I’ve been reading a lot about other species (not just other animals) all parts of our known universe, focusing especially about what they do and don’t have in common with us humanoids. For as long as I have been alive, the best theologians and scientists have seemingly worked extraordinarily hard to deny the parallels between our human-being-ness and other species. I’ve come to believe there is a pretty good reason we humans might be obsessed with that.
In my lifetime I have heard and been taught that though human beings as a species are similar in some ways to other species, we are special. A cultural species-centric narcissism. A concerted effort to prove that human beings are uniquely superior to all other aspects of our universe, with special emphasis on the word superior.
Here is what I have been taught at one time or another, human beings are the only species that: display evidence of having memory; speak a language; engage in symbolic communication; collaborate with others; creates tools - use, carry and save them to use at another place and time; can create mental maps that are used to plot routes before actually embarking on a journey; think; engage in unique insight learning; problem solve never-before-encountered problems; make peace after conflict; engage in reciprocal altruism (care about and empathize with others not biologically related); recognize oneself in a mirror; imagine; experience feelings of depression, compassion, loneliness, grief, and joy; understand the implications of death; possess a ‘future sense’; delay gratification; value and exhibit a need for fairness in relationship to others (even at one’s own expense); develop a culture; transfer cultural components (traditions) from one generation to the next as well as among peers; imitate others; have the self-awareness to change behaviors when being observed; gossip; try to fool others; respect the rights of others; mimic others, have more neurons, etc.……
What might surprise you (it did me), is that NONE of the above is the exclusive providence of human beings. Each and every one of them can be found in one or more other-than-human-forms. Flora, fauna, microbes, atoms (yes atoms, U-Tube the “double slit” experiment for a mind-blowing example).
I’ve watched with more than a fair bit of amusement as some scientists, theologians, and their devoted followers, scramble to change their definitions and standards (of what exactly the unique providence of human beings is) as new data emerges. Or more easily, lately especially, close their eyes and ears to science all together.
Why would some of us be so invested in resisting information that shows us that we are not as dissimilar as other elements of the universe? Why are some of us so invested in seeing our own species as special, superior, and unique?
At the risk of invoking Grossman’s Law (“For every complex problem, there is a simple, easy to understand, wrong answer”), the way I see it, this belief gives us human beings the psychological, spiritual, and emotional permission to do as we please with (as we view it) the other, not-as-special- as-us, parts of our world including some of our own species. Identifying the other as “not-like-us” allows us to exploit, ignore, neglect, misuse and abuse them in our human sourced perpetration of injustice and inequality.