June 16, 2009

How to Speak of Animals

As the unpacking continues (somehow I think movers make almost as much work as they save), I've been refreshing my sanity by reading essays out of Umberto Eco's collection How to travel with a Salmon and other essays. I just came across one essay which I must quote because I think it's so completely brilliant on the way teachers and environmentalists have skewed our view of nature.

In this essay Umberto talks about how children's conceptions of animals have changed in the schools efforts to teach that whales, wolves, and elephants should be protected. He says:

No one says [animals] are entitled to survive even if, as a rule, they are savage and carnivorous. No, they are made respectable by becoming cuddly, comic, good-natured, benevolent, wise, and prudent...We must save the whales, not because they are good, but because they are a part of nature's inventory and they contribute to the ecological equilibrium. Instead, our children our raised with whales that talk, wolves that join the Third Order of St, Francis, and, above all, an endless array of teddy bears...To make them forget how bad human beings are, they [are] taught too insistently that bears are good. Instead of being told honestly what humans are and what bears are.

I'd never thought of it that way before, but I really thing Eco is on to something. That last line in particular is a zinger. After reading this though I'm really curious as to what Eco would say about Grimm's Fairy Tales, Mother Goose, and Beatrix Potter. Something to think about while I'm trying to get my closets organized.

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