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Emotions for all
on May 6, 2003
In this book, the authors Masson and McCarthy compile thoughtful and deeply educational stories that demonstrate the presence of emotions in non-human animals. Throughout the book these two authors draw from numerous stories and experiences that range from love to jealousy, to hate and compassion to convey to the reader the capacity of animals to experience emotions and feelings. One would expect such a book that is predominantly based on secondary information to be less informative and lack the knowledge to deliver a quality piece of writing. However Masson and McCarthy are able to communicate the controversial subject of the emotional lives of species other than are own, in a crystal clear manner.
The book delivers intelligent arguments that force the reader to pry deeper into the idea that animals do in fact have emotions. If emotions such as joy, grief, fear, and hope are able to cross cultural boundaries, why shouldn't it be plausible for these very same emotions to cross an interspecies boundary as well? By viewing animals as simple species that are incapable to feel and understand their emotions; we are robbing them of their capacity to be equal with the human race. The book continues to deliver the idea of a "double standard" that humans have developed when it comes to ethical treatment; and finds the route of this problem to be deeply imbedded in the minds of our civilization. Descartes has referred to animals as senseless machines, incapable of emotions and feelings, but is countered by Masson and McCarthy.
"To describe the lives of animals without including their emotions may be just inaccurate, just as superficial and distorted and may strip them of their wholeness just as profoundly. To understand animals, it is essential to understand what they feel." (Masson 23)
By delivering a variety of stories about different animals ranging from butterfly fish to elephants, When Elephants Weep is able to show the large spectrum of feelings that animals have been known to experience in their own existence. It does however bring to light one of the most worrisome and critical aspects of animal emotions: the idea of anthropomorphism. "Science considers anthropomorphism toward animals a grave mistake, even a sin," (Masson 32) states Masson. Reflecting human emotions on to individual animals changes the way in which mankind views other species, and in essence takes away their individuality as separate beings. We may think that a dog is happy, yet we have no capacity to feel the feelings and emotions that a dog has ever experienced. "Anthropocentrism treats animals as inferior forms of people and denies what they really are." (Masson 42) Being the controversial subject that it is, anthropomorphism has its pros and cons, and is constantly the focus when it comes to behavioral analysis in animals.
Once the topic of anthropomorphism is discussed and dissected, the book continues on to its primary focus which is the actual existence of emotions in non-human animals. Littered with short, second hand stories that have been collected through the century; each emotion that is known to humans is applied to animals in a variety of ways. Love and friendship between chimpanzees; grief and mourning of elephant herds, as well as jealousy through gray parrots; these are just an example of the broad range of emotions that span through the natural world of animals. This book does something that most books about animals cannot do; it portrays them not as savage beasts but as highly delicate and meaningful creatures that are more evolved emotionally than once believed. One unique story that is told is that of the trap-door spider and their capacity to love.
"Moggridge shook the baby spiders off her back and dropped her into the alcohol. After a while, supposing her to be "dead to sense," he dropped her twenty-four babies in too. To his horror, the mother spider reached out her legs, folded the babies beneath her, and clasped them until she died." (Masson 68)
Many other stories are told throughout the pages, some sad, and portray animals as humans, while other stories distinctly draw the line between humans and animals.
If animals are able to feel shouldn't society acknowledge this and treat them accordingly. It once thought that the ability to cry was a human trait, and only a human trait. As a habit, most people consider bodily fluids disgusting (such as urine, feces, etc.), but embrace the concept of tears and crying. The reason for this mindset was because it was an action that only humans had the capability of performing. Mason proves otherwise through the stories of a particular elephant. "Okha does cry at times, but that he had no idea why. Okha sometimes shed a tear when being scolded, it is reported, and at least once wept while giving children rides." (Masson 106) This does not just end with the idea of elephants crying and shedding tears, but also delivers stories of poodles, apes, and seals crying in painful or distressful situations. Not only does the topic of animals weeping relate directly to the title of this book, it demonstrates that other species besides humans are capable of a multitude of emotions.
Another major topic that is brought up is that of zoos and animals being imprisoned by them. When a human is put behind bars, they feel lonely and an aurora of despair and depression overtakes them; the same emotions have been found in animals. Many studies have been conducted to see if animals do in fact have these emotions. There is a story that tells the tale of a monkey who was put in a black isolation chamber for six months and then placed in a cage with other monkeys who were left to socialize during the six month time period. Once the isolated monkey was placed with the others, it immediately ran into the corner and embraced itself and was assaulted by his mates until the monkey perished away. These studies in fact are a lot like zoos; the animals cannot enjoy their abilities, a function that is labeled as "funktionslust". A cheetah may appear to be happy in an enclosed pasture, however it does not have the freedom to sprint for miles or to hunt and reproduce under its own terms. What happens now that it has been revealed that we share many human attributes with animals; is it time we stop their suffering, is time we discontinue using them as a food resource? Masson is still unclear about this. Has the time finally arrived where we as a society have realized that we hold no dominion over animals and that they are in fact equal to us in the field of emotions, or shall we just imprison more species behind the steal cages we call zoos.
I enjoyed reading this book and only have a slight criticism of this book. I would have liked to read more about the stories that are touched upon rather than have them summarized in a few sentences. Masson and McCarthy touch on some amazing accounts of animals exhibiting truly unique emotional qualities that could be better understood if detailed more. I have also realized that perhaps testing on animals is not the best way to learn their emotions, if in fact it is true that they share emotions with humans, why not test on humans themselves.