Saturday, December 13, 2008


I just got done reading Alex and Me about the incredible work that was done with a grey parrot in proving the ability of some animals to master and understand some of those sacred cows that are often held up as the mark of what it is to be human.

I watched the documentary Taxi to the Darkside last night, and started reading a book about how the human brain works. After all that, last night, I had a great insight that I'm not only not just that impressed with humans, sometimes I'm downright disgusted.

We have all these illusions that we are in some way so superior to our animal cousins. Our narcissism is such that we believe that animals have no feelings, no true ability to make decisions in the way that we do. We think they cannot really think, but only rely on instinct to navigate their way through life.

If you've ever had a pet, you probably already know that this is not true.

The movie mentioned above is about the use of physical and psychological torture that had been used (I'm not sure if this is still going on) in Afghanastan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. It was nauseating, to say the least. It also seems clear that the absence of authority should never have been used as an excuse to "protect" the higher ups in these situations.

One of the points that was made was that the soldiers were conditioned to think of the Afghanis and the Iraqis as animals. And somehow this made it okay to torture and, in some cases, kill them? This is like people who pit cocks and pitbulls against one another for sport, and think it's okay because they are animals. How does any of this show our superiority over other animals in the world?

Someone help me out...I'm confused by that.


vesta44 said...

If soldiers weren't trained to see enemies as "other", if they saw the supposed enemy as human, then the stress they face after tours of combat would be even greater than it is now (and how much of that PTS is due to the fact that they don't always believe the conditioning that the enemy is "other"?).
As for animals being less than humans, I've never believed that. We have a cat that holds a grudge forever. DH said that 3 years ago, one of his grandsons tried mistreating the cat and got clawed for his trouble. To this day, the cat won't have anything to do with that child, and if the kid won't leave him alone, the cat will claw the hell out of him. So I know the cat remembers, he doesn't do that to anyone else (no one else has ever tried to mistreat him).

spinsterwitch said...

vesta44 - I get the point about seeing enemies as others on the battlefield, but the point of the documentary was that they were being trained to think of these people as not human in order to make torture okay. I actually think that either way of creating "other" in order to inflict harm is potentially harmful to the person who is going through the conditioning. Because you can't switch that stuff off. It's one of the reasons why I think war is wrong...and that societies that send young, healthy men and women to war need to be especially concious of the damage we are inflicting on them.

PTSD may have something to do with that, but the clinical definition has to do with trauma caused by a real or perceived threat to your own safety. Which I think that anyone going into a war zone is going to experience (civilian or military).

On a related note, there is one program that I've heard of that pairs returning soldiers with PTSD with guide-dogs-in-training. The idea being that they come to relate closely to another living being in a very gentle way.

Aravis said...

I wrote my high school senior thesis on this subject (animals). I strongly agree with you!

On a side note- and not to pick on you- but it's "afghans" not "afghani," which is a unit of their money. Yeah, I didn't know this either until I read "An Unexpected Light: Journeys through Afghanistan." Since then, oddly, it has bothered me when they are called "afghani." Go figure. Just thought I'd spread this bit of trivia around.