October 1, 2022

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The silence of the beasts and the words of fools

One can say about animals what Nietzsche said about books (at least about all the books he wrote before him), that is, they suspect that they are apologizing for man. Talking about animals has always been the best way to talk about man, his difference, and his uniqueness. Aristotle’s living without logos, insensitive Cartesian machines, as well as Heidegger’s “poor beings in the world” is a mirror of all that man is not, and in this way, the best way to get an idea of ​​what ought to be authentic. Animals act as an exhibition model, the better we know them, the more we know about ourselves.

The madman, or rather the animal

In the millenarian tradition of self-analysis, man looked at himself through the lens of an animal to discover himself, but above all to realize himself differently each time. And since the glasses have two lenses, we can say that another very effective filter with which the man focused his image was madness. Also in this case the filter works by negation. To understand how close this bond is, the French philosopher Elisabeth de Fontaine calls for its replacement in the preface to Michel Foucault’s famous volume on The history of madness in the classical era The words ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’ are the words ‘animal’ and ‘vital’. The result is an interesting experience. There is no common language [tra follia e ragione]; Or rather, no longer. The formation of madness as a mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, portends the interruption of dialogue, lays the separation as it has already been acquired, and plunges into oblivion all those imperfect words in which the exchange of madness with the mind occurred. The language of psychiatry, which is the monologue of reason over madness, could prove itself only on this silence. I did not want to make the history of this language, but rather to make of this silence the archeology.”

Are monsters silent?

Published in 1998, the book in which the thinker gave the archeology of animal silence a very important title, called the silence of the monsters “Silence of the Monsters” (World Health Organization Talking about a topic France culture). And, indeed, in the gallery of mirrors that from time to time exhibited the “authentic” image of man, that which the word represents undoubtedly occupies a privileged place. Man is many things, but first of all he is the animal that speaks, he is the living being “on the way to language”. And if this is true, then other animals can only be silent. but not. Animals also talk, and how.

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Modernity was mortally wounded

Not only do animals talk, they also have accents. On the coast of San Francisco, for example, fifty miles from each other, in Marin, Berkeley, and Sunset Beach, live three communities of white crown sparrows who speak three different dialects. Peter Marler and Miyako Tamura highlighted this already in the 1960s in a series of groundbreaking research into animal biology and the cataclysmic of the mental world of twentieth-century man. Born into the post-structuralism and complete dissolution of the great novels that built modernity (who today would dare to believe that nature or history had a purpose?), however it would be misleading to think that anthropocentrism died on November 24, 1859, the date of publicationOrigin of Species. nohuman origin (1871) and above all, Expression of feelings in humans and animals (1872), fatal blows. Darwin, so to speak, opens a breach and results in fatal wounds, but tackling the crime takes time.

Heidegger at the head of the resistance

In 1930, for example, in Basic concepts of metaphysicsMartin Heidegger crystallizes what over many decades will be the theoretical framework for thinking about the subject in words that quickly become a mantra in philosophy college classrooms around the world: “Stone is without a world. Animal is poor in the world. Man is the maker of the world.” Heidegger explains that the power to make worlds, and to give life to history, comes from words and languages. Not only is the essence of man in language, but in this way language is not a “thing” that man can master, but a fact to which man turns on his way and from which he himself possesses. Heidegger is a genius and in inventing the primacy of language (another name for being) renews the primacy of man. To be deprived of the word means to remain attached to the environment, to the mechanism of action and reaction, the mechanical nature of the stimulus and response, i.e. it means to remain attached to a chain that does not think of any margin of freedom. The doubt that Darwin alluded to about the correctness of these hierarchies is not his problem. Heidegger is present and with him a large part of the philosophical culture of the twentieth century.

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Science and other disappointments

In the meantime, deontology is advancing, and from the 1960s to the present day a growing body of articles, research, and disciplines has done nothing but contribute to the decentralization of man, bringing to light the par excellence quality, word, likeness of his own. It wasn’t all that special. One might think that science has given the word back to the dumb, but perhaps, correctly, it must be said that science has found a way to give hearing to the deaf. Francesca Boninconti described a beautiful synthesis of the research conducted by animal communication sciences with punctuality and lightness. look who’s Talking. What do animals tell us? (Editions Code) A book that has the advantage of talking about animal languages ​​without falling into the trap of anthropomorphism.

animal accent

The naturalist notes that many birds learn, copy and pass on the song from generation to generation, practically unchanged, giving life to a true singing tradition. They adopt a strategy inspired by what’s called “matching bias,” until recently considered the prerogative of humans. Dialects may have evolved to overcome the problems of sound interference, different environmental barriers, different types of foliage in the forest or the noise of cities. Not much is known yet, but it is certain that different groups of the same genre developed a different lyrical “subculture”. And just as in human languages, social experience is the factor that strongly influences song formulation.”

Extremely curious and amazing in many ways is the state of the talking bees while dancing. As the distance between the food source and the cell increases, the so-called circular dance turns into a transitional dance, and when the distance is greater, it becomes a true eight dance. So, for example, in the case ofApis mellifera ligustica Within 20 meters there is a circular dance, behind it there is a transitional dance, and when it exceeds 40 meters, the forager performs an eight-sided dance. “And if you’re wondering, the distance that determines the passage from one type of communication varies from one type to another, while from subtype to subtype there are small differences in the oscillatory phase or in the curve that 8 is described.” Bees also have accents.

Is the world complicated? less arrogance please

If animals talk, then are animals like humans? No. But even at this point, the complexity that intensifies in Darwin’s words and according to which the difference is “in degree rather than gender” deserves further reflections. It is not a matter of drawing borders closer to reality or erasing the very idea of ​​difference. “We must be able, as Elizabeth de Fontaine notes, to dismantle the arrogance of human personality without offending humanity.” Here is an important aspect. The game of building identities on essentially opposing paradigms shows a weakness that is no longer sustainable in the face of a world that never stops revealing an increasing complexity. The fact that science makes the world incomprehensible to us, says Benjamin Lapatut, is not a good reason to indulge in myth. If things get complicated, the best thing to start with is to avoid hardening in the hopes of hiding your disappointment.

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Because the animal question talks about us

The animal issue is not an animal rights issue, or at least it isn’t just that. The issue of the animal is not only concerned with the ethics of the relationship between species, it is first and foremost about a culture’s ability to trace identity without relying on opposing criteria. The animal question concerns the ability of culture to think about complexity. Jacques Derrida’s ideas help in this regard. Derrida devoted the last years of his research to the question of the boundaries between man and animal. Neither So I am the animal, released posthumously in 2006, Derrida invites you to pay attention to the same word “animal” (on YouTube, you can find A brief paragraph for Derrida on the subject). He says “animal” is the word “disturbing”. “The use in the singular of a general concept like ‘animal’ is disturbing, as if all non-human living things could be grouped together in the general sense of this ‘common place’. […] In this concept the handyman will be closed, […] All living things that man does not recognize as his brothers, neighbors, or brothers. He adds: «Every time we say ‘animal’, every time a philosopher or someone else says in the singular and without adding anything else, ‘animal’, he thus claims to refer to every living being except man, well, all the time, the subject of this The sentence, that “yes”, that “I” says nonsense ». Before you start the new game of differences, stop and think: it is better to remain silent than to speak and remove all doubts.