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A challenge to blinkered speciesism

balcombe-with-ratThis is a terrific book, giving the lie to those who dismissively accuse those of us who ascribe emotions to animals as ‘anthropomorphising’ Its always seemed to me to be rather crucially the other way round. As human beings are after all also animals, and as we can see clearly the development of anatomical structures across aeons of time, and across species, its absolutely obvious that all the aspects of physiology have also been a-developing. Animals – not just other mammals, but other vertebrates, have neurological and endocrine systems like ours. It has always seemed to me to be supreme arrogance to interpret human behaviour and human emotion one way, and deny that complex behaviour and emotion also exist in animals. Why should we primate and catinterpret the playful human one way, and see other animals, both wild and domesticated, behaving in a manner which looks playful, and looks as if the animal is enjoying itself, and not draw the conclusion that he/she is also having fun. I have used the term he/she deliberately, as Balcombe does, pointing out that our language, calling animals ‘it’ removes them from individuality. His tenet in this book is that we have failed to investigate the clear evidence that animals feel ‘pleasure’ in all its many guises – pleasure from companionship and social bonds with other animals, pleasure in play, a sense of beauty, enjoyment in the feel-good of sex – not just a mechanical urge, but pleasurable, like it is for humans. Even, in one startling image, he presents the idea that certainly other primates may experience a sense of awe.

Wolf and goatAs he points out, carefully tracing what appears to be complex emotion back and back – even to invertebrates, to insects, once we begin to see the adaptive, in evolutionary terms, nature of ‘feel-good’ and to see that ‘dumb animals’ not only feel pain, but also the complexities of the pleasurable (a much more individualised, personal identity response than the pain response) we should be forced to change our thinking about the separation between ourselves and other species.

The further I read into this book, the more Jainism, with its deep respect for all thatPleasurable Kingdom lives, makes scientific, not just ethical sense.

My only cavil about this excellently put together, well-written, carefully argued and researched book is that I wish the extensive bibliography and citing of published research material had been footnote referenced, rather than all the books and studies cited in a chapter collected together at the end of the book, as I wanted to look for the evidence of some of the more surprising information given.

Its possible that this may have been done in the physical text, but certainly is not a feature of the Kindle edition.
Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good Amazon UK
Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good Amazon USA