Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

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Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

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Care and Respect

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--13. Man Is The Unreasoning Anima

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s thirteenth and last Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race is more about why man is inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion:
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

MT claims that he put several animals in a cage together and they lived “...together, even affectionately.” In another cage he put people of different religions, and they slaughtered each other. History provides his evidence. “...he is...afflicted with a Defect...permanent in him, indestructible, ineradicable—the Moral Sense...the quality which enables him to do wrong....It...is a disease...for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it.” The question then becomes--If we are learning that animals do have consciousness, are we to assume that they too will lose their reason?

MT ends his diatribe with a long list of man’s failure as a biological creature, including a useless appendix and a long list of ailments, including the admission that human “intellect is supreme.” Organs and senses are useless, and in the end “...we are not as important, perhaps, as we had all along supposed we were.” Here I’ll have to agree that we have too often over-bloated our uniqueness and our worthiness. But we are capable of learning, of accepting knowledge that might not fit our early assumptions, of finding our real place in a large universe, of being thankful for our ability to appreciate its beauty and to grow in capacity to love, especially those who inhabit the Hen House and its equivalent, our domestic animal friends.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--12. Man, The Only Religious Animal

December 28, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Religion, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s twelfth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals because of the abuses he has done in the name of religion.
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

In this one, MT goes for the religious jugular with a well-known sarcastic cliché: “Man is the only animal that has the True Religion—several of them.” He goes on to list horrendous events in history that show that “He is the only animal who loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.” He mentions the Caesars, Mahomet, the Inquisition, France a couple centuries, Mary’s England, and “...today in Crete.”

It’s true that animals don’t seem to be deliberately cruel in order to support a theory of Existence or requirements for the Hereafter, which they are supposedly forbidden. I’ll make the case that they have religion in some sense of the word—at least some do.

We struggle with the definition of religion. The 2007 American Heritage College Dictionary says religion is “1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe”... or “3a. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” Or “4. A course...pursued with zeal...”

Well, that’s descriptive, but not very useful when it comes to animals, unless, as one must, you interpret some of the descriptive words in a broad sense. Two examples: 1) A dog’s devotion to a kind master, and 2) an animal parent’s care of her young. Call it genetic programming if you like. It is no less than religious devotion, even to the point of sacrifice.

Definition # 4 could apply to fandom of all sorts. I remember a riot that broke out during a high school football team when some fans decided to take their zeal off the stands into the fieild. I was supposed to stop the flood of angered teenagers pouring out of the stands. Animals?

The other problem with MT’s argument is that we know very little about animal thinking. It’s been only a few years since animal behavior theorists could publish words expressing emotions, such was the fear of anthropomorphism--as if sincere scientists and honest pet owners produced anecdotes that were re-inventing Bugs Bunny.

At least, now we admit that animals feel real emotions very similar to ours. We know without a doubt that we all came from the same biochemical stock of miracles. We have learned recently that we share a few genes with algae. The evolutionary process simply did not fix some things that weren’t broke. Human uniqueness is a matter of degree and good luck, like hands and a large brain that can invent its own excuses, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain—11. The Eleventh Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race

December 17, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Book Club Discussion

We are inferior to all other animals because “He sets himself apart...to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

How many animals defend their territory? It’s a long list. And why? Usually it has to do with mating rights, the harem MT mentioned (See Blog MT #4) But it can also be to protect an area large enough to feed one’s family, as some big cats do. Or perhaps just to assure one’s family the right eucalyptus leaves to eat, like the koalas. I’m no expert, but you get the point.

As to keeping “...multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense...” in order to do the slicing—history offers us many reasons for war. I grew up in World War II when this country was united in its goal of saving the world from Hitler’s vicious slicing. Some values, like freedom and safety, are worth defending. Some are more questionable, a stretch on the freedom or safety arguments. We could all make a list, like the Crusades or Vietnam, but each list would be slightly different.

Are we still driven by our tribal instincts? Do our genes—crafted in the hunter-gatherer days—have to determine how we act? Recent theories about the D4-7 allele—that it give us a dopamine high whenever we win either food or football games—may be a problem. But aren’t we smarter than that? Or is it more education that is needed? How could we possibly “slice” up someone else’s “country” if we understood who they were at their best, if we nurtured their best potential and responded to their blogs and tweets with compassion and good information.“

The Hen House Takes on Mark Twain--10. Humans are the only animal to "enslave their own kind."

December 7, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness

Mark Twain’s tenth Horrendous Commendation of the Human Race as inferior to all other animals says that only humans enslave their own kind. “Higher animals...do their own work and provide their own living.”
Quotes cited below are from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.”

True, not too many animals –except for ants who farm aphids—entrap other animals and force them to provide sustenance. But neither do too many humans now, though there are some horrendous exceptions the authorities have not yet stamped out.

MT has a point. We call it hired help, but there is a hierarchy of people doing work for other people, who then do work for richer people, etc. It’s supposed to be voluntary, but no one gets hired who doesn't follow the employees’ rules. See movie The Help The wider the differential in wealth, the more repressive the chain of command. Hence the Occupy Wall street movement and needed reform.

It’s also true that MT’s “higher animals”—the carnivores and some insects on the list—provide their own living by entrapping and murdering to “provide their own living.”

I wish some brilliant biochemist would find a way to fuel intelligent life without ending some other conscious life. Some are trying. Serious business efforts are being made to develop attractive chicken-like soy vegetable “meat.” Others are trying to grow “meat” from stem cells; others print it out with 3-D printers.

We do eat lots of insects, and more of us may have to eat more, if we insist on overloading the planet with our teeming hordes. But insects enjoy their brief lives and devise clever ways to survive, like the rest of us. That’s no solution.

Maybe we could get the geneticists to isolate an herbivore gene from cows and implant it into newborn humans. Within a generation we could all survive on plants, who (as far as we know) don’t consciously enjoy life or grieve for its loss.

It’s very dangerous, this trend, because it’s a positive feedback loop. In physics, positive loops always implode if left uncontrolled. The loop? Business in bed with government—money buys politics—its called lobbying—which boosts moneyed interests, which can then buy more politics, which can therefore legislate more business interests, which can...etc.etc. In World War II Mussolini called this Fascism. Don’s blog.
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