It’s easy to think we’re not animals—that animals are essentially separate, lower entities. But this point of view is radically unobservant, or at least, we’re so used to our own wholly animal qualities that we don’t see them for what they are—how animalistic they are—in contrast to all conceivable forms of being. Take a look at our skin, for example—this fleshy, hairy container of our guts—and realize that it’s the same kind of thing other animals have. Now take a look at our hands, all veiny and bony, with the tendons for the fingers within the palm extending radially outward, and we have the same number of those as many other animals, especially our closest relatives. Our fingers even have nails at their ends, reminiscent of claws. In even more ways than I can describe, our hands are uncannily just like just like other animals’ hands.
Such analogues to features of other animals extend throughout the whole body, from the level of our DNA—such as the fact that we have 98% of DNA in common with a hamster, and not to mention that we’re even DNA-based to begin with—to our organelles, to our overall anatomy—such as the fact that we have a cranium up top with a brain in it. We eat and digest organisms, chew with our teeth and a mandible, pee from our genitalia, and squat to poop. Your poop looks just like a dog’s. We even become pregnant and painfully give birth to our offspring in the same way as other mammals. Not to mention that the human embryo is visually almost identical to any other mammal’s, and humans’ amniotic fluid contains the same concentration of salt as ocean water, reflecting continental life’s oceanic origins.
Yet mentally we’re totally different from the other animals, right? Well, our most fundamental drives—that is, to have sex, to breathe air, to eat when we’re hungry, to avoid pain/injury—are the same as for the rest of the animal kingdom. And animals in cages get depressed just like we do, because they have the same basic needs for fulfillment that we do. And monkeys can get jealous too.1 Even male fruit flies intentionally get drunk after being repeatedly rejected by females.2
We’re defined as animals scientifically, we’re not physically distinct from the other animals, we’re instinctually parallel to other animals, and we’re emotionally similar if significantly more advanced. Just about the only significant difference between us and other animals, besides our mostly hairless skin and our bipedalism, is our ability for abstraction—for representational, symbolic thought—which is afforded to us solely by our enlarged neocortical section of the brain. And that’s all our human, Koyaanisqatsi-esque livelihoods are based on.
To be fair, I would say we are not merely a different variety of animals with extra features: we are a refined sort of animal—physically, emotionally and mentally. We are a pinnacle, or summation, of all earthly life. We’ve been created as the angels of the earth, in essence. We’re Gaia’s brainchild, in a manner of speaking. As such, our intended and essential function is not to dominate, subvert, and exploit all other life (and other natural resources) on the planet; it’s to honor, adore, protect, care for and uplift it.
We’re currently not fulfilling that function. We’re destroying the planet, we’re miserable, and our entire mindset is fundamentally broken. We have a lot more to learn from so-called animals than we might think. Their intelligence is profound and wondrous; we just don’t necessarily recognize its full extent because of our preconceptions of what “intelligence” entails, which are due to our fundamentally broken mindset. It’s rather like judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree. In some ways, we are not “better” than the other animals, but retarded in comparison, and we should humble ourselves before them (and the rest of Nature) in order to learn and help us return to our natural roots and to psychic health and sanity.
- Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, Frans de Waal, Riverhead Books
- Learning From the Spurned and Tipsy Fruit Fly, Benedict Carey, The New York Times