In a recent interview with Larry King, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain quipped that it was OK for humans to kill and eat animals because we've been designed to chase down "smaller and stupider creatures." Never mind that cows and pigs, two animals that are slaughtered by the millions for food, are most certainly bigger than we are. It was the "stupider" remark that caught my attention, and not just for Bourdain's obvious grammatical shortcomings.
I think many of us feel that animals are dumb; that animals lack the intelligence we humans seem to have so abundantly. I believe this looking down on animals plays a big part in what allows us to treat them in the most heinous ways -- from factory farms to fur farms to laboratories to circuses. We believe that because animals can't write a book, compose a symphony, or do algebra that we're so much better than them.
What a load of bullshit.
Did you know, for example, that pigeons can fly thousands of miles to find the same roosting spot with no navigational difficulties? Some species of birds, like the Arctic Tern, make a 25,000-mile round-trip journey every year. Many species use built-in ferromagnets to detect their orientation with respect to the Earth's magnetic field. Can you do that?
Dolphins have a very distinct language that scientists now refer to as "dolphinese" which humans can't decipher. For all our human knowledge, we have no idea how to understand what should be, according to Bourdain, a "stupider" means of communication.
Salmon are born in rivers, but swim thousands of miles to the ocean only to return to the exact same spot upstream to die.
Elephants communicate with each other subsonically, using low rumbles that can travel for miles underground. They also mourn their dead and have been seen cradling the bones of family members that have passed on.
Butterflies are now thought to have the equivalent of a GPS system in their antennae.
Pigs have the mental capacity of a four year-old human child and have beat humans in memory games.
So, perhaps animals are not stupid. Perhaps it's we who are stupid for not recognizing the amazing things animals can do, many of which we can't do ourselves. Perhaps it's we who are dumb for not being able to circumnavigate the globe without instruments as albatross do, or find our way home across thousands of miles of ocean as Blue Whales do.
Maybe humans can actually learn a thing or two from these "stupid" animals. How about we start with this: animals don't create trash. Animals don't build nuclear weapons to annihilate each other. Animals don't conjure up religions and then kill each other in the name of their Gods. Animals with white fur don't discriminate against animals with fur of a different hue or color. Animals only take what they need. Animals are self-cleaning and don't waste water -- my cat has NEVER had a bath yet he'd smell better than any human who didn't shower. Animals don't gay bash homosexual animals. Animals don't screw over other animals for financial gain a la Bernie Madoff. Animals don't breed other animals to be prettier, fatter, or tastier. Animals don't systematically torture and abuse and kill billions of other animals (or each other) the way humans do. Animals don't commit Holocausts, they don't factory farm, and they don't ethnically cleanse each other. Animals don't cheat. Animals don't front. Animals are their authentic selves.
Yes, humans can do some amazing things: we can cure diseases, we can build skyscrapers, we can figure out how to travel into space. But only human arrogance would suggest that we're better or smarter than animals. The animals of the world evolved to be just as they are. They exist for their own reasons. Only an idiot would call them stupid.
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