Monday, February 13, 2012

Rat empathy: Chipping away at the notion that humans are more enlightened than other animals

A rat allowed to roam around eventually figured out how to set free a trapped cagemate. Rats didn’t offer the same courtesy to stuffed animals, suggesting the creatures have empathy for one another.

“As humans, we tend sometimes to have this feeling that there’s something special about our morals.” 
-Christian Keysers, neuroscientist

In a recent study, University of Chicago researchers put a rat into a small cage and allowed another rat to roam free amongst the caged rat for an hour each day. The free would rat immediately attempt to free the caged rat by digging and biting at the cage. After about seven days of this, the free rat would figure out how to open the cage. The two rats would then celebrate with "a frenzy of excited running" (quote from this article).

23 of 30 rats learned to open the cage for trapped rats, but only 5 of 40 rats opened the cage if it was empty (the same went for cages filled with a stuffed animal).

“They are affected by what the other is experiencing"
-Matthew Campbell, psychologist

Researchers also presented free rats with both a caged rat and 5 caged chocolate chips ("These rats adore their chocolate." -study coauthor Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal). When presented with the option to open the cages, half of the rats freed the caged rat first. And some "hero" rats even shared the chocolate with their newly freed friends -- on purpose. “It’s not like they missed a chocolate,” Bartal says. “They actually carried it out of the restrainer sometimes but did not eat it.”

What does this say about the view that humans are the only moral creatures? Or that humans are the only creatures with the capacity to think? Are we actually higher on the scale of beings, or are we just different in the same way deer and fish are different from one another?

I find that the notion of humans being above animals is widespread in our culture, even among animal lovers. I frequently hear loving pet owners teasing themselves for "the things I do for these animals." The belief behind this statement is that pets are really not worth the effort it takes to prepare their meals from scratch (in the case of illness or food allergies), spend money on daycare to prevent them from being alone for several hours at a time, etc. However, these are things that any good parent would unquestionably do for his/her children. Are human children more deserving of a good life than animal dependents?

I think that in general, humans are naturally inclined to have stronger attachments to other humans than to animals, so it makes sense that we would prioritize our children over our pets. However, I think that animals are equally as deserving of care, love, and consideration as humans are.

"The pathetic, objectionable truth about our humanity is that all we are is bipedal, potty trained, grave-making animal fuckers who shave their fur off and think that somehow we're above all else that crawls on the land we've dynamite blasted flat."
-Casey Rocheteau, local poet

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The "I Did It" List

I just started reading a blog called Smaller Sarah which chronicles a woman's journey to lose 75 pounds in one year. Though I have no interest in weight loss, I got hooked by a post on raw foods and continued reading because of the positive insights throughout each post.

Some of my favorites are:

"All the little things I've been longing for and dreaming about appear en masse.  It can be a little overwhelming, but its important to be open, ready and willing to say YES." (from this post)

"When I started boot camp in early November, I wasn't sure if it would work into my busy schedule.  I could only manage two of the three days a week and felt like it was an extra burden of time and money that I didn't have to spare.  But that's a pretty normal reaction to something new.  Most of us think that of all the things we lack, time and money are at the top of the list.
But I don't feel this way anymore.  Now instead of wondering how healthy eating and working out will fit into my schedule, I plan my daily life around eating well and working out." (from this post)

"The more I engage in a full physical life, the clearer and more expressive I become." (from this post)

But the the best thing I have gotten out of Sarah's blog is The idea of a weekly "I Did It" list!

I'm going to try to do this, too.

This week, Smaller Sarah's "I Did It" list is:

The "I Did It" List
three hours of boot camp
made healthy meals for my family all week
played catch with my son when the weather was nice
bought a box of produce from Bountiful Baskets Co-Op
juiced most mornings

Now for my "I Did It" List:

The "I Did It" List

Started selling my handmade jewelry at Janet's Consignments (haven't actually sold anything yet)

Went to a Student Immigrant Movement meeting and made plans to make informational flyers about immigrants and a video of interviews with immigrants. Then got home and made an informational flyer!

Went roller skating with beloved friends

Worked two days and went to all of my classes

I think I did of a lot of good stuff this week. It feels great to look back and appreciate what I've been able to accomplish! I'm proud of myself.

What did you accomplish this week? Share your "I Did It" list in the comments!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Small grants available for Occupy movement artists

A network of artists and activists called The Culture Group is launching a new project to support Occupy artists, called ArtIsMyOccupation.

"Cultural change precedes political change."

ArtIsMyOccupation (AMO) is a project founded by artists and for artists who are involved in Occupy and other movements for Economic Justice. Our sole mission is getting artists who are working on the front lines of social change the resources they need.

Have a great idea for a project? Apply for a grant.

Want to collaborate other Occupy artists or campaigns? Get Connected

Want to see what upcoming mass actions to create work for? Get inspired

[Most of the text of this post is copied directly from AMO founder, Favianna Rodriguez's blog]