Louis. Save yourself the pain.

Sorry I haven’t written for a while, blessed readers. Just when I was getting all limber, the laziness came and plucked me sucker by sucker off the substrate of this blog. Not entirely true: I’ve also been ripping out a 3000 word essay and it’s H.A.R.D. I am on the last 10% and it feels like bleeding out everything I have through a paper cut. It goes really slowly. I’ll post it soon.

I also took a little holiday to Cadiz, Andalucia, Spain.

Here’s something to talk about. Subeditor nails it: is this just Jackass fooling or a cultural statement on our treatment of food animals? Neither in the main, the guy says: he had a party trick line in eating spiders etcetera and decided to see if he could reach 1 million hits. Cole says he doesn’t want to cause suffering, thus aims for a quick kill, and that while animal ethics are important, we shouldn’t be worrying about it when we haven’t got all humans to a happy place. (A previous community worker, he now makes a reasonable living from his youtube channel) Obviously keen to avoid being labelled attention seeking, he presses for the possibility of his ‘voice” being heard but seems to be confused on what he’s actually saying.

I feel the guy would accept any retrofitted rationalism to his stunt behaviour. Are you making a statement on factory farming? Why yes of course I am. Does your problem with hypocrisy extend to the fact that animals eat each others alive? Hell yeah, that’s great.

I don’t believe in rampant fundamental loudspeaker in your face animal rights activism that doesn’t take a considered perspective. That old boring paradox again in that this guy reminds me of that: he’s yelling but he doesn’t know what he’s on about. More importantly and inexcusably, there’s no need to prove a point by killing anything. Delete.

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C is for culture (warning: grossly simplified content)

There are tons of C’s I could have gone with: consciousness, continuity, Colonel Sanders, creativity (in animals), Crufts. This is the beginners’ section, so we begin with the obvious.

Culture is a huge deal in anthrozoology. Your first question is: is there a sharp divide between nature and culture? Some guys looked into “primitive” societies and said yes, culture begins when persons have a model in their mind of how things should be, and they act accordingly. A big example is the incest rule. Should you, as a human, choose to avoid incest, you’re cultured. You’ve transcended nature. The structuralist thinkers like CLS take this further. Because everyone in the family, or tribe, is following this rule, there’s a predictable symmetry to where everyone sleeps, which trickles into how they prepare food, tell stories, what they believe, and how they relate to animals.

Of course, in the real world people don’t always follow the structure. And these days argue that culture is a pointless ideal that doesn’t work off paper and can’t be separated from nature. What we have is the nature inside, our brains, genes and experiences, which make all of us perceive things differently. How we trade these beliefs and habits changes all the time.

What about animals? Can they have culture? To fit into a cultural norm, you have to have self awareness, an awareness of what others are doing, and an awareness of what will happen if you do or don’t conform. There’s plenty of evidence for intentionality and planning in apes for example, but what about other animals? How about the cultures we form with our pets, for example? Cats and dogs in a household may be good pals, suggesting they have overcome some sort of “natural” animosity.

Taking lessons from cultural theorists at present – who argue that the minds of individuals are way too ephemeral to be lumped into cultures – should we be bothering to look for culture in animals?

B is for biophilia

Biophilia is an idea that the classic Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson wrote about in the 80s. He described biophilia as our instinctive affinity for “nature”; a panhuman, subconscious yearning to return to our roots. I try to be careful using the word nature, because of course we are, in fact, of nature, and being unseparated from it makes it impossible to bend towards it.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

So like modernist poetry snapped out of traditional rules for verse, there’s a sort of self governing system suggested in the biophilia hypothesis: that things disturbed try to go back to their natural state. Ecostruck theories in the 70s about self governing “vegetative” communities didn’t really work in practice, though – systems didn’t return to their “balanced” states. There wasn’t a “balance” to begin with. And commune projects in the California deserts were failing badly at the same time – because a few individuals wrested power over the group. People inevitably get pissed off with each other. We need space, not systems. Please watch this.

Someone I read recently, and I’m unfortunately damned if I can remember who, wrote that we’re eventually more entropomorphic than anthropomorphic – our nature is to scatter, “to move through the environment like animals in the jungle..[Wolfgang Haug]. We animals are not like crystals that organise themselves perfectly every time. Living things are complex and chaotic, mutable not immutable.

Biophilia is also an interactive multimedia project by Bjork. It’s an app built out of a 10-track album, with video and stuff that you can recreate. This made me think about biophilia vs technophilia, and whether interacting with our computers all the time will eventually remove us from “nature” entirely. What do you think? You getting enough lols in your room, or do you want to go jungle?

This is excellent: Biophilia &Technophilia: Examining the Nature/Culture Split in Design Theory

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A is for animism

Animism is a belief system (ontology) based on the completely outlandish notion that human animals and nonhuman animals have shared ancestry.

Outlandish huh. OK. In another way, animism is believing that your grandmother was a bear. Or that all bears are your grandparents.

Some people believe that all things, even rocks, rivers and clouds, have a spirit. They believe that humans are not the only people. Anything can be a person if it has a self or soul.

I have been trained as a scientist, and while I am not a great scientist, my training, and my postdomestic way of being means I am unable to fathom certain ways of thinking. Even as a child I would never have imagined that my gran could be a bear. I have also never had semiconscious conversations with animals. People in pre-domestic societies claim this happens all the time.


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Franz de Waal: Complementary Methods and Convergent Evidence in the Study of Primate Social Cognition

Long ago my friend Ben worked for Penguin and lived on a billion strong pile of paperbacks….Ben would reach down and hand me a tome at random. One time I looked in my hand and saw “The Ape And The Sushi Master” by someone called Franz de Waal.

I was young and stupid in the day. I never read that book: it went directly to the charity shop.

No matter. Cos now I got Student Library Access. And the world of Franz is beaming at me like a baboon’s blushing botty. This is a person I can really like.

I’m on Lecture 3 of Human Animal Interactions and tbh I’ve been finding this lecture tough going. The first two I aced, because the content was basically what I’d been reading for the past year. (I still learned loads of new stuff like hallucinating dogs and why there are no trees).

Then in L3 I got culture. First I read Brumann and his contemporaries arguing about whether “culture” is a useful concept. Probably the biggest thing I learned here is it’s no longer cool in any way to maintain rigid conceptions of race and gender. Everything comes down to the individual now, as it should be, and as I have always wanted but never been able to express.

But the takeout from Brumann and others seems to be that “cultural” can be useful adjective, e.g. cultural relativism means hallucinating dogs are important to people like Ameriga and Hilario, and interesting in a different way to people like me.

What I really like about Franz de Waal is he splits off all the authoritarian rubric and talks like a human of great and humble kindness. He’s wondering about how to study the cognitive processes of primates. His fundamental premise is parsimonious: that if humans and apes evolved along the same lines, and humans have some sort of inner speech, let’s save time and effort by assuming that apes have something similar. He makes us remember that being afraid of being anthropomorphic is just that much bull dust. After all, Descartes did the original anthropomorphic sin by splitting the animal clean off from the human – because they couldn’t possibly be “like us”.

Franz isn’t immune from the Cartesian double standard. He asks us to be courageous when we ascribe intent and purpose to what we observe primates doing. It’s OK to say an animal is “courting” when it displays its buttocks; it would be a little bit rat in the lab to instead use “notification”. Yet later when he tells us how chimps avoid conflict, he tells us how a female “activates” a sleeping elder to help break up a fight. Would “waking up” have been OK? Come to think of it, is there a better, more embracing word than “female” to nominally describe these individuals?

I feel like I’m on and off these lines in my mind: from biology and how brains work, to philosophy, to social science and back round to biology. It is a rush for sure, with the anxiety that I can’t keep on the lines. Does anyone have mental hygiene tips for the new student? Can’t keep stealing office post its in these quantities…..

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Stuff I saw at the Hunterian Museum

Hunter was an excellent surgeon and meticulously antiseptic. He saved tons of human lives. He also (killed and?) bottled loads of humans and non humans.

Went with my mate Andrew on Saturday. It was one degree Cel in London. Andrew and I were both streaming with rhinovirus when we entered the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. We saw loads of weird things:

– The eyelid – just the closed, sewn shut hairy ol eyelid, of a giraffe
– The foetus of a dolphin
– Lots of possums. Too many possums. Too many dead possums in the world and they’re always lactating, dammit
– Lots of organs with plastinised, resinified blood vessels (in the 1800s? sweet)
– The foetus of a walrus (Yes, 1800s! Where did these guys get this stuff?)
– A chick with 4 legs
– Every pathology of cow uterus in the book
– Sparrow testes, big in spring, small in winter
– A whole preserved passerine bird and its whole preserved nest with its whole brood of hatchlings gaping for food
– Skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant – 7ft 7
– Human foetal skeletons, all gestations, both incredibly itty cute and insanely ghoulish
– Half the face of a dead 14 year old boy
– Unusual tusks
– Human dentition of the various maladies
– Brain of porpoise
– A history of plastic surgery on the western front

It is great to live in a city where you can see these things. Not sure it beats the internet internet. I hope Seth isn’t having mental thoughts from organising his order book right now.

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Word. Anthropology = humanity alone?

If you are new to anthrozoology, allow me to introduce you to:

a) An avenue of anthropology in which we think about animals to find out about ourselves
b) An orphan subject, since questioning interspecies relationships from all sides excludes it from science or (human) social science
c) An undoubtedly amorphous but importantly rad and overdue framework that allows us to ask not only how people think about animals but vice versa.

In your reading you will find a few major types of thinker. One is the social anthropologist. For these authors anthrozoology is typically an examination of humanity. By studying what they can’t do, we find out what we can do. Tim Ingold, editor of the brilliant collection “What is an Animal”, holds firm on the point that animals have a practical consciousness that enables them to perform tasks that are largely pre-programmed, whereas humans have the conceptual framework and language to speculate and plan in thought.

And then there are people like Goodwin (link to follow) who kick Descartes to the kerb by expounding on the rational and essentially creative qualities of the non-human mind. I myself am rather pleased Descartes is no longer around, but he sure left a mark.

Read this in amazement guys. Here is an example of anthrozoology attempting to understand the non-human consciousness. I think this is also an important approach and one which includes questions, for example, on the weeping and graveyard vigils of elephants.

That studies like this are often represented in anthropological context is not cowardice on the authors part, it is not for want of imagination. Anthropology has the tools and practice to allow us to examine relationships between beings, other beings and the environment – and the cultural patterns that result. This affords anthrozoology a multidisciplinary context that would greatly shrink under the single lens of science, economics, politics etc.

Importantly, anthropology has decades of practice in trying to overcome the limits of subjective experience. Even as we study humanity, we simply cannot always know what other people are thinking. We heavily borrow the mental equipment of anthropology.

It’s probably because humanity builds on subjective experience that anthrozoology is such an ambiguous subject. Elephants turn the bones. A cultural anthropologist chooses a pastry for breakfast. I read a little about chimps and go comfy comfy to sleep…

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Environmental Justice for Animals

Animal Visions

Before some of y’all get mad or confused, the title is not an attempt to co-opt the phrase “environmental justice” away from communities of color plagued by environmental, health, and economic inequalities.  Nor is it an attempt to replace “animal rights.”  This post is concerning issues of space and habitat I’ve been grappling with for a while.  As I’ve started working directly with urban animals, urban black communities living in poverty, and this notion of interspecies community, I’ve had to rethink how I go about labeling some of these intersectional issues of habitat quality, the institutional shuffling of African Americans into ghettos that directly decrease their quality of life, the institutional displacement of animals in the city, unless they are “pets” under constant surveillance by “owners”, “entertainment” in a traveling circus, “livestock” in a backyard, captives in a zoo, or victims in a lab facility.

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Animals trying to be people

Bobo‘s ENGAGING. His big interested eye looks delighted. He seems bright, glossy, happy. I like his insecure feet. I wonder how he feels about the cameraman. I wonder if he misses his parrotness. I wonder how his ancestors got trapped in the jungle.

Been thinking about animals on the internet, the animal awwwness movement in general. What’s in it for the well being of the species and the individual? Is it going to encourage or discourage the trapping of parrots in the Congo? Could go either way.

This isn’t about animals being people. It’s just unbelievably moronic and useless. I heard that the crew and cast ate wolf meat to get into the combative spirit.

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I’m a student now, a student of anthrozoology

So I’m 34, I work in advertising, I just started my MA in anthrozoology with Trinity St David, Lampeter, South Wales. What I learn there I’m taking to you here. My plan is to rinse off the glutinous academia and give you guys, oh fearless Readers I Can Count On My Favourite Hand, the kernel. I’m a distance learner. You’re pretty much all I have, so stay with me OK.

Question: if you were commencing a study in anthrozoology, what kind of kernel would you be expecting? My understanding was that anthrozoology concerns the relationships – physical, moral, social – cultural – that humans have with other animate species and vice versa. And I guess that means how we treat each other, look at each other, use each other.

This is true, but the first lecture has made me wonder if I’ve been too gung ho on the reciprocity vibe. After all, the study takes its name from Anthropology: a discourse on how we think about our own species. A discussion, a thinkathon. Wow, we can just never shut up about our own shit.

There are 4 or 5 reviews on this lecture’s reading list, mainly from the 80s and 90s when anthrozoology was in utero. Every review presses the point that understanding how we think about animals matters because it helps us see how we organise ourselves. The ox driver betrays the slave master, the dog breeder exposes our neurosis, the sow pen represents our communal spirit shrinking away in apartment blocks, etcetera. We have to be careful not to lapse into easy relativism – like equating the parent subject anthropology with the stigma of colonialism, red faced and impertinent in eternity.

While I can’t imagine how it will ever happen, I’ll never stop trying to know what animals think. It is obvious to me that this is an important part of the next stage in our evolution. The thing is trying to get that feeling to feel true to other people too. It’s a good time to do it, even if I am self-imposed in my singular apartment. Even if my cat don’t speak any kind of human. Even if the internet will never stroke my hair and tell me I’m a beautiful genius.

Once again welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

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