I have said it on facebook and I will say it here again; please consider donating to the RSPCA in Queensland to help them deal with looking after some of the animals stranded or injured in the floods. Like everyone else, they will likely need support for quite some time.
My thoughts are with Queensland so much at the moment, and something I notice is that those of you in Queensland are too busy coping to be doing the reflecting and commenting that the rest of the nation is doing – so forgive me for the luxury of sitting here and thinking and commenting and analysing news reports, but it is a way of connecting with you all, and I hope that I can find a way to translate my thoughts into practical help in the near future.
I suppose many of you will have seen this? It is an article accompanying a striking picture of a frog riding out the floods on a snake’s tail. The man interviewed in the article mentions anecdotes in which animals have been seen helping animals in disasters. It’s something I would love to hear more about, although a cursory Google search didn’t reveal much – maybe because they are the sorts of stories we just tell to a person who tells it to someone else.
It makes me wonder though, is altruism something we want to see in animals? Many books I’ve read suggest so. I have been writing about the way that fantasy books rely upon representing animals who have the impulse to band together and help humans; an aspect of this is also the way that the animals are shown to be united already in common cause, all understanding each other and willing to help each other, at least in the case of a fight against catastrophe.
I am a little suspicious that there in in these kind of stories an aspect of paternalism towards nature.
When I read this article on Wikipedia, why was I so pleased whenever I read that one species of animal helped another? Why was I even more thrilled at the thought that the action was not mutually beneficial, not “symbiotic”, but actually altruism, as I felt I understood it?
For when I read about one member of a species dying or sacrificing time or food or whatever for another, it seems to make sense, to hit the button that I guess is programmed by my vague notion of the survival of the fittest. It makes me realise that if I stop to think about it, I have made the assumption that nature is cruel, and that sympathy exists only amongst kind. It is worth wondering where do these received ideas of mine come from?
At any rate, for animals helping animals: the experts are here.
I was interested as well to read this article about people calling for there to be changes to the law to account for pets and other animals in a crisis. I found it noticeable that the RSPCA take the human angle here, justifiying their argument with the idea that pets are important because of what they mean to us. I can understand that – I feel like Ned is a golden retriever member of the family, and it is true – or at least I think that it is true – that much of the distress is on the human family member’s side, we are the ones who can think out and imagine terrible things. I hope, though I am not sure that many animals were in a way protected, in a way, by a lack of cognition, by instinct taking over, and that when they did die the deaths were simple, and had no agony of emotion.
The article is interesting in what it says about our domestic animals, what they mean to us, and the strangely liminal place they have in our families. They are so important in the private space of the family home that we love them as we do people and we grieve for them as we do people, and yet in the public sphere we cannot admit or ask for bereavement space because of a lost pet. People with pets of their own understand but it is a kind of secret understanding, I think, one that you hesitate to share.
Perhaps these floods will allow us a kind of public mourning of our beloved animals, perhaps we can crack through our embarrassment, our reserve, and the scale of the shared experience will let us re-examine the rights of pets, their importanc ein our lives, but also the extremely liminal, uncertain, ambivalent place they have in law and in culture.
Also: Holy CRAP there are ancient man-eating dinosaurs in the floodwater along with venomous snakes.