off to his left. A wolf was approaching. Dimly aware of danger, the cow turned and ambled away, leaving the wolf to devour a nearby cow who hadn't looked up. Something in the surviving cow's vague consciousness made the connection between lifting its head in response to a sound and living to eat more grass. In the future it looked around anytime it heard an odd sound and in so doing avoided the predators that ravaged the rest of his kind. He lived long enough to father a hundred offspring, many of whom inherited their father's ability to walk away from threatening sounds. The great cow empire had begun.

A thousand generations later, all of the heads-down cows had vanished. Only cows with the instinct to look up from time to time survived. The time was ripe for the next great step.

The trigger began much like the first: a sound warning of approaching danger. All the widely scattered cows who heard it raised their heads, saw nothing and when back to munching grass. All except one. He kept his head high, wondering why a sound usually portending danger failed to produce an obvious threat. As he was about to lower his head, a pack of wolves slowly emerged from behind a stand of bushes. Recognizing them for what they were, he moved off, ignoring the death bleats of the cows that had remained. This cow learned that danger might not always be connected with a warning. From this day forward he kept his head high as much as possible, not just in response to danger but in anticipation of it. This forced him to eat less which, when combined with moving more frequently to avoid dangerous situations, kept him leaner and healthier than the other cows. As a consequence he lived long enough to foster a whole new race of cows. Over the next thousand generations, anticipation evolved into curiosity, curiosity to intelligence and intelligence to invention.

Limited by their cloven hooves, cows could not write or build. But they could think and in time communicate through a language heavy in low throaty hoots and bellows. They had song and poetry, philosophy and even religion. In spite of all this advancement their numbers were still small because their predators had evolved as well. They'd become cunning enough to attack from several directions at once so there was no safe direction for their intended victim to escape. The stage was set for the cow's greatest development of all: the herd. It was also to be their doom.

On a clear, bright day, one cow had walked to the top of a hill overlooking a valley speckled with widely spaced cows. From his vantage he witnessed a large pack of wolves surround and attack one of his kinsmen. Even though the hapless cow had sensed the danger, there was no avenue of escape. It occurred to the cow on the hill that if the cows clustered close together the wolves would not be able to surround any individual to kill it. He waited for the wolves to leave, then returned to the valley. The surviving cows quickly accepted his mutual protection plan. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they moved as a unit. The young were protected in the center of the herd and attackers were so effectively thwarted that they gave up trying to attack them. In time the predators died off and the cows prospered.

The concept spread over the face of the planet. Herds formed everywhere and were so effective the cow population exploded. Herds merged into super-herds that covered the land from horizon to horizon. Herd leaders were created to decide which direction to go for new feeding grounds. The great empire of the cow had arrived. But hardly had it established dominion over the earth than it started to fall apart.

Their numbers expanded to the point where grass began to get scarce. Recognizing the danger, the smarter cows began limiting the number of their offspring, whereas less smart cows continued to over produce. The herds continued to expand as grass became rare. Herd leaders, enjoying the power and prestige of office, courted the support of the less smart cows because there were more of them than smart cows. They catered to the ignorant beliefs of the less smart cows by saying that there always had been more grass so there always would be more or that the great cow god would intervene to save them. And so it began.

The downward spiral was so gradual that few could perceive it happening. But nature has a longer view of things and could see what was coming. What nature knew that the cows didn't was that short sighted intelligence is an evolutionary dead end. Another thousand generations passed.

The smart cows disappeared. The simple effectiveness of the herd didn't need intelligence to maintain it. The grass was almost gone as well. Massive herds scoured the land, allowing their numbers to expand without regard for the limitation of the resources to support them. The cows had lost the intellect to do so. Then one day it happened.

A cow heard the snap of a twig signaling the possible approach of a predator. Confident in the power of the herd, he didn't bother to look up. By doing so he learned he could consume more grass than his neighbor, live longer and have more offspring. It worked, and pushed the great cow empire ever further down the slope of destruction.

Desperate for food, more and more cows kept their heads down, thinking little more than where their next mouthful was coming from. Time faded into time and the age of man arrived. By then the great cow empire had long since vanished. All that remained were the poor dumb beasts we know today. They had it all, but for all their accomplishments they didn't think to preserve the very intelligence that enabled them to conquer the earth. They failed to understand that any species that doesn't take control of its genetic future is doomed to oblivion.


The End


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