Saturday, May 6, 2017

Billions Dead in U.S. Alone

“The Emotional Lives of Animals,” by Marc Berkoff, 2007

Full disclosure.  I used to think that the ‘animal’ issue could wait until the ‘human’ issue was resolved.  Well, as is apparent in science and our own experience, there is no wall between them.  Nor between them and the environment as a whole.  So I’m now a 90% vegetarian that eats a bit of fish and two animal products, eggs and one kind of cheese.  I’m gradually reducing the latter two categories. This kind of food 'reductionism' is happening across the U.S.  And its part of the reaction to books like this.

Moon Bear in a 'crush cage' in China
This book starts with our own simple experience with dogs or cats or farm animals and links it up with science.  At one point science – based on Christianity and also capitalism – decreed that animals had no feelings, intelligence and were totally separate from humans.  This allowed animals to be treated like ‘things.’ To this day, some scientists still think this and of course the meat and dairy industry is based on it.  But according to Berkoff the majority of scientists now accept that animals have emotions and thought of a certain kind..  Like evolution and global warming, another scientific point that can be ignored? 

So people might wonder, what is the difference between us – is it only in degree?  Engels in ‘The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” pointed to the unique role of labor in creating the human animal.  Oddly enough, Berkoff says that other animals spend about 90% of their time not working – not hunting or foraging or building a place to live.  While humans?  Way more work than that.  Of course, then there are the animals that work for men for a pittance - sheepdogs, elephants, water buffalo, horses, captive whales, etc.  Engels postulated that the erect hominid posture freed up the hands even more than any ‘ape.’  This allowed more fine ‘work’ to be accomplished, including the development of complex tools and weapons. Humans became the 'tool-making animal.'  Complex languages developed as a way for humans to communicate while working together. This led to brain development, then the development of shelters and clothing and the consequent spread of humans across the globe.

Engels said that humans ‘belong to nature’ and Berkoff obviously agrees.  We are connected intimately.  Darwin wrote that animals had at least 6 emotions, though more have been identified now, like sympathy, love, a sense of humor, even a certain ‘morality.’  Darwin observed 6:  anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear and surprise.  Berkoff makes the point that it would be illogical if evolution would not carry emotions forward to homo-sapiens.  Otherwise they would have to spring full-grown, ex nihilo, out of nothing.  Berkoff and other’s field experiments and observations – especially observing play - confirm that animals have many emotions; they share both neural areas of the brain and chemicals with humans; and that ‘anthropomorphizing’ animal behavior actually identifies animal emotions quite well.  Berkoff studied elephants, dogs, chimpanzees, birds, penguins, pigs, even mice.  He contends that ‘brain size’ has nothing to do with it and calls the handoff ‘evolutionary continuity.”

Berkoff identifies ‘behavioral flexibility’ in animals as more evidence of emotions and intelligence.  I.E. animals are not automatons. 

Emotions are actually key to animal survival.  Berkoff contends – as many other scientists are now confirming – that emotions enable cooperation and survival among groups.  Unlike capitalist / libertarian ideology which maintains a primitive ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology leading to rampant individualism, actual observation shows that animals that deceive, do not cooperate, attack others or break the ‘golden rule’ actually are isolated and sometimes driven out of groups.  Evolution confirms that cooperation plays the main role in survival, not conflict.  Berkoff’s field studies indicate that animals spend far more time taking care of each other than fighting – even across species.  So the promotion of social Darwinism or biological ‘survival of the fittest’ is primarily an ideological project, not based on science. 

Of course, the key in politics is ‘what group’ you are part of.  If you pick the wrong ‘group’ you may become an inappropriate enemy of another group.

Berkoff stopped using animals for scientific studies after obediently killing a certain dog for an experiment.  He subsequently became a vegetarian purely for ethical reasons.  He opposes the meat industry, the animal experimentation complex and zoos and circuses because of their destructive effect on animals, in the wild and not.  He dedicated the book to Jasper, a moon bear kept in a ‘crush cage’ for 15 years in China.  The cage helped squeeze the bile out of his body – part of some kind of ‘traditional’ Chinese medicine.  This would be like you lying in a cage for 15 years unable to move, with bars pressed against your body.  Sadism?  Sure. The bear was ultimately rescued.

In 1998 26.8 billion animals were killed for food in the U.S.  That does not include hunting, road kill, testing or government extermination programs.  That number would be far higher today. The meat industry worldwide is the biggest beneficiary of the lust for meat, which has now become the signifier of economic success in many societies. I'm not talking about societies where meat is part of survival.  Like addictions to sugar, salt and fat, meat is a fetish or a habit in societies that have a choice, but still unsustainable in the present world environment.   

As our scientific knowledge grows, ‘animals’ become part of any project of liberation, socialist or otherwise.  The 'metabolic rift' between human society and nature has to be overcome.  Like nearly all 'green' deep ecology or 'animal rights' thinkers, Berkoff cannot locate the source of this alienation in the very nature of capital, and hence has no revolutionary alternative to it.  Yet it is capital that gains through the exploitation of man, animal and nature.

Prior reviews on books about this subject: “Fear of an Animal Planet,”, “Salt, Fat & Sugar,” "Green is the New Red," and various books on factory farming.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
May 6, 2017

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