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Science Shows Animals Have Distinct Personalities

Science Shows Animals Have Distinct Personalities
posted by: Mac McDaniel

The primary justification for the cruelty that humanity inflicts on non-human animals is rooted in a kind of bigotry that some of us in the Animal Rights community refer to as "speciesism", a philosophically that runs parallel to the other "isms" we condemn: racism, sexism, etc. Speciesism makes the argument that humanity is not just intellectually superior to other animals, but morally superior to them. In other words it says we are under no obligation to consider non-human animals' existence, their comfort, desires, feelings or safety when we make decisions that ultimately determine their fate. A speciesist views animals as property.

But the pseudo-science that is used to reinforce speciesism is just as shaky as that which was used to justify racism and sexism in the past. And the more we learn about animals, the more it becomes apparent that they indeed deserve much better treatment than we as a society give them.

I wasn't shocked, but rather fascinated, when I read an article in the NY Times last month about the burgeoning field of animal personality research. This kind of research is encouraging to me as a vegan because I think the more people begin to learn about the diverse range of animal personalities and thought, the more inclined they will be to respect them. The article in the NY Times made this, among other interesting points:

"Scientists studying animals from virtually every niche of the bestial kingdom have found evidence of distinctive personalities — bundled sets of behaviors, quirks, preferences and pet peeves that remain stable over time and across settings. They have found stylistic diversity in chimpanzees, monkeys, barnacle geese, farm minks, blue tits and great tits, bighorn sheep, dumpling squid, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra finches, spotted hyenas, even spiders and water striders, to name but a few."

Humans tend to flatter themselves into thinking we are the only species on the planet with distinctive personalities -- the exception being our pets to whom we ascribe complementary personalities to our own. This presumption about our uniqueness is so ingrained in our understanding of the concept of a personality, that if you look up the word "personality" in the dictionary, you'll find this near the bottom of the page: "the quality or fact of being a person as distinct from a thing or animal"

We have used our distinctive personalities to delineate our mental qualities from those of non-human animals for centuries. But when we have more proof than ever of animals' personalities, how do we continue to justify their suffering?

The argument I would make is that because we can clearly see that animals have feelings, distinct personalities, and desires, aren't we under a moral obligation to respect their wishes: their wishes for comfort, freedom and the ability to live out their lives naturally?

The comprehensive personality research being conducted by scientists, like Max Wolf, is one more nail in the coffin of the speciesist mindset. When we are noticing concrete, measurable personality traits in animals, from primates down to insects like water striders, how long will we continue to view animals as biomachines, lower than us privileged humans?

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