Monday, September 8, 2008

The Critical Difference

Sometimes social commentators discuss human behaviour by comparing it with the behaviour of animals. I've heard it said that because some animal or bird species have multiple sexual partners, then it may be a natural and healthy thing among human beings. That happens with horses for example. It also happens among some higher primates like apes. Another variation says: animals often have different mating partners and produce offspring by them. Therefore this may be a healthy evolutionary trend if it happens among humans. One commentator even remarked that sometimes homosexual behaviour can be observed among non-human organisms. Therefore it is just a variation in the behaviour that occurs in nature, hence there is nothing wrong with it.
There is a flaw in this entire type of argument. Certain habits and actions observed among animals are at least undesirable, even illegal among human beings.
For one thing, disputes among animals are usually settled by combat. Even herbivorous
creatures of a supposedly non-aggressive type engage in combat. Deer, for example, the sweet looking creatures who inspired the character of Bambi, fight at times. Stags have their antlers for a reason. They serve as weapons when contesting with other stags. Bulls fight, so do rams. Even kangaroos, the model for some soft toys, engage in battle and sometimes do each other serious injury. The way one male gets the right to mate with a female is by fighting off rivals. Likewise with cattle and sheep, especially in the wild. And this is among the plant eaters that do not kill other creatures to eat. By the time we get to lions, pumas and other carnivors, the nature of their conflict can be really bloody. According to one nature documentary chronicling the behaviour of lions, sometimes a new male will take a pride of females from an older one, by killing him or driving him off; and kill the cubs of his among the females of the 'harem' he has acquired by force. Now imagine if humans lived this way. You might admire the strength and power of lions, but would you want a human male killing another man and thereby taking his wife (or wives) without their approval, and wiping out that man's children? If I'm being too obvious here, go back to the point. Is animal behaviour a suitable pattern by which to assess what is good among humans?
On the subject of mating and rearing of the young; among animals it is common for the female of the species to be solely responsible for that. By contrast, humans tend to agree that fathers should be involved, not leave it all to their childrens' mother. So what happens among animals is not an example for humans to follow there either.
As far as I've ever found out, animals do not care for their elderly and keep them comfortable. Neither do they nurture and support those born with disabilities. Offspring born without normal capabilities do not survive among bears, cheetahs or even higher primates like gorillas and baboons. The mother may merely abandon and reject them, or they may even be killed. That has been observed among lions - the killing of a lame female, who had just abandoned her cub, and the killing of the cub as well. This is not a happy subject to discuss. The point is, what happens among non-humans is by no means some indication of how we should live unless we abandon what we like to call our humanity.
One study of primates observed that sometimes among a clan of apes, there will be group sexual events in which the members not only multi-partner, but the young are involves as well. Among humans we call this paedophilia.
I could go on and on. The point is what animals do is not necessarily an example of healthy or safe behaviour if applied to homosapiens. I wonder if some of the 'clever' commentators who talk about it realize this? If they don't, they are not as smart as they claim. If they do, then they have a view of humans different from that taken by many others.
The evolutionary thesis is that the strongest survive and thus beget superior offspring like themselves. Among humans, this translates as applauding the actions of 'high achievers' even if they walk on the faces of others by getting ahead. Not in every case, admittedly. Some high achievers are admired for their work in medicine, finging ways to preserve and improve life for all. But the triumph of pure strength was the way advocated by Adolf Hitler. And consider this: in a society which rejected people with a handicap, what would have happened to Franklin Delano Roosevelt? If humans are a distinct class of creatures, not just sophistated higher primates, then what happens in 'nature in the wild' is a study in what NOT to do, not an example to follow.
Admittedly, we humans kill to eat. Even vegetarians consume other living things, because plants too are life forms. The difference is that usually humans buy their meat or fish in a shop, they don't always catch and cut it up themselves. But then we have rules about avoiding gratuitous cruelty in the process. Humans are expected to show consideration for the suffering of anything that lives, and try to minimize it. Does any other life form do this, as a rule?
An atheist would argue that we are products of evolution, and it is right that the strong dominate and inherit the world. Christians believe that we are created, by a compassionate Deity, and should show respect and care for all the created things around us. It seems obvious to me which of these two approaches offers most hope for a good world.


Randi Jo :) said...

great thoughts.... great points how we can't compare ourselves to animals - never knew how to counter that argument like this before - very good! ;)

have a great day!!

Janae said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. I will be happy to go to the website you suggested and check out the book you recommended. I will let you know what I think.

Farrah said...

Excellent! I wrote a satire of homosexual arguments a few years back to show how absurd many of their points are when applied to other behaviors. This was one of the things I brought out as well. If animal behavior is a justification for human behavior, then we can do any weird, strange, or odd thing observed in nature and call it normal. That doesn't make a bit of sense! You are absolutely correct. We are humans, and there is no reason for us to act like any other animal. Even in nature, we would not expect a bird to act like a rabbit or a bear to act like a frog!

Culpster said...

If evolution is true, aren’t humans still the highest form of evolution? So, why would be trying to imitate the behavior of a lower life form. If animals evolve, then I would assume that lower life forms would try to catch up to us, the most evolved of all animals. Therefore, I would also assume that lions would eventually take one wife for his entire life because he has learned about love and loyalty. I would not think it would be the other way around.

Good post Andrew. This one got me thinking.