Acting Like Animals
I don’t fully believe what I’m preparing to propose here, but some very intelligent people do so I want to put it out there. Plus, I’ve been wrong more than a time or two and have deep respect for the power of unintended consequences. Finally, as someone who happens to be quite comfortable doing nothing more for animals than reading, writing, and thinking about them, this task of second guessing conventional claims hits the bullseye (apologies) of my comfort zone. So here’s the idea: by collapsing the species barrier in an effort to treat animals with due moral consideration, we may—in our intimate interaction with them—justify the adoption of animal habits that would be atrocious for the prospects of human decency.
I don’t know. It sounds crazy. But think it through. Animal rights advocates work hard to create porous boundaries between humans and non-humans—especially relatively intelligent invertebrates. A primary justification for doing so is the hope that, in tearing down these walls of separation, humans will incorporate animals into our circle of compassion and treat them with appropriate dignity and respect for their ability to suffer as sentient creatures. Very rarely do we wonder, however, about the influences animals might have on humans if, indeed, the boundaries between us and them were made more fluid. The bad influences, that is.
Yes, yes, animals can be altruistic and cooperative—I get that. But they can also be, sorry, “animals.” They can, in other words, adhere to a vicious form of justice and retribution, one admittedly unmarked by free-will, but still marked by violence, survivalism of the fittest, and blatant prejudices rooted in biological realities. Humans have spent a great deal of history striving to wean ourselves away from racism, sexism, violence, and other forms of maltreatment that degrade the potential of our species. What if animals—the beings to whom we want to intermingle with in the realm of moral equality—offered us an excuse to indulge in what we have worked so hard as humans to minimize? What if they erased our progress, as it were?
I know many people—most of then warped by institutional thought—for whom any door even slightly opened to the prospects of “animal behavior” would be one that they’d charge through like a rhino. Most of them are gun toting Republicans who have to work hard to repress their racism while seeking to abolish all vestiges of the welfare state—but I digress. Actually, I don’t. In any case, I think there is a lot to contemplate when it comes to the impact animals might have on humans in a world that many animal rights advocates want to see emerge. At the least, we need to consider how our coevolution with animals in a post-speciesist environment would look like before we put our shoulder behind this idea and push it into the public forum. As usual, I’m just thinking out loud here, which is mostly what I do, but I do think much of what we envision happening as we meld with animals is a lot of magical thinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.