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  • Writer's pictureCrone

What do we need to know in order to care?

Virginia Morell's Animal Wise is really very good. Let me start off with that. I'm listening to it and it is well researched, detailed and well written. Morell is a science writer and does a good job of explaining complex ideas and research. She also offers insight into the researchers themselves. There is much that is fascinating and moving in what she writes.

But this is what gets me: why do we NEED proof that other species feel and think in order not to kill them, not to let them suffer or to protect them? Would not a wise and humane being, such as the human, the Homo sapiens sapiens is meant to be, require proof that animals do not suffer before they kill them or fail to protect them? I mean, why not have a precautionary principle - do not do anything that could possibly harm if the animal were emotional and feeling - as a default? Why the other way around??

Besides which, for generations people just assumed that animals thought and felt, because they were just other people in different forms. That didn't stop them killing, but it did mean they acknowledged it as an evil. For this, check out James Serpel's work, among others - anthropologists who have studied our long-past relationships with other animals.

The problem is power which comes through tools which comes not just from smarts but from fucking THUMBS. Opposable thumbs and the upright posture. That's where we went wrong.

So, Morell tells, for example, about the wonderful Jaap Panksepp, he who discovered that rats laugh when they are tickled. Here is a good video. Rats are so adorable. Anyway, part of his research involves breeding rats who laugh a lot and rats who don't - depressed rats. Also, for an experiment, some rats are tickled twice daily and other rats are never tickled and never get to play. The justification is that we can learn more about happy and sad genes (for humans) and there's a sideline that maybe people won't hate rats so much. But how it seems to me is that loads of rats get bred to live in cages and 50% have shit lives and 0% have any freedom or agency and for what??

Or, we put GPS collars on wild animals - which involves anaesthetising them and some die and it's stressful for all - so we know where they go... and then we can cull the ones that go in the wrong places or do the wrong things even though we have made their choices so damn limited.

Or we follow them around in boats or catch them in mist nets or keep them in institutes. Just so we can prove "there is something going on in there". And what difference has it made? More and more animals being killed for food and more and more in danger of extinction, plus the rest spied on and interfered with in the interests of science.


It's a no-brainer: our population and our consumer lifestyles are the problem. Address that with your funding and your research and stop bloody torturing the animals.

When do we know enough? When can we prove something beyond doubt? And when will that change how we behave? Never, never and never.

It's strange as science is like the antidote to superstition and sentiment. As though it can tell us what to do without us needing religion or emotion. But it can't. We know cows suffer from having their calves taken away. We have probably known that for thousands of years. Now we "know" in terms of hormones and brain anatomy, instead of just watching a cow scream, but we do it more. What makes the difference is caring about the cow. And what we, as individuals, bother to find out about her brain has little impact compared to the dairy industry and employment figures and consumer choice and how delicious cheese is and poor people having access to healthy food at affordable prices and tradition and habit and our ingrained belief that nothing on earth matters more than what I fancy right now.

So, as I listen to the tales of these committed and caring researchers, who get money to follow dolphins, say, at Monkey Mia, or parrotlets in Venezuela, I think, nice life if you can get it, but what for? And it's always justified to learn more about US. The animals are there for us. To learn about ourselves, to have a rewarding life, they are not just valued for being themselves. Look, it's cool that parrots name their chicks. It's interesting that male dolphins have intense friendships. And these guys are protected while the research goes on. And that's great. But let's not kid ourselves. It's more narcissism. Are they like us? Are they nearly as good as us? Are they useful to us? Are they interesting or beautiful or entertaining to us?

Bottom line: everything is about us, always.

At the end, Morell makes a somewhat similar point - explaining why she did not care to emphasise the difference between humans and other animals and instead to stress that all these other beings have minds and lives to live and thus that we should be devastated at their struggles, their extinction. She stresses that the research has helped animals, encouraged better farming practices and so on. One thing really struck me: after 30 years of putting GPS collars on bears, one scientist decided to see if that impacted the bears. Turned out for FIVE weeks they moved more slowly than usual because they felt stiff and hurt after the darting and so on. Then, for another five weeks they had to rush to get back on schedule in time to ensure they were fat enough for hibernation. Turns out that the same trend can be seen in cougars. The result: improved techniques. Because what we want to know is still more important.

To cheer you up... hog and fox feast.

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3 Kommentare

16. Sept. 2023

The hedgehog looks really big!

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17. Sept. 2023
Antwort an

Ha! Good answer 😀

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