Marginalia, no.103

No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.

~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

For weeks now my children and I have been arguing whether humans are animals.  I insist that they are.  They disagree, and disagree.  And strongly disagree.  They raise their voices, get red in the face and slam their little fists on the table.  I explain that humans are, after all, classified as mammals, among the primates, and that even though we are (I admit) animals of a special sort and not like the others in some very important ways, we’re still animals.  “People are NOT animals!” my son will say.  “Monkeys think it’s okay to fling poo around but people know better!”  As if that proves anything.  People fling poo of one sort or another too, of course, but I don’t want to disabuse him of the notion of human decency just yet.  Sister is squarely in brother’s court.  Even if she sometimes thinks me “so very wise” (as she put it the other night), she seethes with righteous fury: “No, Papa!” (she’s actually yelling) “PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE, AND ANIMALS ARE ANIMALS!”  Faced with such violent dogmatism I almost want to relent, if only to keep the peace.  But then who wouldn’t really rather be an animal?  If it meant, just now, that so much less would be expected of me, nothing strenuous or heroic, that I could curl up by the fire with a book and sleep late every morning, then I say – Sign me up.


Filed under Marginalia

5 responses to “Marginalia, no.103

  1. Is it time for them to see Elephant Man?

    Though I do not envy ideological discussions at table (put down the fork, son, very slowly…), there’s been an evolved form at ours, concerning not the division of animal from animus (free of animosity, natch) but what separates humans from machines. Not that I’m suggesting this for your family, but it may come up one of these days.

  2. Ian Wolcott

    That movie frightened the bejeezus out of me when I was kid. I’ll have to keep that in the back pocket for a while and only force them to watch it after they’ve really upset me.

    I had thought that reading the Grahame to my son (or watching Watership Down; he’s not ready for the book yet) might make him aspire to being an animal. The trouble is that these are humanish animals, of course. TH White’s ‘The Goshawk’ might do the trick, but seven years old is still young for that.

    As for People vs Machines – which side does C3PO fight on?

  3. elberry

    Tell him about Egyptian gods.

    It kind of depends what you mean by “human” and “animal”. It sounds like your children understand “not human” as part of the attributes of an “animal”, or “not an animal” as part of the attributes of “human”. To them, when you say “humans are animals” it’s a logical contradiction, like saying “green is red”. But the confusion is perhaps in the words, in what they think the words mean. You might instead encourage them to, for an hour, stop using the words altogether and instead laboriously say, for example, “I am the same kind of thing as a dog” – which should provoke the question “in what way?” rather than just a shriek of “no!”

  4. Ian Wolcott

    Forget the Anglican priesthood, Elberry. Fatherhood’s the job for you.

    I wonder if badgers or pigeons or slugs have a similar sense of their own exceptionalism as a species. Each imagines itself among the Greeks, while all others are barbaroi.

  5. A little late to this, but here’s a suggestion: Perhaps you could tell them that some animals are, after all, really people. Most paleontologists now agree that chimpanzees should be reclassified as hominids. Blow their little minds, papa.

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