John C. Wright: Humans and animals

The preference among biologists is to emphasize the similarities of man to other animals, and downplay their immense and categorical differences. This is not science or religion: is it merely a slant. The glass is half empty rather than half full.

Anyone can see the similarities between humans and apes. Apes are just like humans, as both human scientists and ape scientists agree. Ape cathedrals and human cathedrals both use flying buttresses. Ape operas and human operas both use four-point harmony. Apes crap in the woods and so do humans when we cannot find a toilet, and have not taken the time to dig a latrine. The Ape-Pharaoh of Ape City wears a pshent just like Ramses II of Heliopolis.

—John C. Wright, ‘Losing Religion II

Comments

  1. scissorpaws says:

    There are, of course, a lot of humans who have never built a cathedral, nor ever could, even with Legos, let alone flying buttresses. Many who don’t care for opera. Humans of all agest who crap in their pants if their caregivers aren’t suitably attentive. Wander off never to be found again. Most humans would be lost in a forest which a chimp could maneuver quite easily and find for itself enough food and water to survive quite happily. And of course who’s to say what the elephants are saying with their sounds inaudible to humans, the wisdom of the great whales or dolphins. Cunning of the crow. We have the thumb on the scale to ensure humans accomplishments (war comes to mind) seem vastly superior. In truth, if we manage in our suigenerous wisdom to destroy our environment we might be comparing marks with the cockroaches and finding ourselves wanting..

    • ‘There are, of course, a lot of humans who have never built a cathedral’ – even though they were quite capable of doing so: there is only a limited demand for cathedrals.

      ‘Many who don’t care for opera’, because they prefer some other form of music, or some non-musical form of art. These things do not show that the humans in question lack capacities that would set them apart from the animals; rather, they show that the humans have the capacity for division of labour, specialization of talents, and personal taste in the arts – none of which any other animal is observed to have.

      As for ‘humans of all ages who crap in their pants,’ the existence of mentally incapable humans does not prove the nonexistence of mentally capable humans.

      ‘Wander off never to be found again.’ What, are you suggesting that if humans really were more intelligent than other animals, they would never get lost? No standard of intelligence that I have ever seen or heard proposed specifies any such thing.

      ‘Most humans would be lost in a forest which a chimp could maneuver quite easily,’ partly because chimpanzees are still arboreal and humans are ground-dwellers, and partly because the chimps are familiar with their native habitat. I assure you that the humans who dwell in the chimpanzee habitats of Central Africa are quite capable of coping with that environment, and do so more successfully, on the whole, than the chimpanzees do. In fact, the humans have multiplied by millions while the chimpanzees are in danger of extinction. You can blame the humans for this if you like, but you can hardly say they are inferior in the techniques of survival.

      And of course who’s to say what the elephants are saying with their sounds inaudible to humans, the wisdom of the great whales or dolphins: Assuming, of course, that they are saying anything at all, which seems a stretch: they certainly don’t seem to be listening to one another very much, to go by what one can see of their actions.

      Cunning of the crow. A phenomenon that has been observed and commented on extensively by human beings; one does not find that the crow has a literature about the cunning of the man (or even about itself).

      ‘We have the thumb on the scale to ensure humans accomplishments (war comes to mind) seem vastly superior.’

      Stuff and nonsense. We have the accomplishments; for that matter, we have the thumbs and the scales, and part of our superiority consists in the fact that we, and not the other animals, are capable of taking the measurements and making the comparisons.

      You say that some men do not build cathedrals; well, no other animal builds cathedrals. No other animal has even been taught to comprehend the purposes for which cathedrals are built. Some men do not appreciate opera; well, no other animal does. Man is the only animal on Earth that produces specialized tools; the only animal that has representational art; the only animal that lives in societies and polities not based upon kinship; the only animal that employs sound to convey and manipulate complex abstract concepts; the only animal that employs visual signals for the same purpose; the only animal that has a sufficient talent for abstraction to devise systems of correspondence between visual and auditory signals, and to alter them as it comes in handy; the only animal that produces goods for trade; the only animal that trades in promises of goods for future delivery; the only animal that studies the habits and habitats, the anatomy and genetics, of other animals; the only animal that has mathematics, or formal logic, or any of the other languages and meta-languages devised specifically for the manipulation of thought – and these are just a few of the unique achievements of humanity, which occurred to me just about as quickly as I could write them down.

      As for war, that is not a human accomplishment; that is the destruction of human accomplishment, and it is not unique to us; other species, from baboons down to corals, also fight and kill their own kind in organized groups. It is merely that we prosecute our wars (unfortunately) with the same adaptability and ingenuity that we bring to all our other activities.

      ‘In truth, if we manage in our suigenerous wisdom to destroy our environment we might be comparing marks with the cockroaches and finding ourselves wanting.’

      —But the cockroaches will never be comparing marks with us. That is but a drop of water in the ocean of difference between us and them.

Speak Your Mind

*