DAY 259: SOME (VEGETARIAN) FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve never had much time for books.
I read so slowly that most characters appear to have arthritis and plots turn to treacle. It’s something to do with my dad being a publisher (ask my therapist). That’s probably why I’m writing this as an attempt to get a book published one day. Yes daddy.
But…while we all wait for the first shot to be fired in the badger cull – it could come any day now, but might not happen for some weeks – I’ve been reading two books about animals that are giving my neurons tiny weights to lift. Needless to say I’m making VERY slow progress but you know what?
I’m actually getting something out of them.
The first is ‘Straw Dogs’ by John Gray, the eminent if slightly depressing philosopher and the second is ‘Animals in Translation’ by Temple Grandin, the animal scientist who is also autistic.
Both are making me feel a little closer to other animals.
Straw Dogs is fiendishly difficult but intriguing. Gray’s basic tenet, if I can even assume to understand what he is saying, is that man has various noble drives towards salvation but all of them are fundamentally flawed. If man doesn’t believe in religion then he believes in science or perhaps moral progress as a means to separating himself from animals. Ultimately this is a disastrous separation.
“Humans cannot leave behind the life they share with other animals. Nor are they wise to try. Anxiety and suffering are as natural to them as serenity and joy. It is when they believe they have left their animal nature behind that humans show the qualities that are theirs alone: obsession, self-deception and perpetual unrest’
Although he is prone to sweeping generalisations that at times touch on falsehood (my dog is prone to obsession, self-deceptipon and perpetual unrest every time I give him bone) his book gives a convincing account of how we must respect our affinity with other animals.
I find this sobering. It is easy to assume that science and human intellect help us rise above the ‘baser instincts’ of those beasts of the forest. When someone of his calibre says the opposite perhaps we should use our intellect to reconnect with animals and not separate further.
Take a read. Then take a drink.
Animals in Translation
Temple’s book, while just as thought provoking, comes to a similar conclusion as Gray’s but from a very different place. Temple is autistic and claims that autism is a way station on the path from animals to humans: the way autistic people see the world is very similar to the way animals see the world. More directly, less conceptually. She is one of the world’s experts at designing humane farm environment because unlike non-autistic people she can tell what would upset a cow…just as if she is a cow (her own admission)
The book argues strongly – as does Grays – that our animal nature is always with us. Our brain, she writes, is made up of three parts: the ancient reptillian brain (heat regulation, breathing), the animal brain (emotion, socialisation) and the human brain (reason, facebook, sudoku). Each is wrapped around the other. We can no more escape our animal side (or our reptilian side for that matter – just look at some politicians) than we can escape our skins.
Anyone that has the slightest knowledge ofDarwin knows that humans are essentially monkeys in suits but as an autistic person that claims to act as a middle-women between animals and humans she gives a persuasive account of the need for that relationship to be healed more than ever.
Rather worryingly she says that hte worst possible thing we can do to an animal is to make it afraid.
This should only make the need to support our animals in distress all the more pressing.
Read it. Then take a very stiff drink
And on that note I’ll give you the wonderful news that the government have announced that the official way they will tell if their shooting is humane is by measuring the loudness and nature of the dying badgers’ screams. A ‘science’ that has been perfected in measuring the suffering of dying whales.