What’s the opposite of anthropomorphism?

I used to follow the rules forbidding anthropomorphism. But this old thought, allegedly “scientific,” has fallen to the wayside the more I observe animals, and the more I learn about them. This, then, jumped out at me in Lynda Lynn Haupt’s Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent:

“In his observations of seals and caracaras and ovenbirds and earthworms, in his records of their behaviors and his sensing of their thoughts, [Darwin] utterly, and even joyfully, abandoned his privileged human status. He threw his own thoughts and behaviors right into the animal mix, putting all creatures, including humans, on the same continuum of consciousness. Rather than imposing human concepts upon animal behaviors, he animalized consciousness in general. The human “privileges” imparted by advances such as language grew out of this continuum ran than being plopped down on top of it.”

Long-time readers will know I get itchy and scratchy over the inane human names imposed on charismatic fauna. Eagles named George and Martha, that kind of thing. (Nobody seems to name bees, on the other hand, except for Monty Python’s “Eric the Half a Bee”). And don’t get me started on the animal metaphors we use on ourselves.

For we humans are fairly distinct in our monstrousness. There’s no reason to insult, say, pigs, rats, snakes, et al. by comparing us to them. It’s more accurate to describe those creatures who do, on occasion, waste food or befoul their nests, as so human.Yet we’re always — for as long as there are records, including cave paintings — drawing, singing, and emulating animals. We must be jealous. Of course, now that so many people are urbanized and digitized, animals are receding from our consciousness…

Image: Darren Waterston, embossed cover to A Swarm, A Flock, A Host: A Compendium of Creatures by Mark Doty & Darren Waterston (Prestel, 2013)

2 Responses to “What’s the opposite of anthropomorphism?”


  1. 1 Karl October 22, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent thoughts — thanks! And on the rare occasions we humans act collectively for a common good – such as scientists researching the ozone-hole problem, sparking global conversation leading to effective action that will supposedly have the problem under control by 2050 – we could say we’re being “ant-like” or “termite-like”; as a living community that routinely cooperates to solve environmental problems.

  2. 2 Alan Baratz October 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    On point as usual. Smaller point: I think we are more envious than jealous,Envy connotes an edgy admiration. Jealousy may be more about a consuming feeling that what another has is what we should have but have been refused or rebuffed.And, then may seek irrational revenge. (Sorry, I read too much William Blake!)
    Hope to see you soon.


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