Saturday, October 4, 2014

Weekend reading: anthrozoology

...and some we pose for photos with interesting books (in exchange for Greenies - don't worry, Mike doesn't do anything for free).
If you’re interested in human-animal interactions, or ever wondered why our attitudes to animals seem inconsistent, one book I can recommend is Hal Herzog’s “SomeWe Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight AboutAnimals” by Hal Herzog (Harper Perennial).

As the title suggests, most of us have inconsistent beliefs about animals that don’t stand up to the most casual analysis:

“How can 60% of Americans believe simultaneously that animals have the right to live and people have the right to eat them? Andrew looked up at me and said, ‘The only consistency in the way humans think about animals is inconsistency.’ This book is my attempt to explain this paradox.”p13
Herzog, an anthrozoologist (check his site here), doesn’t get all high-and-mighty and judgemental, but he does a brilliant job of looking at the psychology, science and arguments around our approaches to animals.

Inconsistency in moral and ethical beliefs is, he argues, human nature.

“The paradoxes that plague our interactions with other animals are due to the fact that much of our thinking is a mire of instinct, learning, language, culture, intuition, and our reliance on mental shortcuts.”p39
Indeed, throughout the book Herzog makes a very persuasive argument that
“Most people’s views about the treatment of other species exemplify what psychologists call ‘non-attitudes’ or ‘vacuous attitudes’. These are superficial collections of largely unrelated and isolated opinions, not [a] coherent belief system…”p240

This is a rare book that is very accessible, a fascinating read, yet seems to do justice to the science it summarises. Herzog is honest in subjecting his own beliefs to critical analysis, and it’s also a great introduction to anthrozoology.

If you’re in Sydney this weekend don’t miss the RSPCA’s Reigning Cats and Dogs festival in Glebe (details in this post).