Sunday, September 4, 2016

Because Donkeys Don't Judge

Weird and fascinating look at Hudson Valley Donkey Walkers, 400 people who hang out with miniature donkeys for therapeutic purposes:
On this day, the guests included Brittany Hill, who has been living with leukemia for 11 years, and an extremely shy man who by the end of the afternoon would speak of the confidence that walking a donkey had given him.

Ms. Hill, 26, said she kept returning because donkeys “don’t judge.”

“They understand, even though they don’t talk,” she said.

Indeed, anyone expecting a miniature-donkey meet-up to be some kind of braying contest was in for a surprise. “Their instinct is to ponder things,” Mr. Stiert said.
The love we have for our pets speaks to something deep about our needs, and to the trials of life as a social mammal. Interactions with other humans can be great but are always fraught: am I being judged? lied to? laughed at? despised?

So we have bred animals whose sole job is to love us unconditionally, to meet some of our needs for society and affection without the risks inherent in loving and trusting another person.

3 comments:

G. Verloren said...

Animals don't have much need to judge others. It's not even that they've been bred to not do it, because even wild animals aren't judgemental. (Territorial or aggressive, perhaps, but not truly malicious or judgemental.)

No, the simple fact is that humanity has conditioned itself to be judgemental. We're not simply social creatures, but societal ones. And unlike other animals, our collective rules aren't based as much in instinct and evolutionary pressure, but are also contorted by learned and conditioned behaviors - by the influences of psychology and politics and artifice and so on.

This difference allows us to make incredible use of various fabrications and abstractions - trade, currency, government, specialization of labor, technology, et cetera, et cetera - but it comes with a price. It allows us - and even at times encourages us - to be judgemental, to be spiteful, to be cruel, to be arbitrary, to have agendas, to keep secrets, to lie, to cheat, and perhaps most uniquely to prey upon not only upon our own species, but even upon our own kin.

David said...

I think apes judge each other all the time. And other mammals certainly judge potential mates. Herd animals tend to have hierarchies, and is there no judgment involved in that? I wouldn't be surprised if herds can also engage in shunning.

The key is that many domesticated animals seem not to judge humans, at least not very harshly--though perhaps one should be cautious here. Horses are said to judge their riders, and cats seem to decide they like some people better than others.

As for the other sins, I dimly recall there is actually some dispute about whether apes can try to deceive one another, or at least wait to do things until, say, the alpha isn't looking. I think there's at least an argument to be made that would-be alpha apes will keep the agenda of waiting for the current alpha's moment of weakness. Lions and hyenas seem to engage in interspecies cruelty toward each other.

G. Verloren said...

@David

I didn't say that animals *don't* judge, but that they have less need of it, and that their needs are evolutionarily driven rather than effectively arbitrary.

A gorilla might kill you if you do something it particularly doesn't like, but it always has evolutionary reasons to not like whatever that thing is.

A gorilla will never kill you because of your politics, or your beliefs, or because of things that aren't tied in some way to the survival of itself and its family. A gorilla won't leave its home and travel great distances in order to kill other gorillas it doesn't know, simply because those other gorillas don't also believe in the same magical ape in the sky that it does. A gorilla won't kill for glory, or for empire, or out of boredom, or to curry favor, or to gain a sack of gold. If you die to a gorilla, it is because you in some way threatened it - not because you were merely different from it.

Yes, much of our worst human tendencies have roots in our ape ancestry. We're tribal and possessive and heirarchical and patriarchical in large part because those were all parts of our evolutionary process. But we've gone so far beyond evolution, and we've developed a judgementality which operates outside of evolutionary concerns.

We so often kill and condemn, not out of the needs of survival and procreation, but out of arbitrary whims. And while that might not be utterly and absolutely unique to humanity - there are always exceptions to be found - the degree to which we exhibit such behavior absolutely is unique, and is uniquely unjust and immoral given our capacity for reason and restraint.