Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Utopia?

Humans are strange critters. Always seeking "happiness", whatever that is, and being depressed when they can't find it.

Er . . .

Anyway, my point is that most other animals don't seem to actively search out happiness. They just live, and their emotional state (whatever that might be) is secondary to their existence. I doubt a hippopotamous would decide to commit suicide because it was depressed. Firstly, that would take more brainpower than is available to a water-based herbivore and secondly, if you were a suicidal hippo and so lacking the manual dexterity to shoot yourself (leaving aside the possible difficulties of obtaining a gun in the first place), how would you do it? Drown yourself? Possibly not, with your instinctive floaty ability. Impale yourself on a sharp stick? Not when your skin covers cubic inches of blubber. Get hunted to death? By what, exactly? Choke yourself? You'd need one hell of a boiled sweet.


I don't think that it's the lack of ability to kill themselves that stops most animals doing it, as much as their disinclination to even consider it. Otherwise, there might be a lot of self-bitten cobras, hunger-stricken pigs and hanging monkeys around, disappointed with their lot.

Animals don't consider themselves to have any rights, including those of happiness and not being eaten. This is not something they appear to be particulalry upset about, or if they are they're keeping it close to their chests and just offloading onto their therapists.

"Tell me your probelms, Mr Rabbit."
"It's this whole 'bottom-of-the-food-chain' thing really. Gets me down a bit, you know."

Despite all that, it seems obvious to pet owners that animals do indeed demonstrate feelings, including happiness, jealousy and . . . er . . .

Actually, that seems to be it. Hunger and horniness are different.

So what construes happiness for animals whose brains haven't evolved to strange, often self-destructively introspective sizes?

I took these photos last year, which sort of show relatively happy creatures. The first is this French kangaroo (?), chilling in the afternoon sun. As with all French kangaroos, he was probably fairly squiffy on some local vin rouge and didn't want to risk being done for drink-bounding, so just spent the day in the parc animal relaxing and having his picture taken by excitable English tourists:



"Look! A kangaroo! Did you know, in Australian, kangaroo means 'Go home, whitey'."

You have to give it to roos though, they really know how to put their feet up.

This all got me wondering. Is happiness simply the absence of sadness, or is it an achievable thing in itself? As long as nothing negative is happening and you're not being eaten, rained on, frozen, starved, molested by lonely farmers or generally over-pressured, is that enough to class you as happy? Do you have to have something nice happening to you, or is it possible to be happy even though bad things are happening to you?

I'm going to need a little lie down in a moment.

Animals are probably not that good an example to follow, because we don't know if we share the same concepts of emotion that they do. On the other hand, no-one can tell me this lamb isn't happy:


Happiness is a tree-bole, it would appear.

That's definitely an arguement in favour of "happines is a result of nothing bad happening" but I also took the following photo (also in France, you can tell by the copious quantities of baguettage) which I think is an example of "Happiness when something good happens":


See?

That's a trailer full of stale bread that is. Can you see the positively ecstatic critter who has discovered it, all to itself? Let me do a close up:


There you go. One sparrow, who was so pleased with that find he actually fell over, before diving into it and tweeting "MINE! ALL MINE!" in a strange voice that was unerringly like my own.

I'm like Johnny Morris, me. Only not as dead.

The difference between humans and other species is that they don't seem to look for the perfect, ideal and almost certainly unobtainable utopia they believe they deserve, and so can't be disappointed when they don't find it. This means that when a good bit of fortune does come along, they can exploit it fully and be as happy as they can be while it lasts, not worrying about it ending.

On the other hand, this constant striving for happiness means we humans are generally trying to improve our lot, although with mixed results. Positives include medicine (longer healthier lives), technology (warm houses) and defence (safety). Negatives include medicine (increasing population), technology (environmental problems) and defence (fightin').

So should we take the view that animals have the right idea, and simply live day-to-day, emotional considerations buried beneath the constant fight for survival, or should we be pleased that we have come to a point in our evolution where we can afford the arguably self-indulgent luxury of emotional turmoil?

My view is that, for humans, there is a gradation of happiness, from ecstasy to contentment, and also a whole spectrum of sadness, from melancholy to pure grief. Living succesfully is all about that old cliché; balance.

Mind you, I defy you to stay sad when watching this:

Slow Loris Tickling

15 comments:

  1. For some reason I have an overwhelming urge to want to be a hippo right now!

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  2. I always wanted to be an Otter growing up as a small boy. What fun, swim around all day, lay in the water on my back and eat off of my belly!

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  3. Not to throw a wet blanket on this but how to explain all the various fauna found squished on the highways?

    Are the squirrels so bored they must seek excitement by dogging huge fast moving metal beasts? Turtles think they can just dash out of the way of that 18 wheelers tires?

    No, I think not.

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  4. Hippos could easily commit suicide by running into a pride of lions. They don't do it because they want to get laid, which they couldn't do if they were dead.

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  5. Thinkingfyou - They're tough, but extremely difficult to get boobs for.

    SkylersDad - Now that's a critter worth aspiring to. Unless you have a shellfish allergy.

    Douglas - Those species are the extreme sports enthusiasts of the animal world. They live life to the MAX, right up to the point when they're squished.

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  6. GB - Sorry old bean, missed you in the crossover there. I was reliably informed that lions tend to avoid hippos because of all the cholesterol.

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  7. Haha ... awesome post!

    Aww Johnny Morris was lovely! I've seen old episodes of Animal Magic and they were effin hilarious! Never mind bloody Eastenders! Let's have classic Johnny Morris three times a week with an omnibus edition on Sunday afternoons!

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  8. Mate I loved that post, my favourite of yours yet!

    The thing about hippos is that apart from having the manual dexterity to shoot themselves they also would much rather just roll around in mud. I mean, who wouldn't?!

    I used to wonder if my hamster was happy. He never looked happy, always anxious. But maybe that's just 'cos I kept intimidating him...[joking]

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  10. Girl I - Ta. Johnny Morris was part of my childhood televisual experience. Which kind of dates me, doesn't it?

    Mo - lol. You could get a reputation as a hamster worrier. Also, it's hard to be depressed in a mudbath.

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  11. Is it true that dolphins murder and gang rape each other? Does that make them more evolved or less? I can't decide. As for me, I'd be happy to never be murdered (or to murder) or gang raped (or to gang rape). It really is all about the simple pleasures, isn't it?

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  12. Nice post, people should consider happiness more and work towards making their own luck and contentment.


    >molested by lonely farmers

    lol, honest officer, we were just helpin it over the fence...

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  13. You have been nominated for an award, check it out at:
    http://avarchives.blogspot.com/2009/05/bloggers-cafe-first-award.html
    Congratulations

    AV

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  14. Humans are unhappy because they do what you just did...they think too much. Do you think the sheep wonder what sort of day farmer Brown is having? Our overdeveloped brains have nothing better to do than look inward because we have controlled all our predators...bring back the Sabre Tooth Tiger I say!

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  15. Ava - Dolphins are a tad on the horny side so not sure about the gang rape, but from memory I think they tend to kill other species (like porpoises) rather than murder their own, ostensibly to reduce competition for the same resources. Scarily clever if true.

    Eric - I'm going to have to remember that fence excuse lol

    AV - Ooh, ta very much. I'll go and get my grubby little paws on it.

    Passion - Deep thinking is a double-edged sword isn't it? Lots of negative introspection, but it was probably being able to out-think sabre-toothed cats that ensured we survived when they didn't.

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