Saturday, February 07, 2009


In his book, The Emperor's Embrace, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson paints a beautiful picture of family life among wolves. He tells how a male wolf, returning from the hunt, brings food for his mate and cubs. The male wolf licks the young, cleaning them thoroughly, guards the den and protects the cubs, and when the cubs are old enough, he teaches them what they need to know in life. Wolves have to be taught how to hunt; it is not "instinctive". They need to learn rules, they need to be socialized, and both parents take part in this.

Masson says that if he had to characterize the essence of a wolf pack in just one phrase, it would be "the joy of being together".

Masson arrived at his conclusions through first-hand observation. Because of his reputation in regard to animals, he was offered the opportunity to meet a tame, socialized wolf face-to-face. But when the time actually came to go into the enclosure, he was filled with fear. He knew that there has never been a wolf attack on a human, he knew this wolf was used to people. But he says that the myths about wolves that are ingrained into us by our society took control of him. The subtle, ever-present conditioning of our society still had him in its grip.

That's why I emphasize how important it is to actually pay attention to animals. The myths concerning them are strong; they underlie every aspect of our society.

Descartes created one of the most damaging myths of all time with his concept of "biological machines". Simple observation proves the lie of that myth, but it persists, especially in the sciences, and it provides the basic principles of behaviorism.

Some religions indoctrinate people with the idea that animals are soulless things, provided for whatever use humans want to make of them.

And there are animal-specific myths; some of the worst involve wolves. A lot of truth has been written about wolves, even in popular literature (Farley Mowat comes to mind) and yet those myths persist, and continue to do damage.

That's why it is so important for animals that all people should be able to have contact with animals. First-hand observation is necessary to dispel the lies that we all have heard from the time we were born. The truth is not only out there, it is right in front of our eyes, if we have the opportunity to see it, and the sense to pay attention.

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