Animals Could Teach Us a Lot about Ourselves: If Gorillas Can Respond with Compassion for One of Us, What Does This Tell Us about Ourselves?
Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter
Binti-Jua is a heroine in the area. In case you haven't heard about her, Binti-Jua is 160-pound female gorilla who lives in the Brookfield Zoo in a suburb of Chicago. This zoo prides itself on creating natural settings for its animals. For example, the Tropic World gorilla area is constructed to look like a tropical forest in which humans peer down from paths and bridges at trees growing in a rocky pit below. This construction proved dangerous recently for a three-year-old boy. Running ahead of his family, he climbed over the bamboo fencing and tumbled 25 feet,into the pit, striking himself on the jagged rocks as he fell.
Zoo attendants leaped to spray water on a group of gorillas near where the child fell, assuming. they might attack him. But Binti-Jua, her own baby riding on her back, strolled over and scooped the injured boy up in her arm. She carried him about 40 feet around the pit to a door used by the zoo attendants. There she laid the boy down for the zoo attendants to retrieve.
The boy, despite the fall, which knocked him unconscious, seems to be recovering quickly.
The story of Binti-Jua's act was front page news in Chicago papers and crowds of people have rushed to see her. Experts on animal behavior have been solicited to explain what was taken to be extraordinary evidence of compassionate help offered by a gorilla to an injured human child.
Although student's of gorilla life,such as Jane Goodall, have for years shown that gorillas are not violent unless threatened and have a high capacity for thinking and feeling, the surprise at this caring gesture seems to reflect the contradictory way we humans continue to think about-animals.
On one hand, we incorporate pet dogs and cats into our families, giving them care and attention similar to the care and attention we give our children. Meanwhile dogs and other highly sentient animals are tortured in our medical laboratories. Animals we plan to eat are subjected to short and miserable lives, cooped up in small pens on factory farms.
This contradictory treatment has been rationalized.by disparate views of animals. Dog and cat owners have no doubt that their pet feels and interacts with them in highly sensitive ways, feeling our grief, anger and joy and responding to our moods with compassion, fear or playfulness.
They learn the sound of our car approaching and are at the window peering out, they have vanous ways of insisting on their own comforts and making us accede to their wishes. We learn to pay attention to their feelings as they to ours. In short, we communicate with them as persons.
Yet our official theories about animals have denied our own experience with them. Particularly since the Renaissance, the official Western view of animals, promulgated by Descartes, was that they were propelled by instincts and devoid of interior psychic life. …