Anthropomorphism, A Big Word Getting Bigger




Treating animals as if they were humans or ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is what anthropomorphism means, is gaining more cultural ground every day and giving farmers who produce meat a huge headache. Things have gone so far that some people equate eating any meat with cannibalism.

Good grief. But if the human race decides not to eat meat anymore, what can I say? I am not infallible in matters of faith and morals like the Pope is supposed to be. Come to think of it, I wonder what the Pope has to say about animal rights because the accusation of cannibalism was often leveled at early Christians to make fun of them. Christians believed, and Catholics still do, that, during the communion service, bread actually, literally, not symbolically, transubstantiates into the body of Christ when the priest pronounces the words “this is my body” over it. Critics of early Christianity said that if someone truly believed that, then they were cannibals to consume that transformed bread. Silly, perhaps, but by the same token I could accuse today’s more extreme animal rights defenders of cannibalism for consuming all those tiny microbial animals in the bread they eat.

I don’t think that most humans are going to quit eating meat. But there is going to be lots more clamor and controversy over how we treat animals. Animal welfare laws have been in effect in this country almost from its beginning because of the sad fact that humans can be cruel— to each other as well as to other animals. But the idea that animals have rights like humans do is in for a lot of travail. The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, promised that, upon being elected, one of the first things he would do would be to banish the horse and carriage trade from the streets of the city. So far he hasn’t gotten that accomplished. The inconsistencies and contradictions involved are almost too banal to justify comment. If horses pulling carriages is cruelty to animals, how about cart pulling, popular among the horsey set? How about horse racing either with carts or without? How about horseback riding? We don’t put saddles on people and ride them around. Think of the millions of 4Hers who would rise up in wrath if someone tried to stop them from riding horses. And if it’s cruel for horses to pull carriages, how about all the humans who make a living carting people around in rickshaws in other parts of the world? How about the millions of people worldwide who still depend on horses and oxen to do their farming? How about dog sleds in Alaska?

Contradictions pile up the more anthropomorphism piles on. I am sure the mayor of New York would use any means available to rid his city of rats. But don’t rats have rights too? Why is it wrong to kill raccoons that are devastating human property but okay to kill mice in the pantry. Last year millions of turkeys and chickens were killed, many of them still quite healthy, in hopes of stopping a bird flu epidemic. Anthropomorphically speaking, we would never do that with a human disease epidemic.

It is now possible to go to jail for shooting a dog even while the law of the land in rural areas allows shepherds to kill sheep-chasing dogs. If anthropomorphism becomes the law of the land, will trespassing dogs be put in jail? Why aren’t coyotes punished for killing pet cats. If I can kill a coyote chasing my cat, why not a dog? I don’t hear anyone saying it, but for people who have to try to manage stray cats, coyotes are a blessing in disguise. They are sifting even into cities and decimating the stray cat population. Hooray. Lately, adversaries of various Humane Societies and People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals are hooting and hollering at these organizations accusing them of hypocrisy because they, along with local pet shelters, kill up to around three quarters of the dogs and cats they take in. But there are just too many stray cats and dogs for the adoption process to absorb. HSUS and PETA and local pet shelters are doing us a favor. The other admirable practice all these organizations have pioneered is neutering cats and dogs before they are offered for adoption. That’s hardly being kindly to animals but it is an effective way of reducing the overpopulation of strays.

Most anthropomorphers, to coin a new word, do not object to killing rats but champion another rodent, the squirrel. Squirrels are just so cute. Never mind that they gnaw holes to get into attics and wreak havoc, get into gardens and wreak some more, and short out electric lines causing power outages that cost millions to repair. With the same attitude anthropomorphers resist reducing the deer herd to more manageable levels. The very same people who moan and groan about cows increasing CO2 emissions see no problem with deer. If herds of cows wandered at will across suburbia like deer do, they would be having conniptions.


No one can help being a cannibal! Everyone’s body consumes itself, to varying degrees, by the minute, in order to renew the tissue and bone that make it work. Also, for this very reason, NO ONE can ever be a true vegetarian! Ha! I win!!

BTW: I have it on personal experience that we humans taste very good. I once slightly barbequed my hand. In reaction to the pain, I stuck the burned portion (only about a centimeter in diameter) into my mouth. It tasted like pork! Too bad we don’t have inner taste buds! If we did, we could endlessly enjoy the renewal process.

Actually, come to think of it — we’d, probably, all grow tired of pork, and eventually go nuts trying to escape the flavor — either that, or discover non-attachment and reinvent Buddhism.

I think a large part of the blame for this trend needs to go to Walt Disney. Cartoons giving human attibutes to animals. Young children for years watching this, was every Saturday morning, now, any time of the day and night. Every animal deserves respect, too many people are going overboard about it.

One doesn’t have to be a member of PETA or a vegan to notice the cows standing in mud and manure in spring feedlots on farms and ranchers all over the countryside each spring in my part of the world (British Columbia). I do not have to be anthropomorphic to say that keeping dairy herds on cement their whole lives without the chance to graze does a sort of violence to a cow’s makeup. As Steve Kenyon, a master grazier from Alberta said not too long ago (I’ll paraphrase, but it is pretty close): “We farmers have been talking about stewardship for a long time; we need to actually practice stewardship.” Curt Gesch

Homegrown from Buzzard's Glory May 5, 2016 at 9:10 am

Enjoyed all the posts. When I read pgok’s post, I was reminded of the saying I came up with when folks tell me that nature is cruel. I always say, “Nature’s not cruel, she’s just unsentimental.” …. Humans. Well, that’s another matter. Thanks again Gene, for attracting such thoughtful people. It’s like ‘e-meeting” friends I’ll never see in person.

My sister made her dog be a vegetarian, but the family wasn’t…..puked all the time fed by hand 3 meals a day and drank goat milk….made me wonder if all these people don’t have an unfulfilled mothering instinct that they take out on poor unsuspecting animals.

I under stand Lucy. There was a girl who live a couple blocks east of here where i”m staying with my folks in the city (indianapolis,in) who was showing up abused to school . The police investigated once but did nothing. Finally the girl quit going to school. Then one day the abuse got to be too much and she passed. Her name was Sylvia Likens. They tore the house down a few years back.

Just this weekend I am saddened by the fact that the Ringling Brothers Circus has to eliminate their elephants from the show. People don’t realize how well loved and well treated these animals are. I am glad my young granddaughters were able to experience them in one of their last shows.

Another reaction to this piece comes from a school teacher friend of mine who tried desperately to get help for a student being mistreated at home. It wasn’t until the child came into school with dog feces on his shoes that the authorities took action and found 13 mistreated dogs in the home. Then, I am assuming, they realized the child, too, needed help.

I have lived in the country all my life and have loved animals but in our society today too often animals and their treatment are put above people and their humane treatment.

A lot of the problems in the world would be solved with spaying and neutering the most invasive species on this little planet. Homo Sapiens.

That said, do unto others (and udders) what you would want done to you. Treat all life with respect and be thankful to those beings that give us our sustenance.

I eat the salad first and always insisted my children do so as well. (You feed young’uns steak or hamburger first and good luck getting them to eat their salad.) Too the nutritionists say that eating the salad gives your stomach some extra enzymes to digest the meat.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that something of this sort would come up on Gene’s blog at some point. First off anthropomorphism is the attribution of Human characteristics to animals, BY HUMANS. Some of you will be familiar with Beatrix Potter, and her writing. Now that’s anthropomorphic.

There is a term coined over thirty years ago, “speciesism”, defined as:
“Speciesism is the idea that it is justifiable to give preference to beings simply on the grounds that they are members of the species Homo sapiens.” Why do we do this? Well, because we ARE Human. (Maybe not so ‘sapiens’)

You will be aware of the Animal Rights movement which came out of the late 60s and early 70s. While I don’t ascribe to all that the Professor of Philosophy, now at Princeton, Peter Singer, writes, and regard humankind as omnivores, and therefore ‘predatory’ on other species, I have to agree that we have a moral duty to our environment.

As mentioned by, I think Betty, above, ‘nature’ can be cruel, and watching the fighting for dominance, by our toms can be distressing, at times. Culling the flock, for breeding purposes, and for meat, is both practical and can, as mentioned by Marsha be a kindness to mistreated animals.

We humans like to think we are, and probably are, top ‘predator’. We also take more from nature than almost any other creature, frequently without thinking. We are also unnecessarily cruel to other creatures. You will be well aware of Temple Grandin’s work on the husbandry of cattle. The numerous reports from various organisations such as MFA on the commersial poultry industry, and the dreadful conditions in which factory farming keeps birds. You may also know of the European Union Regulations concerning pig farming? And so on… We are unthinkingly vicious enough with our own species, why should we be so to other species?

My point is that we, the species Hom Sap, are one species among many, and we really, IF we are so intelligent, ought to recognise our place. I would strongly recommend Peter Singer’s book, “In Defense of Animals: the second wave”, as highly thought provoking. As I say, I do not agree with all he writes, and neither need you.

I figured out a way to deal with the carnivore/vegan diet thing a long time ago. First I eat the hamburger/steak/pork chop(carnivore) part of my meal,then i eat the salad and other vegetables (vegan). I’ve eaten carnivore and vegan and now both sides are happy and dont have anything to bitch about!=). As for the wildlife in the back yard, I just wonder if they would complain or be greatful like over a hundred years ago when buffalo herds thundered through the prairies . Look honey ! The buffalo are drinking out of the swimming pool and the fountain! lol

Marsha aka Homegrown April 28, 2016 at 3:50 am

Always enjoy your artilcles, Mr. Logsdon. This one, in my humble opinion, overshoots the mark a bit. I think you meant it tongue-in-cheek, and that’s how I will interpret it. Anyone with common sense knows extremes when they see them.
Alas, here in SE Ohio, animal neglect and cruelty far overshadows any “well-meaningness” on the part of animal rights organizations. I live WAY out in the boonies and it hurts to think of the times I’ve seen thin, steaming horses standing in a cold rain at a hitching post with no blanket, or dogs chained to boxes running back and forth, having lost their minds. And there’s nothing to be done, law-wise. I’ve shot sick, desperate stray dogs and cats myself, and it hurts me to do it. I’d rather have taken a potshot at the moron who either dropped them off or failed to neuter them. And I sure hope the ‘yotes don’t get either of my two faithful in/out cats who make this old cabin free of vermin. It wouldn’t hurt any of us to eat less meat, and the atmosphere would appreciate the lack of methane (which hubby and I are guilty of manufacturing just after eating chili :). Humans are arrogant, and alas, I think many think that ethical treatment of animals under our lock and key are not worthy of simple kindness.
Keep up the great work, Gene. I appreciate your posts.

Randy Perkins, A Farmer in Disguise April 27, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Gene, your choice of words is always right on the mark…”banal” is surely right.

Among the various factors contributing to the increasingly silly positions being espoused in terms of “rights,” three stand out strongly in my view. First, the effect of the disconnection of most folks from, and resulting ignorance (not meant in a pejorative way) about, animal husbandry and life in meaningful proximity to wildlife in general (not just the narrow slice of it recognized by urban dwellers). Second, as a part of human nature, the tendency to feel qualified — notwithstanding the absence of any experience and developed practical knowledge regarding the topic activity (in this case, farming) — to judge practices used by those commonly engaged in it. Third, people nowadays seem to have a lot more time to think about – and act upon their thoughts concerning – topics that were in the grand scheme of things not important enough to gain any attention from earlier generations.

I consider the omnivore / vegetarian diet debate especially amusing (or just ironic on my more curmudgeonly days) since I believe that the growth of the human brain and degree of intelligence in Homo Sapiens can in significant part be attributed to the huge boost in protein intake from the adoption ever so long ago of hunting…and eating meat ever since. But of course I could be mistaken, known as I am for being oft wrong but rarely uncertain. 😊

As always, Gene’s essay and the interesting responses from my fellow readers is a real highlight to the week.

Gene, I live near the wacky city of Santa Cruz, California. Having been here most of the last 35 years, yet still retaining ( but only just ) some of my midwestern( Ohio ) sensibilities, I am puzzled and entertained anew every few months by some absurdity. Apparently it is common sense to everyone, except me. I’d like nothing better than to dope-slap em!

Last year, while perusing the Santa Cruz Senile, er, Sentinal, on-line, I came across a feature story about being firm yet gentle in forcing your cats and dogs to go vegetarian. Show great patience, especially as your cute kitten lays a deceased mouse at your doorstep out of adoration for its’ loving owner. Guess we all need to have a heart-to-heart with our socially inept pets. I shit you not, it was a serious article, not at all tongue-in-cheek.

What can I do, Gene, I am at wits end with these nutters!

It comes down to just plain common sense again, something there seems to be less and less of these days.

We have animals, some are pets, some are stock and end up on our dinner table.

I have to say it makes no sense to me to put a diaper on a chicken. At the same time, I have made a comfy bed for my lab who stays by my side always. I’m sure the person with the diapered chicken feels as much love for it as I do for my sweet Sophie.

There will always be extremes. Nature is a balance and farming is a fine practice of that balance.

Raising more than more than one of any type of male farm animal would cure most people of the attitudes you write of. Watching animals fight, maim and be cruel to one another would point out the mercy of a swift death by human hand. Predation in nature is not a pretty sight either–death is often painfully drawn out when animals prey on one another.

People love their backyard chickens, but watch how even the hens turn on one of their number that gets wounded, pecking at and eventually killing her. And two or more roosters? Now that’s just a constant barnyard cockfight. Far more humane to harvest the extra roosters quickly.

Good farmers raise their animals so that they have a good life and one last bad moment.

I truly believe, as I am sure most who follow Gene’s posts, animals should be treated with a degree of kindness and respect. My livestock are great animals, with their own personalities, and to a degree, intelligence.
And I say thank you to the hogs, just before I squeeze the trigger. Really, I do.
I got into a heated discussion, on line of course, with a vegetarian about the choice of being a meat eater vs a vegetarian and the betterment of the planet in light of climate change. When questioned about the reduction of methane producing cows, do we slaughter them all? What about all 4 chambered stomach animals? Goats? Sheep? Deer? Bison?
My one dog can clear a room. Don’t light that match! Do I cull him too?
Then there is the livestock to soil symbiotic relationship. We need grazing animals to improve the soil and over all the land. When done properly, through Management Intensive Grazing, I believe livestock are a better choice than using petro-chemicals. What took my neighbor 10 years to bring his fields back to hay production using a tractor and mower, I did in 3 years using goats, hogs and chickens. Disclaimer: I do not own a tractor.
As any good farmer, I love my livestock. From the goats to the cows to the hogs, to the chickens and ducks. I treat them the best I can as that is what the deserve. They provide me a product or a service and I know that.
But they are still livestock.

Possibly becasue of the incidence of prion related animal illnesses and the supposed threat to human health, it is now difficult to buy poultry feed locally with animal products as ingredients. Chickens do eat animal products, even eat each other if given the chance.

Well said Gene.
In regard to wandering cows in suburbia that really does happen in some areas. For example, when I lived in Puerto Rico many years ago free ranging cattle were everywhere. I don’t know if free range rules applied there as they do out here in the Western United States, but it was not uncommon to see dairy breed steers roaming freely both in the San Juan suburb of Levittown and in the more rural areas around town. No cowboys or cowgirls were visible nor did I see any brands on the cattle. It was not uncommon to see steers mowing down the grass along the sidewalk. It seems to me, although my memory is not as reliable as I would like, that it wasn’t uncommon to open the driveway gates and allow the steers to mow down the overgrown backyards. They quickly mowed down the grass and turned it into fertilizer deposits. I might have done that myself because as a poor college student I couldn’t afford a mower. ( Note previous comment re: my memory)

I didn’t think much about it at the time but in retrospect that sure seemed to make more sense and was less obtrusive on the senses than listening to the roar and smelling the fumes from lawn mowers. I’ve read that emissions from lawn mowers are much worse than from automobiles. The air in Levittown ,Puerto Rico already smelled like sulfur from the fumes of the power plants providing electricity for the town. Lawn mowers would only add to the fumes. Of course, if one had a garden in the backyard that could complicate steers grazing the backyard but still…

I don’t know how free ranging steers would fly in mainland American suburbia, but I could envision a rent a steer or sheep lawn mowing service making the rounds in American Suburbia. Already small entrepreneurs provide managed goat herds for bringing shrubbery under control, even in suburbs, so why not a grazing lawn mowing service? Sheep might be less obtrusive and do a neater job of mowing grass than steers and would definitely leave less obnoxious fertilizer deposits. I could think of much worse employment than managing a sheep mowing service in suburbia. With the advances in electric fencing now available just think of the possibilities!

Properly gentled animals would allow the suburbanites to feel anthropomorphic emotions about the hooved lawnmowers, but the shepherd would get some nicely fattened lambs and hopefully some wool to sell annually while keeping the ewes until they were past their prime, then turning them into mutton. On a related note, in spite of the reputation mutton has for being nearly inedible, unless you are from the UK, some of the best meat I’ve ever eaten was bona fide mutton from old grass-fattened ewes. Just trim the fat to use for making soap.

I use geese and goats to keep my lawn mowed with the result I only need to use a lawn mower a very few times a year just to even up the rough spots. I live too far from suburbia to make a business with my grazers but it sounds to me like a potential business for like-minded entrepreneurs. Maybe it would help everybody concerned to come to grips with the tendency toward anthropomorphism you have described.

as usual so well said. so many dogs and cats live on a better diet than humans who are abandoned on the streets. Its amazing they do not want to feed all carnivores a veggie diet even the lions in a zoo …make the birds stop eating worms ,. It’s utter madness .

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s