On Love and Polar Bears

Seth Victor

I’m going to keep this short and let others’ words speak for me.  Gus, the polar bear at the Central Park Zoo in NYC, was euthanized on August 27th. While reading about him, I found this article from 2011 when his companion Ida was euthanized because of liver disease. Diane Ackerman tries to glimpse into the emotions of Gus at that time, and raises many issues we’ve covered on the Blawg. Whether you accept that animals have emotions similar to ours, or believe that such thinking is the product of anthropomorphism, it’s an engaging meditation on the love we feel for animals, and the discouragement of trying to know what they feel. “We witness Gus’s grief and taste our own memories of love, loss and loneliness. Our wild heart goes out to him. Something deep inside us remembers being accompanied by other animals.”

5 Responses

  1. I saw Gus back in the late 80s when I lived in New York City. I felt his pain at that time as I watched him make endless repetitive circles in his small pool. I can’t even imagine the boredom and loss of freedom he must have felt in the DECADES since then. May some deity or other forgive us for our willful imprisonment of animals – I simply cannot.

  2. Of course animals have emotions. And among them, the capacity to feel boredom. Hence, the ethical questions arising from keeping in captivity an intelligent, far-ranging animal that uses its cunning to hunt for a living — such as a polar bear.

    But our emotions are not what “make us human” — any more than the powers or attributes of organic growth (followed by organic maturity, reproduction, decline and demise) are what make animals what they are, and not plants, even though they inherited from and share with the vegetable kingdom those powers and attributes.

    To argue an assertion based upon the assumption that an emergent being is nothing more than the components, process or mechanics by which it became manifest is profoundly naive and ignorant. Taking that reasoning to its logical conclusion, everything is merely and only high-energy quarks.

    What makes us human (or rather, more accurately, souls having a “human” experience through biological avatars) is our ability to know, to discern, to understand. Science isn’t “at odds” with religion — because religion has been saying that very thing all along. After all, what do you suppost Christ Jesus meant when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” — and similar statements can be found in all dispensations of religion. Reason is the first an primary faculty of humans, that’s what “made in God’s image” actualy means, IMO. The comedy of errors that has resulted in the illusional “conflict” between science in religion has led to some outright goofy ideas, on both sides. Humans being “just animals” is just one among many on the secular side — and let’s not even get into the house-cleaning in order for bad ideas that attached themselves to religion… LOL!

    The “love” spoken of in religion isn’t some giddy, passionate emotion — but rather a deep knowing of that very thing that holds it all together. That of which what we call gravity in the physical realm is merely a metaphorical reflection.

    It is exactly when we for get that love, and reason, and act only in accordance to our base emotions — fear, lust, longing, blind attachment — in other words, when we act like animals, that we are at our worst. Toward the Earth, toward one another and yes, toward animals.

  3. HAL, I want to see if I am understanding your point. Are you arguing that while humans and animals both have emotions, love is a rational expression of reasons or knowing that is special to our species? Is this something Gus cannot feel, or feels in a different way than us?

  4. Seth,

    Animals and plants both have the capacity of growth, maturity, reproduction, decline and demise. Animals inherited from and share those attributes with the vegetable kingdom. But does that make animals plants? (Think on that for a while.)

    What gus felt was a deep attachment. Humans can feel that too. With one another, and with animals (I’ve got a dog that is 13, that I raised from a barely weaned puppy, so of course, there is a deep attachment there, that goes both ways.)

    That “love” (actually, emotional attachment) can also be an easily twisted and potentially very dangerous thing, at least in humans. On the micro level, it can manifest itself in co-dependent or abusive relationships. On the macro level, it can fuel xenophobia and war. Think about it. The Germans didn’t march to war out of hatred. They did it out of “love” for their Fatherland. A “love” that was deftly and cleverly maniuplated by Adolf Hitler.

    And also — whether it’s for good or ill, it’s also sharply subjective, and has nothing to do with rational reason, knowing, or the capacity for scientific discerment as a means by which to investigage, discover and understand reality in the objective sense.

    Christ Jesus also implied we are not “of this world” — (another of His statements that I think is often fundamentally understood, and again, a concept that appears in all religious dispensation). But again, I suggest you think on that.

    Animals are very much of this world. They are the residents, so to speak, while we are merely visiting during the relatively brief span of our biological lives.

  5. Sorry, meant to say fundamentally MIS-understood, in reference to the saying attributed to Christ.

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