Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Anthro-zoology: Human-Animal Relations

Originally posted on October 5, 2011

I was stimulated by a book recently published titled Some we love, some we hate, some we eat: Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals, by Hal Herzog (New York: HarperCollins, 2010.) This book is fun and delightfully varied, addressing many aspects of pet ownership, why we eat some animals and not others, and so forth. There’s a whole field that’s grown up called “anthrozoology,” and , a new term for the field of animal-human relations. The author notes on page 18 that there are around a hundred and fifty courses on this subject around the country, and institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Perdue, and the University of Missouri have established anthrozoological research centers. Wow! I hadn’t known about this emerging field.

Part of the significance for me is that this book represents yet another cross-disciplinary field! I love this venturing into all sorts of arenas, and what I especially like about this book is that the field is as much psychology and social psychology as it is anything. Discovering new ventures and emerging fields gives me hope and helps me feel vital (or “young at heart”).

I confess that this blog entry is only slightly a “book review.” Mainly these ideas take off from something in or about the book that’s captured my interest. I don’t pretend that this is a competent “book review.” Perhaps some day I’ll come back and write another essay on another point raised in this or that book. That’s okay, too.

Anyway, the point of the book is that human-animal relations are full of paradox and no rational pattern can be discovered. Some slight elements are notable, such as the way humans relate to animals that seem “cute,” and that quality partakes of “neoteny” or the approximation of the object to how a baby human looks. Thus we find ourselves drawn to feeling nurturing to baby pandas—or even adult pandas!—but not to baby spiders. There is clearly the dynamic of projecting our own inner images of babies (cute) or shadow (spider-snake “yikes, it’s gonna ‘get’ me!) onto animals, and this dynamic of projection fits with my interest in the many ways we superimpose our own emotions and instincts on the outside world.

Another perspective: I see this book as pressing forward the gradual emergence of the capacity to think about the ways we think (also known as psychological mindedness or ‘meta-cognition’). I’m all for this tendency: It fits my myth of what my life and the world is about: We are helping the world and the cosmos to evolve from inanimate to animate, from insentient to sentient, and from sentient to reflectively conscious life. I see the universe or God as enjoying this adventure, and it’s a grand and glorious project and story for our species and for the cosmos as a whole.

I see the move into consciousness as generating an ever-widening and deepening field of creativity and discovery. The frontiers of this have been hinted at by mystics and visionaries, but it need not be in any sense sanctimonious. That is to say, the nature of this expanding field owes as much to continued discoveries in science as to experiments at the edge of esoteric thought, what used to be called “magick,” contemplation, etc. I think it’s clear to me that all these, and all the forms of Yoga and other so-called “spiritual” ventures, are probing these many frontiers of consciousness. It is as a branching tree, and it should be that way—that’s the way consciousness  operates: There may be some common themes, but individuation, the creative constructions of psychic forms, belief systems, eccentric notions, and so forth, enjoys the confluence of many factors that give each person’s “reality” its own qualitative environment. (And how we imagine science, its promise, and its discoveries, also are interpreted from the perspective of our deeper viewpoints, our states of consciousness.)

Back to the book itself: I do think it would serve as a core text or at least peripheral reading in the  aforementioned classes, and also as an associate reading for all those idealists or counter-idealists who are wrestling with our cultural values as they are in transition. (I’m talking about our cultural attitudes towards all sorts of themes from dog breeding to cock fights, from hunting to mass animal breeding for food, from pets to pet therapy.)

Related topics: I have some acquaintances who think they can psychically pick up what animals are thinking or feeling, or have greater than usual sensitivity to horses or other animals. I’m curious to see what they’ll think of this book.

And it’s fun to widen my awareness of the lore of animals. Last year I was impressed with a delightful review of the lore of animals in a book by Jeffrey Masson. He clearly aims at raising our consciousness in that direction. All this also bridges to a related interest I have in the nature of play, and in this case, animal play—and again, those phenomena have enjoyed further study and some recent books, such as Animal Play (Hey, making this link showed me that the author, Marc Bekoff, has written a number of more recent books related to this topic!) or The Genesis of Animal Play. In summary, this book, the field of anthro-zoology, and the like broaden our awareness of the complexities of other parts of our planet. Psycho-ecology, in general, invites us to consider all that we have subjugated and until recently only evaluated in terms of what value (mainly economic) they might have for us. We are invited to open our minds and hearts to the idea that although not reflectively conscious, sentient beings might deserve to be included in our circle of caring.

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