Sunday, May 11, 2008

Anthropomorphism, or Things We Have in Common?

People who think like I do about animals are sometimes accused of anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to nonhumans. But many if not most of these human characteristics are really animal characteristics. Emotions, memory, personality, intelligence, and the ability to communicate are not unique to humans, and increasingly research is showing that the cognitive differences between humans and nonhumans are less than previously thought. In other words, we are not as “special” as our speciesist culture has led us to believe. This special status that is often used to justify our use of nonhumans, is an illusion that persists in part through the misuse of words such as anthropomorphism. It is this illusion that shapes our thinking and props up the institutions of animal exploitation.

People who live with companion animals recognize that the canine or feline members of their household have unique personalities and rich emotional lives. They think of these animals as nonhuman persons. But the animals whose flesh and secretions end up on the kitchen table, and the animals whose skin and hair cover furniture and hang in closets, are cognitively just like cats and dogs. There is no difference.

The bad news is that we have a huge moral inconsistency going on here. The good news is that it’s relatively simple and easy to fix.

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