Monday, June 8, 2015

Do Animals Talk To Each Other?

Initially I had planned to write my fifth paper on this article written by Erica Goode:
At Donna Haraway's talk, I asked what can we learn from how interspecies members relate to each other to improve our human-animal relations? It was a direct reference to this article, which references Haraway herself, from her novel When Species Meet. Biologists have generated a range of terms for how species may interact: mutualism, parasitism, commensalism, competition, but there is mostly a dearth of research on any sort of companionship that is not based on direct need. I do not mean to say friendship doesn't provide a support network which is highly beneficial; no, how can one make this claim when research in graph theory and social networks has shown that we can show which individuals are most likely to commit suicide by recreating a matrix of their relationships? We mostly discount animals' capabilities for language and emotion, which are deemed the (human) basis for companionship, so it is easy to see why any possibility of interspecies friendship was also ignored. If you are to read papers in behavioral ecology, you will certainly find accounts of animals "signaling" to each other, but they are always framed in evolutionary contests. Goode includes the story of Safi and Wister, a dog-donkey friendship, which we viewed in class. Young animals seem particularly impressionable in forming these interspecies relationships. The extreme case is of course the baby birds who imprint on other animals that are not their true mothers, and we, the human species, are not exempt from these anomalous occurrences. The stories of the wolf children in Humanimal speak to a interspecies relationship, that even exceeds mere companionship. They have been entirely inducted into the folds of wolfe society. Haraway's naturecultures are heavily present here. Genetic material is passed down within species for a shared communication, but they are also refined and perfected in those formative infant days through culture. And when these cultures are not of the species which they constitute, children do not seem to break down but adapt! I had heard about dogs being added to cheetah exhibits in order to relax them. The article suggests that the dog is particularly good at cross-species communication due to our cross-species relationship with them. She also suggests our fascination with these relationships is derived from our desire to have a more friendly connection to nature, a goal which seems always out of reach. We are lonely in a world where no other species has truly been able to communicate with us. Can you think of films/fiction in which the animals are friends and talk to each other? Dumbo comes to mind, Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, and in general many children's books and allegories. How do we imagine these relationships to be like? There is, I think, sometimes this feeling that all animals speak to each other and we are the only ones who are not included in this language. Animals certainly whisper sweet nothings into each other's, for how can hybrids come about? But hybrids are often rejected by either group because they cannot communicate successfully, and we once again come to the crucial question of whether animal language can cross species lines.

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