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Jewish World Review
August 1, 2013 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5773
Are Pigs Smarter Than Dogs? And Should We Care?
My son Gideon, age nine, is hog wild about the classic CBS sitcom "Green Acres," which counts the super-intelligent pig Arnold Ziffel among its characters.
So I couldn't resist the recent Associated Press headline "Pigs Smart As Dogs? Activists Pose The Question."
The article is about The Someone Project, which is coordinated by Farm Sanctuary, an animal-protection and vegan-advocacy organization. The Someone Project wants us to realize that farm animals are more intelligent and emotionally complex than we thought, develop more empathy for those animals and ponder questions such as "Why do I casually eat beef, pork, poultry and mutton when I wouldn't dream of eating cats, dogs, horses or primates such as apes?"
Confession time. Yes, the distinctions that cultures make about which species are appropriate for food and which are appropriate for pets are arbitrary, illogical, inconsistent and unfair. But look at the bigger picture. If society didn't have things that were arbitrary, illogical, inconsistent and unfair, we would have an excess of observational humorists roaming around with nothing to do.
We would have to shut down the observational humorist mills and euthanize most of the remaining population. ("J'ever notice guys in white coats coming at you with hypodermic needles? I mean, what's up with that? OUCH!!")
I understand the agenda of The Someone Project, but I don't know if I would be stressing how "intellectual" and "sensitive" farm critters are. That didn't work so well in high school. Look for an explosion of barnyard wedgies and swirlies.
I'm glad the Someone Project folks are taking a realistic approach of incremental attitude change instead of expecting a nationwide epiphany. Most of us come from a background in which our forefathers, our heroes and our sacred texts accepted exploitation of animals for sacrifice, food, clothing and transportation. You can't undo that conditioning overnight with observations such as, "But they look so cuuuute when they buddy up figuring out a maze."
Activists stress that they want to foster a general awareness of the cognitive abilities of animals, rather than getting bogged down in ranking them by I.Q. (Some of the animals themselves, however, are obsessed with bragging rights. One pig insists, "A pig would get an injunction against Timmy going near wells. A pig would know that the Red Baron died in 1918." To which a dog replied, "A dog would know to hire Don Draper instead of a &^%$# SPIDER to run a promotional campaign!")
So, basically, they want to give EVERYONE a gold star and a ribbon that says "Plays well with others." Well, everyone except the chickens, who will peck another chicken to death if they see blood.
The Someone Project would do well to stay focused on the animals that exhibit the most human-like qualities. They must resist the calls from the fringe elements to advocate policies such as "a living-nine-days wage" for fruit flies and a "hang over your ground" gun rights bill for tree sloths.
Let's hear from all sides. Then each person must decide with his own conscience whether to continue "full steam ahead" as a carnivore, insist on humane conditions for the animals he does consume or go completely vegan.
I look forward to the ongoing debate. Th-th-th-that's NOT all, folks.
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Controversial author Harlan Ellison once described the work of Mr. Tyree as "wonkily extrapolative" and said his mind "works like a demented cuckoo clock." Tyree generated a particular buzz on the Internet with his column spoofing real-life Christian nudist camps. A lifelong small-town southerner, he graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in Mass Communications.
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© 2013, Danny Tyree