Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Roger Pulvers quotes author Noriko Imanishi as saying “It’s a given that a society in which animals are happy is one in which humans are happy” in his February 13th eulogy to the sad fate of abandoned pets and his review of her book on the topic (“Japan’s cull of once-loved pets cries out for German-style controls”).
It pleases people to imagine their animals are happy, but that’s only wishful thinking. Who really knows what an animal ‘feels’? That’s the sort of talk we hear from people who swoon before animals like pilgrims. Among animals we can properly speculate about high order cerebral functions only in regard to primates and a very few sea mammals, and even then speaking about it is problematic. Familiar animals like pet dogs and cats do not ‘think,’ nor do they ‘feel’ or ‘trust’ in any way that we can understand. Their brain structures do not provide for it, or for consciousness and personality the way we usually imagine them. And, even if they did we must admit that no human can ever know what it is like to experience life like an animal. In fact, no human being knows the mind of another of our own species. Many of us don’t even know ourselves.
Sorry pet owners, but your dogs do not love you, and they are incapable of sadness or happiness in any way that you could possibly understand no matter what you think their behavior indicates. Analogy is the weakest form of comparison, and people say things like that for public relations and because it helps us livewith ourselves in an artificial world. As an explanation of animals anthropomorphizing does more harm than good, and I sort of feel sorry for animals because so many of us want to offer them token humanity.
Published on Sunday, February 20, 2011 as “Unrequited love for pet owners.”
Japan is a great country for animal anthropomorphism. So many pet owners here treat their animals as their own children, as members of their family. When I first saw it I thought it was just crazy to dress them up in coats and boots, in rain gear and hats. They push them around in baby perambulators and gently wipe their bottoms during walk time. It’s taking the Japanese cultural disposition towards cuteness too far and it’s annoying. I cannot help thinking it’s a kind of silk glove abuse. But it’s common for people everywhere, not just Japanese, to anthropomorphize animals - especially, but not limited to their pets. The English are similarly mad about their dogs and give good indications that they fail to notice that their dogs are not human.
For the record, I also deny that animals have souls and that they deserve“rights.” Our legislatures may pass animal rights and anti-cruelty legislation. But I find the notion of granting rights to animals who have no capacity whatsoever to bear the associated responsibilities offensive. The existence of animal rights laws is evidence to me that we do it more for our benefit than for theirs. As I said in my letter, to enable us to more easily live with ourselves in the artificial world we create. Anti-cruelty laws I can live with. But not animal rights laws, because the logical extension is granting animals rights to education, employment, pensions, equal representation, an accessible society, etc. Detractors might say that I am being silly and deliberately going too far, which is exactly what I say about animals rights to begin with.
Pet owners are very adamant about their pets’ personalities, perceptions of their pets’ intelligence, signs of love, devotion, trust, happiness, fear, etc. I say that anecdotal evidence and analogies to human behavior are negligible and do not amount to proper evidence of anything. Furthermore, I think people habitually underestimate animal instincts and over estimate conditioned responses. When people - pet owners or not - talk about animals as thinking creatures with personality, expressing likes and dislikes, happiness, trust, intelligence, anger, etc. they are mostly likely talking mostly about themselves and don’t realize it.
A great example in Japan is the loyal dog Hachiko. Everyone knows the story of the dog that waited every day for its master at Shibuya Station. One day the master died at work and didn’t return home. But every day for the rest of its life Hachiko walked to Shibuya Station and waited ... and waited. Today there is a bronze statue of the animal in a pedestrian plaza outside the station. It is a popular meeting place. Hachiko herself is stuffed and on display at a museum in Ueno Park. Hachiko is revered in Japan for her loyalty because her behavior appears to conform to traditional Japanese values. But I might suggest that less than being an intelligent animal demonstrating loyalty Hachiko was instead so dumb that it could not change its behavior once the situation changed. I mean she was conditioned to meet her master at the station at the same time every day and could not break the habit after the man’s death. How sad.
Personally, as a diabetic my life depends on insulin injections. Insulin was developed at the University of Toronto in the 1920s through experiments with dogs. So my life depends on live animal experimentation. Terrible but true. Therefore I think I cannot sincerely accept an anti-animal experimentation position like what PETA espouses. I cannot congruously endorse animals on an equivalent legal footing with humans. And I reject the suggestion that computer modeling adequately replaces or eliminates the need for scientific testing of live animals.
On orthodox moral grounds I would say that it is humans, not animals that are made in the image of God, meaning that there is a fundamental moral difference between a human being and any other kind of creature. The difference between us is not purely subjective, relative or exclusively fabricated.