Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jonathan Balcombe's "Second Nature"

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., is a former animal behavior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and currently a consultant based in Washington, D.C. His books include Pleasurable Kingdom and The Use of Animals in Higher Education.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is an expository passage, part of my efforts to showcase animals’ diverse inner lives. I am discussing animals’ communication skills, and in particular the ability of both birds and mammals to interpret the calls of other species. Hornbills (large tropical birds) respond to monkeys’ “eagle” alarm calls but not to their “leopard” calls because the big cats aren’t a serious threat to them. Similarly, seals distinguish the dialect of local orcas who don’t eat seals from the dialect of migrating orcas who do—which sends the seals fleeing for the safety of kelp beds.

As a biologist who cares deeply about animals as sentient individuals to protect and not to eat, my aim in Second Nature is to try to nudge humankind towards a new relationship with animals. There’s a quiet revolution going on in science, with a spate of new discoveries about animal cognition, emotion, awareness, and even virtue. The paradox is that as our knowledge grows, our treatment of them falls further behind. I predict that humankind will look back on the 21st century as the Century of the Animals, when we finally came to our senses and replaced our might-makes-right doctrine with a more compassionate and egalitarian ethic—as we already did with the demise of colonialism, the slave trade, the subjugation of women’s rights, and the denial of civil rights.
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Balcombe's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue