GENE LOGSDON: Anthropomorphism, A Big Word Getting Bigger


The Contrary Farmer

Treating animals as if they were humans or ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is what anthropomorphism means, is gaining more cultural ground every day and giving farmers who produce meat a huge headache. Things have gone so far that some people equate eating any meat with cannibalism.

Good grief. But if the human race decides not to eat meat anymore, what can I say? I am not infallible in matters of faith and morals like the Pope is supposed to be. Come to think of it, I wonder what the Pope has to say about animal rights because the accusation of cannibalism was often leveled at early Christians to make fun of them. Christians believed, and Catholics still do, that, during the communion service, bread actually, literally, not symbolically, transubstantiates into the body of Christ when the priest pronounces the words “this is my body” over it. Critics of early Christianity said that if someone truly believed that, then they were cannibals to consume that transformed bread. Silly, perhaps, but by the same token I could accuse today’s more extreme animal rights defenders of cannibalism for consuming all those tiny microbial animals in the bread they eat.

I don’t think that most humans are going to quit eating meat. But there is going to be lots more clamor and controversy over how we treat animals. Animal welfare laws have been in effect in this country almost from its beginning because of the sad fact that humans can be cruel— to each other as well as to other animals. But the idea that animals have rights like humans do is in for a lot of travail. The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, promised that, upon being elected, one of the first things he would do would be to banish the horse and carriage trade from the streets of the city. So far he hasn’t gotten that accomplished. The inconsistencies and contradictions involved are almost too banal to justify comment. If horses pulling carriages is cruelty to animals, how about cart pulling, popular among the horsey set? How about horse racing either with carts or without? How about horseback riding? We don’t put saddles on people and ride them around. Think of the millions of 4Hers who would rise up in wrath if someone tried to stop them from riding horses. And if it’s cruel for horses to pull carriages, how about all the humans who make a living carting people around in rickshaws in other parts of the world? How about the millions of people worldwide who still depend on horses and oxen to do their farming? How about dog sleds in Alaska?

Contradictions pile up the more anthropomorphism piles on. I am sure the mayor of New York would use any means available to rid his city of rats. But don’t rats have rights too? Why is it wrong to kill raccoons that are devastating human property but okay to kill mice in the pantry. Last year millions of turkeys and chickens were killed, many of them still quite healthy, in hopes of stopping a bird flu epidemic. Anthropomorphically speaking, we would never do that with a human disease epidemic.

It is now possible to go to jail for shooting a dog even while the law of the land in rural areas allows shepherds to kill sheep-chasing dogs. If anthropomorphism becomes the law of the land, will trespassing dogs be put in jail? Why aren’t coyotes punished for killing pet cats. If I can kill a coyote chasing my cat, why not a dog? I don’t hear anyone saying it, but for people who have to try to manage stray cats, coyotes are a blessing in disguise. They are sifting even into cities and decimating the stray cat population. Hooray. Lately, adversaries of various Humane Societies and People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals are hooting and hollering at these organizations accusing them of hypocrisy because they, along with local pet shelters, kill up to around three quarters of the dogs and cats they take in. But there are just too many stray cats and dogs for the adoption process to absorb. HSUS and PETA and local pet shelters are doing us a favor. The other admirable practice all these organizations have pioneered is neutering cats and dogs before they are offered for adoption. That’s hardly being kindly to animals but it is an effective way of reducing the overpopulation of strays.

Most anthropomorphers, to coin a new word, do not object to killing rats but champion another rodent, the squirrel. Squirrels are just so cute. Never mind that they gnaw holes to get into attics and wreak havoc, get into gardens and wreak some more, and short out electric lines causing power outages that cost millions to repair. With the same attitude anthropomorphers resist reducing the deer herd to more manageable levels. The very same people who moan and groan about cows increasing CO2 emissions see no problem with deer. If herds of cows wandered at will across suburbia like deer do, they would be having conniptions.