Flavin's Corner
9-17-99

In Our Own Image

But if oxen (and horses) and lions had hands or could draw with hands and
create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods
like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen, and they would make the bodies (of the
gods) in accordance with the form that each species itself possesses.
Xenophanes, c.570-475 BCE

     We're always limited by what we don't know and sometimes by our general
inefficiency at describing the things we do know about.  Often, when considering
non-human life-forms and non-living things, we utilize various figures of speech
to convey a forced similitude between human characteristics and miscellaneous
non-human/non-living examples.  We personalize indiscriminately.  Whether this
dog is a "good boy" or that hurricane seems like a "Floyd," we practice
anthropomorphism in a near habitual fashion.  It may seem like a mighty big "if,"
but what if besides making others in our own image, they could make us in
their's?

     Recently I happened upon a couple of online articles which claimed the
existence and practice of "prostitution" among penguins.  The tawdriest of the
two headlined with "ANTARCTIC SHOCKER: FILTHY ICE BIRDS ARE
WHORES!" [Click  here  (if you must).]  The second article was a tad less vulgar
with "Pick up a penguin."  [Read further  here.]  Both online articles were based
upon a short mention of ongoing scientific research published in the journal Auk
(a quarterly put out by the respected American Ornithologist's Union) and later
trivialized in the British rag, the Daily Telegraph.  Now, in all fairness, it's not
just the poor judgment and manners of rag-writers that I'm calling attention to,
but rather the basic similitudes sometimes used and advanced by scientific
researchers.  Fowl hookers?

     The researchers involved with the study also allowed for a couple of vague
interpretations such as "extra-pair copulation" to increase future genetic
variability or to simply establish other relationships in case their respective mates
are killed in some unexpected accident.  I would not wish to be on the other end
of conjecture and projection...

     Filthy Ice Bird #1:  Hey, see those creatures over there?
     Filthy Ice Bird #2:  Yes...
     Filthy Ice Bird #1:  Do you want to know why they cover their bodies?
     Filthy Ice Bird #2:  No, but you're going to tell me anyway...
     Filthy Ice Bird #1:  They're ashamed of their naked censored...

     At the  Llamapaedia  website an interested reader may discover the economic
benefits ranchers might gain from employing llamas to guard their sheep.  The
loyalty and tenacity of llamas appear to be admirable to a certain degree,
however, like many a shepherd left alone in the field too long, some llamas
develop sexual urges toward their flock.  The website contains the info that "A
250 to 300 pound llama on top of a 125 to 200 pound sheep can easily lead to
severe injuries or death from suffocation."  Is this more of the same conjecture
and projection?  Who are we to say the sheep didn't ask for it?  Perhaps it may
be reduced to an accusation of voyeurism and...

     Llama:  Hey, I'm busy here!

     Most of us have a habit of extending human traits and morals to other
lifeforms and inanimate things, but some do not.  Even though we're confronted
with limited vocal expressions and grammar, there are those who ...attempt to
speak the truth, the whole truth, and not cavort with metaphor and analogy.
Others, rather unfortunately, don't allow for human characteristics to be applied
to non-humans ...because they're wired differently.  Like the android "replicants"
from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (the film version of Philip K. Dick's novel, Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), some suffer from alexithymia and can't
describe or recognize emotions.  Ouch!

     The soldier in battle, the cop chasing a crook, a doctor treating the sick, are
but a few examples when (ideally) little or no emotion is exercised.  Mr. Spock,
the Vulcan/human hybrid from the television series Star Trek, suppressed his
emotions intentionally, while Data, the android from Star Trek: The Next
Generation, sought out an "emotion-chip" to experience 'feelings' and better
know what it is to be alive, rather than merely activated.  Feelings and emotions
then, at least to some degree, are often used to qualify humanity.  Yet, here's the
rub--do animals have 'feelings' or are they dumb brutes reacting from genetic
instincts for survival, sex, and food?

     J. M. Masson has argued for the presence of animal emotions in his When
Elephants Weep: The emotional lives of Animals (click  here  to read an excerpt),
claiming that it's humans who, like Mr. Spock, deny emotion and seek to
become emotionless.  As science moves closer to achieving a machine capable of
artificial intelligence, we're at risk of becoming 'machines' ourselves.  Perhaps the
animals may have a few things to teach us after all...  [Note: for an online reprint
of a Time Magazine article, "The EQ Factor," and the importance of emotion,
click  here.]

     As some try to communicate with non-human species (dolphins, whales,
chimps, apes, and Republicans), others are busy listening for signals from outer
space in hopes of conversing with extraterrestrials.  These actions are, of
course, hubristic, in that there's a grand assumption that animals and aliens wish
to talk with us.  We would be wise to talk to each other, establish peaceful
dialogues throughout the human population, before we seriously attempt
non-human discussions.  Humanity is still at war with itself and its various deities
and if Xenophanes was right, it may be that the animals follow a different
discipline and are not concerned with us.  Only time will tell who's behavior,
ours or the animals, is more aberrant.

booking passage to the South Pole,
Rick

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