Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The anti-anthropomorphic gene? **Updated

**Update: I changed things around and added quite a bit. When I re-read it, it just wasn't floating my boat, and I hadn't gotten out all I needed to say. So here it is . . . the new and improved version:

Anthropomorphism. It's genetic, it's inherent, it's as much a part of me as my pale skin and incurable sarcasm. Anthropomorphism makes me me.

My question is (drumroll please): how can a person NOT be anthropomorphic? Is there an non-anthropomorphism gene too?

Now, I'm not so much as a fool as to say that everyone should be an anthropomorphist, or that it's a matter of educating the non-anthropomorphics. Nor do I really believe it's genetic (any more so then sarcasm, hot tempers, stubbornness). People learn/choose to be anthropomorphic (or not), we should celebrate differences, diversity makes the world go round, blah blah blah.

I'm just saying: I don't get it when people are so against anthropomorphism (that is to say, a non-anthropomorphic is actually anti-anthropomorphism).

I do not comprehend how a person can look at this picture of Gazelle and not HEAR her say: "So a horse walked into a bar and the bartender said, 'Why the long face?' "

The fact that I'm putting words in her mouth, not to mention the fact that I'm bestowing upon her a sense of humor which is an emotion that horses may or may not have the mental capacity to possess, makes me an anthropomorphist. Maybe I'm full of bunk, maybe I don't know crap about crap, but . . . neither do the non-anthropomorphics (definitively). In the end, it's always and forever only going to be a debate because NO ONE will ever possibly know for sure one way or the other. So, I suppose I can understand when a person is just not an anthropomorphic (doubtful pause), but . . . when a person is so adamantly against anthropomorphism, that's where I get all riled up. They don't know any better than I do, so why can't they let me have my fun? And, how dare they imply that any of my animals don't have the mental capacity to understand any emotion.

I could be wrong. Perhaps animals don't have the capacity of feeling human emotions. Or maybe there's some magic line on the emotional continuum between simple and complex emotions, and maybe animals can only feel simple emotions. Personally, I don't think so. I think when an inexperienced rider kicks Gazelle and pulls back (which means, in Horse, "Go forward, but don't!") it ANNOYS her. I can tell because she pins her ears, opens her eyes wide, swishes her tail, and snorts. Her horse brain may or may not have a "word" for that, but come on. It's annoyance, plain as day. I certainly get annoyed when I get conflicting or confusing instructions (Outlook help topic: "Go to Business Contact Manager" in the folder list -- WHERE THE HELL IS THAT?!). Why shouldn't a horse get annoyed too?

Gazelle understands humor, too. I'm sure of it because how else does one explain all the headaches she gave me for the three years I taught lessons? Not only does Gazelle understand humor and sarcasm, but she gives you exactly four chances to prove you know how to ride. And once you've used up your four chances (where is counting and math on this scale of complexity and mental capacity?), you may as well get off and try again some other day. After the fourth chance Gazelle categorizes you as an idiot and there's no way to recover (although you can be forgiven if you try again another time--where does forgiveness fall on the magic scale?).

Where's a non-anthropomorphist when you need one? I wish there would have been one around to see the way Gazelle used to look at me when a person had used up their four chances. She would stop, plant all four feet in the middle of the arena, look at me and say as clearly as if she spoke out loud in English, "Where'd you find this schmuck?" Undeniable proof, I say.

What about jealousy though? Simple or complex? I think if an animal is capable of feeling annoyance/humor/sarcasm/forgiveness, why shouldn't they feel jealousy or coquetry? Just try and tell me that my cat isn't pouting/sulking when he's sitting on the other side of the room, glaring at me because I didn't let him make biscuits on my stomach me (Blake does that--he's too fat, it gives me bruises!).

To me there is irrefutable evidence supporting anthropomorphism.  The people out there that refuse to believe my assessment flabbergast me. Intrigue me? Make me mad? All of the above?

Now, I do like to practice what I preach when it comes to the To Each Their Own philosophy. And for the most part, I do (you know, except when it comes to making grammatical errors on purpose . . . why, why, WHY?!). But when it comes to the people out there who are not just non-anthropomorphists, but they are anti-anthropomorphism . . . how does that figure into my theory of genetics? I can play around that a person either does or doesn't have the anthropomorphic gene, but what about the people who are ANTI anthropomorphism? They are just as confused by me as I am by them.

I think I'm getting a little lost with my over use of the word anthropomorphism . . . .

Anthropomorphists: People like me who speak about/to/for our pets (and any other animals) like they are people. Which is to say: we talk about our pets, to our pets, and for our pets, and we do not distinguish in a re-captured conversation if the being speaking is human, canine, feline, equine, ad infinitum.

Case in point: I do a demonstration of Gazelle's response when she steps on your foot: [pointing to her missing eye emphatically] "I only have one eye!" She shouts it at you like you're an idiot for not having noticed.

Another case in point (and a double-whammy): I've compared Gazelle, with all the love in my heart and without any disrespect to the person, to Stevie Wonder. Her favorite thing in the world is falling asleep while listening to people talk, but as she dozes she likes to know where you're at so frequently she'll lean sideways to touch your arm gently with her nose; it looks for all the world like Stevie Wonder rocking side to side while he plays.

Non-anthropomorphists: These are the people out there that think I'm full of crap because animals are just animals. They think not only do animals not have feelings, but they don't even have the intelligence to have the emotional scope of a human being. When listening to one of my stories, they say/think, "Believe what you want, but you're an idiot." Most of these people do not own animals, did not have animals around as a child, and don't think it's sad that they didn't and don't. They smile at me insincerely . . . the same smile they would give to a 25 year old that still believed in Santa Claus.

The look isn't always given maliciously. In fact, in my experience, it's usually isn't. So perhaps I need to take back my quote above, "Believe what you want, but you're an idiot." I'm specifically thinking of an old coworker I had (that is to say, a coworker at a previous job, not an elderly coworker). This person, let's call her Jemima Davis (after Jim Davis, one of my favorite anthropomorphic cartoonists), is a very kind, intelligent person. She loves studying and all forms of academia, goes to a Unitarian church, and at the time I knew her was a high level manager in a very large company.

Jemima Davis not only doesn't have the anthropomorphist gene, she is also anti-anthropomorphism. All animals are "rats" to her. Birds = flying rats. Fish = swimming rats. Dogs, cats, horses . . . all rats.

How can you say such things, I would ask her, completely appalled. And offended! I tried not to be offended, because she wasn't calling my beloved pets rats. She was saying all animals are rats. But I took it personally, and tried my darndest to reform her by telling her anecdotes of my fuzzy family.

It was a lost cause. Even hearing about how Gazelle is a drama queen, how smart she is, how funny she is . . . it didn't help. I'd tell her about Blake and his princely lolling . . . she'd smile at my description, take joy in my joy, but at the same time she wouldn't believe it, didn't find joy in it herself. To me there is nothing better than seeing my pets happy, content, relaxed. To Jemima, a happy, content, relaxed pet only equals a mess to vacuum up later and a potential infestation of vermin.

I don't GET it! Pretending to know what our animals are thinking does not make a person crazy or soft-headed. I try to be so open-minded (rather, I try not to be close-minded) about different lifestyles and beliefs, but anti-anthropomorphism is something I just can not, do not, will not understand. When I come home from work and see our little doggies bouncing with joy, how can someone say it's NOT joy?

How could someone say those little faces aren't smiling? How could a person NOT see:

"Kiss me! Hug me! Love me!"

"So . . . what do you want?"

"Don't be mad, Mama. It's not my fault! He did it!"

"I love you."

"Where's my cocktail and full body massage?"

Izzy is the annoyed big sister.
Bunny needs a t-shirt that says, "I'm with stupid."
Or, perhaps, "Who farted?" Tough call.

"Hee hee hee."
Joey Tribioni hiding in the big box.


I guess I am a fool after all--I do think it's a matter of education. Always and forever I believe that the anti-anthropomorphists just need to meet my pets, and then they will understand.

Then they will believe.


Julie said...

I whole heartedly agree. It's that look that Showoff gives me from his stall when I am riding Boogey. It's relief but jealousy that I'm riding someone else. I always think he looks so sad. I almost don't want to ride anyone else I don't want to betray Showoff.

Marion said...

I totally agree with you! Every animal I've owned has let me know, in no uncertain terms, sometimes, just exactly what is going through their minds... I've read that dogs have the capacity of three year olds, but my two dogs are old sages. They know much more than any three year old child.

I discovered you through a search for anthropomorphism...and I'm glad I did. Thank you for a very entertaining post!

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