A big word which means ‘ascribing the same thoughts/feelings as humans to other species’.
We’re not supposed to ascribe similar emotional responses to animals, even when they’re clearly facing a situation that we can imagine ourselves being in and display responses that look just like the response a human might produce in that situation.
Why not? It’s been demonstrated in numerous studies and experiments that animals – and by that I mean humans and all other animals, because we are animals too! – all have the same responses to a stimulus. We all produce the same nerve responses to painful stimuli. We all use the same chemicals as neurotransmitters in our brains. We all risk ourselves for the safety of our young – even insects. Stir up an ant heap and they run to save the larvae, not themselves! Whether the fish hook is stuck in a fish’s mouth or a human finger, the chemical and nervous response is identical, right down to the exact area of the brain that’s affected.
So what, exactly, makes humans any different? What arrogance, to assume no other species can experience the world as we do, in any way, just because we’re human and they’re not!
Like many people, I have a ‘day job’. Mine involves driving a minibus at the crack of dawn to pick up workers for a factory. It pays the bills, I see the countryside (and wildlife) before most people are up and I just have to live with the carbon footprint and the exposure to roadkill because I have dependents to feed and bills to pay. The carbon footprint is an uncomfortable niggle, but sometimes the roadkill breaks my heart.
This morning, I went along a particular stretch of road on my route and the headlights picked up a sad bundle of feathers in the carriageway. A young tawny owl. As I always do, I apologised under my breath for the carnage my species wreaks and commended the poor baby’s soul to the gods. I often stop and move the corpse off the road, so it doesn’t attract scavengers in, who also get killed, but this morning I had someone right behind me so I didn’t stop.
Ten minutes later I came back with a load of passengers and glanced sideways at the corpse, only to see an adult owl standing over the youngster.
This is the bit that particularly broke my heart today.
The parent bird had a small mammal in his or her beak.
When I came back half an hour later for my second load of passengers, the adult was gone and something large had gone over the youngster, reducing the body to mush.
We’re not supposed to anthropomorphise, but damn it!
How would you feel if you spent months rearing your chick, just got them flying, and then you spend all night finding them a meal…. and there they are. Squashed in the road, left lying without any care by their murderer.
I went back after I’d finished at work and picked up a few wing feathers. That’s all that I could find of a beautiful young bird who should have been learning to hunt, finding a territory soon, and bringing new owls into the world next year. I’ll keep those feathers and honour the owl, but I won’t easily forget that terrible glimpse of a bereaved parent standing over their slain child, left lying in the road. A senseless death.
Would it kill us to slow down a bit, so the young birds have a chance to avoid us? They’re barely off the ground, their muscles are weak, they can’t fly fast, accelerate hard or make speedy manoeuvres because they haven’t learned how! They’re babies! Even adult owls are not fast, agile creatures – they sacrifice that for silence, so they can hunt in stealth through the quiet night hours. They fly low, because they’re listening for the heartbeat of a mouse in the grass. That takes them across roads at windscreen height, and too often they’re hit by a ton of metal and glass moving at 60mph or more.
What chance have fragile, hollow bones, soft silent feathers and millions of years of evolution for a specialised ecological niche against that?
I am sorry, young owl. I apologise for the unthinking, uncaring carnage my species brings to this world. May your soul go swiftly to your gods, and may your next life be better.
As I read your blog, my heart too fills with grief. It is such a delicate dance we step in this world, and too many of us seem either indifferent or ignorant or unaware of the way we seemingly bludgeon our way through our lives. So I too am sorry for the ending of such a young life, too soon.
Re anthropomorphism, my thinking is that we have to use some familiar language, ways of thinking, ways of understanding etc within our own species, to try and work out what is going on before us, when it comes to living with and amongst other species. What we have experienced before in such/similar a situation, for me, are our only guidance/directions to help us work out how to respond/react. A starting point I guess. We have to start somewhere…. no different in trying to work out a new born’s/non verbal child’s needs or wants. Doesn’t always work and of course there are possibly other subtle nuances playing out too which we may miss, but at least we are trying…. these are just my thoughts here…..
Great subject to discuss! Thank you 🙂