Pure Paranoia

May 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm 6 comments

According to Wikipedia:

The term paranoia was derived from the Greek term Paranous, which roughly meant “beyond the mind”. It was used to describe a mental illness in which a delusional belief is the sole or most prominent feature. In original attempt at classifying different forms of mental illness, Kraepelin used the term pure paranoia to describe a condition where a delusion was present, but without any apparent deterioration in intellectual abilities and without any of the other features of dementia praecox, the condition later renamed “schizophrenia”. Notably, in his definition, the belief does not have to be persecutory to be classified as paranoid, so any number of delusional beliefs can be classified as paranoia.

I thought that the term paranoia only referred to an intense delusional belief that people or institutions are conspiring against you. I did not know that the word originally referred to a broad spectrum of limited delusional beliefs.

Can social animals suffer from paranoia? Unlike us, they cheerfully nurse their young in the middle of a herd, regularly engage in public sex and sometimes defecate at the dinner table. When one considers these kinds of animal behavior, they certainly don’t appear to suffer from the same hangups about being judged by others that we do.

I watched a doe nursing her fawn from my deck yesterday. They were a hundred yards away so I watched the little family through binoculars. They looked calm and happy, and I doubt they were aware of being watched.

While staring at a human mother nursing her child would have been unspeakably rude, my observation of the deer was a sweet moment, the kind we enjoy a lot in our home in the woods. And while I was careful not to disturb the deer’s peace and tranquility – did I violate their rights?

As quoted recently in Science Daily:

Dr Brett Mills from the University of East Anglia argues that while wildlife programmes can play a vital role in engaging citizens in environmental debates, in order to ‘do good’ they must inevitably deny many species the right to privacy.

That’s right, Dr. Mills believes that animals have an inalienable right to privacy.

Call me speciesist if you like, but I have a hard time taking this seriously when there are human beings in the world who are still fighting for their basic needs and rights.

I’m further annoyed because I suspect that Dr. Mills’ opinions have more to do with his own pecksniffian ideas about oppression and fairness than with a sincere concern for how living, breathing, thinking animals really feel though, ironically, Mills himself points out the fact that animals don’t understand the concept of privacy the same way that we do:

Unlike human activities, a distinction of the public and the private is not made in the animal world. There are many activities which animals engage in which are common to wildlife documentary stories but which are rendered extremely private in the human realm; mating, giving birth, and dying are recurring characteristics in nature documentaries, but the human version of these activities remains largely absent from broadcasting.

Dr Mills said: “It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy.

“When confronted with such ‘secretive’ behaviour the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television. The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed: they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all.”

Wild animals don’t avoid the proximity of people because they’re worried about what we think of them. That kind of neurosis (or paranoia) is uniquely human.  They avoid us because we’re weird and unpredictable and potentially dangerous. They avoid us because they don’t want to have to watch out for us, not because they’re uncomfortable being watched.

Animals are a wonderful PR tool for people like Mills. If he took on a real human cause he might inadvertently choose an individual or group that disagreed with his ideas. They might even (horror of horrors) take their cause up for themselves thus eliminating the need for a savior cum spokesmodel.  Animals, on the other hand, are perfect political pawns because they can’t talk and they can’t liberate, or even lobby for, themselves. Unlike human victims, animal victims need a human agent to speak for them and decide what’s best for them.

And therein lies the rub. I suspect that Mills’ campaign, like many others in the animal rights movement, is based more on massaging his ego and whoring for publicity than in mindful consideration to the kinds of things that are really important to animals.

It’s pure paranoia.

Entry filed under: animal rights, animals, cynicism, wildlife. Tags: .

Life’s hard The first second

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  May 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Too obvious?

  • 2. SmartDogs  |  May 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Love it!

    Crack needs sniff
    Give it a sniff
    Sniff that butt crack
    Break your Momma’s back

    When a butthole comes along
    You must sniff it
    Before that dog moves along
    You must sniff it
    When something’s goin’ wrong
    You must sniff it

    Now sniff it
    Into shape
    Shape it up
    Get straight
    Go forward
    Move ahead
    Try to detect it
    It’s not too late
    To sniff it
    Whiff it good

    When a good butt turns around
    You must sniff it
    You will never live it down
    Unless you sniff it
    No one moves away
    Until they sniff it

    I say, sniff it
    Sniff it good
    I say, sniff it
    Sniff it good

  • 3. H. Houlahan  |  May 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    There are certain events in animals’ lives where they seek “privacy” because they are vulnerable.

    I think they have a legitimate interest in us not making them feel unsafe at those times.

    They don’t know about hidden video and one-way glass. Having no cognitive ability to grapple with such surveillance, they can’t really have an interest in objecting.

    Maybe Dr. Mills ought to concern himself with getting nest boxes for commercial laying hens.

    Giving hens in industrial egg facilities the chance to go somewhere dark and “private” to lay an egg every day would do more for animal welfare than all the high-profile wanking he’s indulging in.

  • 4. Viatecio  |  May 8, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    So does that mean that all the poor kitties out there who don’t have the privilege of a covered litterbox for private pooping are somehow more deprived or live a lesser life than those who can squat under a cover? Doubtful.

    Heather, I wonder if animals’ versions of “privacy” just encompass “areas that are comfortable to them that humans just don’t want to bother with.” I’ve heard of dogs going under a porch to die…isn’t that just the den instinct, albeit in a place that’s fairly inaccessible to most people? Might be a bad example.

    Interesting blog though. Mills scares me. I’ll go seek out some privacy and crawl under my covers to get away from the world for a bit naow.

  • 5. retrieverman  |  May 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I think wild dog, like wolves and coyotes, have been selected through man’s persecution to be paranoid. Before that intense persecution, it is likely that both were very easily tamed.

  • 6. Randa  |  May 11, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Okay- the premise of the whole article confused me.
    He admits ” Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. ” meaning its TAUGHT.
    Just because we as westerners almost never publicise DEATH or birth or nursing does not mean even all human cultures feel the same about other humans life events.
    Staring at a nursing mother has sadly become rude in our society, though thankfully women CAN now nurse without being arrested. Other cultures do not share our hang up.
    So, animals should NOT be observed because we think they desire “privacy”?? Whose desire? African tribesman, suburban soccer mom or Queen Victoria?
    All these observations of animals intrinsically desiring “privacy” are junk.
    MANY species seek out others when injured or ill or vulnerable- male coatis (typically out casts) return to the group when in need and I have owned bitches that try to follow me and give birth where ever I am standing.

    This whole thing is pure AR crap- and provides moral high ground for refusing to learn thru REAL observation of animals.

    Re- Under the porch privacy…?
    My friend is a raw petfood distributor. Her funniest story was a client who orders for her dog AND a juvenile Turkey Buzzard who crawled under her deck, presumably injured, and she fed it out of pity. The bird seemed to have recovered, but now bangs on the screen door for his food.
    Arguabley, under the deck was a safe place. But it was hardly private. And interestingly, there was no way the bird could have thought it was familiar and Turkey Bizzards do not have den instinct. It was just a safe place. And lucky, too! LOL

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