Ringling Brothers and Elephants

Today I published an opinion piece about this in the New York Daily News.  It has generated a lot of comment.  I would like to know  your opinion.  Here is the link:

http://nydn.us/1wAkvGQ

People care about elephants, with good reason.  I plead for them to care just as much for the animals whose eggs we take, whose milk we drink, whose babies we kill, whose flesh we eat.  I see that day approaching faster than anyone could have imagine just ten years ago.

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Are Dogs Uniquely Friendly?

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Yes.

I have always felt that dogs are our superior when it comes to lots of things, but the most important one is that they are more friendly, as a species, than humans are, as a species.

I see evidence of this on a daily basis by simply watching dogs wag their tales as they notice or approach a strange dog (they don’t even have the concept of “stranger.”).

The other day we were  up in the mountains above Granada, skiing (well, my wife and 13 year old boy were skiing – my days of skiing are over).  We rented an apartment in the hills above a small convenience store.  The woman who runs it has a dog, Flip.  He is an English Spaniel.  He was delighted to see us, to see other dogs, to see his person.  Normal. 

The next day we walked down the hill from where we were staying in the mountains, almost a mile downhill to where people were skiing and I saw a dog who looked a lot like Flip wandering about greeting the skiers in the snow.  Later I asked.  Yep, it was him.  The next day I saw him sitting with a man who looked homeless (there are very few in Spain, so I think he was just poor and had most of his belongings with him).  Flip was looking up at him with adoration.  “Your dog,” I asked?  “No, just likes hanging out with me.”

I asked the woman what was up with him.  How come he was down in the valley during the day and at home in the evening?  “That is what he does.  He loves to be with people all day, but comes home at night.”

  A true free spirit.  He goes where he wants, when he wants, but knows where he belongs.  All day he spends time greeting his friends.  Hyperfriendly, that is what Flip is.  And Flip is not alone.  There are other dogs like him.  So let me ask you:  When was the last time you met a person like this?

I rest my case.

Nor is it a trivial case.  For if humans could be more like dogs, we would live in a much warmer, more friendly, more gentle world.  I for one would like that. 

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Pigeons and US

doveI told Nancy Miller, the editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury America

“I want to write a book about pigeons.” 

“Why,” she asked?

“Because I want to know what they think of us.”

“And do you?”

“No.”

“Well, then, it seems to me we don’t have a book.”

And being the lovely woman she is, Nancy added:

“Get back to me if you ever figure it out.”

I was reminded of what Steve Ross, my editor for my book Dogs Never Lie About Love, said to me when I told him I was going to write something in there about what dogs dreamed about: 

“Jeff, we could have a major best-seller if you can crack that.”

I couldn’t.

Back to pigeons: 

I am sure I am not alone when I wonder how they live so close to us, and yet are so unknown by us.  We insult them:  “Rats of the sky” we call them.  (Mind you, why should “rat” be an insult in any event?  I have known, and befriended, many a domestic rat, and so have my children.) 

The pigeon called the Passenger Pigeon (not because he was a passenger, or carried anything, but because he was just “passing” by, from the French) is gone.  In the 19th century in America, there were so many of these wonderful birds, that once a single flock was observed that spread a mile wide, and went on for 300 miles: It contained 3.5 billion birds in it!   Possibly this was the largest collection of animals ever seen.  Yet humans managed to kill every one of them.  How?  Mostly by hunting them for “fun.”  It was easy to kill the birds once they were nesting, as the parents refused to abandon nests with young in them. So for example, at a nesting site in Michigan, 50,000 birds were killed each day for five months.  So successful was this slaughter, that eventually only a single female passenger pigeon, Martha, was left, sad and alone, in the Cincinnati zoo, where she died in 1914.  Aldo Leopold said after this: “Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.” 

We know of “crimes against humanity.”   One day, I am sure, there will be an International Criminal Court that will try crimes against the natural world and its inhabitants, including pigeons.

But what about my original question?  Pigeons are not domesticated. Even if they live in cities or right on top of our houses they maintain a discreet distance from us, yet they are always near.  Is it because the living is easy?  Could they just like our company?  What could we do to make them our friends, beyond feeding them?  What are we to them?  I suspect they are waiting for us to wake up.  What do you think is in their minds?  Please don’t say “nothing” because that is impossible.  If cats and dogs think about us, why not pigeons?  If they seem far more mysterious or harder to read, it could be only that we have never tried.  I am in Malaga, Spain, right now, with my family, and we see pigeons every day, and I get the feeling they know I am on to them. If I ever crack the code, I will give Nancy Miller a call, and you will be able to read all about it.

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I Would Rather Have Been Born an Orca

 

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No kidding.  I really would.  What sets me off can be just about any account of an atrocity, because my first thought is:  no orca ever does this.  The latest was reading about the “desaparecidos” in Argentina during the years of the junta, the brutal dictatorship that “disappeared,” i.e., murdered some 30,000 people from 1976 until 1983.  In my latest book I wrote about the fact that humans had killed some 200,000,000 of our own kind during the 20th century alone, and during that same time, orcas had killed exactly zero of their kind.  Reading in my favorite new site, “The Dodo” about the female orca who is 103 years old, made me think about her life.  She is surrounded by her children and grandchildren.  She travels constantly, sometimes 100 miles in a single day.  She eats what she has been taught to eat, but other than that, causes no harm to any other living being.  Most definitely not to other orcas. 

 

Is it possible to really think about the life of another creature?  It is hard, and even novelists have a tough time convincing us what living as a chimp, a wolf, an elephant, or a whale would be like (let alone an animal even more remote from us, such as a parrot).  Still, it is something that occurs to me a lot recently, as I open my newspaper and read about Syria, and the Ukraine, and as I ponder the history of the 20th century.  What is it that appeals to me most?  I guess the idea of causing little if any suffering to another being.  True, I try to do that as a human, but I find myself part of a species where this is hardly an ideal.   My own president sees no problem in hunting down other Americans with a drone because somebody has convinced him they are worth killing and need not stand trial.  My heroes, people like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, are rare at any time in history.  And many people would be happy to see them dead, just as the Germans wanted men like Primo Levi (another hero of mine) dead. 

 

There may be no orca heroes, but nor are there orca psychopaths (unless we cage them in an overgrown bathtub for years.  They go about their gentle lives without leaving enormous suffering behind them.  They never seek us out to harm us, even though you might expect they would, since we kill approximately 1400 of them every year.  No orca has ever killed a human in the wild.  Why not?  We will probably never know.  Maybe simply because they don’t kill for fun or even for revenge.  They only kill to eat. 

 

Had I been born an orca, what kind of consciousness would I have?  Impossible to say.  But I suspect I would know that in comparison to that other apex predator, the one on land, humans, I was better off.  My life was simple, but the joys I had on a daily basis were enormous and I suspect they were, by and large, greater than the joys of humans.  So if somebody offered me a choice, I would choose to be an orca.  I wonder how many people think they would have been better off had they been born a different animal?

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Leaving New Zealand

Original1If you go to this site: http://www.54peacockstreet.co.nz you will see our house. We are leaving New Zealand after 13 years. We have just put up our house for sale. I thought some of my friends on Facebook and Twitter would want to see where and how we lived in our house on the beach in Auckland. So here is the site for the house, with pictures, a video, and you can even see Benjy (who was the hero of “The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving”) and some of the cats from my book “The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats.” We will leave in December for Europe, where we will spend six months in Spain (possibly Malaga, as it is warm there in the winter), and six months in the summer in Berlin. After that, Australia (Sydney) for a year or two or possibly even longer. At the moment, for the first time in 30 years, I am not working on a book. Not sure how I feel about this, whether to be sad, or relieved! I have been tempted to try my hand at a historical novel about the 1938 Evian Conference called by Franklin Roosevelt to see what could be done for the beleaguered Jews of Austria and Germany (nothing, it turns out). Not too many people are aware of this important event. Important because it convinced Hitler, rightly, that no nation would object (at least not to the point of allowing them to immigrate in large numbers) when he proceeded with his murderous plans to kill the Jews. Not sure I have the talent to pull this off, but I think it is worth a try.

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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson On What Animals Teach Us About Human Evil

Originally posted on Ask the Agent:

Beast-HC jeff and benjyToday Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson will be talking to us about his new book, Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Human Evil, released this month by Bloomsbury Press.  Jeff has been writing about animal emotions for 20 years. His books, When Elephants Weep (1996) and Dogs Never Lie About Love (1998) have each sold over 1,000,000 copies. Jeff is one of the most brilliant people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with.  His intellect is both passionate and  wide ranging. Last year, when I visited him at his home in Auckland, New Zealand, he commenced to spend 3 days  ranting at me about the flaws in Hannah Arendt’s concept of evil. (Apparently the fine people of New Zealand don’t have strong feelings about this topic.)

Of all Jeff’s books about animals, this one seems to get to the heart of…

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Woody Allen, Child Sexual Abuse, Happiness, Marius the Giraffe, Auschwitz and Eating Animals

Some twenty years ago I published a piece about Woody Allen in Emma, a feminist magazine in Germany.  It was called “What has 25 years of psychoanalysis taught Woody Allen about incest?”  The answer, as you might well imagine, was “nothing.”  Because he wooed and married the sister of his children.  (The fact that she was an adopted sibling is irrelevant). 

 I blamed not just Woody Allen, but also psychoanalysis, for they had, at the time, a history of denying the reality of child sexual abuse.  In the years that followed, psychoanalysis has  gotten somewhat better, whereas he appears to have learned nothing since. 

 I say this in light of the recent drama that has been unfolding in the media over the last couple of months.  I am very happy to see people taking the accusations seriously.  I wish Woody Allen would do the same.  Because here is the crux of the matter:  No matter where you stand on this issue, whether you believe Dylan, as I do, or you believe Woody Allen, the point that cannot be disputed even by him, is that he has caused tremendous unhappiness in his family.  To Dylan foremost, but to many of the other siblings and of course Mia Farrow.  Understandably.  To everyone, it would seem, but Woody Allen. 

 So here is my question:  How can you be happy when you know that you have caused and are still causing immense suffering and unhappiness in others? 

 Now if we take this idea and run with it, there are very serious implications, which is how Marius the Giraffe, Auschwitz, and eating animals, come into the picture.  Somebody in the Copenhagen Zoo (which will now forever be linked to this barbaric act) said that the children who watched the skinning and the dissection of the much loved young giraffe, derived pleasure from it.  They were happy.  So what?  Marius suffered.  Marius was betrayed.  Marius was butchered.  You cannot be happy at the suffering of another. 

 The psychiatrist Robert Lifton is much praised for his invention of the term “doubling” which he explains by saying that an executioner in Auschwitz, could yet be a loving family man, kind and compassionate to his wife and children when he returned home from “work.”  This is what I call a “junk idea.”  Never mind all the other reasons (how on earth could Robert Lifton know what kind of family life these Nazis had?), what I am suggesting here is that we should not accept the idea of somebody being happy, and leading a “good” life while causing other people immense and unnecessary suffering. 

 So finally we come to eating animals.  I understand that this is a stretch.  And that is what I believe we need:  to stretch our thinking into areas it may not be accustomed to going.  When we eat an animal, that animal is being killed for us (not, of course, literally, but in the deeper sense).  There is no way around it:  it is a personal act.  If you drink milk, a cow is being milked for you.  If you eat eggs, a hen is laying one for you.  If you believe that those animals suffer (and proof is only a click away on Google), how can you, in good conscience, say you don’t care?  We do care.  Everyone cares.  It is perhaps the next to the last final frontier that we will need to enter. 

 Next to the last?  Yes, the very last is this:  Can animals help us to stop the devastation of our planet?  For the first time as a species, some scientists believe we are on the brink of self-extinction.  I believe, and I hope I am not the only one who does, we have something very deep to absorb from the animals we stop eating that could save us from final destruction.  That is the theme of my new book:  Beasts:  What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.       

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