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May 15th, 2009


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01:26 pm - Not red in tooth and claw
Here's a fascinating article on animal morality.
In one lab study of Diana monkeys, for instance, the animals had to put tokens into a slot to receive their food. When an elderly female couldn't manage hers, a neighbouring male inserted the tokens for her. In a different kind of experiment, rats refused to push a lever for food when they realised their action meant another animal got an electric shock.
In addition to being an obvious disproof of idiocies like human souls or organized religion being in some way involved in morality, data like this, as well as recent studies in primate cooperation help challenge both the idea that humanity is unique for anything other than the degree of our intelligence, and the more important (from a cultural PoV) that behavior in any alleged "state of nature" is a lot less horrid than many people people believe. Sociologist and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner had a section in in his excellent book Plough, Sword and Book (1988) titled "Which Way Does the Stone Age Vote Swing", which was all about how images of early humans, and (to a lesser but very real extent) animals serve as models for what is "natural" in human behavior. While I have mentioned several times that I have absolutely no use for this sort of argument, for better or worse, it clearly persuades many people. Most widespread cultural models of the life of other animals (and in particular other mammals) show them to be completely heterosexual (which is also untrue), highly competitive, and utterly vicious because it lacks the restraints of rigid laws restricting behavior, all of which play handily into conservative views about the proper way to run a culture. So, in addition to providing fascinating avenues for future research on the origin of morality (which I also expect to be at least partially, if not mostly cultural in social animals), such information should be widely distributed to help facilitate positive (naturally meaning progressive) cultural change.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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From:serabelle
Date:May 15th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
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*waves hello* Hope you don't mind my wandering over..

I find the rat behavior particularly interesting. I kept a number of rats for a few years, and they were always fascinating creatures. Some of them were rather nasty, but I attribute that to the poor conditions that they were in before I received them. Others were extremely sociable, and very caring towards their fellow rats.

This is the sort of information that will be especially useful when my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend (got that? heh.) decides to whip out her "Catholic" views of animals.
[User Picture]
From:frater_treinta
Date:May 15th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
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I do have to call out an unsupported assumption in your reasoning. The presence of compassionate behavior in monkey's does not necessarily argue against Human souls. It may just as equally argue for Monkey souls.

Gnostics: Weirding your debate since 200 b.c. :)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 15th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
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I completely agree. My point was more that if souls exist and have anything to do with morality, then humans aren't the only ones with them.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:May 16th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
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"What does all this tell us about human morality? First, we didn't invent virtue- its origins are much more ancient than our own. Secondly, we should stop seeing ourselves as morally superior to other animals. True, our big brains endow us with a highly sophisticated sense of what's right and wrong, but they also give us much greater scope for manipulating others-to cheat and deceive and try to benefit from immoral behaviour. In that sense, animal morality might be 'purer' than our own.

"We should accept our moral responsibility towards other animals, and that means developing and enforcing more restrictive regulations governing animal use. There is growing evidence that while animal minds vary from one species to another, they are not so different from our own, and only when we accept this can we be truly moral in our relations with other creatures and with nature as a whole."

I have known for a long time that humans as a whole are the least moral species on the planet.

I'm wondering where the "more restrictive regulations governing animal use" would go. Would it lead to the banning of leather, fur, or silk garments, the end of animal research, and compulsory vegetarianism? I'm serious about such questions. The most moral thing might be to go this far. However, such a thing would be impractical.

[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:May 16th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
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I have known for a long time that humans as a whole are the least moral species on the planet.

Hogwash. Technology gives us the capability to scale up both our wonders and our horrors, but both can be found in abundance other other animals. Among social animals, we seem completely undistinguished in our morality.

I'm wondering where the "more restrictive regulations governing animal use" would go. Would it lead to the banning of leather, fur, or silk garments, the end of animal research, and compulsory vegetarianism? I'm serious about such questions. The most moral thing might be to go this far.

I see nothing immoral about the essential predator prey relationship. I feel a strong imperative to treat domestic animals well and to kill meat animals humanely, but that can be done and I consider people who believe that the only moral choice is for humanity to not keep animals for any food purposes to be exceedingly limited and ultimately wrong in their views. Vegetarianism & veganism are perfectly fine individual choices, but as social mandates, I see them to as oppressive & foolish as anything else advocated by so-called "animals rights" activists. Having a society go vegan would effectively mean that every domestic chicken, sheep, & cow would die off, both individually, and ultimately as a species, since none of them can survive in the wild long-term.
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From:onyxrising
Date:May 16th, 2009 08:05 am (UTC)
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A coworker borrowed the book, so I can't site the studies- but there have been a few studies indicating that certain varieties of monkeys kick our ass in the moral decision making department.
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From:comingin2day
Date:May 16th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
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Those are cool articles thank you for sharing.

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