This post is dedicated to every single nonhuman animal out there and the humans who love and recognize them for the intelligent beings they are.
I’m a little surprised I haven’t written about this yet, considering how much thoughts of other animals fill my day to day, especially since interning at the Primate Center. I’m currently reading Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina and it’s a fantastic read. I find myself grimacing, smiling, and even tearing up as I follow the journeys of elephants and wolves (still have yet to reach the killer whales section).
I suppose what sparked the need to write this comes from my Biological Psychology class. Right now we’re studying the chemicals and physical workings behind emotion which includes many animal experiments. I understand how people come to use animals in experimentation (I’m not going to get into that right now, it’s a whole different discussion)–I’m working at a research center, for goodness sakes.
But, in class, the professor showed us a video about how innate fear is expressed in monkeys. They had a monkey in a small cage, with nowhere to go, being exposed to a rubber snake that was both held still and shaken even inside the cage. Unsurprisingly, the monkey backed away in fear and tried everything they could to get away from the threat. I was already upset by the experiment itself, especially when they had the response they wanted and they kept going.
What really got under my skin were the laughs from some of the students. It’s like it didn’t even occur to them that this monkey was experiencing extreme fear and was trapped in a cage with nowhere to escape. It reminded me of how far we still need to go when it comes to educating people about nonhumans animals.
Somehow, woven throughout almost every single of my classes in university so far is the idea that animals are not as intelligent as we, humans, are. I understand that I’m taking psychology classes and our focus is on humans, but I find it extremely unnecessary to compare to other animals (ex. “we’re the ONLY ones,” “no other animal in the Animal Kingdom can do this”). I think it would be more helpful to keep our focus on the humans and not make assumptions about the entirety of others.
There’s a point that Carl Safina made early on in his book, which was essentially this: we need to be able to appreciate animals for their own intelligence and who they are without making comparisons to our own.
It’s a shift in thinking that I hadn’t been shown until the fateful Animal Behavior class I took at Sac City. It was a revelation to realize how anthropocentric* we are. It was also a wake-up call to the plethora of life all around us, complete with individual experiences that we tend to be unaware of.
Maybe in the future I’ll include specific examples of animals displaying high levels of intelligence (especially in corvid birds), empathy (elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, etc.), planning, tool use; I could keep on going. But I want to highlight how incredible the rest of the Animal Kingdom is. I’ve had conversations with friends who have disagreed with me, maintaining the utter superiority of humankind. I’ve ended up frustrated, but I understand how we think this way.
I’m not trying to say humans aren’t unique in their own way. We have made incredible strides to be where we are today and that shouldn’t be overlooked. However, many other animals are seen as lesser than us because they can’t do exactly what we do. This is unfair. Each animal has their own way of viewing the world (umwelt) and each animal has strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t see other animals’ intelligence or their expression of emotion as a knock on who we are as people. Actually, I see it as a way of bringing us closer to this planet and the nature it supports. I love having the opportunity to observe the birds, squirrels, dogs, titi monkeys or any animal that crosses my path.
At the end of this, I suppose all I want is to express is my love for nonhuman animals.
I think I’ll write a part two in the near future. Also, yes, the title is most certainly a Hoodwinked reference.
*Definition of “anthropocentric” from Merriam-Webster: 1) considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe, 2) interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences