Another expert has been proclaimed in order to reinforce the ultimate story that has given European civilized humans purpose and value since the dawn of their existence! This time, it is Dr. Hal Herzog, a psychologist at Western Carolina University and an expert on “human-animal interactions,” who presents us with segmented regiments of the human condition as it interacts with animals. “We” are put into perspective using the ancient rational knowledge of utilitarian ethics and reductionist science; of course, “we” are the average white human in western civilization extrapolated to humans everywhere. Here is what he had to say.
The fact is, very few people are vegetarians; even most vegetarians eat meat.
I think the fact is that we’re natural meat-eaters. And a lot of my vegetarian friends don’t like that. But it’s our biology and our evolutionary heritage.
By the way, I don’t want to be seen as defending cockfighting. I’m opposed to it. I’ve never really bought their justification. But the fact is, there is actually less harm done by rooster fighting than there is by eating chicken.
I think we should be concerned with childhood cruelty, but not necessarily because these kids are going to turn into sociopaths. I found a striking statement in Darwin’s autobiography where he says, “I beat a puppy when I was a child just for the power of it.” Charles Darwin….The vast majority of kids get away with [animal abuse], and most people are going to grow up to be fine human beings.
One of the things I love about studying human-animal interaction is that they tell us a lot about human nature. Not in these specific ones, but generally, we see the best in human behavior and the worst in human behavior.
But I have a section in the book where I talk about whether pets are good for people. And I think they’ve been sort of overrated as being good for people.
So the problem we have is determining cause and effect. There are a few studies that I think are good that have found a cause and effect, but not many.
When we admit cats and animals into our world, and we think of them like relatives and we think of them like us, it makes perfect sense for us to think that, yes, they’d rather have a gourmet natural duck entree out of a can than eat a mouse.
I never [struggled with vegetarianism]. I still struggle with cat ownership.
If you want the entire interview, visit salon.com. To my dismay, Herzog’s not shaking any existing paradigms (not that he was trying to). His reductionist approach allows him to talk about human-animal relationships in a dissected and detached way, without attempting to relate at all or acknowledge the cultural constructs that support his notion on “human nature.” And this makes him an expert on human-animal relations and bold (and foolish) enough to make the conclusion that most vegetarians eat meat because all humans are biologically inclined to love and hate and eat animals all in the same sentence. Easier to say that we understand any animal’s behavior so long as we reduce the behavior solely to cause and effect, to genetic disposition, to a universal realm of impact without context or adherence to real-life, felt experience. Dr. Herzog should know better than that. Or perhaps I should know better for expecting him to.
He’s not original in his thought (not that he was trying to be), nor is he the only one to re-wrap the current story that predominates western morality and feelings of responsibility into a bold, progressive, and seemingly profound manifesto. One of his references, Michael Pollan, has done this and has a huge following because of it. Many followers of deep ecology have managed to do this as well. This is possibly because many deep ecology enthusiasts are white, middle-class consumers who dub all non-human living beings, rocks, soil, mountains, and water as the land.
The point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy for many people to accept Herzog’s story because it reinforces what they already believe, what they were raised to believe, what they learned in school and media to accept as true, what they are teaching their children to believe. At the same time, it’s also easy for many people to reject Herzog’s story because it is a reinforcement of what they were taught to believe and now refuse to believe. The story comes in different packages and it smells different depending on which context you throw it in. The reasons addressing why are different, but the conclusion is always the same.
Can you detect the story? It’s not unique to European civilization, but it has certainly honed it.