Monday, January 14, 2019

“We are special”

Naturalist Carl Safina addresses a stubborn notion among scientists:
[P]rojecting feelings onto other animals can lead to us misunderstanding their motivations. But denying that they have any motivation guarantees that we will misunderstand it. [Safina’s italics]
Humans are hardly unique in having legs. All the bones of our legs have homologues in the legs of many other animals. It would be silly to presume that feelings, as essential as they are to human functioning (even more than legs!), would be absent in non-human animals. And yet that feared bugaboo for a scientist — anthropomorphism — must be assaulted, bashed at so furiously that the violence becomes its own spectacle.
Professional animal behaviorists inserted a hard divider between the nervous system of the entire animal kingdom and one of its species: humans. Denying the possibility that any other animals have any thoughts or feelings reinforced what we all most want to hear: We are special. We are utterly different. Better. Best.
I don’t know why we all most want to hear this. I don’t think this is a universal. As I’ve noted before, though, this human superiority fetish is close kin to other superiority fetishes — sex, age, race, class, etc. Not everyone is invested in these hierarchies, but those who are are deeply invested, and fiercely defend their investment. I’m not sure what return they expect on this investment. A feeling of superiority? An absence of the shame of being associated with what is considered inferior? If there is no superior or inferior the investment of resources in maintaining the belief in them is a misallocation of resources.

source: Beyond Words: what animals think and feel by Carl Safina
2015. Henry Holt & Co., New York

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