Friday, November 26, 2010

Remembering that Animals Aren't Human

If you watch enough Disney animated films and live with pets that are, inarguably, a part of your family, then you are probably a lot like me, suffering from a major case of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the term given to the act of giving human attributes and/or characteristics to animals (or any non-human entities such as plants, deities, etc.). I know I can't help it, I truly believe at times that my dog is being spiteful, or that the hungry birds outside are actually happy when I put out extra seed on my windowsill. 

I grew up adoring The Muppets (furry creatures that walked, talked, sang and did everything I did), and while I visited zoos and farms, and have lived right next to a nature preserve, in all my observation of animals in the wild, or in their natural habitat I would say that those times could probably be described as pseudo-wild, at best. The "wild" animals that I have learned about in my environment are those who have adapted to the herd of cars, have traversed asphalt to gain access to their major food sources: the discarded scraps of their human neighbors. They live with us, they live near us and live off of us... why wouldn't I begin to think that they live like us?

I am playing my role a bit too obtusely, because I know, in my heart of hearts that this is not exactly true and, to be honest, the more and more that I continue my search for sustenance, the more I see and feel the great divide. When, at the beginning of the month, I read a blog about sustainability as a very, very old idea in ..:recycled minds:..: Wade Davis on Sustainability and the Environment , the idea stuck with me. Throughout this month, I have often thought back to the ancient civilizations Mr. Davis spoke about in his talk and then, after watching The Cove, it occurred to me that we should not only learn from ancient civilizations, but also from animals. Animals can teach us to be kinder to our Earth because they are so "un-human." 

So I am learning. 

Then, last night, an article on the Internet caught my eye about animal cruelty. It was especially surprising when I caught the intro:
What's this? Joel Salatin, the most famous organic farmer in America, star of Food, Inc, the Academy Award- nominated polemic against factory farming, is being investigated for animal cruelty? (Full article: Organic crusader shares radical ideas)
How could this be? Joel Salatin was the perceived golden child of the farming community, was he not?! So I read on and found out that he still is. Animal control informed Mr. Salatin that he had a "people problem" - people who, like me, thought about animals in human ways. I am not sure if it was merely the tone of the article, or the tone of Joel Salatin, but it seems that the farmer was all too understanding of this misunderstanding. In fact, he even seems to turn it into a teachable moment, with a touch of humor. After noting that the misunderstanding is from misplaced anthropomorphism, the article continues:

The logical extension of that is the view that animals should not be killed for food. "Those people, they say 'Come on, isn't that really a barbaric act, haven't we evolved past eating animals to a new place of cosmic nirvana'.
"The truth is, everything is eating and being eaten. If you don't believe it, go lie naked in your flower bed for three days and see what gets eaten." (Full article: Organic crusader shares radical ideas)
And, as I read this last statement, I was reminded, once again, that animals aren't human. At it gave me pause. I find myself in a state of disequilibrium on the precipice of truly learning something new. (Disequilibrium, as defined by Piaget in educational psychology: When a child experiences a new event, disequilibrium sets in until he is able to assimilate and accommodate the new information and thus attain equilibrium.) That is literally one of my favorite states to be in... it is very exciting.

What I know:

  • Animals are not human
  • Animal behavior is quite distinct from human beings
  • Humans do have the responsibility of treating animals under their care humanely
  • Many animals raised for food in this country (and probably the world) are not treated humanely
Where my disequilibrium lies (I realize some of these questions can not be answered):

  • Is it inhumane to eat animals that are raised humanely?
  • Is it inhumane to keep pets when there is no one home for most of the day due to work obligations? (My husband and I have spoken about this one a lot.)
  • Can beagles be spiteful? (hee... hee... I still suspect this after living with two!)
  • What kind of emotions do animals feel?
  • Do dolphins experience joy when they surf?
  • Will I ever have a turkey-less Thanksgiving?
As in all aspect of life, there are always more questions than answers. My search continues and my learning curve is steep.

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