The Naruto Copyright Scandal: Some Talking Points

Some of my recent posts have been about animals, and this month is no different. I’m sure most people have, at some point, heard of the selfie copyright issue involving the following parties: Naruto, a crested black macaque; David Slater, the British nature photographer; Wikimedia Commons; and Techdirt, a popular blog; and PETA.

If you haven’t, please do take a look at the Wiki page dedicated to this issue. It’s remarkable that the page is as neutral as it can be considering Wikimedia’s involvement in the dispute. Before we get into why this is remarkable, let’s recall the following.

The dispute has given rise to rather interesting questions: do animals have standing in a court of law? If yes, can animals sue for copyright infringement? The Wiki page listed the selfie–and still does–as being under the public domain, a claim Slater has disputed. Slater claims that he is the rightful owner of the selfies taken by the monkey, since he set up the equipment, thereby aiding the monkey to take the selfie. In other words, Slater’s argument holds that he has a valid copyright claim since he engineered the situation.

Wiki’s Laudable Commitment to the Neutrality Principle

These details (and more) are present in the Wiki page linked to above, and they are presented as is. That is, the page presents both sides of the issue (as Wikipedia usually strives to) without, however, taking a side. Both arguments are elaborated and backed by reviewed research. It would have been all too easy for Wiki to compromise on their neutrality principle here. It would also have been equally easy to lock the article from edits. They’ve done neither, which is commendable.

One of Naruto’s selfies
(Photo: © David Slater / Wildlife Personalities Ltd)

PETA sued Slater on behalf of Naruto in 2015, but the 2016 verdict held that animals simply do not have standing in a court of law. Nonetheless, the verdict also acknowledged PETA’s claim that Naruto had indeed acted “purposefully and voluntarily.” Though the verdict may have underwhelmed or disappointed those rooting for Naruto, it is quite encouraging nonetheless.

The Naruto Verdict: A Promising Legal Precedent?

Why? Because strange lawsuits always have the potential to become precedents. If, for instance, a similar suit is ever brought to court, it can be argued that animals should be accorded standing in a court of law, because they do act purposefully, voluntarily, and consciously–and that the 2016 verdict recognizes as much. Purposeful, voluntary actions are important criteria because they are inextricably linked to the question of rationality. Please see my old piece to recall how rationality is commonly understood and how this propagates animal cruelty and speciesism.

This is not to say that any similar case in the future will inevitably challenge the stance that animals have no standing in a court of law. Rather it is to shed light on the importance of a legal record that recognizes the ability of non-human animals to think and act consciously.

The case not only serves as an exciting precedent but also sheds light on Wiki’s unwavering commitment to neutrality in an increasingly partisan cyberspcae.

How High Can You Fly With Some Balloons? Ask David Blaine

I recently read about David Blaine’s new stunt. Called “Ascension,” the stunt will involve David Blaine rising into thin air while being tethered to 52 Helium-filled weather balloons. Allegedly, the endurance artist intends to reach an altitude of 18,000 feet. Just to clarify, he’s not going to be standing, sitting, or crouching in a hot air balloon. He’ll be tethered to 52 balloons, and there will be no protective encasement.

To put this into perspective, let’s take a brief look at how hot air balloons work and just how unpredictable and dangerous they can be. We only have to multiply the following dangers by a significant factor to gauge what Blaine will be up against.

First, a brief look at how hot air balloons work:

Hot air balloons use heated air to achieve flight. Heated air is typically pumped into a bag-like “envelope”—an essential structure of hot air balloons. This in turn reduces the density of air within the envelope. They achieve flight when the density of air within the envelope is lower than the density of air outside. Warm air is less dense than cold air,  and the former makes hot air balloons buoyant and capable of flight. Hot air balloons, however, are very difficult to control or steer. Therefore, despite what cartoons would have you believe, hot air balloons cannot really be used as a means of transportation. Their course is almost entirely determined by wind conditions. Nonetheless, ascending in a hot air balloon can be a very enjoyable experience, albeit quite terrifying.

Image Credit: Pikist

Hot Air Balloons Versus Thermal Airships

Of course not all hot air balloons are difficult or impossible to steer. Those that are built to allow some room for steering are called “thermal airships.” More accurately, thermal airships differ from ordinary hot air balloons in that the former are powered and controlled using means of propulsion. Yet, it is no easy feat to steer thermal airships. These airships typically use steam and helium to achieve buoyancy and flight. In fact, any gas that is lighter than air at ambient temperature can be used in thermal airships. Which is why hot air balloons and thermal airships are also commonly known as “lighter-than-air” aircrafts. Pilots reheat the air pumped into the envelope to maintain or achieve more elevation. Hot air balloons, therefore, consist of a burner, which is typically located under the envelope. Most burners in hot air balloons use liquid propane.

Here’s the Catch

Although thermal airships can be controlled by pilots, they cannot be made to follow a specific path. The only way to control them in flight is by increasing or decreasing their flight altitude. Unmanned balloons are controlled entirely by wind conditions.

Hot air balloons can reach extremely high altitudes and speeds: the current world record for the highest hot air balloon flight stands at 21,027 meters (68,986 ft), whereas the record for the fastest manned hot air balloon stands at 245 mph (349 km/h).

David Blaine will of course be monitored while performing the stunt, but he will be attempting this stunt in a deeply uncontrollable environment. Besides, he is not ascending in a hot air balloon; he will be the load, plain and simple.

Anteaters Exist: Convincing My Nephew

Last week when my six-year-old nephew called me just to say Hi, he was in for quite the surprise. He asked me what I was doing: I was in fact watching a YouTube video about anteaters, and I told him as much. At first, he thought it would be really interesting if such a creature did exist. When I told him they’re for real, he just wasn’t buying it.

I shared the video with him, and he still wasn’t convinced. Not even close. The next couple days I spent some time gathering facts about this animal he refused to believe in, and if nothing I surprised myself. The anteater is quite the animal really. My nephew’s been doing his own research, and I’m happy to report that he agrees. About time.

I haven’t been going out much these past few months, and understandably so. Which means I’ve had a little more time to read about quirky, fascinating animals–among other things, such as landing on random pages in my massive dictionary and being amazed at the unlikely etymology of words. Here’s a joyful read on the unlikely etymology of the word “orange,” for instance.

Moving On To Anteaters…

We’ve established that they’re for real for real, that they’re not mythical. Yet some facts about them sound a little too improbable be true. First, they do eat ants, as their name suggests, but they also eat termites. AND they’re mammals! Given their dietary preference, I was inclined to think of anteaters as giant reptiles.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, though, for anteaters are quite the giants. Adult anteaters can reach up to seven feet in length (from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail). In addition, anteaters consume over 30,000 live ants and termites every day. Remarkably enough, when fully extended the anteater’s tongue is longer than its head.

A giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), also called the ant bear
Image Credit: Petr Kratochvil

They Get Stung, Too

Anteaters have sharp claws which allow them to rip through antills or termite mounds. However, they must eat fast since both ants and termites deliver painful stings, and anteaters can feel these stings. Anteaters also have the capacity to flick their tongue over 160 times per minute while feeding, which enables them to snare enough ants and termites in a short span of time. If that doesn’t seem all that impressive, remember that their tongue is longer than their head. Flicking that big a tongue at that rate is quite the feat.

In fact, given their capacity to extend their tongue two feet beyond their mouth, anteaters are extremely efficient feeders. Though they almost always remains on all fours, anteaters do stand erect on their hind legs to defend themselves when cornered by predators. Their long tail ensures balance in these instances, and their sharp claws can deliver deadly blows.

Some Behavioral Traits

Anteaters rely heavily on their strong, sharp four-inch claws. To preserve the efficiency of these claws, anteaters primarily walk on their fists. That is, they retract their claws into their feet, which are also curled inward. In fact, when not threatened or in danger, anteaters walk really slowly. Given their relatively calm nature, observers tend to liken anteaters to sloths. Anteaters, however, are not disposed to lethargy. They’re merely very efficient at conserving energy; they can be aggressive and even deadly when cornered.

Did You Know?

(i) Anteaters have no teeth. They rely solely on their long, flexible tongue to snare ants and termites.

(ii) To make the most of their superior sense of smell, anteaters prefer to keep their snout close to the ground at most times.

(iii) The anteater population is gradually declining, and it is therefore placed in the “Vulnerable” category on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.s

The Pandemic Is a Great Time to Learn How to Reduce Waste

Now is perhaps the perfect time to reevaluate our actions and roles as consumers. Owing to the pandemic, many of us have had to take pay cuts, some have lost jobs, others have lost jobs and found new ones. In general, I am able to sense some semblance of frugality taking hold, and this, I’m inclined to believe, is a good thing.

So here are some very simple ways to reduce waste. Recycling is one of the best ways to accomplish this, but it is most effective when coupled with other conscientious practices.

Reduce and phase out the use of plastic bags

It is a well-known fact that plastic bags are extremely harmful to the environment, yet they are omnipresent and seemingly unavoidable, especially at supermarkets and stores. Carrying reusable cloth bags is a highly effective way of reducing plastic waste. What’s more, cloth bags aren’t expensive either. This means you can buy cloth bags of different sizes and of varying degrees of sturdiness to suit different purposes.

Reduce the use of paper napkins and tissues

Use moisture-absorbing cotton handkerchiefs instead. It might not be a good idea to use one outdoors just yet, but using a handkerchief indoors is safe so long as we ensure basic hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

A good handkerchief absorbs wetness and moisture better than paper napkins and tissues, and it does not leave wet shards of paper on your hands or face. Remember to wash it regularly.

Change how you pack takeouts

This may not work until after we’re done with the pandemic, and it may be a little tricky because you have to convince restaurants to change how they pack your takeout. Invest in sturdy food thermos if takeouts are a regular feature of your life. Not only will this help you reduce waste but it will also keep your takeout hot for a longer duration.

Don’t waste food, but if you do…

Excess food almost always ends up in waste. However, with just a little bit of effort, excess food can be composted and used to enrich the soil in your backyard. There are plenty of easy-to-follow guides online to teach yourself how to compost effectively. But, remember: you don’t have to compost if you don’t waste food. Invest in airtight, refrigerator-friendly containers to store excess food.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, some people have been arguing that all humans should become vegetarians to prevent similar outbreaks in the future. This doesn’t sound like a feasible claim to me. First, a vegetarian diet doesn’t guarantee the prevention of outbreaks. Second, it is almost unthinkable to produce essentials of the vegetarian diet on the massive scale necessary to feed a global population. Additionally, the abrupt shift to vegetarianism will engender adverse health outcomes for many.

Nonetheless, this argument does shed light on the fact that we do waste plenty of food. If more people are to experiment with the vegetarian diet, it is essential to reduce waste. Unchecked consumption and careless handling of food are two aspects we simply must address at once. By doing so, we can lessen the burden on farmers, food producers and distributors: that is, we can reduce the supply-demand gap simply by preventing waste. Not to mention the fact that there will be more food available for people–which is a step closer to ensuring distributive justice.

Buy smart

To be a conscientious consumer is to make smart choices. For instance, fountain pens are more durable than disposable ballpoints, and they also produce less waste. Think of how many non biodegradable refills you won’t be buying if you don’t buy a ballpoint. Similarly, use durable razors as opposed to throw-and-use ones. In fact, consider buying durable products as opposed to use-and-throw ones. You can reduce waste by a significant margin by doing so. Similarly, try to mend products if they can be repaired. More importantly, make sure to buy products that can be mended, restored, or repaired.

The Fishing Cat, A Lovable Rascal

Plenty has been said about the pandemic; we have either become used to the new normal, or we are accepting that things as they stand represent the new normal for the foreseeable future.  This month I’m taking a break from writing about my preferred topics. No posts about academic writing, interdisciplinarity, ethics, etc. This post instead focuses on an all too charming creature known as the fishing cat—an endearing, mischievous rascal. Animals have always cheered me up, and I hope this post might have a similar effect on you.

If cartoons are to be believed, cats love nothing more than fish. Yet, cats are not considered good swimmers. Indeed some cats dislike water altogether. Despite their dislike of water and contrary to popular opinion, most cats happen to be decent swimmers. Enter the fishing cat, an exceptional swimmer; in fact, the fishing cat is so good at swimming that it hunts primarily in water. It not just hunts in water but also really enjoys swimming. What’s more, fishing cats are also extremely playful: they are notorious for attempting to grab ducks’ feet underwater. On the other hand, fishing cats can also be extremely aggressive. They are, after all, wild cats.

A pondering fishing cat
Image Credit: DC Chadwick

Some Facts about the Fishing Cat

Fishing cats are mainly found in South Asia, especially in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. They are stealthy and difficult to spot, which is understandable because they are primarily nocturnal. In addition to fish, these cats also eat birds, insects, and small rodents. Although they are mostly found in wetlands, some fishing cats have also been spotted at high altitude, especially in the Himalayas.

Nonetheless, fishing cats tend to thrive in most kinds of wetlands, especially near fast-moving water bodies. For instance, fishing cats have been known to live rather comfortably in captivity, especially in zoos and well-preserved national parks in North America. These cats are in dire need of protection, and monitoring them in captivity allows us to facilitate breeding. They, however, run the risk of losing their predatory edge in these settings. It typically requires extensive effort on the part of zoo personnel to acquaint fishing cats with their natural instincts in water. Fishing cats in captivity have been known to develop the ability to catch fish with both their strong paws and teeth.

The Conservation Status of Fishing Cats

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species deems fishing cats Vulnerable. The drastic destruction of wetlands in South Asia has threatened the region’s fishing cat population. Wetlands are either converted into agricultural plots or human settlements. Rapid urbanization has also begun to threaten South Asian fishing cats. Other factors include unregulated fishing, overfishing, and hunting.

Fishing Cats and Urbanization

Although fishing cats prefer the wetlands, they have demonstrated their ability to adapt to urbanization by seeking new hunting grounds. For instance, this article details the ways in which Sri Lanka’s fishing cats have begun hunting in urban landscapes in response to the destruction of wetlands and rapid urbanization. This adaptation is all the more remarkable since fishing cats are highly reclusive creatures. Their ability to spot live, consumable fish in urban settings also speaks to their tenacity and wile.

Did You Know?

Fishing cats have webbed paws, which greatly enhance their swimming ability. They also use their short, furry tail as a rudder underwater.

In captivity, mothers sometimes tend to reject their kittens. However, zoos that raise fishing cats typically have nurseries to take care of rejected kittens.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: What Can We Learn From This?

The coronavirus pandemic has enforced a standstill like never before. Social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantining are being practiced on an unprecedented scale. Yet many are wondering if locking down could be as harmful as the disease (or more) it aims to control? Is a lockdown especially harsh for the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, and the vulnerable? It doubtless is. Shouldn’t we then enlist more services, more workers to ensure essentials and healthcare are distributed evenly? Shouldn’t we revive the economy just a little so that the most vulnerable can be safe?

These are important questions, and asking them does not mean that one thinks a lockdown is useless. On the contrary, it is only by asking these questions can we even begin to figure out our approach to public life. These questions are especially important since no country–not even Germany, Sweden, the US, and the UK (generally considered examples of good public healthcare systems; they’re not necessarily exemplary, but do better than most other countries)–can boast a robust epidemic management system. Although it must be mentioned that Sweden and Germany have been outliers in terms of how they’ve handled the situation. Fortunately, both countries have also been somewhat spared by the uncontrollables, which can be extremely punishing even for states and nation-states with somewhat robust healthcare systems–as has been the case with New York and Italy respectively.

Why We Need an Epidemic/Pandemic Management System:

As always, the poor and the vulnerable are bearing the brunt of poor public planning. We refer particularly to the lack of an epidemic management system (EMS). In its absence, primary healthcare workers are being forced to tackle a landslide of serious infections across countries. A well-drilled EMS would necessarily involve the coming together of medical know-how and military efficiency. The latter is especially useful when it comes to the even distribution of resources and essentials. To ensure distributive justice, in other words. It might also give us more room for a lockdown. If public distribution can be sustained during pandemics or epidemics, we can afford to put economic activity on hold just a little while longer.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, we need only remind ourselves that governments are being forced to think of some sections of the population as expendable. More often than not, it’s the poor and the vulnerable we don’t mind sacrificing. An EMS, on the other hand, would have allowed governments to take care of its most needy more efficiently and humanely.

Biologists, virologist, philanthropists, even filmmakers have been extolling us to not just spend more on healthcare, but also spend on different aspects of healthcare. One can only hope that the corona pandemic forces governments to constitute specialized branches for the management of similar outbreaks and fund them adequately. To this end, governments must also spend less and less on military and defense. Space research is also terribly cosmetic when no nation-state can guarantee universal healthcare to citizens.

Cutting military and defense spending is not as bad a prospect as uber-nationalists might think. If biological warfare is the only feasible form of warfare–what with the unbelievable, unfeasible ruthlessness of nuclear warfare–then an EMS can also serve military interests. Although one shouldn’t need that aspect of it to incentivize its constitution. Simple prudence should be enough.

Coronavirus Impact: Some (Just Some) Good News

The coronavirus pandemic has left most of us quarantined. Healthcare workers, delivery executives, sanitation workers, and a slew of public health officials are working tirelessly and ceaselessly to ensure those in quarantine remain safe. There is a general air of despair, but there is good news. First, the pandemic has thankfully–some say fittingly–not directly affected the health of non-human animals. Reports of strays starving in abandoned streets are heartbreaking nonetheless. Second, we are doing less direct harm to the environment now that most of us are indoors. Among other things, this mass quarantining experiment must surely have alleviated “light pollution.”

Some Facts About Light Pollution

While it was fairly straightforward to predict that the Industrial Revolution would precipitate air, water, and land pollution, it took us quite a while to realize that even light would turn out to be a major pollutant. We refer here to artificial light, of course. Light pollution is a result of the unchecked, excessive use of artificial light. Urbanization is cited as one of the main causes of light pollution. It has also been found that artificial light can alter natural conditions even when used judiciously. Scientists claim that light pollution is an especially complex phenomenon, which may have more adverse effects than presently known.

Definition

Light pollution is defined mainly in terms of the effects of artificial light on the environment. Broadly speaking, artificial light engenders the following two effects: (i) it invariably alters the natural light levels in the environment, and (ii) it can degrade photic habitats. It is worth noting that alteration does not necessarily mean degradation in this context. On the other hand, light pollution inevitably competes with starlight in the night sky. As a result, the Milky Way is no longer easily observable through the naked eye. Light pollution also adversely impacts human and non-human health, astronomical undertakings, and ecosystems. The mass quarantine has certainly led to a decrease in the amount of artificial light in the environment, and those of us with the luxury to gaze up at the night sky should seize this opportunity. We will be going back to the bustle soon enough, sadly. So make the most of this brief period of enforced quiet.

Common Sources of Light Pollution

The term “artificial light” refers to all manner of human-made light, including safety lights on a cyclist’s bib, traffic lights, indoor and outdoor lighting, and even torchlights. However, extreme light pollution is mainly caused by larger artificial lights, such as advertisement hoardings, floodlights, and lights that line the exterior of buildings. Unsurprisingly, light pollution is especially extreme in highly industrialized regions such as North America, Europe, Japan, the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. Over-illumination, or the excessive use of light, is the biggest cause of light pollution in these regions.

How Does Light Pollution Affect Human Health?

How does artificial light affect life on earth? It is known to cause sleep deprivation. In fact, a phenomenon known as “light trespass” is one of the biggest causes of artificial-light-driven sleep deprivation. Light trespass occurs when a strong light enters one’s property from the outside. It can also be a consequence of over-illumination. What’s more, over-illumination also depletes oil reserves (since it takes a lot of oil to not just manufacture lighting devices but also to use these devices). Artificial lighting, therefore, is not only a direct product of reckless consumption but is also a significant driver of environmental degradation. What’s worse, according to estimates, 30-60 percent of energy consumed in lighting is reckless and excessive.

Cannibalism in the Animal Kingdom

Cannibalism is a common occurrence in the animal kingdom. In fact, as many as 1,500 species have been known to practice cannibalism. An act of consuming part or all of another individual of the same species, cannibalism is especially prevalent among aquatic organisms. Interestingly, however, cannibalism is not limited to carnivorous or omnivorous species; it is also practiced by some herbivorous species. For instance, scientists recently observed two hippos feeding on the carcass of another hippo in South Africa. This is particularly interesting not only because the hippo is a herbivore but also because this is only the second recorded instance of cannibalism involving the hippo.

Sexual Cannibalism and Size-Structured Cannibalism

Some animals also practice sexual cannibalism, a form of cannibalism in which the male is consumed by the female before, during, or after copulation. Sexual cannibalism is particularly common among invertebrates, especially spiders. Among some spiders, sexual cannibalism tends to enhance the offspring’s chances of survival. Size-structured cannibalism illustrates just how common cannibalism is in the animal kingdom. In this type of cannibalism, older and larger individuals consume smaller and younger individuals of the same species. It is prevalent mainly in size-structured animal groups—that is, in groups organized based on animals’ size, age, and level of maturity. Size-structured cannibalism can amount to nearly 95% of total mortality in these groups. Sometimes, adult animals consume their own offspring: an instance of filial cannibalism, which is also a type of size-structured cannibalism.

Matriphagy:

Spiders have quite the penchant for cannibalism. While, as discussed above, some female spiders consume their sexual partners, some young spiders consume their mothers. Matriphagy is when an offspring consumes its own mother. In fact, matriphagy is quite common in the insect world. Interestingly, both sexual cannibalism and matriphagy tend to enhance the survival rates of young spiders.

Cannibalism in the animal world is not merely a response to starvation or extreme stress. It may be a necessary process to ensure the survival of a species. It also serves to reduce unhealthy competition for survival and eliminates weaker members of a species.

Historiography, Objectivity, and More

Recently my students and I have been discussing questions such as historicity, historiography, and objectivity. Central to this exploration was our focus on the fiction-fact dichotomy. Indeed, one of the questions that emerged as we prodded on was whether we should hold fiction and fact in such stark contrast. The discussions were deeply fruitful, and this post is a very short summary of what transpired.

Writing History and How History Is Written

There is of course the oft-repeated but altogether true adage: History is written by the victors. But even this overlooks the sociopolitical clout of the dominant, of the victors. For instance, a significant part of domination involves ensuring compliance from the subordinated. This involves forcing the subordinated to accept fabricated versions of history, among other things. That is, the subordinated may not just be forced to accept a valorized version of history but they are also typically restricted from contesting this version. To this end, those in power tend to rely on legal and coercive measures to stifle any resistance.

Over time, versions of history compiled for the benefit of the dominant become institutionalized and even appear in textbooks. In some instances, history aids the transformation of dangerous, violent personalities into generous, other-regarding benefactors–as is the case with Cecil Rhodes, and indeed with colonialism in general.

How then can these versions of history–compiled to be popular and dominant–claim to be fair and objective? In fact, the trouble lies in the fact that the socially and politically dominant largely determine conditions of fairness and objectivity–not just in relation to historiography but also in terms of broader contexts, such as conditions of scientific objectivity, rationality, and, by extension, criteria for what qualifies as fact and fiction.

The Fiction-Fact Question

Central to this inquiry is the suggestion that the truths we produce are necessarily partial–even scientific truths. Admittedly, this is a contentious claim, but it allows us to think fruitfully and critically about fact and fiction.

In other words, it is impossible to produce all-encompassing truths. No matter how comprehensive an account, it will necessarily be limited and partial. The limitations are mostly imposed by our own cognitive finitude as well as by our biases, especially biases we are not aware of. This is not in fact a bleak account of what it is to produce truth and knowledge. If anything, it illustrates the importance of constant critical scrutiny, a quality without which progress–especially scientific progress–might become endangered.

It must also be noted that this argument does not suggest that it is futile to try and present a complete, comprehensive picture of a given issue or phenomenon. On the contrary, it argues that we ought to try and present as accurate an account as possible, and to do that, we must acknowledge that the truths we produce can only be partial. Which means we must also call “objective” methodologies into question. Doing this means ascribing importance and legitimacy to methods and techniques that fall beyond the scope of the scientific method. Oral history is just one relevant example in this context.

Ultimately, it is essential to ask what happens to marginalized voices–both in the context of history and more generally. Why do some voices get marginalized, and some amplified? These are some of the most elementary questions we should be asking when appraising works or accounts that claim to be historical.

Rationality and Animals: Humans and Non-Humans

Are humans animals? Or are we superior–in that are we the only species worthy of the “rational animal” title? To answer these questions, we must necessarily examine definition(s) of rationality. This post argues that the animal-human distinction, based as it is on the view that only humans are capable of rational thought, breeds complicity and speciesism, in turn enabling us to excuse, if not condone, animal cruelty and other similar acts.

Conscious thought, one of the most important characteristics of rationality, is a good starting point in this context. To think consciously is to be aware of what one is thinking. Which is to say, it is also to be able to think about something in a desired way. Admittedly, there are degrees of conscious thinking. Nonetheless, central to it is the capacity to direct one’s own thought. Some are better at this than others, but we all do it from time to time, sometimes–ironically–without even knowing we’re doing it.

Rationality: Thinking in Terms of Means and Ends

Many have also argued, quite unsuccessfully, that what really separates humans from animals is the former’s ability to create and use tools. How is this related to rationality, specifically to conscious thought? To use a tool, animals–both human and non-human–must first recognize that the task at hand cannot be accomplished or even attempted without the aid of a tool. What follows is typically a search for the tool, which in turn is followed by the fashioning of it. All of these processes necessarily involve conscious thinking. They not only require us to assess the problem but also assess our grasp of it.

Much like conscious thinking, tools also vary greatly in terms of complexity. Quite simply, however, a tool is something that aids a process, a thing that allows us to complete or attempt a task with some degree of ease. Tools, moreover, do not necessarily guarantee the successful completion of a task. Nonetheless, the Google Sheets app on my phone is as much a tool as a pebble or a stone is to that thirsty bird faced with shallow water in a narrow trough. Their specific purposes differ, but broadly speaking they tend to introduce ease. They are designed to introduce ease.

One of the most enduring (albeit contested) definitions of rationality states that it has mainly to do with thinking and action in relation to the “means-end” category. That is, rationality, this definition suggests, has mainly to do with thinking about and acting so as to achieve a desired end. In other words, it is rational to carry an umbrella if one wants to avoid getting drenched. Conversely, it is irrational to go out without an umbrella when it’s raining, especially if one’s stated purpose is to avoid getting drenched. In sum, actions contrary to one’s stated ends are largely irrational.

With this limited definition of rationality in mind–coupled with the notion of conscious thinking as an essential aspect of rationality–one can see that rationality is not merely a human thing.

It’s fallacious, therefore, to claim that humans are not animals because they are rational. Animals–human and non-human ones–display several signs of rational, conscious thinking.