DEAR DR. FOX: I really enjoyed what you wrote about the love of dogs in a recent column. Have you read author Stephen Budiansky's book "The Truth About Dogs"? He says dogs are clever, manipulative opportunists. What is your response? -- B.K., Washington, D.C.
DEAR B.K.: I read that book, but decided not to read his other one about cats ("The Truth About Cats"). Your reference to this author opens a window to the concerted efforts, some years ago, to discredit the science and philosophy behind the animal and environmental protection movements -- much like the climate change deniers of today.
In "The Truth about Dogs: An Inquiry Into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits and Moral Fiber of Canis Familiaris," published in 2000, Budiansky asserts, "If biologists weren't victim to the same blindness that afflicts us all, they probably wouldn't hesitate to classify dogs as social parasites."
Some of his other books were lauded by the "establishment," which felt under threat from environmentalists and animal rights advocates.
An earlier Budiansky book, "If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness," received this write-up from Publisher's Weekly: "Although Budiansky concedes that animals most likely experience emotions, he denies them consciousness, which, in his view, is inseparably linked to language, an exclusively human invention. Furthermore, Budiansky contends, animals don't really suffer, at least not the way we do, because their sensation of pain lacks a social context. Budiansky, a science writer ('The Nature of Horses') and U.S. News & World Report deputy editor, uses this debatable thesis to bash the animal rights and deep-ecology movements. Whatever one thinks of the correctness of his argument, it has value as a levelheaded critique of our tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior."
Yet another book in this distancing-from-animals vein is "The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication," in which Budiansky argues that some species actually chose to be domesticated. The book came with the publisher's description: "Animal rights extremists argue that eating meat is murder and that pets are slaves. This compelling reappraisal of the human-animal bond, however, shows that domestication of animals is not an act of exploitation but a brilliantly successful evolutionary strategy that has benefitted humans and animals alike." Manuela Hoelterhoff's review in The Wall Street Journal put it this way: "Budiansky's slim, elegant discourse is a persuasive counterweight to the pastoral delusions of sentimentalists intent on seeing humans as malevolently at odds with the noble animal kingdom."
Budiansky was not alone in politicizing and twisting science to discredit animal welfare and rights advocacy and environmental protection. But for me, the icing on the cake was his article "Academic roots of paranoia: The Unabomber may not be such an intellectual loner" from the U.S. News & World Report of May 13, 1996. In it, he wrote: "A surprising number of leading academic writers on animal rights and the environment share the Unabomber's paranoid hostility to science -- the first is the Unabomber [the FBI's most-wanted fugitive, Theodore Kaczynski] and the second is Michael W. Fox, a widely published writer on animal rights and the environment."
This was all part of a concerted effort to dismiss animals as sentient, conscious beings. Instead, it was argued, animals are unfeeling automatons governed by instinctual reflexes. This "mechanomorphizing" of other animals helped create the "great void," as I call it. The exploiters of animals needed this to continue their activities in good conscience, and for protection from public accountability and censure. Distancing us from the environment and from other animals and severing empathy and compassion served the ultimate aim: maintaining the status quo of animal and environmental exploitation.
This great divide was eventually bridged by ethologists and other biological and animal welfare scientists, marked by the 2012 "Cambridge Declaration on Animal Consciousness" (drfoxonehealth.com/post/the-cambridge-declaration-on-animal-consciousness). Well before this declaration, and in spite of the paranoid pontifications of Budiansky et al, veterinarians had been diagnosing and treating emotional conditions in animals also seen in humans, and with similar medications as for depression and separation anxiety, a field of veterinary care I helped establish in the early 1970s.
For evidence of homologous and analogous human emotional responses in other animals, including insects, crabs and lobsters, read the article "The question of animal emotions" by Frans B.M.de Wall and Kristin Andrews, published in Science on March 24.
When we liberate animals from all forms of cruel exploitation and incarceration, we may yet recover our humanity.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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