March 10, 2011
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?
Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore: A Novel (New York & Boston: Twelve, 2011) ("Becoming human is a process of equal parts enlightenment and imprinting your brain with taboos." Id. at 121. "Yes, he happens to be a chimp. A chimp dressed in the trappings of human civilization is ordinarily funny to you. That is why we see chimps dressed up in idiotic costumes on TV commercials. It's the stuff of the circus, of vaudeville, of the burlesque, the freak show. Obviously, the reason why you think it so fucking funny to see chimps dressed in human clothes and taught to ludicrously mimic human behavior is because you think of yourselves as having the only proper culture. You define yourselves as the only cultured species, and this has allowed you to believe that your culture has helped you break away from the rest of nature. Therefore, the sight of an ape--so close to you, and yet seemingly so far--dressed up in human clothes and behaving like a human being is utterly incongruous--hence, funny. But what if--what if you see an ape who wears a suit and a tie and walks on two legs, an ape who has made this step into human culture not simply to appease his trainers, who mock and pimp and debase him to provide cheap titillation to the drooling hoi polloi--but of his own free will? Suddenly it's not so funny anymore. Is it? Id. at 218-219. "Isn't it an odd concept, Gwen? Living with domesticated animals for pleasure? I've always thought so. I say 'pleasure' because I'm not talking about the more utilitarian human valuation on animals: dogs to alert us to intruders, cats to mouse, horses to ride, sheep to shear, cows and pig to eat. I'm talking about animals employed exclusively as 'pets.' Animals that human care for simply out of--what, love? Is that the right word? Love? We may weep when they die, do we not? Or entertainment? Think of chihuahuas, shih tzus, Yorkshire terriers" indeed, it seems we deliberately breed dogs for certain traits solely to make us laugh! What a strange thing it is for us to keep animals for primarily emotional reasons. The social contact we seem to have with our pets is that we continue to keep them alive and safe and fed in exchange for the amusement and emotional satisfaction they provide us. . . . But household pets--dogs, cats--these are the animals human beings have selected to take with them as passengers on their insane journey through, over, and against nature. We have such a tortured relationship with other animals that live in our world, Gwen. Even as we ridicule them, we can let ourselves love them. . . . Id. at 253-254. Law students in Animals Rights or Animal Law course would benefit from contemplating the numerous nuanced ideas and arguments contained in this novel. Also see Christopher Beha, "Primal Urges," NYT Book Review, Sunday, 2/6/11.).