Thursday, May 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: When Elephants Weep- the Emotional Lives of Animals” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
I read this book, a year ago and I still think about it.  “  I recommend it to anyone interested in animals, as it makes you think, it makesyou question what you think you know about animal behaviour.
The basic premise of it is to show that animals do in fact have feelings and its something that scientists have been ignoring in their years of research due to fear of being labeled anthromorphic (assigning human qualities to inanimate objects or animals). Which I agree is a hazardous thing and can go to far. But those of us who have a dog, a cat, a parrot, can attest to the fact that they do have some range of emotion running through them. The pure joy the dog has when you take them for a walk, the purring of peacefulness when you pet a cat, the chimpanzee playing with a mouse just because its fun. How can you not see it?
By saying that animals have feelings, it of course isn’t saying they have the same breadth of emotions that humans have, but why would a species come to be, to just be a blank state? That the only drive in them is to reproduce to increase their genetic pool? We are a species just like every other one, and yes are goal is to reproduce, but we have fun, get mad, ashamed, etc. doing it. Why there are many good scientific reasoning for why animals do certain things, for example, gibbons have singing duels, where it is used for determining territories and also create bonds between the mated pair, but is it so naive to think that maybe they also like the sound of their own voice, that its aesthically pleasing to the ear? If emotions such as joy, grief, fear, and hope are able to cross cultural boundaries, why shouldn't it be plausible for these very same emotions to cross an interspecies boundary as well? We have to stop thinking that we are this inferior species in charge of everything, because who knows maybe that gopher you shot because it was ‘annoying’ you was actually a member of the species who actually ruled everything?

You punch someone in the face and what do they do? They punch back, recoil, curse at you. They are hurt, mad, in disbelief. You kick a dog, what does it do? Recoils, growls, bite. They are hurt. Is hurt not an emotion? When a human is put behind bars, they feel lonely, desolate and depression may eventually overcome them. Some of the same emotions have been found in animals. One story that was hard to read based on my background, was a story that tells the tale of a monkey who was put in a black isolation chamber for six months and then placed in a cage with other monkeys who were left to socialize during the six month time period. Once the isolated monkey was placed with the others, it immediately ran into the corner and embraced itself because it didn’t and was assaulted by his mates until the monkey perished away. He was depressed. A chimpanzee whose mother died stayed and protected her body for a few days, not eating, not interacting, and eventually he died due to an infection caused by a weakened immune system. Some would point this death to an infection. Others, myself included, could see that this chimp died from grief. How often do we get so upset that we do not want to talk to anyone, don’t eat, drink, and take care of ourselves, when something horrific happens? How many stories have we heard of an old couple dying a few days apart from each other, because they simply could not live without each other?
It also goes into detail about how we have been using animals to test for things such as depression, because they are like us and I think the excerpt from the book explains it best. "The argument on the part of the scientists conducting these experiments has been that animals are so similar to us in their feelings that we can learn about human depression by studying animal depression. But this raises the important ethical question asked by many animal-rights groups: If animals suffer the way we do, which is the whole justification for the experiments, is it not sadistic to conduct them?” I will leave you to ponder that thought.
The animals cannot enjoy their innate abilities, a function that is labeled as "funktionslust" by the authors while they are in cages and zoos. A lion may appear to be happy in an enclosed pasture, however it does not have the freedom to sprint for miles or to hunt and reproduce under its own terms. A lion may feel pride and a sense of accomplishment when jumping trough a hoop of fire, but really its not a natural feeling, it is not its function in life. However, for the lion its either jump through the hoop, get rewarded, have something to do or pace back and forth all day. As sad as it is, at least the lion may feel they have a purpose in life. BUT “To turn these magnificent animals into slaves and then degrade them further by making them perform tricks for human amusement shows as much about human abasement as it does about animal capacities”. We try hard to not equate humanistic features on animals, but why do we constantly make animals act like humans them? Dress them up, wear roller skates, smoke?
Just remember, the fact is that the scientific community can no more prove the existence of emotions in humans than it can in animals. And it will not be able to do so until it possesses the technology to identify and detect the neuropathways responsible for emotions. We accept that humans have emotions based on their behaviour and our own lived experiences. Is it not reasonable to acknowledge the emotional lives of animals for the same reasons. What I perceive as rage, love, happiness, depression is different than what you may perceive them as. And there is nothing wrong with that. But we still generally agree that humans have emotions. What animals feel as rage, love, happiness, depression may also be different than what I perceive them as, but it’s real to them. Another way to look at it; I speak English, you speak German, we don’t understand each other but we both know we are speaking.
I could go on and on about this issue, but I don’t want it to turn into me preaching something. But to clarify, I believe in the scientific reasons why animals behave the way they do, but I also believe that animals do have emotions. That they know in their own cognitive framework what loneliness is, what joy is, what grief is, what love is. And as someone who studies animal behaviour, I think the scientific community needs to examine emotional behaviour a bit more in depth instead of treating it as heresy. We are descendants from primates, who are animals, opposable thumbs can’t be the only thing carried over.

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