With catlike tread (sumac) Sat 18 Sep 10 10:14
Yes, a bit. I still think that it can't be because we feel threreatened by animals. I now surmise it's because we tend to have a guilty conscience about our species eminence. As individuals we secretly know how irrational and passionate we can be -- how animal -- and we deny that by promoting the (not-wrong) image of our species as rational and intellectual. Or so I suspect.
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Sat 18 Sep 10 11:54
hmm. i guess i so often see animals as 'rational' (problem-solving, have realistic responses to their challenges and environments).... do you think the people who have such a stake in We Are Not Animals are people also dedicated to a cult of rationality? that hasnt necessarily been my experience.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Sat 18 Sep 10 20:16
seems to me, loris, that people who are dedicated to a "cult of rationality" would be the least likely to be saying "We are not animals." Looked at rationally, we're obviously part of the continuum (sp?), not separate from it. But I don't mean to answer for Susan, and she may have a different take on this. But, speaking of rationality, I'm wondering if there have ever been studies about tiny living things that arouse human beings' "ack! ack! get away from me!" fear response irrationally. I mean, it's rational for us to be afraid of mountain lions, of bears and other predators that are large enough to make food of us. Even a fear of skunks (or a wariness of them, at least) seems rational. But why, for example, are most people squicked out by spiders? Sure, there are some spiders that can cause us some serious injury. But I don't live in an area where spiders are a big threat to my life or my health. Yet when I see a spider, I have an instant "ack ack, get away from me!" moment. It takes a lot of effort on my part to calm down and carefully capture the tiny thing with a glass and piece of paper and cart it outside to release it. Susan, what's our big Spider Fear based in? Do you know of any studies about this? Do you have your own theory?
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 19 Sep 10 12:15
While we are waiting for Susan to reply, I'd like to say that I did not used to be afraid of spiders until I was bitten by one that has left me with permanent itching on my right leg. My own personal opinion is that many people are afraid of spiders because some are poison and most spiders are so small that it's hard to tell them apart. Yet in the irrational world of animal fear, I know a woman who is terrified of pigeons.
(martyb) Sun 19 Sep 10 12:29
I'm going to rephrase my question that I removed above: in your animal writing and religious writing have you had any interesting interactions with people who reject evolution in favor of the creationist/intelligent design ideas?
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 12:57
(loris), I think there are many people not particularly devoted to rationality who also idly enjoy thinking of themselves as rational, just as there are people who aren't interested in technology (except as consumers) who enjoy thinking of themselves as members of a uniquely technological species, etc.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 13:23
(peoples), here's my theory on bug/spider fear. There may be studies on this subject that I'm not aware of, so this is merely my hypothesis. First, do keep in mind that not everybody has this. There are people who pick up spiders, people who calmly watch mosquitoes drink their blood, etc. Second, I don't think bug-hatred is so irrational. Parasite load can kill animals. The fact that those of us having this discussion don't have fleas, body-lice, and head lice is a huge modern luxury. Bugs seldom walk up to us and kill us dead with one chomp, but they can still kill us more slowly (through carrying diseases like malaria, yellow fever, dengue, etc.) to this day. In our evolutionary past this was probably even more of a danger. And bugs killign us with a single chomp (poisonous spiders, centipedes, etc) while not tha common, isn't a negligible danger in our fairly recent past. So I suspect that bug-terror is like snake-terror, a subject on which I am aware of some studies. (I wrote about this a bit in Becoming A Tiger.) In short, we are not born afraid of snakes, and if nothing sets us off, we will not be afraid of snakes. But we *are* born with a readiness, a predeliction, to be afraid of snakes. A sort of genetic Mad Lib that says "Those long skinny wiggly _____s are terrifying!" For this readiness to be triggered one doesn't have to have a bad experience with a snake -- seeing another person afraid of a snake is often enough. There are lots of experiments with primates that demonstrate this nicely. Rhesus monkeys are not automatically frightened of snakes, but can learn snake-fear almost instantly, including by seeing another monkey react fearfully. So, easy to teach them to fear snakes. Hard to teach them to fear watering-cans, or flowers, or pictures of Sarah Palin. (Last example fictional.) So I think we have a readiness to fear bugs/spiders, one which makes evolutionary sense, and which is very easily triggered. Which is in fact easily triggered whether we like it or not. I wish spiders didn't make me jump, but they do. AS they do my mother, as they did my grandmother.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 13:32
(martyb), mostly I've had brief, dull interactions with creationists -- "That's just what I believe WITH ALL MY HEART!" I've had a few slightly more intriguing interactions with humanities-side academics who are suspicious of evolution because they've encountered too many evolutionary-biology-inflected arguments about the immutability of gender roles, social Darwinism, etc. In these cases it's not something they've gone into, it's not their field, they just view with suspicion and refuse to accept (until such time/lifetime as they can delve into it) inimical ideas presented as Evolution Proves It! gospel. Have I explained that adequately?
Paula Span (pspan) Sun 19 Sep 10 14:06
I wonder, though, if some fear of insects, snakes, arachnids, etc. is that non-mammals look less like US. You can't see eyes and faces sometimes. There are too many limbs, or no limbs. They're the Other, and that's scary in itself.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 14:17
That doesn't bother us about plants.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 19 Sep 10 15:43
But plants are rooted in the ground, and don't steathily enter our homes and walk around.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 18:38
Tell that to the nasturtiums next to my back door.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 18:42
A blog post: <http://natureofbeast.typepad.com/the_nature_of_the_beast/2010/09/what- shall-i-do-with-this-prehensile-tail.html>
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sun 19 Sep 10 20:57
Thank you. That was delightful. Only now I have tail envy.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 19 Sep 10 22:54
Susan, thanks for that url to your blog. Could you talk about your blogging> For example, since one great thing about a blog is that you have no editors, can you say whatever you want? If so, do you say whatever you want? Do you have to pull punches? .'
With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 20 Sep 10 09:45
I can say whatever I want, but I don't always. There's the matter of what people are interested in reading. I get an quite a few hits from people who are looking for information on woodchuck or groundhog scat. I suppose these are people in the Midwest or on the east coast trying to figure out if they have groundhogs in their yard. Early on, I posted about groundhogs in a friend's yard in Massachusetts, and some scat that it was accused of leaving. (The Horror at Arlington I called it, because my friend and I used to read H.P. Lovecraft together: <http://natureofbeast.typepad.com/the_nature_of_the_beast/2008/the-horror- at-arlington.html> That post also gets some hits from Europeans looking for a certain kind of pornography, but they are by far in the minority. Anyway, I sometimes think that perhaps I should Give the People What They Want, and post extensively about groundhog/woodchuck scat, with photos! and drawings! and fun projects to do with the kids! But I don't.
With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 20 Sep 10 09:58
As far as pulling punches, there're interesting issues to do with what people like to read. They don't want to read about animals dying, and they say so. But animals do die. People don't like to read about environmental harms, although they don't say so much. (Because they think they *should* read about it.) I have mixed feelings about this. I think environmental writing in recent decades has collectively been guilty of a huge strategic error, producing volumes of writing about how Doom Approaches and There's Nothing You Can Do About It, Nothing. ' People don't like to feel sad and helpless, so they don't read that stuff, because they don't want to despair. The mainstream press has been worse about this than focused environmental publications -- the Sierra Club, Audubon, etc., don't want to make members turn away, so they talk about what can actually be done, what has been done that worked, etc. Whereas publications that run only the occasional environmental story are far more ready to hype them into Big Stories by emphasizing doom and doom's impact. I don't want to harp on bad stuff, and I don't want to ignore bad stuff. I think it's wrong to make people feel helpless. (It's inaccurate, too.) But I think I have to be careful about going too far in the other direction and just talking about the bunnies hopping in the meadow without ever mentioning that Bunny Meadow Estates will start bulldozing in March.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Mon 20 Sep 10 10:07
Try http://natureofbeast.typepad.com/the_nature_of_the_beast/groundhogs/ for that Arlington scat story. My little town! As far as wild carnivores with stinky scat - we've got coyotes, foxes, and the more-than-occasional stray dog. And we have much debate between those who see the Coyotes as our little slice of Nature to protect, and those who see a small-housepet-munching threat to our little slice of Suburbia.
Scott Underwood (esau) Mon 20 Sep 10 10:18
So, the zoo story had a nice little bit of ju jitsu in the line just before frozen daiquiris, listing the criteria by which a concerned biologist would rate a zoo. In fact, that little line helped me change my opinion of zoos as mostly outdated and potentially harmful places, which might have been more effective than a longer rant against bad zoos or a piece on What I Will Do When I Become King of the Zoos.
With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 20 Sep 10 10:47
(betsys), thank you for the better URL! (esau), how interesting that is. It wasn't done on purpose, but it's an example of how people pick things up best. Not by a lecture directed at them, but by noticing attitudes in passing. Animals too. The best way for a person to teach an orangutan something, it seems, is to let the orangutan watch while the person tries to teach it to *a different orangutan.* The passerby learns better than the pupil.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 20 Sep 10 15:28
That's fascinating, Susan. I am still wondering what kind of porn the European could possibly associate with groundhogs. Perhaps it's best that I can't imagine this.
With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 20 Sep 10 16:11
Oh pure-minded one. It is "scat" that is the relevant search term. Apparently "Susan" and "Marc" are also relevant names TO JUDGE ONLY BY THE SEARCH TERMS that sometimes lead to my blog.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Mon 20 Sep 10 20:33
Love the zoo story. Reading it I noticed how your style sometimes reminds me of Steve Rubenstein, former Chronicle staff writer.
(martyb) Mon 20 Sep 10 22:25
Has getting to know all these different animals and animal species made you interested in acquiring some new animals of your own?
With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 20 Sep 10 23:03
Oooh, yes, but also more cautious. It's maddening that California forbids keeping ferrets. I've never spent much time with a mustelid. Oddly, my SO seems to bear up under this tyrannical regulation with great stoicism.
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