“Anthropomorphism”, is not a new word for anyone, but it is interesting how it is applied in various cultures. Books have been written on Greek and Roman gods and other polytheistic cultures and the images they worshipped. Even today most people have a concept of God that includes human characteristics. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, might say it’s an archetype from our ancestral past or Freud might consider God a “father figure”. We tend to “create” God in our image.
We do the same with animals. I might be a little anthropomorphic when it comes to animals, but I blame Walt Disney. I grew up with Bambi, Donald Duck, Goofy, who was most likely my role model, and Pluto, who actually walked like a dog. Frankly, I think Mickey Mouse makes more sense than some square sponge that lives in the sea. But all those characters are tangible manifestations of anthropomorphism.
In the movie, “Stand by Me,” the kids were arguing over whether “Goofy” was a dog or a person. These cartoon characters confused kids in my generation. I spent part of my wasted youth trying to understand why Donald Duck and his nephews wore shirts and no pants. I tried that once, but my grandmother slapped my little pink ass and put my diaper back on.
I thought maybe Donald Duck was a pervert of some sort, but settled on the idea that ducks wearing shirts and no pants was a cultural thing. Did you know that a duck’s “quack” is the only sound that doesn’t echo? It’s true. As a kid I had a duck, but I let him run around naked. I think it embarrassed my grandmother. But I wouldn’t kill a lady bug, because I knew her “house was on fire” and she needed to “fly away home.”
Those rhymes and cartoon characters must have left indelible impressions on a generation of kids, so that now when people look at a bird feeding its young they think the bird “loves” the baby birds, when in fact the bird is just doing what she has been programmed to do. The bird would probably rather be dropping markers on a statue of Lenin or trying for a moving target, like a pedestrian. I remember being the target of a strafing attack by a seagull. This bird had to be over 200 pounds with a sever bowel disorder. He nailed me on his first pass. One can only hope that he loaded up on rancid squid and made it all the way to
When my dog runs to my wife with his lips drawn back, we think he’s smiling. When he licks my hand, I think he likes me, but then I realize I hadn’t washed my hands since eating ribs. We project our humanity onto our animals and interpret their instinctive behavior as more than it probably is in reality. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
I have a soft spot for animals generally, which seems to increase the older I get. Many of my friends, who were once hunters, have given it up as they’ve aged. I guess they’ve either lost the ability to hit anything or developed a greater appreciation for life in all its forms.
I blame cartoons for the fact that I thought animals could talk until my senior year in college when I threw away my poster of Donald Duck and started wearing pants. But applying human characteristic to animals is reinforced when my dog likes peanut butter sandwiches as much as I do. I think a bit of anthropomorphism is a good thing.