Jun 11th
    The two books that have - unusually - got me thinking

    The two books that have – unusually – got me thinking

    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.

    John Gray - philosopher and author of Straw Dogs

    John Gray – philosopher and author of ‘Straw Dogs’

    Straw Dogs

    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.


    Temple Grandin, animal scientist and author of Animals in Translation

    Temple Grandin, animal scientist and author of Animals in Translation

    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.


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    5 Responses to “DAY 259: SOME (VEGETARIAN) FOOD FOR THOUGHT”

    1. Even if they manage to shoot the badger quietly I would oblige.
      Shame on the government!

    2. I love Temple Grandin’s books about animals. I also recommend “Animals Make Us Human”. Great, informative read. And if you’d like some insight on the issue of why humans eat one species but not another, I recommend “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” by Hal Herzog. He’s pretty easy to read and explores why western cultures have dogs as pets but eat cattle, but some eastern cultures revere cattle and eat dogs. It’s (I think) the ultimate human conundrum about our relationship with animals. Both of these books helped me very much to understand my own inner (malfunction) workings about being a meat eater while at the same time volunteering for animal welfare causes.

    3. Thank you for this Sharon, very inspiring. I didn’t know that book by herzog. After reading your comment I was just about to order before realising I have SO much to read! Maybe I’ll get to it some time. I’m glad that books can have the effect they had on you – as you know I have a love/hate relationship to books and wonder to what extent they can transform us.

    4. Temple Grandin’s books are a ‘life-changing’ kind of book. They change the way you see things forever after. I treat my dogs differently knowing that fear is the worse thing they can feel. And that a walk outside in one direction looks completely different to them coming back from the opposite direction. They see each new ‘thing’ as a new ‘thing’; not as a thing in relation to something similar. For instance: A kyak on wheels being pulled down the street is an entirely new thing to a dog. It bears no relationship to the kyak just resting on the ground by the side of the lake. Ok, that was a strange example, but I just experienced that with my dog who thought she would have to kill the canoe on wheels because it was a big monster, even though she sees canoes all the time not on wheels. Thank you Martin!

    5. I get what you are saying exactly! I find it an amazing book and can’t quite understand how she can be autistic (my lmited understanding of autism I am sure). The most terrible thing to hear of course is that the worst thing we can do is make an animal feel scared. Which we do so often. THanks for reading

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