The Empathy of Animals

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The issue of animal welfare and its inclusiveness in our everyday psyche has always been very important to me individually. As we continue to learn and develop, learning about what separates our species from other species becomes increasingly important. In my presentation earlier today, I mentioned that animals should compose a significant portion of humanities research. At the time that I was researching my topic, I’ve noticed that many articles primarily focused on how the research affected humans. It is my belief that we need to spread our horizons and also look at it from the perspective of other species. Studying animals and the way in which they behave is imperative as we grow and develop as a society of humans.

At the time that I was deciding what medium I would use for my project, I decided on a video, as it was able to convey my ideas the most thoroughly. A video also enabled me to include several examples in video form from the internet. As I was working on the project, I happened to be visiting the Houston Zoo. While I was there, I spoke to several zookeepers regarding the condition of animals and their own personal thoughts off the record. The answers I received for very diverse. Many of the zookeepers believe that animals should not be kept in zoos, but they are working at a zoo in order to make the animals’ lives better. Some others believe that animals existed primarily for our entertainment, and zoos were not unethical in the slightest. Even still, zookeepers do not care at all and did not see the animals as sentient beings, but rather objects to profit off of.

As we go into the complex world of animal-human relations, it is important that we remember that we are only looking at it from our perspective. The entire idea of humans being equal with other species of animals is somewhat futuristic as well. We still have issues of racism and classism in today’s society. Personally, I do not see any way in which we can properly interact with animals without first ourselves, so to speak. Sentient beings are defined as individuals who can think and act for themselves. Almost every species of animals can be defined by this. In my presentation, I mentioned elephants, monkeys, dolphins, and parents. I particularly used the example of art. The reasoning behind it was that art and creativity are what separates humans from robots and technology. It is also what separates organic and inorganic beings. I portrayed an image of an elephant painting a tree in my video. The elephant acquired the skills on its own. They were able to comprehend the uses of paint and paintbrush and create an image all on its own. 

In my video, and earlier in this essay, I mentioned the selfishness of humans. Whenever we contemplate this topic, we are only looking at how these interactions and communications benefit humans. If we are to truly understand the implications associated with these subjects, we need to see animals as equals, or at least as something more than unevolved. Furthermore, we depend on animals in ways we cannot even imagine. Whether it be for food, transportation, or even for companionship, our existence as a species is intertwined with that of other species on this planet. 

 During the time that I was composing my video, one of the many challenges encountered was how to animate the images, and how to incorporate myself into the video. At first, I considered including my zookeeper interview into the video, however, I was not able to convince the interviewees to sign a media release form. This automatically impacted me, as my video was instantly two minutes shorter than it used to be. I made up for this time by including more facts and figures supporting my argument. Furthermore, I had several issues with incorporating the audio. Initially, I’d recorded audio with a microphone. Unfortunately, the file was corrupted and later deleted. For this reason, I had to create another recording using my laptop. This resulted in lower-quality audio for the video. 

There are several steps leading up to my decision. At the beginning of the semester, you discussed my very topic, of how and why animals should be included in Humanities research. after I discussed how much we devalue animals and their intellectual capabilities, I was intrigued by the depth of the subject. Even now, through this video and essay, I still have not fully grasped the immensity of what human-animal interaction could mean for the long run. There are so many implications and attitudes by different scholars and researchers who have pondered this topic for decades. After going off their own research, and proceeding to develop my own, I was able to decide my own course of action. My views fit in closely with visionaries such as Henry Beston and other humanitarians. I fully support the idea that the animal kingdom is much more complex than we could ever imagine. The beliefs and values we study as a human species is nothing compared to the depth and perceptions of other species. Part of this is due to biology.

 Take giant squids for example. Humans have RGB light in their eyes. Those are three different cones that we use to see our world (red, green, and blue). Squids and octopi can see more than that, meaning that they can see more colors than we could ever imagine. Some species don’t see color all, some species only see in monochromacy. Some species can hear sounds from miles away, while some cannot hear at all. The contrasting biology that we see in our species than others is just the beginning of how we can fully grasp the aforementioned concepts.

I could go on and on, describing the fascinating aspects of different beings on our planet. But how does it relate to my argument? Without really understanding how others perceive the world, we tend to selfishly consider only our own points of view. This is obviously a negative thing because without understanding how others see the world, there is no way to understand them as individuals. We selfishly force animals to conform to our own beliefs and values in order to communicate. For example, we train animals to wave, shake hands, and smile, because that is the way we perceive emotion. We tell parakeets another voice imitating birds to speak our language because that is the only way they are able to communicate with us. If we look deeper into animal behavior and how they communicate, we will have a greater understanding of how other species function.

 A majority of the viewpoints I explored in my video came from my heart and mind. As I said earlier, I have always been passionate about the matters of animal welfare and equality. For this reason, the ongoing debate of animals not being seen as equivalent to human beings has always troubled me. As Henry Beston stated, “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

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