A few years ago one of those funny political e-mails that made the rounds featured a photo of a black bear seated at a picnic table in a park. The bear was seated there as if waiting for lunch.

On the surface, it’s humorous to see a bear in such an unusual setting, engaged in such an unnatural pose. In reality it’s quite pathetic, if not a bit ominous. That’s why message behind the photo is worth a second look. If the trend in food stamp and disability applications is any indicator of things to come, America is turning into a park and its citizens are becoming the bear sitting at the table.

The entire begging bear story started with someone snapping a photo of a park sign that read: Please don’t feed the bears. That line may now be the most powerful metaphor on the status of America currently in circulation.

People who feed the bears do so with the best of intentions. They think it’s cute. They think its compassionate. They think they are doing the bears a favor. They think they are giving the bears a treat. They could not be more wrong. In fact they are robbing the bears on multiple levels.

For starters, bears are born to forage for their food. Their digestive systems have evolved to function on the kind of foods bears find in their natural habitat. That diet keeps them healthy, regulates their body temperature, promotes a proper coat and keeps them warm in the winter. Human treats do none of the above.

People who know forestry and animal life put up those signs for a reason. They know that to feed the bears is to kill the bears.

The first thing lost when a bear is taught to beg for human snacks is the ability to forage for a correct diet. The bear’s diet no longer consists of what it needs and can find in the forest but what it can take when it is available. Therefore, it could be said that the first thing lost is the bear’s dignity; its ability to care for itself. Instead of going out and getting what it needs, the bear resorts to sitting around a camp site to see what shows up.

Second, the bear is part of a greater food chain. For everything the bear takes from the woods, he gives something back that is of value to the other creatures. Taking him out of the food chain in the forest means he isn’t productive to the rest of the forest or the other creatures within it.

Dependence is a powerful, behavior altering force. Just ask and alcoholic or a drug addict. How do you think they train dolphins to jump through hoops or dogs to run obstacle courses? Neither of these two activities are natural and both are learned behaviors acquired largely in exchange for treats from a trainer looking for a specific command at a specific time.

Finally there is a fundamental change in the attitude of the bear.

Left alone to forage on the natural bounty of the forest the bear is content to stay within his habitat, take refuge in his own security and pretty much stay out of man’s sight. If you teach him to cast off his natural instincts and depend on man for his sustenance, he has no choice but to enter man’s world and expose himself.

At first this may not appear a bad thing. Humans selfishly wishing to experience their own up close exposure and interaction with the bear population get what they are looking for, but at great expense. Eventually the bears become dependent and dissatisfied. They want more, or they want what their fellow bear has been handed more than what they were handed. This promotes fights between the bears and eventually makes the bears more aggressive with their providers. Eventually they will attack their providers and in doing so, make that deadly transition from adorable woodland creatures to deadly, savage beasts. And we all know what society does to deadly savage beasts don’t we?

As much as these cycles of events can be proven and documented within the bear community, it is the same within the human species. Make the bear a beggar and he bites. Make the human a beggar and he does the same. In both cases the mystery is not in the fact that nature unfolds in this way, but in the fact that we know this to be true in both cases and still, we feed the bears.

If you doubt the validity of these truth’s go back and read the story of the Wal Mart in Mansfield, LA this past week. That will tell you everything you need to know about the actions of unfed human bears, trained to survive on governmental table scraps.