A dense and sometimes confusing book, especially in passages that talk more in the abstract realm. Cataloging actual examples of nonsense types helps,A dense and sometimes confusing book, especially in passages that talk more in the abstract realm. Cataloging actual examples of nonsense types helps, but even here, sometimes she uses the same examples for different types. For example, she uses Finnegan's Wake and Lost in the Funhouse to demonstrate both "playing with infinity" and "playing with simultaneity." Overall, her use of framing and play theory is useful in looking at both folklore and literary examples of common sense vs. nonsense operations, but the prose is a bit difficult to wade through at times....more
I read this for personal edification, though I can see this being useful in my academic work on disability and critiques of normalcy. What Bourke exceI read this for personal edification, though I can see this being useful in my academic work on disability and critiques of normalcy. What Bourke excels at in archival research and breadth of perspective, she lacks in strong analytical explanation, coherence, and relevance. Sometimes the examples seemed so extreme and obscure that they were included more for charm than as actual representative examples of social discourses on constructing the human. I also found her tone a bit annoyingly glib and judgmental.
However, overall this is a really interesting look at how categories such as animal, woman, disabled, and racial other have been essential to constructing a dominant Western notion of the "human." Bourke points out, though, that these boundaries are constantly shifting, and there has been no good, objective way of defining the human. Bourke also deals with the problems of prejudice/anti-prejudice discourse, as both tend to dehumanize their opponents, while claiming their own humanity. Another issue Bourke takes up is the somewhat problematic but perhaps unavoidable appeal to "human rights" as a means to social justice. Like Bourke, I agree that rights seem the best approach we have, so long as we aren't being essentialist.
The conclusion on "Negative Zoelogy" is pretty intriguing, arguing for a contingent, adaptable approach to examining humanity and life itself. This seems to go along with my interest in disability, which looks at it as an unstable, contingent, but necessary category. I'd like to see more exploration of this concept in further work....more
A dense, wide-ranging, intelligent, cantankerous and contentious book that lambastes everyone and everything from pastoral farmers to modern urban socA dense, wide-ranging, intelligent, cantankerous and contentious book that lambastes everyone and everything from pastoral farmers to modern urban society, from almost every major world religious tradition (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), to Plato and 99% of philosophers, from the domestication of animals and the abuses of factory farms to animal rights activists, from insidious myths to the cartoons of Gary Larson. Looking at representations and relational behaviors toward animals across time and culture, the book feels sprawling and overwhelming at times—best read slowly, with skepticism and patience.
Shepard’s ecological outlook demands a more integrated and earthly kind of life, one that embraces the paradox that we cannot be human without animals, and that animals are irreducibly Other. They are not “friends,” companions, objects to be tamed, dominated, or protected by charity. They embody wildness, change, life and death. The problem in our thinking is not only that we are cruel to animals (or other humans), but that our abstract thinking and disconnect with nature makes us forget how to live in the world, to know who we are. We are obsessed with avoiding pain, sickness, and death, and these denials cause our alienation and emptiness, our over-consumption and over-population. Writing, abstract thinking, and the domestication of animals (which, in the case of the horse, allowed for greater mobility, denser human settlements, centralized political power, and the waging of war on a wider scale) have led to an unhealthy, unbalance way of life.
Shepard proposes a return to a hunter-gatherer way of life. Animal lovers will object to his characterization of the keeping of pets as slavery, of Disney cartoons as the worst kind of infantilizing, while animal rights activists will object to his generalizations about them as facile absolutists who see animals in terms of political objects to be protected and kept from human contact, rather than as co-habitants of nature who share our lived reality. It may confuse some readers to see him condemn the nightmare and absurdity of factory farms on the one hand, the fat and stupid cow as the embodied monster of the worst excess of civilization, but then on the other hand to extol the sanctity of hunting, the eating of freshly killed meat as a ritual of becoming in which animals make us, literally, from the inside-out.
Despite the many generalizations, the various places one could quibble or take offense at his views, much of what he says makes sense. He tempers his generalizations with specific examples and a stunning array of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on disciplines such as ecology, anthropology, psychology, literary and art criticism, and science. The scope helps to trace how our attitudes have evolved (or devolved) over time, and how virtually no society is exempt from the forms of dangerous thinking and practice that he critiques, but he does have more respect for the wisdom of indigenous and pagan cultures. He does not necessarily disavow all forms of “culture,” and his wide knowledge of art, novels, and poetry suggests the ambivalent valences of human craft. On the one hand, it can be a divisive and stigmatizing force. On the other hand, for Shepard, these crafts are especially beneficial when they are performed with the respect and humility of a simpler, more integrated mindset, one in which death, disease, plants, and animals are neither positive nor negative, but parts of the world to be dealt with, through ritual and ceremony as much as through hunting and gathering. Making music with bones and horns, wearing skins and feathers and dancing with animal-masks, makes more sense to him than being entertained by dancing animals in circuses or silly cartoons. Eating freshly-killed deer and fowl, or gathered nuts, berries, and fruits makes more sense to him than consuming cows or grain bred by distant, bloated agro-businesses. One of his other books is titled Coming Home to the Pleistocene, and if that book’s title is any indication, The Others seems to make a similar call that a return to prehistory is the best way to move into a less disastrous future.
I don’t agree with everything Shepard claims, and I’m not always even sure what his point always is, between the generalizations and the exhaustive list of specific examples that do not always have a clear connection. Still, I found the book highly enjoyable. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the role of animals in ecology, evolution, or culture....more
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Although dealing with a somewhat "dry" subject (as legal & economic matters are to me), the writiI enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Although dealing with a somewhat "dry" subject (as legal & economic matters are to me), the writing is fairly simple and accessible, and it is an important book to anyone studying disability (I've seen it cited quite frequently, one of the reasons I read it in the first place). It impressed upon me the way disability has always been tied up with economic power and the concept of work. Ability and inability are not as simple concepts as we usually assume them to be. The concept of work itself is not so simple. It also helped me to understand how welfare and social aid are handled from a governmental point of view, and how these mechanisms actually benefit government to a certain point, as they help to constrain the demands of able-bodied workers, especially during times of economic hardship. So, in a sense, governments of industrialized countries needed the category of disability to make industrial capitalism work....more
Probably won't finish this for a long while, but it's an interesting look into the life of a courageous woman who lived her faith in God, belief in seProbably won't finish this for a long while, but it's an interesting look into the life of a courageous woman who lived her faith in God, belief in serving humanity, and opposition to the corruption of oppressive political and social systems....more
- A mother giraffe fends off a lion for an hour to defend her child. - A male chimpanzee dies shortly after his mother. - Koko the gorilla cares for a “- A mother giraffe fends off a lion for an hour to defend her child. - A male chimpanzee dies shortly after his mother. - Koko the gorilla cares for a “pet” kitten she names “All Ball.” - A male falcon displays uncharacteristic behavior, including sounds that sound like cries of anguish, when his mate is killed. - A gorilla who is given orange juice as a treat, gives it instead one day to a researcher who complains of a stomach ache. When she returns ten days later, the gorilla insists on the researcher drinking her juice until reassured that the stomach ache is gone. - And of course, the thing that gives this book its title: elephants have been seen to cry on numerous occasions.
Is this definitive proof that animals show emotions? Not necessarily, but they are characteristic of the examples given in this book, which is more of a challenge to our attitudes toward animals, and our reluctance to explore the whole question of emotion in animals. The authors point out that seals have been seen to shed tears while watching their children being clubbed to death, but since seals frequently shed tears, this isn’t conclusive proof of emotion. However, this doesn’t mean that the seals don’t feel sad. I’m sure there are more compelling examples in the book than the ones I have listed.
I think that the reader should keep in mind that, despite the enormous amount of data we have about other animals, there is still much mystery to their behavior and cognitive functions. These things, particularly emotion, are so little well-understood in humans, that our knowledge is woefully lacking when it comes to non-human animals. However, this book reinforces that point while also pointing to documentation that challenges the preconceptions that tend to be voiced in academia, especially in the biological sciences.
After looking at some negative reviews, I feel I ought to add in my thoughts of why I think some of the negative criticism is unfair.
The most overwhelming criticism I am seeing is that the authors criticize scientists to the point of hostility and denigration. It is true that the tone does border on the antagonistic when it comes to certain dismissals of animal emotion, or in cruelty to animals justified by science. However, I heartily enjoy science books and am, usually a defender of scientific pursuit in general, and I was not bothered by this. To me, there is a much needed confrontation of the dismissive attitudes of many scientists regarding animal emotion. The issue of the ethics of animal experimentation for scientific research is, I think, one of the most pressing and complex ethical issues facing scientists today; and one’s beliefs regarding animal emotion will figure significantly into one’s attitude toward animal experimentation. I don’t think a watered down tone is appropriate here; the authors are challenging intractable and, it is hard to put this in a way that won’t be considered an ad hominem attack, insensitive behavior.
The second complaint I see is that the authors are dogmatic and unequivocally accept animals display emotions in situations that are ambiguous at best. While at times I did think that the authors were reading an emotional motive where there was none, I always stopped to reflect on the fact that 1) they almost always use tentative language—could, maybe, perhaps, etc., rather than giving statements such as “this is obviously an example of animal emotion, which the evil scientists have denied against all reason and compassion,” which is what many of the negative reviews seem to imply; 2) even in someone who is very sympathetic to this viewpoint such as myself, I find myself resisting the idea of emotion in animals, because truly acknowledging such would lead to a radical change in many societal attitudes and behaviors that we take for granted, even in those of us who think we are kind to animals. If we, as a society, were confident in the truth of the premise of this book, we would be beating down the doors of the slaughterhouses, animal testing labs, and circuses of the world.
There isn’t a large amount of literature on this subject, but some have recommended other books over this one that sound intriguing.
The value I see in this book is not solid, scientific proof of emotions in animals, but a much-needed challenge to our assumptions. In situations that may seem unclear, I think it’s perfectly justified to ask, “Did the animal feel emotion when doing that, or was it simply an unfeeling act of instinct?” The problem is, we are so inured to assuming the latter, that one may not even consider the possibility that both instinct and emotion are acting. One interesting example from the book: an elephant tries to rescue a baby rhino stuck in the mud, even when the mother rhino attacks the elephant, in defense of her baby. Rhinos have bad eyesight, so the mother did not realize the baby was stuck, even though it heard it and knew it was in trouble. Was the mother acting out of love in defending her child (even though it was misguided), or was this simply a biological imperative to protect one’s genes? Can’t both be true? And for the elephant, was its rescue attempt true altruism, trying to help a completely unrelated animal, even after being attacked by the mother? Or had the baby’s distress activated a “protect the child” instinct, even when not related (it seems that animals will often have protective and nurturing behavior towards children even of completely unrelated species)?
My only complaint is that the majority of the instances of possible animal emotions are in mammals. This is understandable given that other mammals are the most likely to behave like humans, and they do give some cases of birds, and even briefly touch on insects and arachnids, but I think that some more examples among reptiles, amphibians, and fish could have been given. But this is a small caveat, since data on those groups is probably much rarer.
The instances given, while often open to interpretation, do provide situations, of which at least some, cannot fail to startle the reader, and challenge some preconception about what animals (or at least that kind of animal) are capable. I would also think the authors make a good point in turning the charge of anthropomorphism on its head: is it necessarily anthropomorphic to ascribe emotions to non-human animals if these emotions, like physical characteristics, can be demonstrated to be shared with non-humans? Also, they do well in pointing out that allowing the possibility of emotions in animals does not only mean giving them emotions we want, saying that they are only loving and kind, or only cruel and aggressive; we should not also assume they have only primitive emotions, or can experience the same emotions human have, or in the same way. The authors make the case that clearly more investigation and open-mindedness is needed, and that emotion even among humans is not well understood, especially scientifically. After more reflection and investigation, we need to face our own attitudes and behavior towards animals and adjust them accordingly....more