Are Humans Superior Creatures?

I believe the people of the future will look back on these times and judge us harshly, like we judge the people of the 19th century for slavery, colonialism, genocide and other atrocities those folks committed without any apparent ethical qualms.  They will see even the most liberal of us as heartless in our neglect of poor people, animals, the Earth and the environment.  I’ve always wondered how people like the abolitionists gained their insight to see beyond the ethical status quo.  There have always been a few people that were more empathetic than the common crowd, and I think they were the bellwethers of their times.  If you you read and watch the news carefully, there are always stories that portend the future of human kindness.  To change requires going against the tide of common opinion, and that’s hard.

We like to think humans are different from animals.  That we’re the crown of creation, made in God’s image, that we’re the unique species on the planet that has a soul.  I believe different.  I think we’re ahead of all our fellow creatures in the thinking department, but we share a whole lot of behavioral experiences with them.  If you look at this seal pup in the video above, it’s obviously enjoying itself.  It hung out with these surfers for an hour.  Maybe it didn’t think, “Look Ma, I’m riding a surf board,” but it did feel a sense of fun, play and curiosity.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on animals lately, and reading many books about them too, and the more I study, the more I see animal behavior in the people around me, and human behavior in animals.  Religion falsely teaches us we have dominion over the Earth and animals in a way that is harmful to both our humanity and animals.  Our sense of superiority blinds us to the evil we create.  And to maintain our illusion forces us to ignore just how close we are to animals in our behaviors.

the elephant who found a mom

For instance, we like to elevate sex to love and sanctify our mating habits with legalities and romantic notions, yet it’s still  animal courtship rites based on biological programming.  We like to think our emotional needs are vastly more complex than our four legged friends, but are they?  We like to think our self-awareness and intelligence puts us a quantum leap above all other creatures we share this Earth with, but the latest animal studies show the gap isn’t as wide as we’d like to think.

This summer PBS showed two new 4-part series that emphasizes my point:  My Wild Affair, and Sex in the Wild.  The first episode of My Wild Affair, “The Elephant Who Found a Mom”  will make you cry your eyes out and make you want to go to Africa to shoot poachers.  The other shows in the series are “The Ape Who Went to College,” “The Rhino Who Joined the Family” and tonight’s “The Seal Who Came Home.”  Each episode is a very emotional story about an individual animal bonding with humans, revealing how close we are to our evolutionary cousins.

Sex in the Wild gets down to the nitty gritty of how elephants, orangutans, kangaroos and dolphins get it on.  In fact, it’s XXX animal sex.  These shows are graphically educational, so you might not want your little ones to watch, but then again, they are very educational.  This series is less about individual animals and more about general behavior.  But the courting behavior of our wild kingdom friends often reveal insights into human courtship.  I found a lot to identify with in the love life of orangutans.  Even the strangest animals they profile have distant similarities to the two legged animals we see in episodes of Sex in the City.

Just watch and think about how women judge men, and how men compete for women.   Then the next time you watch a romantic comedy pretend you’re an animal scientist studying that weird species of two legged creatures that inhabit the urban jungles of the world.

Sadly, these eight documentaries are through showing on PBS, but you can still catch them at streaming sites like PBS Roku,  Amazon streaming, or on DVD.  But even if you don’t catch these particular shows, just keep an eye out for nature shows in general.  Nature on PBS’ regular season is tremendous.  Or just watch funny videos on YouTube about dogs and cats.  Sooner or later it will come to you what they do is not that different from what we do.  That the tricks Caesar uses in The Dog Whisperer can be applied to human children and adults, or even to your mother-in-law.  If you’re really savvy in your observations you’ll begin to see your own behavior and how it formed.  If you’re a guy who can’t get lucky with the girls, or a girl that can’t land a Mr. Right, you might study animal behavior.

But beyond learning more about who we are by how we evolved to get here, the real issue is animal rights.  We haven’t worked out human rights yet, but animal rights are just as important, for them and for us.  If we are the crown of creation on this planet then it’s our ethical job to manage the Earth.  I can’t help but think that’s to preserve biological diversity and not destroy it.  I worry that a hundred years from now, those who look back will see us as the worse mass murderers of history.  They will ask themselves over and over, “How could they have been so cruel?  Could they not see what they were doing?  Could they not feel the suffering they were causing.  Did they not foresee what they were doing to all the future generations to come?”  They may see us being more evil than Hitler, Stalin and slavers because we made species after species extinct, unbalanced the environment, extracted the wealth of the many for the pleasure of the few, poisoned the oceans and air, and killed everything that ran, swam, flew, crawled, slithered, or hopped for food and sport.

Future generations will despise us for our hubris in believing we’re the crown of creation when they think we’re the cancer that killed the Earth.

Billions believe they will find heaven when they die, not knowing this world is the heaven of the universe, and we destroyed it.

JWH – 8/8/14

7 thoughts on “Are Humans Superior Creatures?”

  1. You should read the evolution of Bruno Livermore. I agree with your position and that is why I have always had a dog. You need a dog because they will prove your point every day unlike a damn cat. Ha.

    1. Sutton, I do have a copy of The Evolution of Bruno Livermore, a beautiful 1st edition hardback, but haven’t read it yet. Well, Sutton, you need a cat to discover you inner feline.

  2. I tried to explain this to a friend the other day but she found it hard to believe. I think that because humans believe themselves to have superior intelligence, they in turn despise those who they believe have base intelligence. Most people believe animals are dumb and thus see them as beneath humans. But I realized that we are all animals when I read a romance novel soon after watching a nature show on NG Wild or Animal Planet. The way the author describes men competing for a woman’s attention and how women try to stake their ownership of a man is similar to the behaviors of other animals.

    1. I think some women dislike these studies because it takes the romance out of human relationships, and romance is very important to them. But if they look hard they will find that animals often have deep friendships and even romances. Too often people act like what we think animals are, which is depressing, but it’s uplifting to see that all too often animals act like what we think humans should be.

  3. Sure, Jim. Humans are superior to other species,… in some ways. But not in every way. Cheetahs are faster. Chimpanzees are stronger. Eagles see better (plus, they can fly!).

    Obviously, you can’t just ask if we’re superior. Normally, when people ask if we’re superior, they mean in the ways we think make us human. Well, that’s the case pretty much by definition. 🙂

    Re. empathy, I think that’s almost entirely a matter of economics. With technology, we’ve developed a society of abundance, rather than scarcity, and that gives us the luxury of ethical concerns – at least, when it comes to other species and other tribes (we’ve always had a degree of ethics when it came to our own people).

    We like to think we’ve progressed, and I’m sure we have. But we’ve only progressed because we could afford it. If we destroy our environment and collapse our civilization, you’ll find these ethical qualms disappearing very, very quickly.

    By and large, only wealthy societies can afford to be concerned about such things. I think our principles depend a lot more on economics than we’d like to think.

  4. The trouble is animals have always been the victims of our economic needs. We rationalize that by claiming they are just biological machines and don’t feel like we feel. We like to think they don’t mind serving our needs. But if we really knew how pigs felt about living would we eat bacon?

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