“What a piece of work is Man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”–Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Yeah, yeah, we are all that, but are we? Humans seem to have this chauvinistic and arrogant notion that we are the superior beings of all living creatures. It was the Swedish taxonomist, Carolus Linnaeus, who dubbed us homo sapiens, “wise man” (sexist, egocentric arrogance in itself). Homo, at root akin to humus—from which we also get human—is the Biblical clay from which God allegedly kneaded Adam when allegedly giving him his sapience. Linnaeus would have done better to call us homo loquens, “speaking human” or “the clay that speaks.” For though our racial sapience may be in doubt, our loquacity is beyond question and is what sufficiently distinguishes us from the so-called lower forms of life. Human is the critter that uses spoken language.
So, other than having the power of verbal communication, what else can we do the best? We can’t fly on our own volition, like the birds and some insects do. We can’t breathe underwater unassisted, like the fish and the aquatic mammals. As a species, we have relatively very short lifespans, unlike some tortoises and trees that can live for hundreds and thousands of years. We’re not the biggest, by any means, but size does not determine superiority anyway. I read somewhere that in proportion to his body, a male flea has the largest penis of any living creature. We’re not the strongest. Even a lowly ant has it over us.
Animals have built-in defense mechanisms, like horns, armor, claws, poisonous stingers, bites and venom, that can harm us and even kill us, as well as other creatures. Other than our limbs and possibly our teeth, we humans usually have to resort to outside tools, weapons and other gear to inflict harm on others. We’re not the fastest, all things being relative. We’re not the most adaptable. A cockroach can live off the glue on a postage stamp for months. We are certainly not the most beautiful, by some aesthetic standards. Our basic senses are not the most developed. Many animals have much better eyesight, hearing and sense of smell than we do, for instance. And it’s highly debatable whether we are the most intelligent.
In fact, with all things considered, I think that your insects are really the most supreme of all living creatures. They can fly, they can defy gravity (can you walk up a smooth vertical surface unassisted?), they can swim, they have heightened senses and lethal defenses, they are creative, intelligent, resourceful, incredibly strong, fast, adaptable, and they have big dicks! They have also mastered resistance to exposure to the most deadly force known on earth—radiation. It’s been said that if (and when) there is a nuclear holocaust, the insects will probably survive it. I believe it.
And don’t let size fool you, because there is strength in numbers. I learned that there are several billion insects to every person on earth. If they ever decided to band together and turn on us, we wouldn’t have a chance. They could easily take over the world. Look at how those locusts travel in massive swarms every few years, eating up all the vegetation in local areas. Suppose that they summon the rest of their friends sometime and go on a feeding rampage? After they have consumed all the plant life on earth, they would then have to start in on us and all the other animals, wouldn‘t they? We already know about those fearless, carnivorous army ants, who are able to cause plenty of damage in great numbers. Even if they eventually have to start eating each other, they proliferate so much and so often that they probably would always maintain a supply of and for themselves.
Just because a creature cannot verbalize their thoughts, it does not in any way mean that they are less intelligent. Certain members of the ape family, for example, have been taught to communicate via American Sign Language. That would make them at least as smart as any deaf person. Dumb (mute) does not necessarily mean stupid. I absolutely abhor the common practice of referring to a deaf-mute person as a “dummy.” Just because they can’t speak or choose not to, does not make them mentally deficient. A person learns to speak by repeating from what they have heard others speaking. Since someone born deaf has never heard spoken language, how would they be able to imitate it? It is those who do speak who reveal their stupidity. If one doesn’t say anything, how do you know what they know? Deaf and blind Helen Keller was thought to be a hopeless case until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, got a hold of her. Helen turned out to be quite intelligent. How many of us with normal hearing can read lips and knows Braille and Sign Language? I learned that a tame gorilla is able to operate an iPad!
A guy I know once proclaimed at a party that “animals can’t think.” I said, ‘How in the hell do you know about their mental capabilities?’ Why wouldn’t animals be able to think? They have a brain just like we do. For example, my cat liked to sleep with me, but when she was just a kitten she was too small to climb the ladder to my loft bed. But I never carried her up there; I wanted to see if she could get there on her own. And she did! I could see her casing the situation, then she must have figured it out to maneuver each rung of the ladder until she reached the top. That must have required some thought and logic. Of course, as she grew, she was able to accomplish it more easily and subsequently was able to run up or down the ladder in one fail swoop.
A polar bear’s being white allows them to be able to blend in with their snow-covered surroundings. But their black nose is a sure giveaway when they are trying to sneak up on a seal, their primary food source. I learned that a polar bear will cover its nose with its paw to camouflage itself. Now how do they know that their nose is black, unless they figured it out from seeing the other bears and then knew enough to hide their own in order to stalk their prey? That must have taken some thought on their part. In a study of the mating habits of kangaroos, it was discovered that females tend to go after the males with the bigger arms!
Some dismiss animal behavior as mere instinct, but I think that even so-called instinct requires some kind of mental assessment. When they need to eat, they know enough to try to obtain food to satisfy their hunger. Otherwise when they got hungry, they would just starve to death, because they wouldn’t know what to do about it. With some creatures, all they do in life is eat and breed. Have they figured out that they need to breed in order to sustain the species, or is it that they just like having sex? How do they know about gestation and self-birthing and parenthood? They know their own children and will go to any length to protect them.
Animal mothers teaching and training their young how to hunt and how to survive in the wild must result in telepathic communication. How do baby animals learn about their particular skills and defenses, unless their parents somehow teach them what they need to know? Do birds realize that they can fly from seeing others of their kind do it? Then what about the ratites, birds that can’t or won’t fly–like your cassowaries, emus, kiwis, ostriches, penguins and rheas–did they a long time ago decide that they didn’t want or need to fly, so they never developed the proper wings or body type to do so? It couldn’t be about their size, because I’m sure that a condor is bigger and heavier than an ostrich, say, and it can lift off, despite its weight. So when someone tells me that penguins can’t fly, I suggest that maybe they just choose not to.
I have so many questions about animal behavior. Do animals that compete with each other–racehorses, greyhounds, fighting cocks, jumping frogs, whatever–know that they are being tested? Do they themselves have a competitive nature and actually want to win the race or fight or athletic event? Do they know when they win or lose and do they care? For that matter, do horses and other animals really like being ridden all the time? I realize that they put up with it, but even we humans often tolerate things that we don’t particularly enjoy. Some of these beasts of burden might think, “Well, he feeds me, grooms me and talks nicely to me. I guess I can let him ride me in return.”
I am pretty sure that animals on screen know that they are performing. Lassie, for one, was a great actor. He (the role was always played by a male collie) would display a range of emotions, depending on the situation. He could register excitement, despair, pain, affection, whatever was required of him. Mike, the chimpanzee who played Cheeta in many of the Tarzan films, was also a consummate and versatile actor. He had to have known what he was doing. James Stewart relates in a documentary how the horse, Pie, that he worked with for 20 years in 17 western films, always knew when he was being filmed, and they knew each other so well that Jimmy could talk to him and give him directions and the horse would obey and do his part.
There is a story about the making of Mike Nichols’ The Day of the Dolphin (1973). It is said that the two dolphins that played a big part in the film would show up on the set every day at the same time, or at least when they were shooting, and then would go away when they were finished for the day. And they somehow knew when the movie was finished as well. At the various Sea Worlds across the country, the dolphins and whales do perform for the attending spectators. They jump out of the water together and juggle balls, so they must know that they have an audience.
How do certain animals form groups and perform common actions? How do birds get into that choreographically-synchronized formation when they fly south for the winter, for instance? When the lead bird gets tired and drops out, another one will take its place. Does that one volunteer or are they chosen by the other birds? A pet “homing” pigeon, when left some place other than where it resides, can find its way home, even if it’s thousands of miles and through any kind of weather condition. If you woke up in unfamiliar surroundings many miles from where you live, would you be able to find your way home, without the use of any maps, signs, GPS, conveyances, protective covering, or asking anybody for your location and directions?
Who told all those cattle to stampede? Is there an ant and bee foreman who tells the others what their particular tasks are? There must be some mental communication, or do they just decide on their own what needs to be done? How do they know who their queen is? Is she elected or self-appointed? Since most insect species reproduce many offspring at one time and often, are the breeders able to keep up and recognize their spawn and regard them all equally? Is the mother cockroach aware that that was her baby that I just smashed in the sink?
I believe that communication is accomplished via their antennae, something that we humans don‘t have. Consider the architectural prowess and aesthetic sensibilities of some creatures. A bee’s honeycomb is made up of symmetrical, adjacent six-sided cells. How did they figure that out? How did they learn to make honey, for that matter? Is the pearl inside an oyster’s shell an unwanted, annoying, resultant growth like a gall stone, or is it intentional on the oyster’s part? Birds build nests for themselves and their young, and beavers build dams, using material that is available to them. When the lemmings are heading to the sea to commit suicide, does any of them ask, “Where are we going, what are we doing, and why?“?
“Nature” on PBS did a fascinating series on observing how certain animals behave in the wild. They showed Sumatran orangutans washing themselves with soap and water and sawing pieces of wood with an actual saw! I suppose they were provided with the saw to see what they would do with it. Some tropical macaws, after eating their usual meal of nuts and berries, which are apparently toxic to their systems, will then nibble on an available clay substance, which serves as an antidote to the poisonous food they have just eaten. How do they know that and what to do about it? Similarly, some peccaries have discovered that the mud that they regularly wallow in has a medicinal and nutritional effect on their diet.
Then, too, most animals make audible sounds that they most likely understand between like species, just like humans have created our own languages by which to communicate with each other. Just because we don’t understand their “zoosemiotics,” does not mean that their utterances don’t mean anything to them. We just don’t speak each other’s particular language. And whereas humans use many different sounds that mean all different things, a cat’s meow or a pig’s grunt sounds pretty much the same, at least to our ears. So they must have a more specialized way of conversing with each other. They more often seem to use non-verbal communication, which must mean that there is mental connection between them. A dog’s wagging their tail, for example, is a kind of sign language. They are trying to express something that’s on their mind when they do that.
I think that creatures that are able to communicate telepathically, therefore have it over us. Moreover, our pets and other animals can be taught to respond to our verbal commands–in all languages, too, depending on who is speaking–which suggests some sort of comprehension on their part. A Chinese dog, for example, responds to spoken Mandarin just as an American one knows English. You tell them to sit, and they will sit.
In Water for Elephants (2011) one of the characters attempts to train a female “bull” elephant that he acquires from another circus. When the animal doesn’t respond to his spoken commands, he proceeds to poke her in her side with a pointy prod. This doesn’t work, and of course, it enrages the elephant. They eventually figured out that the pachyderm understands Polish, which she learned from her previous owner! So it appears that animals learn whatever language is spoken to them and then respond accordingly, just as we humans do.
But we still haven’t learned what all their sounds mean. When a dog barks, we will say, “What’s the matter, boy? What do you want?” But if we knew Dog, we wouldn’t have to ask, would we? He understands you, but you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. So, who’s the smarter?
Humans have the propensity of measuring and assessing all universal accomplishments against our own limited abilities. If Man [sic] can’t do it, it can’t be done. I was annoyed by a line in the movie sequel Aliens (1986). When the power went out in the complex and somebody blamed it on the creatures, one guy of the squadron said, “What do you mean they killed the power? They’re only animals!” I said (to the screen), ‘Well, what do you think you are?!’ With all that we had seen that organism already do, I don’t think that a little power switch would pose that much of a challenge.
Moreover, the astronauts in all four films of the series were on some foreign planet, dealing with an indigenous creature. But the titles and the movies themselves all implied that the monsters were the aliens, when in actuality, it’s the errant humans who are the real extraterrestrials and who came from someplace else. If we ever get to Mars, for example, we shouldn’t refer to the “people” already living there as aliens! That’s such an egocentric viewpoint. It’s like when we used to think that the Earth was the center of the Universe and everything else revolved around us.
I know it’s only a movie for our entertainment, but I also don’t like the fact that the humans’ prime mission is to wipe out all the creatures. Still referring to the “Alien” films, now Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) managed to survive the first film and make it back home to Earth. So then in the sequel, they get a whole new team together and go back to that same planet with the sole purpose of killing all of the creatures, who are there going about their own business. She got away, so why didn’t she keep her butt at home instead of going back there to antagonize them further? Naturally, the things are going to retaliate. The creature tried to impress upon them in the first film that the Earthlings were not welcome there, so why would they want to keep going back to where they are not wanted?
In Aliens, the second installment, just after a female creature has laid her eggs in the complex, Ripley goes in and destroys the nest and all the eggs. I don’t blame the mother for going after Ripley for that. Most anyone would do the same thing for their own kids. I don’t hate space creatures and monsters for being different from us, and just because the humans are actors that we know and love, doesn’t mean that their characters are always doing the right or honorable thing.
All living creatures are part of the Circle of Life, and if we would just leave everything and everyone alone, Nature would be able to operate as it’s supposed to. You know, it always bothers me how animals are treated, especially in their own habitats. Like in the jungle safari movies, for example, the explorers will be making their way through the brush when they encounter a big cat, maybe looking for food or just passing through on its way home. “Eek, a lion! Shoot it!” Look, if you’re afraid of dangerous jungle animals, then keep your butt out of there! Their rationale is that it is either them or the animal—you know, self defense. But who is in the wrong here? Doesn’t this animal have a right to be where it is? It’s at home. Those people don’t live out there in the jungle! They’re the intruders, not the lion. If someone breaks into your house and you both have a gun and you shoot and kill the intruder, you would be declared to be in the right, since it was self-defense and you were defending your turf. Well, these wild animals should have the same right. The humans are the interlopers, but they can just walk into these animals’ homes, kill them and destroy their homes, and nothing is done about it. The innocent animals have no rights or recourse.
Another time they will disturb a tree and a python will drop out of it, most likely startled and frightened. So what do these white men do? They kill the snake! Now, this poor little snake is in its own home minding its business, and just because these invaders don’t like snakes or are afraid of them, they decide to kill it. Once when a friend of mine was visiting his sister in South Carolina, his teenage nephew and niece found a snake in their yard and promptly killed it. I asked him why did they kill the snake, and he told me, “Because it might be poisonous.“ I said, ‘What?! Just because this innocent creature may or may not have a built-in defense mechanism, it deserves to die?‘ With that thinking, why don’t they kill everything for their mere being, and then why not go farther than that and kill everybody they encounter in life, too, because they just might have a gun or knife or some dangerous weapon on them? Some people will use any excuse to justify killing something.
So the way things are, if you don’t like a certain creature, it does not deserve to live. I would bet that more snakes have been deliberately killed by humans than people have been attacked by snakes. Where does one encounter a snake? Where they live–in the wild, in the jungle, in bodies of water. They tend to stay to themselves. They don’t get their friends together and go into the village or big city on a killing spree. If you find a snake where it shouldn’t be, it’s because somebody probably put it there. Okay, maybe I do like snakes, but that doesn’t excuse these animal killers.
It’s been said that most animals can smell and sense fear. They have learned that when someone is afraid, they will strike out at the object of their fear. So the animal, in turn, will then attempt to defend itself against the other’s aggression. I don’t consider any animal to be vicious by nature, who attack people unprovoked. We are usually the catalyst. Just like when a bumblebee buzzes by, a common reaction is to swat at it, which the innocent bee takes to mean that the person is trying to harm or kill it. So naturally it will retaliate by stinging the aggressor, which is their defense mechanism. When a bee loses its stinger, the result is death for the bee. I don’t think that they just go around committing suicide at will. If you don’t bother them, they most likely will not bother you. I am pretty sure that bees, hornets and wasps don’t go on regular stinging sprees, attacking everything that they come in contact with. I have encountered many stinging insects during my lifetime, but I have never been stung by one. I just remain calm and let them go about their business, which they always do.
Wild animals behave much in the same way. Most tend to avoid and retreat from humans when they can. Unless you are their intended prey, they don’t just attack innocent humans for any other reason. In my opinion, it is Man himself who is the most vicious of creatures. Humans are the ones who kill other living things and each other indiscriminately at will. As I said, animals seem to sense fear. If you freak out in their presence, it causes them to freak out as well. They wonder, “What’s happening? Why is that guy acting so nervously? Is he about to hurt me? I’d better put up my guard.” I’ve never been bitten or attacked by any animal (discounting mosquitoes), because I must not be threatening to them, I guess. I don’t bother them, so they leave me alone as well.
There was a news report a while ago that a Siberian tiger had escaped from his cage at the San Diego Zoo and killed a man in the process of trying to get away. So, of course, the poor tiger was shot and killed, because we can’t have a wild animal running around killing innocent people, now can we? But I am on the side of the animal. How would you feel if you were abducted from your homeland and then imprisoned in a tiny cell, er, cage, as if you were a dangerous criminal but you hadn’t done a damned thing to anybody? Wouldn’t you try to find a way to escape and strike out at anyone who tried to stop you? Some people think that animals have no feelings at all and think that they can do anything they want to them. But apparently the tiger was unhappy being confined like that or else he wouldn’t have tried to escape. They didn’t have to kill him. They could have used a tranquilizer dart on him or something. The fact that tigers are now on the endangered list, makes his murder all the more unfortunate and maddening.
A more recent scandal has arisen with the slaughter of a celebrated Zimbabwean lion named Cecil by dentist Dr. Walter Palmer. The country is in an uproar, deeming Palmer as “the most hated man in America.” The excuse that he proffered was that he didn’t realize that the lion he killed was famous or beloved. But that’s hardly the point, is it? He shouldn’t be killing any wild animals, regardless of their purported notoriety. “Oh, I thought he was just some old, anonymous, insignificant, ghetto lion. I didn’t know that he was beloved by many and was actually known by name.” And Cecil isn’t even the first lion that Palmer has killed. It’s just that this last time he was found out and called on it. Another sick aspect of it all is that Palmer paid $55,000 (!) for the privilege of going on one of these big game hunting safaris. As of this writing, Dr. Palmer is in hiding somewhere, as there are a bunch of people after his hide. Somebody said, “I’d like to mount Palmer’s head on my wall!:
Another recent incident of public outrage concerns the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was shot and killed when a toddler managed to get into the animal’s enclosure. Many, including myself, want to know how the child got into the gorilla’s space in the first place. It appears that he crawled under a fence and then dropped down ten feet into the enclosure. What was the child’s parents doing at the time? They must not have been watching him. The kid was deemed to be in serious danger, but the news footage that I have seen of the encounter appeared to me that the gorilla was not intentionally trying to harm the child. They looked as if they were merely playing. The animal was holding the kid’s hands and romping with him on the ground, perhaps a little too roughly it was thought. But just as with the murdered tiger, this innocent gorilla, although also endangered, its life was not as important as a human child’s and had to be sacrificed. It’s a good thing that there weren’t any trigger-happy hunters around when those jungle apes encountered Baby Tarzan.
I think that some blame must be put on the parents and the zoo officials as well. The fact that any visiting spectator can get that close to the animals should be addressed. I suppose now they will do something about the lax security and safety features at that zoo. And instruct parents to keep an eye on their children while there! I remember a sign on the wild birds’ cage at the Bronx Zoo years ago that read, “Keep your hands outside the bars. These birds will bite your fingers…OFF!” Thanks for the warning.
But speaking of dangerous, uncontrollable simians… Remember King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005 and 2017), that giant, vicious gorilla? Now Kong had lived on that island all those years, staying off to himself, minding his business, not bothering anybody. The natives there even revered him as a benign god. Sure, he abducts Miss White Child, who is given to him as a sacrifice, but he doesn’t harm her in any way. In fact, he keeps trying to protect her. When the marauding interlopers arrive to rescue “the girl,” the first thing they do upon encountering the ape is to start shooting at him! “Let’s kill that savage beast! How dare he run off with one of our women!” Well, how did he get her and why was she there?
But then the head guy gets the bright idea to take Kong back to New York to exploit him for his own gain. But as soon as Kong displays the slightest displeasure of being in this new environment, well then, he has to be destroyed! So those bastards go to all that trouble bringing him here, against his will, only to have him killed when they realize their mistake. They should have left him where he was. Then the jerk who is responsible for what went down has the nerve to blame Ms. Thing. “It was Beauty that killed the Beast,” he declares at the end. No, it wasn’t. It was you greedy, exploitative scumbags who killed him!
There is an old “The Twilight Zone” episode entitled “People Are Alike All Over,” in which Roddy McDowall is an astronaut who lands on Mars and is met with friendly Martian hospitality. They appear to be human (although everyone is Caucasian), they wear clothes and speak English. They escort him to his lodgings, a house equipped with all the normal comforts of an Earthly home. But when Roddy tries to leave the house and discovers that his door is locked and there are no windows to his humble abode, he starts to freak out. Then a wall panel opens up and he is confronted with iron bars and sees a throng of Martian people staring in at him. There is a sign just outside of the bars that reads, “Earth Creature in his natural habitat.” He then realizes that he is on display, like in a zoo, and will have to remain there for the rest of his life. He concludes that people are the same everywhere!
I am not against zoos in themselves. I like the fact that we can view all kinds of different creatures without having to travel to their various natural habitats. But I do object to confining them in cages. There are some zoological gardens that maintain large, unbarred areas where the animals can roam free. Visitors can drive through and look at the animals from their vehicles or get out if they want to take pictures. Why can’t all zoos take this same approach and do away with cages and confined spaces? We have the room.
In 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) a space crew returning from a trip to Venus bring back with them a creature from the planet who is not vicious at all but on the contrary, innocent, confused and frightened. It subsequently escapes its original confines and gets away. While hiding out in a barn, a farmer jabs the “Ymir” with a pitchfork, causing the creature to fight back. So whereas William Hopper and his guys want to protect and study the creature, now some others want to destroy him because he hurt a man. Well, the man attacked him first! He wasn’t bothering anybody. Just like with Kong, they bring this Venusian animal from his homeland, against his will, and then are hellbent on killing him as soon as he gets here. Why don’t they leave things alone?!
(# Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?… #)
The poor wolf is always depicted as a vicious marauder in folklore. They are always stalking and preying on innocent animals like pigs and even little girls. From what I know about them, wolves are not aggressive like that at all. They’re gentle and they stay to themselves most of the time. They’re just a breed of wild dog who have to eat just like everybody else. So what if that wolf or fox raided the hen house? Now, come on, admit it—I’m sure you’d raid it, too, if you got hungry enough! My sympathies always lie with the creatures rather than the humans. In all those giant monster movies, the animals got that way due to some sort of experimentation, radiation tests or ecological negligence on the white man’s part, but then the creatures are punished for being in the situation that the men themselves caused. It’s the same thing that they do with each other.
Let’s consider the plight of our sea creatures. The great white sharks in the Jaws movies and the giant squids in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast are made out to be monsters and the villains of the story. Why is that? A shark’s only raison d’etre is swimming and eating. That’s all it does. And being a fish, it can’t leave the confines of the ocean, so that is where it must find its food. So if that group of sport divers were eaten by sharks or other sea creatures, how are the animals in the wrong? They were hungry, and the divers were available. We do the same thing. And don’t smaller fish go after what’s dangled in the water at them? So, people are bigger, but they are still considered bait just the same. “I’m going to destroy that shark for killing my son!” But, which shark did it, first of all, and what was your son doing lurking around the shark’s domain? It didn’t come up on the shore to get him, did it? Captain Ahab is obsessed with killing Moby Dick because the whale bit off his leg. How did that happen? He didn’t bite off my leg! Ahab has to take some responsibility for being in that situation.
As life imitates art and vice versa, some years ago a 13-year-old surfer girl named Bethany Hamilton, was relaxing on her surfboard off the coast of Kauai, when a large tiger shark swam up and bit off her entire left arm all the way to the shoulder. The girl survived—she didn’t even freak out about it—but her father and some of his friends subsequently went after the alleged shark to destroy it, which they did. How dare that shark look for food in order to live! I mean, what was it thinking? Couldn’t it distinguish a little white child from a sea turtle?!
Another woman was out marlin fishing one day, and I suppose the marlin that she was struggling with just got fed up with people trying to catch it all the time. So the marlin swam up to the boat where the woman was standing, jumped out of the water and speared the woman through her body while trying to pull her into the water with it. The fish was probably thinking, “Bitch, you are going down! I am tired of y’all fuckin’ with me!” Miraculously, the woman survived the attack.
I don’t expect ever to be eaten by sharks or whales, because I’m not intentionally going to be out there where they are! But if it should ever happen, then it’s too bad for me. I certainly won’t fault the animal. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. The animal shouldn’t be blamed for doing what it is supposed to do. Again, an arbitrary value is put on a creature’s life. Humans, especially white men, think that they are certainly more important than an insignificant shark, some stupid snake or tiger. But in Nature’s eyes, we are no better than any other creature. What humans need to realize is that just as we prey on other animals, we have to accept the fact that we ourselves are also prey for other creatures. We kill and eat things from the sea, hence the term seafood, and sea creatures themselves eat other things that they find in the water. So if some guy is swimming around in there with the sharks and other hungry sea creatures at mealtime, then they should expect to become the potential “seafood dinner.“ How dare we blame them for doing the exact same thing to us that we do to them? It’s survival of the fittest, or most clever. The difference is, however, that most animals kill only for self-preservation or to protect their young. Only humans kill other creatures for mere sport.
Being a major carnivore myself, it would be hypocritical of me to protest the killing of all animals for our food supply. But I do object to killing an animal just for the sake of killing it. The hunter who will shoot a deer or a duck out of the air and then walk off and leave it lying there seems senseless to me. Even fishing just for sport with no intention of eating the fish caught seems a bit pointless and wasteful. If you’re not going to eat it, then let the thing live out its natural life. It’s bewildering to me that there are people who actually take great pride in their ability to outwit a fish.
I don’t think that we all should become vegetarians, necessarily. If everybody in the world was a strict vegetarian, there would probably then be a shortage of fruit, vegetables and grains. And then, too, plants are living things that we kill and destroy when we pick them, cut them down and dig them up. But I believe that these things are put here for our own use. We have to eat something, don’t we, to nourish ourselves and to survive. But we carnivores are part of the balance of nature ourselves. At this time, however, there does not seem to be a noticeable shortage of beef cattle, porkers, poultry and seafood. But as soon as any of these creatures become endangered, only then will I worry about giving them up.
Slaughtering poor, defenseless animals just for their furs is cruel and barbarous, too. As I am all for conservation and recycling, I don’t object to the use of animal by-products, but why can’t they wait until the animal dies a natural death? There is nothing that we need so urgently that we should kill an elephant to obtain its tusks. If they want it that badly, find the secret elephant graveyard and get it from the dead animals. Oh, but that’s too much trouble. It’s much easier just to kill the ones right there in front of you. Or as an alternative, plastic piano and organ keys work just as well as ivory ones.
Supply and demand should be determined by natural availability. “I would like a silver fox coat, please.” “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there are no deceased silver foxes at the moment. You’ll just have to wait. Or better yet, why don’t you select one of our imitation furs instead?” The appearance and feel of fake furs are just as nice and they are just as warm. Why do they have to be real? Sure, I love leather, but I can do without it. Please don’t kill anything on my account.
I don’t personally indulge in the killing of any living creature, except for insects that get into my apartment. My justification is that they are unwanted intruders in my domicile. I don’t mind spiders, but I don’t like flies, ants, termites or cockroaches in my house. So with them, it’s either get out or die. Anywhere else, I don’t care what they do. I don’t like gnats and mosquitoes anywhere, indoors or out, but I don’t bother bees, butterflies or any other outdoor insects. I have seen mice in my place on occasion, but I don’t kill them when they get in here, however. I think that mice are cute, and basically harmless. When I had cats, they would get rid of them and take care of any other invading vermin. Mice don’t come in your house to make social calls. They’re looking for something to eat. If they don’t find anything lying around, they will go away on their own. I don’t have to kill them. They don’t say, “I am going to stay right here until you feed me!”
Ogden Nash has a verse that goes, “God in His wisdom made the fly, / And then forgot to tell us why.“ I feel the same about cockroaches and waterbugs. What earthly purpose do they serve anyway? All they do is proliferate, crawl around on anything and everything and eat anything that they are able to. I feel no guilt or remorse when I kill one. My roaches seem to be remiss in their communication skills, incidentally. They most likely have a nest in my kitchen area behind the sink, as that is where they usually emerge from, crawling around on my counter and in the sink itself looking for water perhaps. As they are not very fast in their retreat, I am able to smash them or scald them with hot water from the faucet. Sometimes I will leave them there as a warning to the others, so I would think that when one comes out into the sink and sees their dead homies, they would alert the others and tell them, “Hey, guys, stay in your hole and don’t come out! There is a mad serial killer on the loose! Nobody is safe!” But they never seem to learn and keep dying by the droves. And the fact that I don’t leave any food lying around, their quest for same is futile anyway. As it turns out, their venturing out into the open tends to be a potential suicide mission for them.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s take on his 1963 thriller The Birds, he explains how humankind constantly takes nature for granted. In the case of our feathered friends, they are always being shot at and killed, throttled, strangled, eaten and/or confined in cages. Is it any wonder that they would some day all band together and fight back? In the movie itself, it’s never explained why the birds attacked or if something or someone were compelling them to do so. Mr. Hitchcock has left it up to us viewers to draw our own conclusions about it. I suppose these films, as well other similar ones, could serve as cautionary tales to warn us that if we oppress living beings long enough, whether they be human or beast, they may eventually turn on us, and the resulting situation will be our own undoing.
I have another thing to say in defense of animals. We should stop attributing our negative human traits to innocent animals. “Men are such animals!” you’ll hear people say. In actuality, men are such…men! “My boyfriend treats me like a dog. He beats me and even tried to rape me last night. He was like an animal.” Really? What animals do you know that beat and rape their mates? My guess is that he is an abusive man who treats you worse than he would his dog. An unattractive woman is not a dog either. She’s an unattractive woman. Most dogs are considered cute. To a person who overeats, we might say, “You eat like a pig!” instead of “You eat like a voracious person!” Pigs don’t eat any more food than they require. “He drinks like a fish.” Uh, I don’t think that fish actually drink. Don’t you mean that he drinks like a lush? Let’s stop using animals as, if you’ll pardon the expression, scapegoats for our own human shortcomings, you male chauvinist…men, you. I shall work like a dog, er, I mean, a diligent individual, to obtain some common respect for our animal friends.
We do the same sort of thing to children. Adults refer to many of their own actions as “childish” behavior when they are, in fact, quite adult-like behavior. Childishness should not be synonymous with immaturity. One can act immaturely, but not necessarily childish. Many children are quite mature, regardless of their age, just like many adults can be quite immature, regardless of their age. So in my opinion, the term “childish,” when used in this context, as an insult, is inappropriate, unjustified, disrespectful and condescending. What’s in a word? The verb to kid means to fool, deceive, tease or joke, which suggests that children shouldn’t be taken seriously and everything they say is a joke. “Are you kidding me?…You’ve got to be kidding…I kid you not.”
Why I find that term to be inappropriate and disrespectful is because it is usually adults, not children, that indulge in misleading or derisive behavior. What I consider to be childish attitudes are innocence and unbridled honesty. Children usually speak their minds and call it as they see it. They have not yet learned the adult games of willful pretense, deceit and social decorum. It’s “out of the mouths of babes“ with them! Of course, youngsters can be deliberately cruel, too, especially to their peers, but I think that they pick up that tactic from their elders. In the case of your school bullies, for example, more often than not, you’ll find that they have a guardian or family member who is also a bully.
We should not presume that God makes mistakes of Nature. Whenever an animal or plant specimen is discovered to be different from the accepted norm, it is considered to be a new variety, breed or species. But when a human is born abnormally, it’s regarded as a freak or monster. Why should so-called normality be based on majority? They are just different from somebody else. Let’s consider the canine family, for instance. There are countless breeds of dogs of every shape and size who don’t look anything like each other. You put a Chihuahua, dachshund, pit bull, great Dane and St. Bernard together. Which one is the “freak“? We recognize and accept them all as dogs. They are just different. The same can be said of birds. Look at all the different kinds of birds there are in terms of appearance, but each species is accepted as being what it is and not criticized for not looking like another kind. Maybe these human anomalies are evolutionary mutants, members of a new species themselves or perhaps misplaced prototypes of creatures from somewhere else in the Universe.
Let me now give you a couple of human for-instances. Have you noticed that children born with Down’s Syndrome all have similarities in appearance? They look as if they could be related genetically. The condition is caused by a certain chromosome that occurs in the parent’s genetic makeup. Maybe they belong to their own sub-species. They are not unique, as there are approximately 400,000 Down’s Syndrome people in the United States alone. The same can be said of Little People. I find that dwarfs, particularly, have a similar facial resemblance, as if they, too, are all genetically-related. I don’t believe that is coincidence. Just as it is with dogs, birds and all the other generic creatures, these people have a commonality among them but are still different from one to the next.
There was a television commercial for Bell Helmets that displayed the caption, “Humans are the only species with the ability to reason, and sometimes, they even use it.” I have come to the conclusion that this ability to reason is more often a discredit to our imagined superiority than it is an asset. Our trouble is that we tend to over-intellectualize everything. Thinking makes us too judgmental and moralistic. There is an old adage that says that ignorance is bliss, and it’s true in many cases. Certain knowledge is dangerous and/or nonconstructive. It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more knowledge that humankind obtains, the more stupidly and irresponsibly we behave with that knowledge. In many ways I wish we were more like the animals—more simplistic or less-complex. By animals, I refer to non-human lifeforms.
If animals could talk to us…gee, could they teach us a thing or two! I love the section of Gulliver’s Travels where he visits the land of the Houyhnhnms, a superior race of rational, moral horses, and the life-changing lessons that Gulliver learns from them. They show him that complete honesty in communication is necessary for true knowledge and understanding, and purposely to utter untruths is senseless and counterproductive. He also comes to realize the needlessness of material things. Clothing, for example, is a manmade invention, as we were all born naked. With clothes we need pockets, then we need things to put into those pockets. And that’s where our lives become so complicated. Animals don’t need clothes or pockets (discounting the marsupials) or things with which to fill them.
Whereas animals don’t use any kind of currency or even need it and are not at all concerned with money, our very existence is motivated by it. Our society and civilization have been set up so that we cannot possibly live without it. In fact, we need it to come into the world, certainly to stay here, and even to go out of it. Money may not be at the root of all evil, but it certainly is the motive for much of the wrongdoing in the world. Some people lose all moral sense when it comes to money. They will do absolutely anything for it. They lie, cheat, steal and especially kill for it. It causes avariciousness and it makes people crazy and irrational.
What if there was no such thing as the concept of money, if everything was free? If money was not the end result or motivation behind all human action, people would do things out of mere necessity or their desire to do them. We all would still have to work to create and manufacture and maintain the things we need to live on and give us pleasure. Most money-related crimes are committed because we need something that we can’t afford or we are just greedy and want something that doesn’t belong to us. If no one needed money for anything, there would be no good reason to rob or steal. We could simply go to the store and get what we need or want.
Animals are not into social status and don’t try to impress each other with their appearance and how much they have. I imagine, too, that animals accept the way they are and how they look. Even if they don’t, what can they do about it? They don’t wear makeup and have cosmetic surgery done on themselves. They seem content to be the shape and size that they turn out. If a species specimen does find itself discontent with any aspect of its being, it will employ the process of evolution to effect the necessary changes in future generations. They don’t have the luxury of instant gratification like we do. If we want to change our nose or our whole face, we can get it done more readily.
Animals have no modesty or shame whatsoever. They don’t get embarrassed and have no humility. They are totally uninhibited when it comes to the sex act, for instance. They will sniff each other’s asses and indulge in unprotected sex right out in the open with people watching them. They don’t care. They’re just doing as nature dictates. Animal mothers breast-feed their young in public and no one seems to mind. But people aren’t as unfazed when their own human counterparts do the same thing. Breast-feeding mothers have been banned from the mall, and some have even been arrested for indecent exposure. Animals will relieve themselves in public wherever they please, and they run around without any clothes on and are not at all concerned with what anybody thinks about it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we just take dumps wherever or whenever the mood strikes us, but then again, if we use some discretion and then clean up after ourselves like we do our pets, then I don’t see anything all that wrong with it. And I’m certainly not against public sex. I am an exhibitionist as well as a voyeur. If I like to watch other people exposing themselves and having sex, and who doesn’t, judging from the success of the porno industry, then in all fairness, I shouldn’t mind showing myself off to others. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to. And you had better not mind my looking either. If you don’t want me to see your “bidness,” then cover the shit up! (Check out my piece on Censorship.)
That’s another thing I’ve noticed about human beings, is that they like to hide and conceal their activities from each other, as if nobody else in the world is doing the same thing they are. If that weren’t enough, we can’t just be content committing the consensual sex acts that we enjoy among ourselves, we have to be concerned with what everybody else is doing with each other, and then passing judgment on those activities that we ourselves may or may not engage in. No matter what sexual activity you engage in, no matter how benign or perverse, there is going to be someone who disapproves. Who has the right to decide what should be taboo? Taboos are perpetuated by narrow-minded individuals and remain so because of people’s otherwise desire to keep their regardedly shameful activities secret, often not realizing that there are many people all over the world doing the very same things. We can break down some of these taboos when enough indulgent people decide to bring the matter out into the open for discussion toward acceptance. I believe in chacun à son goût—each to their own taste. Live and let live.
“For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed; He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.” Well, now! Those are lines from a motet that I get to sing on occasion at church. Human beings are a highly-judgmental lot, but we are often guilty of the very things for which we condemn others. People tend to be hypocritical about cannibalism, for one thing, but those practicing Christians sound like a bunch of cannibalistic vampires to me! Cannibalism is defined as “the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.” Now, by our own standards, it’s all right for humans to be carnivores, that is, to eat the flesh of other creatures, but it’s sick and perverted to eat the flesh of other humans. Why? Other animals eat each other. What’s the difference? Meat is meat, isn’t it? There are animals that would eat a human or another of its kind if given the chance, and they would not be considered sick or perverted. It would just be a matter of hunger and availability.
Humans, as a species, have been known to consume virtually any and every kind of creature, whether it be mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or insect, and not only the creatures themselves, but their by-products as well. Some current epicurean “delicacies” are ant eggs, frog fallopian tubes, crème brulee made with bone marrow, exotic cheese which contains live maggots, and coffee brewed from civet shit! Now someone is marketing human breast milk for commercial public consumption, and there are those who are repulsed by the idea. Don’t they realize that all milk and cheese products that they consume on a daily basis come from the teats of animals? And then, too, humans are the only other creatures (aside from cats) who drink the milk from other animals! Just because it’s your own or your mother’s, why should that give you pause to partake of it? How can people be so hypocritical about practically everything?
Most creatures of the world I would not eat voluntarily under normal circumstances, because they don’t appeal to me. But if my life depended upon it, I guess I could stomach a bear or a cat or a snake or a rat, or a human being. But human cannibalism is still a taboo activity, which incites shock and repulsiveness. It is a common plot element in good horror stories and holds more fascination in true-life incidents. Some people will willingly eat a cow but would rather die themselves than eat a cowboy—that is, if they are aware of it. People frequently eat things without knowing what they are. I know that I have come across “mystery meat” on my plate from time to time. I was enjoying some unidentified hors d’oeuvres at a party once, then later discovered the tasty morsels to be smoked eel! Had I known what it was initially, I probably never would have tried it. But considering it, why not? Although snakelike, an eel is just another kind of fish, so what’s unusual about that?
People are even gastronomically selective with certain animals, not just with human flesh. Your basic carnivores don’t have any qualms about eating their favorite fowl or other creature, as long as they don’t know who it is or where it came from. But they feel differently when the Thanksgiving goose or the Sunday dinner pork roast was originally the family’s beloved pet or an animal that they knew. I suppose the rule of thumb is that we don’t want to eat things that have a personal name. If we deign to eat it, we don’t want to know anything about it.
The premise of the sci-fi thriller Soylent Green (1973) is not so far-fetched and quite practical, in my opinion. For those of you not familiar with the film, it takes place in the year 2022 (Goodness! We’re already there!) when the earth is grossly overpopulated and there is a definite food shortage, especially in overcrowded Manhattan. Spoiler alert! By the end of the picture we learn that the coveted, precious foodstuff known as “soylent green” is made of soybeans, lentils and people! Considering that the world is already experiencing widespread hunger, which will only get worse as time goes on, I don’t see anything terribly wrong with finding a way to process human remains into palatable food. That’s better than wasting dead bodies like we do now. I think that we should reuse and recycle whatever we can, even ourselves! I also think that Mrs. Lovett had the right idea, short of murder, that is. (# …What a downright shame, what an awful waste… #)
It seems that modern technology is making us lazier as time goes on. We have virtually all the conveniences of life at our disposal, and we (well, I don’t) take so many things for granted. Fathers used to tell their kids, “Boy, you don’t realize how good you’ve got it. When I was your age, I used to have to walk 5 miles to school and back every day through the cold and snow!” Now these same fathers can tell their grandkids, “Back in my day, we actually had to get up and cross the room to change the TV channels!” I was glad when they came out with Touch-Tone phones and I think that Speed-Dialing is a pretty nifty thing, too, but I have a manually-operated pencil sharpener and I still use a basic, hand-operated can opener. I don’t mind at all putting out that little bit of manual energy to sharpen a pencil or to open a can. It certainly does not save any extra time.
Now they’ve even improved upon speed-dialing by coming up with voice-activated dialing, where instead of having to push one or two buttons on your phone, all you have to do is speak the name of the person you are calling into the phone. We don’t even have to do our own typing if we don’t want to, as that feature is now available for our computers. I happen to love typing. It’s conducive to my digital dexterity. But I think that the height of indulgence is the new voice-activated remote control! This is for the guy who is too lazy even to press a button! I suppose, however, that this gadget and the others would be useful for a paraplegic or a person with missing limbs, who would be unable to push a button manually.
Don’t get up to turn off the lights. Just clap your hands once or twice. Why bother to be constantly changing records during your party or while you’re working on a project? We now have CD players which can play nonstop for several hours. Automated Teller Machines allow us to do our banking and get ready cash anytime we need it, at any hour of the day. My toaster oven bakes, toasts and broils, and my microwave oven can cook a large potato in about five minutes. What a great invention is the word processor! How did we get by so long without it? And with the growing internet and World-Wide Web, all human knowledge is now, literally, at our fingertips. We don’t even have to leave the house to find out anything anymore or even to buy anything, when virtually all consumer products and services are available for purchase via one’s home computer. Practically everything has been computerized, including your daily news and weather report, postal services, all manner of games, books, music generators (sound and notation), TV cable boxes and other common household gadgets and appliances, even clocks and watches.
I enjoy most of these great conveniences just like everybody else, so why is it that the more neat stuff that becomes available to us, presumably to make our lives less hectic and less stressful, are we never satisfied? We always want more. One would think that these products would make people more amiable with each other and appreciative. But on the contrary, people, in general, seem to be more hostile and more ill-tempered than ever before. They are rude, inconsiderate, and sometimes would rather throttle you than utter a friendly “good morning.” There seems to be so much unhappiness in the world, and I don’t understand it. I have to live here, too, and I am subject to the same crap (more, in some cases) that everybody else has to endure on a day-to-day basis. But even in adverse situations, I manage to maintain my composure and good humor and common courtesy toward my neighbors. But then, of course, I guess I shouldn’t expect everybody to be like me, should I?
The human animal is also good for justifying everything that they do. That way, it relieves their guilt and responsibility for their actions. I discuss the barbaric, centuries-long practice of youth castration in my A Critique of Catholicism article. Man has always been imaginative in ways of mutilating himself and others. A less severe operation than castration that is still perpetuated even today, but nonetheless is pointless and unnecessary, in my opinion, is forced circumcision. They have all sorts of excuses and justifications for that, too, but I’m sorry, to cut off part of a boy’s penis without his consent should be a punishable crime. If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is. First of all, the procedure must be traumatic for the child, and then he doesn’t have any say-so in the matter. I give you the Judaic explanation for the ritual, absurd as it is, in my blog, For the Bible Tells Me So.
I once asked my mother why I was spared the ordeal of circumcision, as my older brother, Earl, was not so lucky. She told me that it was my father who forbade it. Earl’s delivery physician, Dr. Mott, apparently took it upon himself to circumcise my brother without first getting my parents’ consent. Fortunately, my dad made sure that the same thing would not happen to me. He, like me, thought that it is an unnecessary and cruel procedure. I’m glad that he did.
I am aware that there are tribes all over the world that practice all sorts of tortures and mutilation rituals on girls as well as boys, but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, does it? The centuries-long tradition of foot-binding of Japanese women, for example, was certainly a senseless and inhumane practice. But we, in this country, are supposed to be more civilized than that, aren’t we? Do you still think that male circumcision is a harmless, relatively insignificant practice? Then how would you like to have all of your penile skin removed? There was a procedure (at least I hope it is no longer performed) by some sadistic tribesmen somewhere in the world, in which the penis of a boy was stripped of the skin along its entire length in front of his father and his intended bride. If the boy cried out, his father would kill him for being a coward and unworthy of manhood. A great percentage of the boys died anyway from trauma, as a result of the operation. I wonder how they are supposed to accomplish intercourse with a skinless penis? In some primitive ceremonies the penis was slit along its length as deep as the urethra. Now I ask you, how can anyone justify such cruelty on their own children?! I just don’t get it.
I attribute many of humankind’s prevailing conservative and prudish attitudes about a lot of things to the Victorian era, the influence from which we have never fully recovered. Queen Victoria reigned for 64 years, so that’s several generations of influence. When she ascended the throne in 1837, she issued a “Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality.” In other words, “Life is not to be enjoyed.” Among other things, the document outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages and the playing of cards, dice, or any other game on Sunday, either in public or private, and it commanded that people attend church. One Victorian Era manual of decency and decorum, Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, cautioned against placing books by female authors next to books by male authors on any bookshelf. The only exception was if the authors in question had been married to each other in real life. How silly is that?
A pamphlet on marital sex practices warned that fellatio causes cancer of the tongue. If that were the case, mine would have rotted off decades ago! Another claimed that seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused and that inadvertent orgasms often resulted from the up-and-down motion of their legs while using their sewing machines. But so? I think that people should be allowed to get it where and how they can! Of course, the very idea of contraceptives was completely out of the question. Birth control advocates Edward Foote and Margaret Sanger got into loads of trouble for distributing “obscene” and “heretic” literature which advocated the right of women to decide when, or even whether, to have children.
During the Victorian era, masturbation caused such hysterical anxiety among doctors and parents, that curing it became an obsession. It was believed that masturbation caused everything from acne to epilepsy to mental retardation to death. Some of the torturous and extreme “cures” that innocent children had to endure were: erection alarms, straitjacket pajamas, ice water enemas, spiked cock rings, infibulation (that’s fastening the foreskin shut with clamps, staples, or by sewing!), the German bandage (a genital suit of armor with lock and key, similar to a chastity belt), Kellogg’s breakfast cereals (?!), and ultimately, castration.
(# Beat it, just beat it!… #)
It would seem that some corporate attitudes about this practice have not changed, when former Surgeon-General Jocelyn Elders can be fired for merely suggesting that masturbation should be taught and encouraged as a safe-sex alternative. At least, that was the excuse they gave for her dismissal. But ironically and hypocritically as well, during the same period, when women in the throes of hysteria were put in asylums, the staff there would induce these women to orgasm to relieve their stress. This certainly alleviated their suffering; it must be what they needed. But they didn’t refer to it as induced orgasm, as masturbation was not permitted, you see. They called it “hysterical paroxysm.” Don’t you love that? There is a 2011 British film called Hysteria (or rather “Hersteria”), which deals with that very thing. It also depicts the inspiration for the invention of the vibrator!
And of course, Americans would like to think that we are smarter than everybody else. NASA spent millions of dollars trying to come up with some kind of writing implement that would defy gravity to be able to write in outer space. Well, those wily Russians, for one, beat us to the punch. They used a pencil!
[Related article: Confessions of a “Petophile”]