Men's Relationschip wit animals
This article appeared for the first time (1999) in a paper presented to the Larissa Veterinary Association. It is due to be published in the following book: I. Kourkoutas & J.P. Chartier (ed.), Psychoeducational and Psychotherapeutic Interventions in Clinical/School Psychology and Special Education (in Greek) (Athens: in press).
I. Kourkoutas Univ. of Crete
According to all the evidence, ancient man did not experience the kind of alienation from the natural environment that marks the existence of modern man, and which largely accounts for his contemptuous attitude towards animals. Man always lived in a state of interdependence with animals and the natural world, a relationship which was of course of a highly competitive character due to the question of natural survival, and animals held an important position in the organisation of his psychosocial life (Mallon, 1992). The social reality of ancient man was an extension of physical reality and ancient man felt at one with his natural surroundings, and an integral part of them (Letourneau, 1901).
On a religious plane, the first forms of deification concerned animals. Man’s origins had always been associated with animals anyway (Harrison, 1996). Human forms entered religion at a much later stage, and indeed the first of these were zoomorphic. In parts of Africa where ancient forms of religion still survive, magician-healers (shamans) identify themselves with animal forms in their ceremonial rites in order to absorb the power of these animals (Nathan, 1988, 1994). Similar rites can also be found in various parts of Greece (Skyros, Naoussa), in which animal disguises enable the participants to achieve union with the chthonic supernatural powers. In addition, in various ancient tribes for centuries people’s names were taken from the animal world and every member of the group had a personal ‘totem’, an animal that acted as his guardian and afforded him natural protection against the forces of evil (Lévi-Strauss, 1962). Even in agricultural societies, despite the gradually increasing emphasis on the exploitation of animals, people still generally had a different kind of relationship with them. Gradually, however, through the centuries man’s use of animals as tools and his emotional alienation from them increased (Adams, 1990).
The more anthropomorphic and monotheistic that religions became (becoming personified in a higher human form), the more man strengthened his position in the world and became aware of his power, and the more complex that technological/user needs became, the less impressive or threatening animals became, and the further they fell from their elevated status as an equal or superior being to that of a ‘poor and exploited relation’.
Under the pretext of his superior spirituality, a belief promoted mainly by the monotheistic religions, man came to be the dominant creature in the universe. The persistence of the monotheistic religions in severing man’s link with his animal past is no accident, and has to do with the nature and structure of the doctrines of the religions concerned. A natural consequence and legacy of this is the relentless war that modern religions (particularly the Catholic Church) have waged against the views of Darwin, which have given scientific substance to something that ancient peoples knew instinctively: that man originated from animals and was related to them.
On the other hand, man’s innate need to progress socially, technologically and intellectually has caused him to be increasingly dismissive of his natural/animal origins (Fromm, 1983). The war that modern monotheistic religions have waged against carnality and whatever suggests or springs from it (urges/instincts) (Valabrega, 1980), has irreparably harmed man’s relationship with animals.
Throughout the course of man’s social development, many groups or ‘collectivities’, as well as particular individuals, have maintained or developed emotional and individualised relationships with animals. The Bedouins, the Arabs and generally all the peoples of the East have had personal and personified relations with animals based on a need for company, which shows that animals are capable of developing feelings and an emotional attachment.
In modern societies, on the other hand, animals have become no more than consumer goods, or, at best, they are merely granted a right to exist, with a specific function and term of life (Adams, 1990).
In today’s mass societies, the consumption of animals for food has inevitably assumed an extreme, highly industrialised character, in which animals are merely regarded as consumable material goods (Adams, 2005). The mass consumption of meat in modern society cannot be said to reflect certain ‘cannibalistic tendencies’ that have survived in man and are features of his early stages of mental development (Abraham, 1925). Rather it expresses a ‘rapacious/consumerist’ tendency which extends to all types of products (from different types of food to substances and even ‘images’) and plays a compensatory psychological role (antidepressant function), according to many sociologists and social psychologists (see Adams, 2005). Modern man cannot be likened to primitive cannibals that consumed human or animal flesh in order to ‘absorb’ and ‘incorporate’ the power and special qualities of their rivals through the process of ‘introjection’ (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1967). Modern consumer society, with its extreme commercialisation of animals and the female human body, appears to have created new models of behaviour that are more characteristic of the anthropological type known as the ‘cannibalistic consumer’ (Adams, 2005). As many modern approaches show (Kasser & Sheldon, 2000), the over-consumption of products acts mainly as a type of defence mechanism against ‘death anxiety’ and ‘identity-related stress’. In psychological terms, it could be claimed that in their relationships with animals people express a particular side of themselves, as well as their underlying social views (Adams, 1990).
In psychodynamic psychology, moreover, it is believed that behaviour reflects the deeper feelings or tendencies that exist in a person, and that the reaction to a stimulus is not necessarily connected with the stimulus or the objective state but with the individual’s need to express his negative feelings and suppressed impulses (Freud, 1915). Consequently, people who behave aggressively and violently towards animals are venting impulses that they are incapable of transforming or ‘metabolising’ in any other way (Zapparoli, 1982). On the other hand, very often fear is a ‘source’ of aggressive behaviour in individuals who are particularly insecure or mentally disturbed (Zapparoli, 1982). This, moreover, can be clearly seen in the cases of people where pet therapy is attempted (Bruck, 1996).
In the last few years it has begun to be recognised, first on a clinical level through individual cases and then through empirical research, that animals can be used as a psychotherapeutic tool in treating individuals of all ages and groups with different problems and types of disorders, despite the fact that no extensive research has been conducted in this field (Mallon, 1962).