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Posts Tagged ‘Evolution’

Sucking Marrow

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I had the opportunity to talk about veganism to a professor the other day. He responded without rebutting any one particular statement. Instead, he kept repeating that mankind is the most cunning, the most intelligent, and the most ruthless of all the creatures on earth. He toted these values incessantly (He also banged his fist on the table and raised his voice – but I can overlook that as a personality flaw).  It is thanks to these traits, he said, that we evolved from apes to man. Specifically, he said it was our ability to suck marrow out of discarded bones in the desert that helped us survive famines.

Spider Chasing a Lego Human

"Go back to banging rocks together, human!"


He seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in repeating the words “ruthless, cunning,” and “intelligent.” I imagine if we knew him better, we’d find out that he cherishes these aspects of consciousness most about himself, as well. Isn’t that obvious? Why else, with such gusto and satisfaction, would he dwell on them?

He might be right. In a starved, desperate, depraved past, eating marrow may have brought us biologically up from early hominids into homo sapiens. But he is very wrong if he thinks that same kind of behavior will move us forward.

Cunning and ruthless savagery are for war and killing. War and killing is out of control and will cause the extinction of man. Or, indirectly, soak up so many resources that man cannot afford to fight natural pandemics.

Compassion, communication and cooperation are our only hope.

When was the last time you employed cunning and ruthlessness to fall in love or do anything really meaningful?

It won’t be marrow-sucking, lethal cunning and remorseless intellect that keeps our civilization alive. These traits do nothing but threaten our existence. We are apes no longer.

Here’s another way to look at it. Ultimately, even if eating flesh – practically lethal to us unless cooked – nudged us up a branch in the evolutionary tree, we are not obligated to continue doing so. Continued eating of meat won’t help us make the next jump any more than throwing our own feces or swinging from trees will.

Mirror Test

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Crocodile Symbiosis

Neither of these has to see a dentist because of being too stupid to avoid sweets.

A mirror test is supposed to demonstrate self-awareness. Put an animal to sleep, place a dot on her head and, when she wakes up, and show her a mirror. If she looks at her image in the mirror and somehow acknowl-edges the dot, she’s self-aware. If she doesn’t, she is not. Simple, right?

The problem is this is a test of self-awareness as designed by human minds. We can’t escape our own way of thinking. It’s all we’ve got.

The only thing tests like these prove is that the subject is thinking like a human, or is self-aware like a human.

Are we supposed to believe that thinking like a human is the only way to think intelligently? Or that it is the only way to be self-aware? Such ideas are nothing more than human-centric egotism. We’ve built the internet and flown to the moon, but we also commit heinous acts of barbarism against all living beings on the planet (do not try to think of one we overlook; the effort will depress you). This contrast is not a scale which balances ethical depravity against in-tellectual and scientific triumphs.

We must refuse to accept the notion that human intelligence is the ultimate in any intelligence. We are simply the most intelligent humans.

Let us not fall into the trap of requiring human-like behavior from high-functioning predators like alligators and sharks, neither of which have needed to evolve for eons, and both of which are perfectly evolved for their environments.

I am not opposed to mirror tests. I am opposed to using the results of them to justify discrimination, and subsequently violence, against living beings.

They Have No Emotion

Sunday, August 29th, 2010
Here, the complex and mysterious Bear-Machine grooms another machine purely because a complex part of it's "instinct" tells it to do so. Note the proper usage of 'it' when applied to fur-covered machinery, such as these two Bear Machines.

Here, the complex and mysterious Bear-Machine grooms another machine purely because a complex part of it's "instinct" tells it to do so. Note the proper usage of 'it' when applied to fur-covered machinery, such as these two Bear Machines.

Famous vivisector René Descartes wanted us to believe animals are mere machines, incapable of feeling pain.  He and others had many wordy ways of explaining why the animals squealing in pain were not really in pain, and why their preference for one food versus another was mindless “instinct.”  (Descartes did some good for the world, but my focus here is on his vivisection and philosophy toward animals)

The belief that animals cannot feel emotion, much less pain, is an anthropocentric bias, contrived in arrogance and directly straining the reader away from their own experiences with animals.  It is also suspiciously complex, and not what most of us would consider “common sense.”

What is more simple? That non-human animals can also feel anger and affection? Or that they are complex machines operating in a sterile vacuum of “instinct,” behaving in ways that even they do not understand, that they are machines, and that the supposedly great human capacity for emotion is generated spontaneously.

Animals are individuals with as much capacity for joy, rage and fear as we are.

We condemn people when we say they are behaving “like animals.” Usually the context indicates depraved, senseless violence, lacking the refined acumen of their human superiors.

We condemn emotions as simple, base things, as those of the uncontrolled and inattentive.

And then, in a special kind of obliviousness and arrogance, we find situations to assert that animals do not even possess feelings. That, as depraved as they are, they possess neither our brilliance nor our capacity for emotion.

So, we are to believe, the chicken cares nothing for her chicks. She cannot “care,” we are told, she can only do as instinct tells her. Only human mothers can possibly feel anything for their young. And what of dominance urges, for instance in turtles? What would the urge to attack a member of your own species feel like, if not fear and rage? And has anyone ever crossed between a mother bear and her cubs and thought, “Boy, am I glad she doesn’t have the capacity for emotion.”

Part of us is desperate. We will gladly believe anything which reinforces the illusion that animals are machines – and this illusion slides in nicely next to our guilt, next to the burning we feel when we repress the truth – the truth that we really do not want to treat them like machines because it does not even make sense to think of them that way, that our subconscious cries out to us to stop trying to believe confusing, cruel nonsense.

Omnivores and Cockroaches

Saturday, August 28th, 2010
Cockroach for dinner? No, thank you.

Omnivore does not mean "must eat meat" any more than it means "must eat cockroaches."

If we really are omnivores, then this is an even stronger argument in favor of eating only plants.  We can thrive on them.  We don’t need meat.  We are omnivores.

Vegans are omnivores. People who eat meat are omnivores. Maybe you eat cows and chickens. Maybe she eats only plants. Our culinary behavior does not change our biological capability to digest darn near anything we cram in our hinged, grinding little mouths.

It is important to press the issue that vegans are omnivores, too. Too often in the world of vegan discussions do people say things like, “My omni friend said…” I don’t know about you, but I’m reluctant to stop “being an omnivore” and start “being a vegan.” No offense to sissies, but it makes me sound like a sissy.

To even hint that you are no longer an omnivore makes it sound like you’ve given up an innate aspect of your humanity. To give up being an omnivore, if such a thing were possible, sounds like giving up your nature, doesn’t it? You’re less than human, then. You’ve resigned from your birthright as an Eater of All Things. Therefore, you’re less likely to survive in situations where eating disgusting things is necessary. If you’re less likely to survive, who the heck wants to be you, mimic you, or even produce children with you?

Vegans are not giving up omnivore status, if such a thing were even possible. Omnivore is something we are. Veganism is something we do.

You now have a solid reply when someone says, “Sorry, I couldn’t be a vegan. I’m a hard core omnivore.”

“I’m an omnivore too.”

“Huh? You don’t eat meat.”

Can-eat-anything does not mean must-eat-meat.” Or, to put it my favorite way, “Omnivore does not mean we must eat meat any more than it means we must eat cockroaches.”

By Hook and Claw

Monday, September 14th, 2009

By what methods do true predators hunt, trap or gather food?

Occasionally you will encounter someone pointing at his teeth and asking, “Oh yeah? Well what are these for?” It may be tempting to answer, “From the looks of it, sending your dentist to the Caribbean.” If you are engaged in a real conversation , however, you’ll want to share a few facts with your friend.

We’re talking about the evolution of humans, not what we’ve done since learning to read and write and keep animals in cages. Certainly, we had our teeth, guts and hands long before we had tribes and enslaved (“domesticated”) creatures. It follows that our soft, little hands are hardly suited to any sort of dexterous hunting. Ever seen a kung fu movie where the master grabs a fish out of the water with his bare hand? There’s a reason such a scene is meant to impress us: catching a fish with our bodies alone is very, very hard.

The same is true for deer. Ever outrun one? Sneak up on one and tackle it? Of course not. Yet deer are a favorite source of food for real predators. You, though? You’re a slow, smelly, clumsy, upright human. You weren’t built like a wolf, a jaguar, a hawk or any other viscous killing machine.

You are built like a playful, joyous monkey. You should be proud of this.

Images of Mighty Man as the primal hunter are absurd. We simply are not built for (“have not evolved the necessary appendages and abilities for”) hunting and killing. We cannot even cram chunks of corpses into our mouths without knives to cut for us.  The very item, steak knife, is a shining reminder of how pitiful our hands and teeth are at rending flesh.

“Ah-hah!” You might say, if you’re prone to such noises. “But we have Mighty Tools and we have Smart Communication. We build nets and use sticks and organize hunting parties. We use this superiority of mind to deceive and entrap our prey. We do not need talons or beaks or the ability to consume uncooked flesh without puking up the worms and bacteria found in it. Our minds have transcended our bodies, and it is our brilliant and unique intelligence which makes us such great hunters.”

Well, that point of view would make a lot of sense, except for one thing: the order of evolution. Long before we threw rocks and spears, we evolved these delicate little hands with (relatively) soft little fingernails. Before we realized we had to cook our meat in order to digest it, we evolved stomachs that work best on fruits, nuts and leafy greens. We evolved the intelligence to use fire long before we used it cooking corpses which, otherwise, sicken and kill us.

Here’s a word that is sure to make your palms sweat, your heart race and your mouth go dry: dentists. I love dentists, and not just because dental appointments are a good excuse for me to call off work the rest of the afternoon. Dentistry is an in-your-face reminder that our teeth are soft, cavity-prone, misshapen little nubs. Want to see our huge, scary, killer teeth in action? Ask your grandfather to sink his vicious chompers into an uncooked, unskinned cow rump. It won’t be pretty. It might remind you of caramel apple night at the nursing home.

Comparative anatomy is, in fact, one of the better arguments in favor of eating a plant-based diet.