Humanism

Do you find it funny that we impose human attributes to the animal kingdom?

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise since we’ve always had animated cartoons that featured various animals. I was always a big fan of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, Snoopy, and so many more. We sort of impose ideals onto these creatures simply based on their look and perceived habits. In other words, we stereotype animals. We say they are this way and that way so that’s how they are. Its why a lady got clawed badly at the zoo the other day by a Jaguar. Its why people taunt bison face to face not thinking they’ll get hurt. Its very naive of them to think wild animals are cartoons.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very devoted animal lover. I have two dogs that I’d protect with my own life. They are so loyal to me and always happy to see me. They truly deserve our love. I’m also a person greatly saddened by road kill. Some people are indifferent to that, but I’m shockingly alarmed. I am so sad when I see a squirrel or deer or other animal on the side of the road. Its all very tragic to me.

But I’m also a realist. If you’ve ever studied predator-prey relations, you know what I mean. Part of my training was in ecology. I know all about food webs, food chains, life cycles, and all that jazz. I know about r-selected species that birth large litters knowing that many of them will be culled by predators or even by "strongest will survive" intra-species competition. Weaker animals in a litter get picked upon, or even pecked upon like with chickens. Ugly ducklings get horribly chastised to the point of death. Weaker, unattractive males don’t get mates. Its all an unfortunate part of life.

Yet, as humans, we impose our social standards on animals. We try to be the policemen saying that its unfair that weaker animals gets picked on. We say how unfair it is that a carnivore eats other animals. Do you want me to tell you a secret? In the animal kingdom, there really isn’t hate. The cheetah that preys upon the gazelle doesn’t hate the gazelle. The cheetah is matter of factly driving up to the McDonald’s drive-through and ordering some food. Its as simple as that. And however unfortunate it is for the gazelle, its usually the lame, weak, and old that get culled from the herd. Its never the strongest and fastest gazelle that gets taken. So it is essentially strengthening the herd. With K-selected species, they survive on carrying capacity. There is only so much grain, berries, and water to go around. Its why an elephant has an 18 month gestation period and only gives birth to a single baby. But then the parents, and the herd, strongly protects that baby to full adulthood. Its a very communal family with lots of protection.

However, grizzly bears often do the same, but in a very different way. The mother bear is the protector. I just saw a video of a mother bear with cubs chasing a male up a tree. While a mother is lactating and taking care of cubs, she cannot be mated. So a male bear will kill the cub or cubs just so it can mate with the mother. The male is doing this to exert its stronger genes which strengthens the stability of the population. It is really terrible from a human standpoint. But for bears, this is life.

A moose is a prize to hunters, especially those who have subsistence lives, like indigenous people or backcountry people who live off the grid. A moose will sustain a family through the Winter. Moose are very big and fast and smart. So a clean kill is needed to put them down quickly. It is also more "humane" from a human view. It goes down without suffering. Now, lets take another way for the moose. When a wolf pack attacks a moose, it tries to latch on to its hindquarters. Multiple wolves latch on and bring it down. And when it comes down, the wolves immediately begin to feed on the hindquarters before the moose is even dead. If you ask me, I’d rather have a quicker death than being eaten alive. Sorry if that’s gross, but its the reality of animal life. Animal life can be really brutal. Its not always as clean as a mountain lion pouncing on a deer and breaking its neck with one swipe. Nature isn’t always pretty.

Another issue I have with people and animals is our viewpoint of what is cute and what is ugly. Many people who don’t eat meat really have no problem with swatting an insect. A mosquito drawing blood on you is not something you willing volunteer for. Or when a rat has gotten into your pantry and you see it there eating your flax seed and cous cous. Or when you go out into your backyard at night and a big opossum is standing in your way. Or maybe a skunk comes out from a bush while you are walking your dog. Sometimes these pests are viewed just that way. They are varmints, rodents, and critters you fear.

On the other hand, you look at your dog’s cute button nose. The little ears on your cat. The long eyelashes on a cow. Or maybe even the curly tail on a pig. They are cute and you love them, so you want to protect them. But there’s a continuum from cuteness to ugliness. The animals that seem to be like us, maybe have characters like us, or even personalities, then we protect them. But we could do without the others. If something doesn’t seem human, then its ok to get rid of them. Even if its a baby in a mother’s womb. Its not really like us. Its just a mass of cells. So we can get rid of it. Its how humans think. One is OK to kill, one is not. Its the hypocrisy of humanity.

I’m a plant guy. My Ph.D. was in plant pathology. I’ve learned all about how plants will try to heal from a wound. I know how plants can react to touch, to light, to heat or cold. We know that talking to plants gives them more CO2 with which to grow. I know the real difference between a vegetable and a fruit. I really love plants. When I look at the similarities of all of life, plants, animals, protists, fungi, and bacteria, they all have a will to live. A virus will replicate in a host’s body to create more of its own. It will use the RNA-DNA translation, transcription, and replication processes to live. Yet humans draw a line. A plant can be killed, but an animal cannot. An insect can be extinguished but a bunny cannot. Predators are evil creatures and prey are precious. I can eat a squash even though I’m wasting 50 seeds that could create more squash. I eat a plant than needs to be replanted and grown again. Its like forced labor on the plants.

The reason we have these thoughts and feelings is because we don’t understand. We don’t accept the realities of life. We shelter our thoughts in the most naive ways. We don’t understand agriculture and food production. Do you know that a large portion of the USA is in arid lands? You cannot grow crops there. If you fly over large portions of the plains and mountainous regions, you don’t see corn, soybeans, or vegetables being produced. All you see is grassland. And guess what can eat grass? Ruminants. Cows and other such creatures have the ability to break down cellulose. Humans cannot. Do you know about high fiber foods? Its foods that are high in cellulose, lignin, and other complex carbohydrates that we cannot assimilate. We eat them because its like a brillo pad scrubbing our intestines, totally undigestable. However, some believe that this scrubbing may also cause perforations in our bowels creating leaky gut syndromes. Honestly, our guts are not made to leak. Yet, the FDA and USDA are in cahoots to promote this high fiber idea. We eat foods with a very low bioavailability. Take a look some day in an Ecology text that shows the assimilation coefficients for various foods (including meats) and you’ll be surprised by what you see.

The ideas that we have in our mind of diet preference is a social construct made by humans. Its not made by animals. Its not made by science. Its like the anti-vaxxers who think vaccines cause autism. It takes one sad story from a celebrity or two who wants to blame someone for with woes. Then everyone comes to their sides and starts to believe what they say. All the while, the science says something else. Now we see epidemics of measles and mumps just because of the anti-vaccine messages that were promoted. And people start to follow the celebrities because they have these perfect sheltered lives and are living a fantasy. Not one of them ever drove a combine, lived in places where mangos and papayas aren’t available, who don’t have a grocery store on every corner; they live in a city where hoardes of planes, trains, and automobiles have traveled the world over to bring a perfect Jackfruit to your market. And you say "I can live off of Jackfruit and nothing else", without ever thinking about how that food got to your market. In their world, a hyena is a vegetarian. A jaguar just eats berries. And the lion lays alongside the lamb. Maybe in children’s story books. But its not reality.

Find your bias and hypocrisy in the continuum of life. At what point is life, life. Maybe at birth? Which animal (insects are in the animal kingdom) is worth living and which is not? If all are good, then sit in a swamp without insect repellent and tell me how long you feel that way. Do the same in Southeast Asia where malaria, dengue fever, and diseases are carried by mosquitoes. Are you being a human-centric humanist? Or do you accept the realities of the world? Then define in your mind the word "naive". It might come to light in just a moment.

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