Posted by: joha5 | July 1, 2010

Animalistic Behavior: The Perverse Relationship Between Humans & the Animal Kingdom

Everybody loves the zoo.  Outside of members of PETA and other animal extremists I cannot think of a single person that I have ever heard of or met that can honestly say that they hate the zoo.  There is just nothing to hate about it.  There are amazing and adorable animals that are well taken care of, it’s an educational experience, it’s a fun family or bonding experience, and it is a fantastic way to spend the morning and afternoon. 

However, there is one peculiar pattern that emerges in human behavior when we frequent the zoo.  People simply cannot stop themselves from anthropomorphizing the animals.  It is absolutely astounding.  They talk about the animals as if they are human.  They view them as if they are doing human-like activities.  They give them human voices and personalities.  They comment on them as if they are human.  And they discuss them with their friend’s as if they were gossiping about humans.

Are humans more like animals or are animals more like humans?

I must admit that I am guilty of this behavior as well.  The only difference between me and other random denizens of the zoo is that I try not to speak too loudly for fear of sounding like a complete turd.  I don’t know what it is about the zoo that brings out this side of people but it really is the only place where people feel totally unhibited to say absolutely ridiculous things in the company of strangers – outside of a bar – and not feel any reluctance in doing so. 

A typical overheard conversation at the zoo may sound a little something like this…

“Awww…look at that Elephant-Nosed Shrew, Bobby!”

“Oh my God, Carol!  What is he doing?  Looking for his keys?!

“Ha!  What an idiot.  I wonder what his wife will think when she gets home.”

“She’s probably out banging another dude shrew.”

“How greedy can one shrew be?!  I should have figured that was a promiscuous shrew.  Doesn’t it kinda looks like Elle Macpherson anyway?

“Yeah…Elle Mac-shrew-son.”

Do you see what the zoo does to people?  It turns them into idiots.  The Elephant-Nosed Shrew was not looking for a set of keys, it was not an idiot, it didn’t have a wife nor had it ever been married, and it never actually named itself something absurd like Elle Mac-shrew-son.  The shrew was probably doing what all animals do: looking for either food or sex.  So I guess Bobby and Carol were at least right about the promiscuity. 

Elle Mac-shrew-son looking for her keys...apparently.

But then again, I guess that is so interesting about the zoo.  You look at yourself in the given context of the animals.  Sure I may be more intelligent, walk upright, and have opposable thumbs but there are so many things that are so wonderfully fascinating about the animals.  The sheer strength of the gorillas, the girth of the elephants, the speed of the leopards, the noses of the anteaters, and the colors of the birds.  In some ways, our ridiculous attitudes at the zoo reflects some strange combination of our feelings of superiority and inferiority towards these animals.  Inferior because they are behind bars or behind glass and there are very few animals at the zoo that any of us would feel comfortable meeting out in the open with no barrier inbetween.  Superior because if these animals were so smart and in charge of their environment then they would never have been put in a zoo in the first place, would they? 

I suppose what the zoo gives us is a safe and fun venue to pursue the role of voyeur without suffering any reprecussions.  Voyeurism seems to be a natural human instinct.  Just think about all of the times we do it throughout the day.  We do it with colleagues, people at the coffee shop, the mall, even on television and in movies.  It is easier to establish a feeling or a set of emotions towards other humans because we can understand their emotions, their motivations, and what drives them to do what they do – or at least we think we can.  With animals we just kind of have to make it all up.  I certainly don’t know what it is like to have the scent of a dog or the speed of a cheetah.  We don’t know what animals think, what they see, how they communicate exactly, what they think of the external world, if they think of the external world, and why they do exactly what they do.  It’s pretty amazing to think that we know so much about humanity but so little about the animal kingdom. 

This, I suppose, is exactly why we anthropomorhize these animals that we see at the zoo.  We can only understand these animals through the prism of our own experience so we natually think of them as little human beings running around doing all sorts of little human chores rather than complex animals doing complex animal chores.  It’s just extremely ironic that human beings – the most intelligent species on the planet – can just say things and act in a way that is so idiotic and regressive that even the animal kingdom would find it difficult not to be offended by the likes of us.

This is what happens when people are rude to animals. You get 'em, Donkey!

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