As much as I love biology, when I heard that the theme of the Chicago Humanities Festival was “animal”, I wasn’t exactly inspired. It’s not that I don’t like animals or am uninterested in them, but somehow they didn’t quite factor into my equation of how the world works. That is of course untrue, but what this lecture by the two authors of the book Zoobiquity taught me is that whether or not animals factor into how the world works, studying them is undoubtedly vital to understanding how we work.
There were several major points I took away from this lecture. First of all, we think we’re a lot more special than we actually are. The theme of Zoobiquity is that many of the ailments that humans suffer from are in fact ailments that animals suffer from as well. This can include anything from cancer to Crohn’s disease to self-harm to eating disorders. During the question period, one man asked that if we really had all those things in common with animals, then what is it that makes distinctly human? The truth of the matter is that we are without a doubt distinctly human, since we are our own distinct species, but there’s nothing biological that makes us superior. It was once again a matter of science making connections. As much as we try to avoid it, we are a part of the larger network of animals on this planet.
My other main takeaway from this lecture was that the mental health stigma in this country is even more ridiculous than I had previously believed. If animals struggle with mental health in a way that’s similar to human struggles with mental health, then we can’t doubt that mental health is a real disease. It’s spread throughout species, so clearly it does not derive from sort of weakness in the individual affected. Hopefully, this book provides further fuel to the fire that is burning away the stigma of mental health, and we can finally debunk the idea that depressed individuals need to pull up their bootstraps and deal with it. Depression, self-harm, and similar diseases are treated like some kind of dirty secret, and that needs to change. Maybe with the knowledge that we’re really not alone, that horses, dogs, frogs, and birds are suffering too, we can start to move towards acceptance.