Sunday, February 8, 2009

Animal Culture, First Thoughts

Animal culture is better than animal rights or animal liberation. It is little more than what humans have already been doing for thousands of years as animal agriculture and pet ownership. Calling it “animal culture” puts a short name to it that says that we culture animals. In doing so we also culture ourselves, so here we are, a total philosophy of animal culture that includes human and non-human animals. The philosophy is all but invisible because it grew naturally. We are already used to it. We never thought that it had to be codified and given a name. “Agriculture” would be another good word for it, but we’re used to thinking of agriculture as a business that charges too much money for food.

“Animal culture” is simply breeding and caring for animals for use by humans. We have the more traditional uses as pets, service animals, and for food, fiber, and other materials including pharmaceutical use. Don’t kid yourself about captive breeding for the preservation of a species; this is still a human use. It’s just one that shows how much humans care about responsible care of the Earth. Don’t try to get away from it or deny it. Be proud of it. One human purpose is to preserve human and non-human life. Instead of bringing together angry people, I want to bring kind and caring people to love the Earth into life.

Unfortunately, as anyone who reads the first few pages of “Animal Liberation” finds out immediately, what Peter Singer connected with, and I am sure that this was deliberate, was human rage. His book was published in 1975 and that was when issues of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, reproductive rights, and gay rights were very hot topics at the same time, and oppressed groups were really angry. He equated the use of animals with the oppression of humans and today angry feminists and gays and lesbians appear to be overrepresented among animal rights activists, their anger driving the general anger against humanity itself. I guess that blacks generally had more sense (I am white, BTW), but animal rights activists equate slavery in the 19th century with the use of animals. They are also not above equating the use of animals, as in the humane use of animals in agriculture and even as pets, with wife-beating and child abuse. You also might notice that there isn’t much Jewish participation in animal rights activism, not as such, and that might be because they know the difference between broiler chickens and themselves, to reference a favorite Ingrid Newkirk statement. Six billion broiler chickens are not six million humans. Also, Jewish people already have a good system for humane treatment of animals.

Peter Singer and other activists claim that it is wasteful to use animals for food, that without animals eating our food agriculture could produce a bountiful harvest of good vegan products for us to eat. Is he kidding us? If Africans could feed themselves by planting seeds they would plant seeds. It takes modern agricultural methods, modern equipment, and a lot of fuel and irrigation to produce plant-based foods, and at that, we need uses for agricultural waste products that are currently fed to animals, essentially free biomass to convert to meat. In many climates it is impossible to do much if any cultivation of grain or vegetables outside of greenhouses, but the sparse grass, lichens, and other plants that grow there provide an adequate diet for animals like reindeer and caribou, which humans can eat. It’s not a situation in which the bulk of the meat is produced from food that people would or could eat. Even where grain is given to fatten cattle up the animal is fed first, thus the food first supports the food animal species, then it supports humans. That’s extra economy. Food is used well when it is used to support the prosperity of an animal species other than human.

The use of a species for agriculture makes it necessary for humans to assist in the propagation of that species. Those animals can also be made into pets. Agriculture is a fair exchange. Humans get the meat that would go to predators and control predation so that large families of the prey animals can grow, relatively undisturbed. We can even control the predators to the extent that we can feed them from other populations and species of prey animals to keep them going while a given species is allowed to restore its population.

There may be problems with a meat-based diet but there are also problems with vegetarian diets, including the greater chance of allergies like allergies to peanuts, soy, and potatoes that occur because those plants have small amounts of toxins in their seeds and fruit. Human babies need cholesterol to form good brains, and cholesterol comes from meat. There is no open-and-shut case that meat-based diets cause cancer, diabetes, or increases in the rate of heart attacks. [In fact sugar, a food that is made from plants, is implicated in these things.]

Pet ownership is almost nothing but service to the animals. We pamper them, attend to their medical and emotional needs, give them a place to live and the best food that we can afford, and even then we wonder if we’re doing enough. Most pets that I have met have been mightily pleased with our efforts and our company, including tigers and lions. Pet ownership makes humans emotionally dependent on the continued propagation of other animal species, for all practical purposes their willing servants.

I unabashedly support the use of animals to support the human race. Predation is a necessary part of the cycle of life. Even plant life has to be consumed so that new plants will grow in their place, thus herbivores are necessary. Humans or at least fire are needed to manage deciduous forests so that there will be clear grassy areas for herbivores to graze and live, and we can control other natural predators so that the dynamic balance of life can stay at more optimum levels without population crashes. Some of the means that we use are really sophisticated, making our brains huge assets in the fight to maintain animal life of all kinds. Humans can even potentially deflect asteroids from impacting the Earth, thus preventing extinction events. This is a real potential considering the fact that we have several kinds of working rockets and nuclear weapons that can be used for this purpose.

What other animal can take nuisance animals and turn them into friends and companions? Lions and tigers are somewhat dangerous to humans in the wild, and when their food supplies run short some of them turn to humans for food. By that I don’t mean scratching at the back door and begging for scraps, not usually. When they are kept as pets they may be a little bit dangerous, but the human death rate is minuscule and they provide much joy for their humans, whom they dote on. As long as there are a few thousand or a few tens of thousand big cats kept as pets around the world, those species are fairly secure, and the more in captivity the better, as we have the means to keep them going. Wolves are the large carnivore species that has succeeded the best in human hands. That species is very alive and healthy, has wide genetic variety, and it numbers over a hundred million. Yes, they’ve “changed” but feral dog packs are always very successful survivors. Maybe they’ve learned a trick or two from humans.

If we are worried about diseases, there is a lot of reason to believe that being exposed to animals reduces the incidence of allergies and diseases. It’s possible to be allergic to cats and horses and get used to it, I’ve done it myself. The root word for vaccination is “vacca”, the Latin word for cow, and that comes from the well-known historical use of cowpox virus to immunize people against the much more virulent smallpox. Exposure to microbes carried by animals helps train the immune system to fight a wide variety of disease-carrying microbes.

Everything about the human-animal bond is in favor of animal culture. The more humans expand our domain, the more the other animals come with us. We need them as resources and we need their company, which is a lot like the nature that we came from, give or take some technicalities. When we modernize and human birthrate drops, then there is a little more room for other animals. It is healthy to use animals as substitute children and as friends for people of all ages. Kindness and compassion are best practiced with creatures that you can actually touch and hold. This is where it gets real. Others only know the creatures in the abstract, which literally means not real. Humans need this kind of reality.

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