Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can't all be good

Had a sort of disappointing reading experience recently with Jonathan Balcombe's Second Nature. The subtitle promised a look at the inner lives of animals. In retrospect the generalness of that mission statement maybe should have been a warning. That is, the animal kingdom is pretty big. Promising to look at the inner lives of all of them is so doomed to failure that one might suspect the author was out to do something else instead. And guess what?

Still, I have enough of an interest in animal psychology to go in with an open mind. Hopefully Balcombe, a trained ethologist, would have some worthwhile insights.

He's not entirely lacking. There is a neat passage on bat migration. But the real meat (pun possibly intended) of the book is a push for radical vegetarianism. The scientific observations are secondary to the message of "Animals think and feel so don't eat them. And meat is bad for the environment, so no one should eat it."

Now I'm not personally on the verge of converting to veganism, but my personal sense of inertia doesn't invalidate the book. Nor am I comfortable with telling the rest of the world what to do. But again, that doesn't mean Balcombe doesn't have the right to make his case.

No my real problem with all this is the simple fact that I didn't go looking for advocacy. I went looking for insight, and hopefully a kind of beauty that can be illuminated by science. Enough of that might have justified more preaching, but the balance was all off.

Definitely a case where I was glad to be borrowing instead of buying.


susan said...

If you're able to borrow another about a similar subject (and very different handling) you might be interested in Becoming Animal by David Abram. His first book The Spell of The Sensuous is one I'm currently reading and the other is waiting in the wings. If you're looking for insight and beauty Abram may be the writer you're looking for.

Ben said...

That does sound like something I'd take a shine to. Thank you for the tip.

And thanks to the guy hawking jerseys for the tip, too. But I still have to remove you. You know how it is.