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Anthropomorphic Theater:
Deep Ecology and the New Paradigm

from EVU News, Issue 3 /1997 - Español

photo: AlexandraWritten by: Alexandra Elizabeth Brichacek, May 14, 1997, who will graduate this December with a B.A. in Biologic Sciences from Holy Names College (Oakland, CA). She anticipates going to graduate school to obtain a Master’s in marine biology. This paper was written for her Senior Colloquium class.

‘I expect to pass through this world, but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. - Anonymous

“Anthropomorphic Theater: see anthropomorphism in everyday life. Animals have feelings! Animals think! Animals reason!” Think this is something from the National Enquirer? Animals are like humans? No way, one might think. But anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism does exist in today’s life ecologically. Deep ecology describes the notion of placing all the living creatures who inhabit the planet, living in parallel worlds, as separate but equal strands in the web of life. This “seperate but equal” concept is the hot bed of coals in defining the paradigm unraveling today. This paper will define what a paradigm and paradigm shift is, and the existing and emerging paradigm with respect to animals and their “seperate but equal” status.

The word paradigm comes from the Greek paradeigma, which means “model, pattern, example” (Barker; p 31). In this class, we examined and developed several different definitions of a paradigm, which individuals in the class defined according to their own interpretations. Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolution defined a paradigm as “accepted examples of actual scientific practices; examples which include law, theory, application, and instrumentation that together provide models.” Although there are other definitions of a paradigm, this is the one that I will use for this paper.

A paradigm shift occurs when assumptions, rules, and practices which affect the very fabric of life change. Barker calls a paradigm shift “a change to a new game, a new set of rules” (Barker; p 37), Paradigms will not only just replace one another; they can in fact overlap. One paradigm shift occurring today is the way animals are being viewed by people. Most people will eat that pork chop or hamburger and only “see” the meat as something that comes on a styrofoam plate, wrapped in plastic, and priced. Or they will watch a National Geographic special on animals in the wild, yet admire that fur coat in the Neiman Marcus window. They will not know where the food they eat comes from or about the trials and tribulations animals go through in the web of the food-industry. Non-human animals are seen as objects to be treated in any way Man sees fit. “Each time we harm nature, we cut a little piece out of our own flesh. When we drive such creatures as sea turtles, condors, and elephants to the brink of extinction, we inevitably brutalize ourselves in the process” (Nollman; p 4). When we brutalize ourselves, we destroy the strands in the web of life piece by piece. My thesis is that the human animal must recognize that the non-human animals who share this planet with us are more than just objects.

Faced with a situation of starvation or eating the beautiful deer grazing in the glen, most people would place “Bambi” on the spit. This is an overall feeling of most people because most people feel animals have no feelings. But evidence gathered by Masson and McCarthy support the theory that animals do. The feelings animals show evidence for are fear, hope, terrors, nightmares, love, friendship, grief, sadness, joy, rage, dominance, cruelty, compassion, altruism (being a hero and putting someone else’s needs before one’s own self), shame, pain, and blushing/embarrassment. Some examples from their book are:

1. FEAR A frightened mountain goat, biologist Douglas Chadwick reports, flattens its ears, flicks ist tongue over its lips, crouches, and raises its tail (p 49).

2. FRIENDSHIP Although it is rare, wild animals have been observed in friendly associations. Biologist Michael Ghiglieri, patiently waiting for chimpanzees to come to a fruiting tree in the Tanzanian rainforest, was astonished when the first chimpanzee arrived in the company of an adult male baboon (p 80).

3. GRIEF AND SADNESS Two Pacific “kiko” dolphins in a marine park in Hawaii, Kiko and Hoku, were devoted to each other for years, often making a point to touch one another with a fin while swimming around in their tank. When Kiko died suddenly, Hoku swam slowly in circles, with his eyes clenched shut ‘as if he did not want to look on a world that did not contain Kiko’ trainer Karen Pryor wrote. [After being given a new companion, Kolohi, who copied the same movements Kiko had made before, Hoku eventually opened his eyes and ate once more] (p 94).

4. JEALOUSY Orcas may show jealousy over mating. At a California oceanarium, three orcas were kept, two females and one male. When Nepo, the male, reached exual maturity, he showed a strong preference for Yaka. The other female, Kianu, repeatedly interrupted their mating by leaping out of the water and falling on them. Ultimately, she attacked Yaka during a performance (p 151).

5. JOY Happy gorillas are said to sing. Biologist lan Redmond reports that they make a sound – something between a dog whining and a human singing – when they are especially happy (p 112).

6. LOVE Coyotes would make equally good symbols of devotion, since they form lasting pairs. Coyote pairs observed by Hope Ryden curled up together, hunted mice together, greeted each other with elaborate displays of wagging and licking and performing howling duets. Ryden describes two coyotes mating after howling together. Afterward, the female tapped the male with her paw and licked his face. Then they curled up together. This looks a lot like romantic love (p 88).

7. NIGHTMARES From a Kenyan “elephant orphanage” comes a report of baby African elephants which have seen their families killed by poachers, and witnessed the tusks being cut off the bodies. These young animals wake up screaming in the night (p 45).

8. PAIN “Because fish have a brain, a central nervous system, and pain receptors, they can feel pain just like cats, dogs, and humans. Just because they can’t scream doesn’t mean they aren’t in pain” (Newkirk; p 16).

9. SHAME The essence of shame is the unpleasant feeling that one appears badly – weak, stupid, dirty, helpless, or inadequate – and the dread of appearing that way. At one oceanarium, a bottle-nosed porpoise, Wela, was trained to jump out of the water and take a fish from a person’s hand. [One day, trainer Karen Pryor got distracted and forgot to drop the fish]. As a result, when Wela grabbed the fish, she inadvertently bit Pryor’s hand. Wela, appearing ‘hideously embarrassed,’ went to the bottom of the tank, put her snout in the corner, and would not come out until Pryor got in with her, petted her, and coaxed her into calmness (p 183).

This thought of animals having feelings falls under the term anthropomorphism, the act of giving human-like traits to animals. Anthropomorphism is generally interpreted by scientists as over-sentimental behavior. It is viewed as biased perceptions by some people who are emotionally involved with their pets. For many years, any consideration of animal consciousness was strongly discouraged by the accusation that it was anthropomorphic. But the charge of anthropomorphism has been inflated to include even the most tentative inference of the simplest kind of conscious thoughts by animals. When one carefully examines such charges of anthropomorphism, it turns out that they entail the implicit assumption that whenever it is suggested what the animal might do, or think, really it is a human attribute (Griffin; pp 10,15,24).

However, it should be considered unscientific not to test seriously the possibility that many animals do have certain qualities that have been thought exclusive to humans. Another piece of evidence of anthropomorphism is that animals are more than just objects; they in fact think, communicate, and have a mind. “An animal might be consciously aware of some part of its own behavior – for example, of its act of eating food or fleeing from a predator. This would be a special case of animal consciousness. But such an animal might be incapable of thinking that it, itself, was eating or fleeing. If so, then it would be capable of perceptual consciousness about its own behavior, but not of reflective consciousness that it, itself, was the actor. Yet animals certainly seem to form at least simple plans and make decisions about what actions are likely to achieve what they want. Much of their learned behavior is necessarily based on some sort of acquired representation that models some important aspect of their external world.

Yet another example is that animals undergo cognitive thinking; that is, they reason and then process the consequences of their actions. An example from the wild is that the antelope needs to run from the cheetah or will die. On October 27, 1995, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. unveiled an exhibition called Think Tank. With demonstrations by live animals and written explanations about learning and thinking, the zoo was trying to make a point: other animals, not just humans, lead cognitively complex lives. Because they do, they are warranted certain rights and definitely deserve to be conserved. “Chimpanzees fashion tools, leaf-cutter ants navigate through multitiered caste systems, and monkeys are expert at social manipulation. Just like us [humans], they think, reason, plan what to do, [and] solve puzzles. And so, they merit respect. The unspoken goal is to make people appreciate the cognitive richness of these animals so that they will be more inclined to conserve them” (Small; p 26).

One example of cognitive richness is with Ruby, the painting pachyderm of Phoenix, AZ. Ruby is an Asian elephant and is very popular. It is hypothesized that Ruby picks the color she does based on her surroundings and on purpose. It is also hypothesized that she knows exactly the colors she’s chosen to paint with. One example is that one day, a fellow zoo keeper’s daughter visited Ruby wearing a yellow, pink, and baby blue sweater. That day, Ruby painted in yellow, pink, and baby blue. Another example is that on another day, a man fainted at her exhibit. Paramedics in blue uniforms arrived in a red firetruck with yellow and orange flashing lights. Later on that day, Ruby painted with fire-engine red, yellow, orange, and turquoise (the closest color to blue that day). Whether coincidence or cognitive thinking is at work, the paintings provide one view as to why animals are more than just objects.

Children’s movies and cartoons are the most obvious way to view anthropomorphism in our culture. In Walt Disney’s picture Bednobs and Broomsticks, we see a classic example. In an attempt to find the magic words of the “Substitutionary Locomotion” spell the five main characters need to travel to the Isle of Naboombu. When the characters first arrive at the Isle, they end up in the lagoon. The first “animal” they met was Mr. Codfish, who greeted them wearing a bowler hat, bowtie, button shirt, vest, coat, smoking a cigar, wearing glasses, and holding a cane. Another example is in Walt Disney’s movie Lion King. Amidst choruses of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” Simba and Nala fall in love. After chasing each other around the waterfalls and trees of the jungle, and then chasing each other in a nearby savannah, Nala gave Simba that “come hither” lustful look, and licked him (a lion’s way of kissing). Although the song sets the mood, there is no doubt that they are expressing love.

An opposite view to anthropomorphism is anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrism is defined as considering humans as the most important entity in the universe, and it accords all rights to man and none to nature, including animals. Why? “Proof is that they don’t speak, even those like the magpie and parakeet who have the ability and organs to do so. Their words, when they are spoken out of mimesis [mimicking sounds they hear], are not a language but the product of machinery with neither soul nor meaning” (Ferry; p 21).

This is an example of speciesism, which is a “prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species” (Ferry; p 32). A look at this is with ecology. Shallow ecology and deep ecology, terms coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1972, look at speciasism from a broader sense. According to Naess, shallow ecology is the use of quick-fix solutions to pollution and resource depletion. It is anthropocentric because it views humans as above or outside nature as the source of all value. Deep ecology, on the other hand, does not separate humans from the natural environment. Deep ecology demands a change in the basic ideas underlying civilization so that nature will be respected as valuable in itself and also as part of human activity. It also views humans as just one strand in the web of life. The deep ecologist recognizes that every species, every complete eco-system, has a right to exist, to flower in undiluted symbiosis, to evolve free of even the best of intentions (Unger).

One thing I believe that tries to follow the example of the deep ecologist is the commitment to vegetarianism. People who eat predominantly vegetables, but do not believe in eating certain kinds of food, are generally classified as vegetarians. This is a lackadaisical name, as there are different types of vegetarians. Reasons for switching over to vegetarianism vary from “the animals have eyes/feelings for pain” to moral, ethical, and health reasons. In my attempt to gather reasons why people switch to vegetarianism, one letter came back from the Australian group “Vegetarian and Natural Health.” Out of the eight members who were at the meeting the day my letter was passed around asking for information, five responded the switch was due to health. The other three basically said it was because of their love and concern for the animals.

....”It is a little known fact that all of the world’s major faiths have, as important parts of their laws and traditions, teachings requiring protection of the environment, respect for nature and wildlife, and kindness to animals” (Hoyt, p 3). Ecologically, the Bible clearly imparts an enthusiasm for life – for God’s creation, if you will – which humans were given the responsibility to care for as good stewards. It teaches that if we destroy nature, we are destroying God’s handiwork. An example in history is with the sea otter. At one point in history, sea otters were hunted for their beautiful pelts. But when one travels to the Monterey Bay Aquarium or Sea World and sees this cute, adorable otter, swimming around playfully, doing precious things with its hands (like eating its food), one wonders how anybody could harm such a cute, adorable animal.

Then we have the cow. It sits or stands all day, doing nothing but chewing its cud and mooing. It isn’t cute; it isn’t adorable. It’s viewed as a clothing source (leather) and as a food source (meat and milk). On this end of the scale is the food industry. Upton Sinclair, in his most famous book about Socialism, The Jungle, wrote about the horrors of a meat packing plant and aspects of a non-vegetarian society: There is over a square mile of space in the yards, and more than half of it is occupied by cattle pens; north and south, as far as the eye can reach, there stretches a sea of pens. And they were all filled – so many cattle no one had ever dreamed existed in the world. Red cattle, black, white, and yellow; old cattle and young cattle; meek-eyed milk cows and fierce long-horned Texas steers. The sound of them here was as of all the barnyards of the universe (p 36).

There were over two hundred and fifty miles of track within the yards, their guide went on to tell them. They brought about 10,000 head of cattle everyday, and as many sheep – which meant some eight or ten million live creatures turned into food every year (p 37).

[Chains were wrapped to the hog’s legs]. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. The carcassed hog was swooped out of the vat by machinery and then it fell to the second floor, passing along the way though a wonderful machine with numerous scrapers, which adjusted themselves to the size and shape of the animal and sent it out the other end with nearly all of its bustles removed. It was then strung up by the machinery and sent upon another trolley ride, this time passing two lines of men, who sat upon a raised platform, each doing a certain single thing to the carcass as it came to him. One scraped the outside of a leg, another scraped the inside of the same leg. One with a swift stroke cut the throat; another with two swift strokes severed the head, which fell to the floor and vanished though a hole. Another made a slit down the body; a second opened the body wider; a third, with a saw, cut the breast bone; a fourth loosened the entrails; a fifth pulled them out. There were men to scrape each side and men to scrape the back; there were men to clean the carcass inside, to turn and wash it (pp 40-41).

Sinclair exposed major scandals that created public outcry for reform and fueled union drives and government regulation. The Jungle helped to push the Pure Food and Drug Bill out of a House committee and to force President Theodore Roosevelt to act. At the same time, a Beef Inspection Act was submitted to the Senate, with Roosevelt’s approval. Six months after publication of The Jungle, these bills were passed. Once the meat humans consume was deemed safe, the question arose of the cows and pigs dying in the first place. Don’t animals have a right to live?

The emergence of animal rights being advocated, plus the discussion of the issue of animal rights indicate the beginning of a paradigm shift. Animal rights is “the philosophy of allowing non-human animals to have the most basic rights that all sentient beings desire: the freedom to live a natural life free from human exploitation, unnecessary pain and suffering and premature death". (Vegetarian Times pamphlet).

cartoon chickens

The rights of animals include:

  1. The right to enjoy their lives according to what is called their basic natures.
  2. The right to good health and entitlement to a proper diet and good medical care.
  3. The right to comfort and the avoidance of pain.
  4. The right to a humane death.
  5. The right to survival as we must needlessly kill animals.
(Dolan; pp 21-22).

While animals express feelings, a human-like trait, their fate and existence are still in our hands, because humans feel they are superior to animals, because animals are viewed as unintelligent. Because of this basic idea, non-human animals have been regarded as only a means of transportation, as entertainment and sport, as test subjects, and as domesticated pets. While many domesticated pets are loved, fed properly, and in return give their owners companionship, faith, and love, there are other domesticated animals that are left to fend for themselves due to abandonment or cruelty.

The case for animal rights is that animals have nervous systems and can suffer just as humans can; therefore, it is wrong for humans to use them for research, food, or clothing. The case against animal rights is that “while humans have an obligation to treat animals humanely, animals cannot have rights. Granting a being a right depends on that being accepting the rules of society.

Animals have no sense of morality and they do not recognize the rights of others: animals cannot exercise or respond to moral claims. People involved in the animals rights movement consider the life of a cat, dog, chicken, or pig to be equal to the life of a human. Unless one is initially prepared to adopt a rather [drastic] anthropomorphism in respect to animals, they can have no rights” (Bender; p 23).

But are human needs really more important? When faced with the choice of saving a human being or an animal’s life, most people would save the human. We saw this with the Great Floods in California of 1996-1997. Everyday, the news reported of lost pets and livestock found alive. Human populations are faced with threats of food shortages and the need for cures to life-threatening illnesses, so this justifies human use of animals to meet those needs. But while some view these reasons as acceptable, some do not. Animals have a right to life just as humans have a right to life. “Human morality must expand to acknowledge and respect the rights of non-human animals. Animals are the victims of a vast human-regulated system of slavery (Bender; p 42).

As one can see from the examples given in this paper, animals are more than just objects. The new paradigm is that people are becoming more conscious of their actions. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.) and other organizations have raised awareness of events that take place in the world to make non-animal humans happy, like the perils of the fur industry that benefit humans. While this paper is not meant to convince a person to switch to vegetarianism or anthropomorphize the next hamburger, porkchop, or drumstick they eat, it is meant to raise awareness and have the reader think seriously about conserving animals.

Animals are not objects, but creatures which share this planet with us. Without them, our species dies, along with the planet. Finally, there is one fundamental important point that must be widely understood and accepted if the world’s wildlife is to be saved. In addition to the practical and ecological reasons for preserving species, we as humans must learn to appreciate wildlife for its intrinsic value, to respect its innate right to exist, and to have humane concern for the suffering of individual animals as well as for the survival of the entire species. The take home message is that humans need to look back at history and conserve all species, not only those deemed useful for human uses and happiness. For bibliography contact:

Alexandra E. Brichacek, 17468 Via La Jolla, San Rorenzo CA 94580, USA