Sunday, May 11, 2008

We are just another species

I haven't driven this point enough: humans are just animals. I hate using the word 'people', because it implies we're elevated above every other species.

Elevating ourselves above another organism may be our way of emotionally reconciling the fact that we have to eat another organism to survive - vegetarians, for example, won't eat meat, because they are causing the death of a living, possibly sentient organism, and it has been ground into us from birth that murder is wrong. I, for example, am not vegetarian, but will not eat animals that have been demonstrated to have intelligence equivalent to a human's at any age - I will not eat ham, beef, or octopus - or that have not lived their full life - I will not eat veal or lamb. (I have no problem eating chicken, turkey, and fish - they're fairly stupid animals, and I am perfectly happy to help eliminate the world's population of stupid.)

We have to consume organisms, though, because we can't eat rocks - we require certain molecules to survive, and these molecules are only found in organisms.

So there is a quandary about whether specific morality that we apply towards humans ought to be morality that we apply towards other organisms. I see the problem that if we acknowledge that species we share the planet with are our equals, we will effectively have less resources to draw from because we will have to allocate enough resources to them to survive - pets and animals in zoos would be tantamount to slaves (I have no problem with getting rid of zoos and replacing them with educational centers on the premises of an animal rehabilitation center, but I have a problem with the whole pet thing on a personal level - my folks have a dog and it's pretty much a member of the family, and they're domesticated so they can't very well survive in the wild unless they're more genetically identical to wild canine animals.), and civilization will go to shit because it would not exist unless we had agriculture, which involves essentially enslaving entire populations of species (except non-conscious organisms who don't have a fully-developed nervous system or who don't have one at all; I don't give a shit about the ones no other organism needs to consume to survive nor do I give much of a shit about embryonic organisms, they're effectively non-living).

Spreading across the galaxy would be little help, since it would just create the opportunity for more humans and more planets full of 6.8 billion idiots, so we need a better solution to conducting ourselves sanely, maintaining human rights, and respecting the other species that we share the universe with.

1) Higher intelligence. I have devoted my life to researching the neurogenetics of intelligence, and together with those who prefer researching mechanical ways of improving intelligence, we can make people more able of accurately processing the information we receive.

2) Better perception. We need better eyes, better noses, better ears, better tongues, better senses of touch, better senses of balance, better senses of temperature, and better senses of what's going on in our bodies.

3) Less people. Make birth control more economical, make elective sterilization free and legal on demand for all ages, make abortion free and legal on demand everywhere that it isn't, and counsel people on how much money it actually takes to raise a well-educated, competent person - and institute a licensure system for people who want to reproduce, because frankly, nobody has the right to raise a neglected, undereducated kid, and put MASSIVE pressures on groups who are idiotic enough to be reticent about making sure people have reproductive freedom. (This has the added advantage of mostly getting rid of the poverty and abuse problem - more resources and better-adjusted people.) Populations are already declining in some countries, but they're declining in the wrong countries among the wrong people.

4) Better education. To paraphrase Bush-o-lini, the nation's children is not learning.

5) More money for research. We need to halve the defense budget and divide the money which the government saves evenly among the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior , and the NSF. Science is the backbone of civilization.

6) Better healthcare. There is an entire continent where 99% of its population receives substandard healthcare. This is stupid. (Let's take away asshole Mugabe's fortune for a day and make him live like the poorest people in his country - see how he likes it. Kim Jong Il, the Burmese junta, and the janjaweed blow just as much.)

7) No religion. I think, if you read my blog, you can see why I subscribe to antitheism and why I'm an atheist. We do not need mass superstition or cults.

8) A very inculcated respect for everything we share the world with (the Native Americans got this right). This will be difficult, but this is vital to the success of our species in the long run.

Some of these are obvious; I wish these were more obvious.

Right now, the universe is a bad joke that keeps telling itself; we need to make the universe a more amusing place.

I find it funny how the topic of humans being another species leads, quite simply, to a very general solution for lots of other problems.

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ViewAllSides said...

I admire your decision to not eat an animal that you may equate to have intelligence equivalent to a human. With all due respect, however, your posture smacks of speciesism.

First it would be interesting to know what criteria you used to determine the intelligence level of those animals whose meat you choose not to eat and how you were then able to successfully compare those intelligence levels to that of a human. Additionally, I invite you to do some research on chickens, turkeys and pigeons...yes, pigeons. In some studies recently highlighted on a National Geographic Program entitled Pigeon Genius, pigeons were shown to have similar intelligence patterns to those of dolphins, whose intelligence arguably surpasses that of humans according to some scientific studies. They've certainly been smart enough to not communicate with us yet. I would venture to say that it would be a disaster for them if they did.

All life, simply by nature of its existence, contains a respective intelligence and sentiency that is to be respected simply for what it is. Using human intelligence as a quantifier of intelligence or as the quintessential point of comparison, is not only a classic example of apples and no one species can truly ever be compared to another.

We all have our place in the world. Just as a veal calf can't dial a telephone or use a keyboard, we can't know what it's like to watch our fellow calves hauled off to slaughter at a few years of age after being held in a small closeted crate without the opportunity to move a muscle lest it become anything less than tender for the foreboding fork awaiting them.

And if you think for a second that chickens and turkeys live out their full life expectancy…nothing is further from the truth; their lives are abruptly abbreviated to satisfy our diet. In fact, hormones are used to accelerate their growth so that they can be slaughtered earlier. And fish? Check out the new fish farms that ‘grow’ and harvest them. And the new studies that show that fish feel pain.

Again, genuine kudos for your ethical decision not to eat certain living beings. But your decision to (ir)rationalize continuing to eat others is an argument of convenience. Educate yourself on the intelligence and life span of each of the animals you viewed as less than that of a human and then I invite you to re-evaluate your decision. If ethics is your dietary inspiration, you may find yourself becoming a vegetarian...or a vegan...much sooner than you think.

kldickson said...

It's fairly well-proven that pigs and octopi have intelligence equivalent to that of a human 3-year-old. For one, octopi have proven very good at solving puzzles where they need to open some sort of contraption to obtain food for themselves. My criteria for judging their intelligence level come solely from those studies - they are criteria similar to what other scientists use to evaluate the intelligence of primates. It is less exact than how we determine the intelligence of humans, of course, since we are limited by a communication barrier, but it is not bad.

I do not eat pigeons, therefore I have no concern with whether I would eat them or not; I have no doubt that some species of birds are intelligent - such as corvids and African Grey parrots. If you could point me toward any studies about chickens and turkeys, I would appreciate it (preferably ones that are strictly by academic institutions without the specter of organizations such as PeTA, which I detest for its stance on animal research, and without industry influence).

There is unfortunately a necessary amount of speciesism inherent in our ability to survive - and I'd say your post is speciesist too; there are still plants to deal with. I would argue that plants are not intelligent; they have no nervous system nor any demonstrated consciousness to speak of, nor do certain species of bacteria and perhaps even some extremely rudimentary animals (not vertebrates or cephalopods, of course, but some other animals). We have a limited amount of insight into animal intelligence, which is a drawback to our understanding of animal cognition.

This is indeed a very dicey ethical issue, and it is one that I think needs to be explored fairly deeply.

Nu inteleg said...

I'm not going to argue with all of the things you said regarding the human-animal relationship, mainly because I wouldn't want you blowing a vein in your forehead with anger :) Let's just say that I think we should stick to our business just as every other species sticks to theirs and theirs alone.

Regarding humanity, I really don't understand why anyone is even thinking about the human species in terms of 'survival'. There is absolutely nothing that even remotely approaches us in terms of adaptability. We live all over the planet, we have an entire global infrastructure that supports us, and we are aware of and cand influence the world around us to a far greater degree than any species ever. Most importantly, we are no longer dependent on natural selection alone to adapt to new circumstances, we can change in practically zero geological time if we really have to.

If, say, all fossil fuels would just disappear overnight, human civilization would probably collapse. There would be tragic chaos, famine, destruction. But we wouldn't DIE as a species, for crying out loud! We'd just take several steps back on the scale of civilization and start over.

Frankly, unless some huge asteroid rips the Earth a new asshole, I don't believe we're going extinct anytime soon.

The only thing we should really be concerned about, and this is where I start to agree with you, is whether we survive as rational, enlightened beings, as opposed to uncivilized brutes. Frankly, of all the solutions you mentioned, I think 3), 4) and 7) would have the greatest effect:

1),2) Getting a better brain or better senses would be a nice bonus, but really, the standard human brain, glitchy as it is, has all the power and features we need for most practical purposes, it's just that all that potential is tragically squandered in most people. And ironically, mass, public "education" is one of the main culprits, which is why I don't think we need "better" education, we need to completely rethink it.

3) The idea of having a "license" for procreation (like we have for things such as firearms) sounds brilliant, and I agree with it wholeheartedly, although sadly, you can imagine that it would be nearly impossible to convince the general public that this is the way. Who knows, maybe, in a more enlightened future society, this may become possible... but until then, as you said, an useful preliminary step would be for all people to have unrestricted access to birth control, including permanent birth control, should they so desire. There's a lot to be done in this area, but fortunately, things seem to be moving forward.

6) I don't think we really have that much of a problem with healthcare globally. We can't cure, say, cancer or AIDS, but these patients make up only a minute part of all humanity. The majority of people in the civilized world get through 60-70 years of life without succumbing to any unusual disease. As for the uncivilized world, especially Africa, their problem is not with healthcare in particular, but with organizational/political/economic development in general. Anything else is just a symptom. As they discover more evolved forms of government (if ever), you'll see health there improving without the need for any artificial intervention on our part.

8) Let's not also forget that the Native Americans were utterly and decisively obliterated by folks that had a somewhat lesser respect for the beings they shared the world with. Such has always been the way of all living things and I think we will never change in this respect.

kldickson said...


I never said we were failing as a species in terms of population. We're parasites on the planet. What I was talking about was ensuring that we provided for optimizing the human race and the welfare of nature without taking any steps back in progress, because there are components of human civilization that we need to thrive as a species. There are some changes that can take no time at all, but the most fundamental changes take a few years !

My general aim is to at least minimize to a point where they are insignificant the effects of human stupidity and ignorance, which is entirely possible; realistically, we may never be able to eliminate some things, but we can at the very least overhaul civilization as we know it.

By 'better' education, I don't mean simply adding to our current educational system, I mean actually changing it to make it better. And the human brain has much information that we don't know - evolution and existence in general, as wonderfully prone to producing suboptimal beings as it is, gives us a lot to work with, and believe me, we are not that well-equipped to deal with our environment right now - we are, of course, evolving; our technology is evolving at about a million times the rate we do. And I do not think it is impossible to convince the general public of some things, but it will probably take place on the same timescale that most human rights movements take.

AIDS is a significant enough problem that it does need to be addressed immediately, on a healthcare level, and in the longer term on a cultural and political level. We may never see this change ourselves (unless Aubrey de Grey, the well-known British biogerontologist whom I personally bought a beer for along with a bunch of my fellow students when he visited UW-Madison, lets us all live until the Earth fries).