There are many aspects of Thanksgiving that are wonderful. Family members and friends unite and many people reach out to those who are less fortunate and who have very little in their lives to celebrate.
There are also some extremely troubling sides of this holiday. First off, millions upon millions of live and highly intelligent and emotional sentient turkeys are wantonly and horrifically slaughtered for unneeded meals. The traditional Thanksgiving Day massacre remains a blight on who we humans are and the reprehensible things we do to nonhuman animals (animals) over whom we have total control.
More than 45 million turkeys are killed every Thanksgiving. More than 300 million are killed annually. Before they are mercilessly slaughtered they are kept in the most inhumane conditions, on the floors of dark, filthy sheds, a house of horrors, where they walk through their own excrement, breathe ammonia-filled air, and are cramped together so tightly they can't move or get away from one another. As a result there are numerous fights among normally peaceful individuals and they suffer from massive injuries and a variety of diseases. When one eats a turkey carcass they are eating a genetically engineered animal and also consuming pain and misery. To keep turkeys from injuring one another their toes and beaks are cut off with hot blades with no anesthetic or analgesic, and when their throat is slit many are still conscious. We know chickens feel empathy and there is every reason to believe that turkeys do too. I know no one would treat their dog like turkeys are treated from birth to their heinous road to death. So, if you won't do it to a dog, why do it to a turkey? Turkeys are surely more than a meal and President Obama should be pardoning all turkeys, not only Cobbler and Gobbler.
Violence toward turkeys, human shopping behavior, and Black Friday are very much uniquely human
The violence experienced by turkeys and other animals is also expanded to include humans. This morning, while I was eating breakfast, there were news flashes about what's called "Black Friday" (see also). On this ominous day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of human shoppers go out and compete for the best sales they can find. These shopping forays can be extremely violent and some result in death. Shoppers have been known to beat one another and use Tasers and pepper spray to get the best deal. On one news show a man said, "It's fun to be out there competing for all the stuff that's on sale." Fun? Very disturbing images of Black Friday chaos and violence can be seen here.
Here's a list of some of the atrocities of Black Friday in recent years:
Porter Ranch, Calif. - 32-year-old Elizabeth Macias used pepper spray on fellow Walmart shoppers, injuring 20 people. Macias later turned herself in but has yet to face charges. According to the Los Angeles Times, police are unsure whether she used the pepper spray in an attempt to grab a discounted Xbox console, or in self-defense.
New York City: Crowds waiting to get inside a Hollister store busted through the locked doors and began looting around 1:15 a.m., according to the New York Post.
San Leandro, Calif.: 21-year-old Christopher Murillo was shot in the neck in the parking lot outside Walmart at about 1:55 a.m. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the incident was an attempted robbery.
Myrtle Beach, S.C. - A 55-year-old woman was shot in the leg during an armed robbery at about 1:12 a.m. outside Walmart, reported CBS affiliate WSPA.
Buffalo, N.Y.: Keith Krantz, 28, was injured when he was trampled by a mob trying to get inside a Target store just after doors opened at 4 a.m.
Valley Stream, N.Y.: Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old Walmart employee, was trampled to death when a crowd waiting outside broke through the doors to the store just before 5 a.m.
Palm Desert, Calif.: Two men shot and killed each other inside a Toys R' Us after what was reportedly an argument involving the women they were with. According to the Los Angeles Times, police do not believe the incident was connected to Black Friday deals, but rather a personal dispute.
Clearly, Black Friday is not a day for which humans can be proud.
Black Friday violence is not what it's like to be an animal
When discussing the chaos and violence of Black Friday more than one news anchor can be heard saying that the people are "behaving just like animals", however, this is far from the truth. They clearly don't know about the latest research on animal behavior that shows that most animals are extremely cooperative and that disruptive aggression is very rare. Sure, animals compete with one another but fights to the death or that result in extreme harm are very rare.
Animals don't Taser one another or use pepper spray to "get the best deal" and most interactions over food, while competitive, involve a lot of threat displays, posturing, and vocalizations because fighting can be injurious to all concerned and wild animals cannot afford to get injured. If a dominant animals, say a wolf, a lion, or a chimpanzee for example, wins a fight but gets injured, this can mean they too suffer the consequences of the scuffle and can no longer thrive and reproduce. They've won the battle but lost the war.
People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong. So, when they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil, and warlike behavior, they're not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. Numerous species display wild justice and carefully negotiate their social relationships so that fairness, cooperation, compassion, and empathy are quite common.
In an essay called "Quitting the hominid fight club" John Horgan concluded, "All told, since Jane Goodall began observing chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe National Park in 1960, researchers have directly observed 31 intergroup killings, of which 17 were infants.... researchers at a typical site directly observe one killing every seven years ... my criticism - and that of other critics I've cited - stems from science, not ideology." (the italics are mine)
Warlike animals are the rare exception, not the rule, and this must be factored into our own rationalizations and justifications for our seeming obsession with making war. War is a choice and non-human animals should not be blamed for our destructive inclinations.
The notion of "human exceptionalism" remains a keen interest of mine. I'm forever trying to come up with a list of activities that are uniquely human and for now they include activities such as worrying about and paying taxes, cooking food, and lighting farts as one colleague crudely but rightly puts it.
Human shopping patterns also are uniquely human. Nonhumans don't shop for clothing, radios, televisions, or other items that for many are icing on the cake, stuff they don't really need but for some reason they want and for which they're willing to fight and risk serious harm.
Researchers who study animal behavior have discovered that there are "prudent predators" and "optimal foragers" who try to get the most bang for the buck in terms of acquiring more energy then they put out to get a meal. They're always striving for net energy gain. It can be a tough world "out there in the wild" and conserving energy is critical because an individual never knows when she or he will be called on to do something unexpected that will require having a good deal of energy in reserve.
So, when we say to someone, "Oh, you're behaving like an animal", it's actually a complement rather than an insult. We need to emphasize the positive, prosocial (voluntary behavior to benefit another), side of the character of other animals. And solid science is showing this is really who other animals are. We're surely not morally superior and thus exceptional.
Stay tuned for more on the fascinating lives of animals and discussions of human exceptionalism that show how much we can learn from other animals about kindness, decency, cooperation, empathy, compassion, and peace.