Monday, July 13, 2009

Whales Are Not Trying to "Tell" Us Anything

This isn't explicitly an animal rights post, but it is closely related.

Popular science writers have fallen in love with their subjects, leading to blatant anthropomorphizing of animals--to the detriment of their work and credibility. Barely a week goes by these days without some writer pushing the meme that animals are really people too.

Latest example, "Watching Whales Watching Us," by Charles Siebert in the New York Times Magazine. From the article:
Somehow the more we learn about whales, the more we're coming to appreciate the sublimely discomfiting reality that a kind of parallel "us" has long been out there roaming the oceans' depths, succumbing to our assaults. Indeed, when that baby gray calf bobbed up out of the sea and held there that first morning, staring at me with his huge, slow-blinking eye, it felt to me as if he were taking one impossibly long and quizzical look in the mirror.
Oh, please: When a writer rockets that far over the top, I lose trust in the entire article. Siebert is clearly smitten. It's a romance. And when one is emotionally involved with the subject, yearning for something to be true, one will tend to interpret events to make them appear to be for which one hopes. (Just ask any man who has fallen in love with the wrong woman.)

And I hate to tell Siebert, but that whale who gave him the eye was unquestionably a magnificent animal who may have been curious. But the writer's deeply romantic yearning to transform whales into huge versions of us notwithstanding, was quite indifferent to his existence.

What are whales trying to tell us? Not a blessed thing.

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