Friday, June 20, 2014

Anthropomorphizing Animals

"In western cultures, animals such as serpents, cats, doves, lions and ... wolves, ravens, coyotes, eagles and so on were once honored and looked upon as spiritual forces or god-like creatures. But agricultural peoples have never anthropomorphized the animals they worked with every day and then ate. Sure, the Hebrews told stories about sheep and goats, and the Greeks ... told stories about hares and tortosises, and the the First Nations told stories of raven, coyote and salmon, but only to illustrate important lessons and human concerns. The animals themselves were not sentimentalized into humanoids. 

In Victoria England, however, under the influence of the Romantics' rediscovery of nature, aniamls in a new cuddly format were enlisted into a 'cult of childhood.' Since then, generations of children have grown up surrounded by humanized animals. Think of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle... E.B. White's Charlotte's Web... We in the western world now have difficulty avoiding the anthropomorphized animal because it's everywhere, from cereal boxes to toilet paper." 
- Excerpt from Chicken Poop for the Soul by Kristeva Dowling (page 179-180) 

I find this history of anthropomorphizing animals very interesting. Traditional cultures around the world did look to the animal (and natural) world for spiritual insights and animals were the topic of many parables. This was certainly different than the approach in novels such as Charlotte's Web but perhaps the end result are similar? The author then goes on to say that she clearly does anthropomorphize her animals and "watched them all, and by observation I learned about their unique personalities, their likes and dislikes." I have a diffcult time believing that most (if not all) farmers, present and past, have had similar relationships with their livestock. 

The following is the interesting outcome from a discussion like this "Those people who might self-righteously have an owner arrested for the way he or she treats a dog are able to ignore or simply not respond to the concentration camp-like conditions behind the walls of intensive livestock operations. What are the criteria that put an animal into the food category rather than the pet category?" (181) 

Does Anthropomorphizing animals benefit or harm them?           

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