I read recently about a documentary called Unlocking The Cage chronicling the efforts of an attorney waging a decades-long battle to attain the equivalent of “personhood” for chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins.
“What about whales?” daughter Anna asked in less than serious indignation when I told her about it. She had a point. Imagine being an animal barely missing the cut.
EXCLUDED WHALE: “Dolphins and not us? Who do they know?”
“Come on. Flipper!”
“Free Willy! Just as smart. Half as cloying!”
“You mean half as endearing.”
“The whales like him.”
Goodness! Isn’t it terrible watching sea creatures bicker?
Championing “Animal Rights” is a laudable undertaking. (Although there are people who might wonder why their concerns have been inexplicably leapfrogged. Have you ever noticed there are no lapel ribbons for “poor”?) But of course, as we humans know, personal liberty is not a “Free Pass”. With rights come responsibilities. You are required to accommodate both.
Elephants on Jury Duty.
JURY FOREPERSON: “Your Honor, we are hopelessly deadlocked. There are eleven votes for ‘Guilty’, and a steaming pile of elephant crap on the Jury Room floor.”
So there’s that.
Decent people are generally supportive of their four-legged amigos. (Although I could do with a few less “Animal Rescue” commercials on Law & Order.) Some folks’ demands, however, go considerably further.
A meddling fruitcake, sorry, a passionate advocate in Santa Monica has succeeded in her campaign to have pony rides banished from the local Farmer’s Market because of perceived cruelty to the ponies, with the accompanying expulsion of the “Petting Zoo” because, as the woman explained, the baby goats appeared – her exact word – to be “depressed.”
I don’t know, have you ever seen a goat smile?
What we are looking at here is quintessential anthropomorphism – ascribing human characteristics to non-human species, assumptions sometimes proven wrong even with humans.
Have you ever encouraged a seemingly downcast person to “Cheer up” only to be told, “I’m fine. That’s just my face.”
Who knows? Maybe goats look naturally depressed. (With an emphasis on “Who knows?”) While inside, they are secretly thinking, “Hey, at least we’re not cows.”
You know who is also guilty of anthropomorphism?
But in another direction.
My personal “default” direction:
In my “Interview With A Giraffe” – you should check it out, it’s pretty good; I would send you the link if I knew how to do it – a giraffe is interviewed on the radio, the host promising to keep it short so the giraffe can hurry back to “the wild”, only to learn that this particular giraffe has little enthusiasm for “the wild.”
“What about the freedom?” the interviewer inquires. To which the anxious animal replies:
“Freedom’s just another word for running for your life.”
Anthropomorphism is everywhere. I remember our camp’s riding instructor reprimanding a cabin-mate for an overzealous application of the reins.
“Treat that horse right, will ya? He’s only human.”
I mentioned this issue to daughter Anna because as a small fry she adored “Zoo Camp”. (In Unlocking The Cage, the overzealous “Animal Rights” attorney – there I go again – the ideologically passionate “Animal Rights” attorney… argues for the liberation of zoo animals from involuntary incarceration.
(Note: Is there such as thing as voluntary incarceration? “I’m fine in here.”)
Anna as usual, reflecting a genetic mixture of my off-center imagination and her mother’s sensible “groundedness” summarized the problem of ascribing feelings to animals when we don’t know what they actually are, or even if they have any, offering paralleling scenarios.
Considering their captivity, she imagined a zoo elephant thinking,
Followed by an equally plausible narrative, enjoying the zoo’s reliable amenities.
“Hm. Lunch at three.”
(Can you tell that I am taken that girl?)
I have long been holding back on what I have just now decided to hold back a little longer, fearing that if my opinions were fully articulated, my current blogal popularity would feel, by comparison, like a groundswell of enthusiasm.
If I spelled out my position in this regard, every “True Believer” (of no matter what) would proceed precipitously towards the exits, though not before hurling angry invective in my direction, such as, to name three of the less hurtful ones, “Traitor!”, “Fence sitter!” and the always popular “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!”
And I don’t really want that.
So I will say only this.
There are a handful of issues I am steadfastly uncompromising about. (One of them is capital punishment. Don’t even talk to me about killing people for killing people.) Overwhelmingly, however, I support rational discussion and hammered-out determinations, the extremes, acknowledging each other’s legitimate concerns, finding a mutually acceptable middle-ground solutions. (Not civil rights. You cannot free the slaves two days a week. It’s all or nothing. But with virtually everything else, I favor a workable compromise.
(Sorry for the “too many words. That’s what comes from being persuasive while simultaneously certain it’s not working.)
History tragically reflects that extremist alternatives, though appealing in their consistency and inspiring in their purity sends advocates irretrievably around the bend.
My considered conclusion on the matter:
“Believing too much” is understandable.
But it is ultimately unhelpful.
(And then he ducked.)