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Why whales sing: it’s a question of culture (spectator.co.uk)
54 points by tintinnabula 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

"Animals are more human than we’d like to admit"

I take issue with this subtitle of the article. Humans are animals. This false dichotomy between Homo Sapiens and "animals" has been foisted upon us by religious and homo-centric ideology. We need to embrace Darwinian evolution and our biological roots, we are a branch on the tree of organisms. We should be surprised that "other" animals may have aspects of culture;of course they do, as do macaques, wolves, chimpanzees, crows, eusocial insects, singing birds, anything that lives in colonies, etc.

I don't think the intent of the article is to indicate that we are not animals but to point out that we should apply more of the way on how we treat other humans to how we treat animal because the difference we thought were between animals and humans are really much smaller than we thought and in many cases we are much closer than many of us want to belive.

The subtitle even says: "Animals are more human than we’d like to admit"

So all humans are animals but not all animals are humans which is correct. You could also say "human" in this context is used as in "human behavior". Not sure.

However, I as well would have greatly have prefered: "Humans are more animals than we’d like to admit"

On every turn we discover that animals have more cognitive ability's and are closer to the specific primate branch that is us than we previously imagined. But a mix of convenience, prejudges and ""culture"" will make sure nothing about the way we handle animals will change for a long time.

Sometimes I feel like on staying in the middle of Rome looking around at all the slaves and thinking why the f### does nobody care?

Ignorance, fear ... and nature ... i understand needing to hunt for food, when food is scarce. But we dont stop and continue because of habbit, ritual, and culture.

Basically cargo-culting until it risks our own skin.

I am filled with a deep sense of apology to everything we touch ... very few things we touch are truly better. Its a shame, and a gloomy, powerless conclusion.

I hope .. that we change, and transcend, soon.

Read about some microbiology. Bacteria and fungi are all about drastically changing their environments to suit themselves while at the same time making the area toxic to their competitors.

Penicillium is a famous example of a fungus that makes toxins to destroy bacteria. On the other hand, the bacterial cultures in sourdough produce lactic acids which make the environment hostile to other, slower-growing things.

Then on a macro scale, look at beavers. They undertake massive ecological engineering for their own sake. They can wipe out countless other small animals and ground-nesting birds with the floods they cause.

It’s another kind of human exceptionalism to think we’re unique in altering the environment to suit ourselves at the expense of other species. We’re not. Perhaps the more distinguishing feature is that some of us actually care about it.

I think that makes the difference, the fact that we are (becoming) aware of the consequences of our actions. It gives it the ethical/moral responsibility that we don't expect from fungi, trees, or beavers.

On the other hand, I like your comparison to other species. At an essential level, human culture has lot in common with ancestral life forms, like a culture of slime mould. There's collective behavior over generations, of which individuals are largely unaware.

"Exceptionalism" is an apt word, because not only do we treat other species as our resources, we do it to our own. Humanity eats its children. The fact that we're doing this knowingly, is why we carry shame, a guilty conscience in our collective psyche. We expect better of ourselves, because we should know better.

Hmm. I'm kind of surprised nobody brought up the "nature" argument more strongly.

First of, yes, if you are starving you eat everything. You basically fall back to the level of tribe behavior or below.

However, two things:

One, we are very very far from needing to hunt here in the west. Second: I find it very strange that usually the people who reject the idea that we are coming from and still in many ways are animals are the ones arguing with that it is natural that we eat meat and treating animals like we often do even though it would not be a necessity. "It is how nature does it"

I on the other hand really hope that humans get away from nature (not in the way of disrespecting, disconnecting form it, but in the way nature handles most things like eg. violence, problem solving, cooperation, long term impact vs short term dopamine reward) and really evolves to be a totally different thing not by selection but by intellect, chosen behavior and technology.

It's not that people wouldn't know. It's that people do a lot of small choices every day where they don't really consider the big picture much. If meat is good, and everybody else is doing it, that's it. Homeless people, slavery, the environment, corruption etc all fall into the same category.

> ...very few things we touch are truly better...

I think the concept of anthropocene [0] is a useful one to put in perspective (in millions of years perspective) how out-of-place human activity is.

We are in the midst of an epoch in which Earth is experiencing vast changes due to Human activity, whole eco-systems are being crushed into mass exctinction. We continue to operate as if we are somehow detached from Nature.

You mention rituals and culture but to me it seems that the cronyism and corporate hunger of the extremely wealthy has an overbearing weight on this destruction, more than the average individual, mostly due to having the power to shape governments and policy.

My intuition is that the extremely wealthy continue to pursue wealth as a dopamine hit (it is not out of need at that level of wealth) regardless of ethical consequences. Perhaps, at some point in a more enlightned future, we will treat the Jeff Bezos of the world, as mental health patients in the sociopathic spectrum. Rather than people that have power due to wealth, they will be seen as sociopathic patients in need of help to dissociate wealth from self-worth.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

I agree that policy could have an effect. But it does not explain all of it.

For example, I do not think that "the wealthy" could make slavery fashionable in a medium, lets say two generations time frame.

This is because we have, at least in most places, accepted on a cultural and moral level that slavery is deeply wrong.

I do realize that you can argue with eg. cases in Bangladesh or children in African cobalt mining, but to bring back slavery in Europe or the US would take a massive cultural shift over generations.

Start by undereducating a population. Tie school funding to property values, so that existing imbalances are accentuated in the next generation. Promote a mentality of punishment, even for minor offenses. Always push the framework that an individual is solely responsible for any actions, even when there are overwhelming societal issues.

That sets the tone and the public support for the direct actions to come next. Have increasingly severe punishments for minor crimes. If any politicians speak out against it, run ads describing them as "weak on crime". If necessary, invent entirely new crimes to target the groups that you want to target.

Now you have a captive population, and public support for punishing them. Since the framework emphasizes individual actions and individual "debts", there is no backlash in having that population work while captive.

Slavery is deeply wrong, and exists in the US today through the prison system.

> but to bring back slavery in Europe or the US would take a massive cultural shift over generations

I think that example is taking it off-topic from humans' environmental destruction.

Nevertheless, I hope you are aware that US for-profit prisons have a legal framework for institutionalized forced 'penal labour'. [0]

All you have to say is that these are 'bad' criminals and that they deserve it, and public inertia will allow for this to be accepted and slipped into the background. While for-profit prison cronies are allowed to rent out people to business at zero cost. This is not prison 'professional' rehabilitation this is forced labour.

Money shapes policy, outside that, policy only changes when an extremely high social threshold of indignation is reached.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/23/prison...


Once again back to the good ol' "it's hard to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends on him not understanding it."

We're far too happy to whitewash any convenient action with a noble-sounding excuse in order to excuse our continuing it.

The first step is to start from yourself and take a better look at your plate.

Some of us do, and when in turn we attack those that still keep the barbaric "traditions" of needlessly killing sapient creatures for no good reason at all we are in turn being attacked for not respecting ancient traditions. If those ancient traditions had come from more non-white good people, meaning from people not "like us" (like the Faroese [1] or the Norwegians [2] are) I'm pretty sure the discourse would have been totally different.

[1] https://www.insider.com/whale-and-dolphin-hunts-in-faroe-isl... (NSFL)

[2] http://savedolphins.eii.org/news/entry/norway-now-kills-more...

I agree with the sentiment of starting with yourself but I do not think any kind of "attack" will be helpful. Reasoning, maybe, but only in a few cases.

I do not think awareness is the problem. It is part of culture, upbringing etc. which makes it very deeply routed in people. Even if they understand on a intuitive or intellectual level that it is probably bad (see farmers who work with animals and often have deep connections with animals, or my example with the antique slavery, in which I'm pretty sure 98%+ of the people back then would have seen that "they" are somewhat human and beating and enslaving them is not really right (they even had "some" laws protecting them a tiny bit so they clearly "saw" the problem))) people still do things which they in principle find bad.

Changing our approach to animals will need a lot of time. And pressure will only generate backlash. If not in the west, then have a look at China.

At least that is how I see it at the moment.

Ah yes, the ancient tradition of factory farming :)

I know too many people who fight against climate change, for the green new deal, etc that will happily order the cheese burger at the bar after their meeting. It's weird that people aren't actively participating in the change they are asking society to make. A green future doesn't include easily accessible meat.

> A green future doesn't include easily accessible meat.

who would want to live in such a future? better go under in style than live on caught in green dystopia.

While this is always an interesting topic, this article is barely more than an advertisement for a book. I think the advertisement would have been more effective if it picked one example, such as whale song, and stuck with it a bit. Then ended with 'learn more about this and other interesting animal behavior in the new book.'

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