inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #26 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #27 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #28 of 124: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #29 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #30 of 124: (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? 
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #31 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #32 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #33 of 124: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #34 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #35 of 124: With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 14:17
    
That doesn't bother us about plants.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #36 of 124: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #37 of 124: With catlike tread (sumac) Sun 19 Sep 10 18:38
    
Tell that to the nasturtiums next to my back door.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #38 of 124: 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>
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #39 of 124: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sun 19 Sep 10 20:57
    
Thank you.  That was delightful.  Only now I have tail envy.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #40 of 124: 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?
.'
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #41 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #42 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #43 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #44 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #45 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #46 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #47 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #48 of 124: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #49 of 124: (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?
  
inkwell.vue.392 : The Writings of Susan McCarthy
permalink #50 of 124: 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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