Good Animal

It is hard to say what is more disgusting about changing a baby’s raw, messy diaper: the phenomenally gruesome smell or the fact that he looks exactly like a freshly plucked chicken. When I was little, I used to be squeamish about even opening packages of meat–cutting through thick layers of plastic beaded with drops of fat and blood held absolutely no appeal for me. I can still remember how opening hot dog packages would make my hands smell horrendous the entire evening.

Gross smells aside, the fact that we actually do resemble chickens (at least when under two years old, diapered, and lying spread-eagled on our backs) isn’t that strange. We are animals. Full stop. I have never really understood why humans seem so determined to differentiate themselves with being animals. A lot of animals do considerably less to fuck up the world than humans, if you’ll pardon my French…

Recently I read an article which casually called humans “superpredators.” That’s accurate. What other creature has developed the atomic bomb?

Personally, I don’t mind being considered an animal. I eat, breathe, and defecate like so many other animals. So what if I’ve developed complex social structures and especially complex ways of interacting with the world? So what if I have an iPhone?

We are phenomenally smart. We earn PhD’s. We send people into outer space. We figure out ways to cure diseases. We build skyscrapers.

We are also phenomenally stupid. We earn money, something which is utterly useless unless the entire species agrees that it can be exchanged for (actually valuable) goods and services. We send people to prison. We figure out ways to assassinate people we have elected. We build skyscrapers.

The quintessential element of humanity seems to me to be our complexity. We complicate matters. Matters as simple as eating and breathing are in peril, because of us. Yet like all other animals, we have not escaped ecosystems. We exist in basically every ecosystem there is. We have diverse ways of inhabiting the planet.

Perhaps instead of trying to be so human we should try to be better animals. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “Let me be a good animal today. Let me dance in the waves of my private tide, the habits of survival and love.”


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