I’ve recently grown tired of all my crunchy friends talking me how damn smart the dolphins are. They return from a family trip to SeaWorld or some Caribbean resort where they engaged in a dolphin adventure, a heartwarming enterprise in which thousands of loud tourists go to “experience” a dolphin (an interchange which I’m certain holds equal amounts of enjoyment for the species without opposable thumbs which was brought to the hotel against his wishes).
“They’re soo smart..” my friends will coo. “You can see it in their eyes.”
They will go on for weeks incessantly droning about the brilliance of the only mammals who couldn’t figure out how to leave the ocean, until I’m overcome with the powerful urge to forcefully offer them an “experience” with a few soft, furry, hungry tigers.
The anthropomorphication of animals is hardly something new, but with the aid of television and its seemingly endless supply of “reality” shows focusing exclusively on domestic pets, it’s raging out of control. It is a fairly unique point of view, I think, to equate “cute” with “intelligent.” Certainly, we don’t apply the same set of criteria to people (“Jesus, Frank, look at the gazoongas on that one. Bet she’s smart as a whip”). But with the late twentieth century tendency to ignore differences between any two sets of things( men and women; newspapers and porn; pork and white meat) stupid and cute are perhaps the logical next step for the disparate-concept-amalgamation program. One wonders how long it will be before our language dwindles to contain less than fifteen adjectives, most of which mean “kind of OK.”
One of the great things about animals is that they live lives completely free from hypocrisy and aggression. This is something which, while admirable, I can respect only to a point, because the only reasons baboons aren’t screwing each other over is that none of them are smart enough to come up with any sort of coherent scheme. It’s hard to cheat your friend out of a million bucks when neither of you understands the concept of money, you both live in trees, and the act of peeling a banana requires appriximaely ninety-seven percent of your cognitive ability. Calling a gorilla altruistic is like calling a tomato “blissfully free from aggression”
And the dolphins. Oh, the dolphins. Let’s get a few things straight. Dolphins are not smart. They’re fucking dolphins. They are the only mammals who never managed to get out of the freaking ocean. They don’t do taxes, they don’t make pasta, they don’t buy ab crunchers (well, OK, they’re smarter than some people). They are oblivious to the joys of controlled substances, and whatever their mood, they have perennially stupid grins on their faces. The only humans I know who grin all the time are completely evil or have severe learning disabilities. Smarter than a flounder? Definitely. Dumb enough to serve up as a delicious snack? Absolutely.
My personal problem with the “smart dolphins” theory is that they don’t pass the real only real litmus test for intelligence: they don’t have a negative impact on the planet. With intelligence comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes fucking up. And there is no greater testament to humankind’s impressive brainpower than the amount of royal screw-ups we’ve committed during our stay on the planet. I say, stop apologizing for them. Yes, when we make mistakes, we should fix them, but stop feeling so sorry about it. We wouldn’t be threatening the environment if we didn’t run the whole damn planet.
What separates us from the animals? So many things. There are few ferrets with credit card debt, for example. Tax evasion, fraud, adultery, they’re all ours too. We also seem to have invented the concept of allergies. I’ve got plenty of friends who are allergic to my cats, but not many cats who are allergic to my friends.
So enough already with the flipper fantasies; the people who believe their cats reaallllly understand them. Lets put ‘em into a small room with a bunch of territorial baboons and see how they feel after an hour.
Yes, animals are stupid. Big deal. That doesn’t mean that they’re less valuable or cute or fun to have around. Pets go a long way towards filling the emotional holes previously filled by people who have ended up screwing us over. So buy a cat when your boyfriend breaks up with you, but don’t be looking to him for any advice on how to improve your personal life. Because cats aren’t people. They’re stupid, like other animals. And people who think animals are “just like people.”
Serve up that mahi mahi.