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Anthrozoology is the study of the relations between humans and other animals, and so it covers an enormous area, including pets, hunting and food. Hal Harzog's main theme in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat is that in our society we have very complex and puzzling attitudes towards animals, drawing apparently arbitrary distinctions between different groups of animals. We include pets as part of our families yet eat other animals. People vehemently condemn cock fighting yet shrug their shoulders at the cruelty of the farming industry. The rise in awareness of farming conditions has not reduced the consumption of animals -- in fact, in the west we eat more animals now more than we ever did in the past. Repeatedly, Herzog notes how our attitudes towards animals is possibly confused and definitely difficult to make sense of. Yet the task of anthrozoology is precisely to record and explain our behavior towards animals. This book provides an accessible introduction to the field with 38 pages of notes and a list of recommended further reading.
The book is written in an accessible style -- maybe making too much effort to be easily digestible. Every chapter has a title and a subtitle, and is split into many different sections, each with its own catchy heading. Most sections start with a little anecdote or surprising fact. I found myself wishing that Herzog would just get on with saying what he wants to say, without including so many unnecessary stories. The book is also occasionally repetitive, giving the same or very similar facts in different chapters. So it could arguably have improved with more copy-editing.
Nevertheless it is a book full of interesting facts about human behavior relating to animals, and with plenty of thought-provoking ideas. Herzog engages the ethical debates over the moral status of non-human animals and the complex attitudes we hold towards animals in our dealings with them in our daily life, in scientific research, and in public policy. Herzog talks about his own beliefs and actions, explaining that he has pet cats, he does eat meat and that he has gone to see cock fighting (for anthropological study rather than for fun). He shows that he is open-minded and thoughtful, ready to listen to different points of view and especially sensitive to the ways in which people contradict themselves. He loves to find stories of vegetarian Nazis, animal research labs with elaborate guidelines for the treatment of the research mice that uses sticky mouse-traps to kill the other mice that happen to live in the building, and dog lovers who breed pure-bred dogs who are destined for a life of discomfort and disease.
At times Herzog gives the impression that he despairs of any prospect of finding a completely rational consistent approach to animals; one might conclude from his focus on contradictions that not only is it humanly impossible for us to be consistent, but it theoretically impossible too. However, he never explicitly says this, and a careful reading shows that not only does he think it is possible to sort out the myriad of scientific facts about the conscious experience and behavioral motivations of animals, but also that we can find a moral stance towards animals that most reasonable people can agree on. It is less clear whether he thinks that humans are really ever capable of being completely consistent in their attitudes, but he certainly argues that it is worth sorting through the sources of our beliefs and reflecting on what makes us act towards animals in the ways that we do. Through learning facts and reflecting on values, it is likely that we can make progress both individually and as a society in our attitudes. One of the best features of the book is that Herzog is aware of the difficulty of establishing moral claims concerning animals, of the diverse and shifting emotions we have toward animals, and yet he takes moral theory seriously. He sets out some different approaches and discusses their strengths and weaknesses; he finds some common ground between most of them and is ready to argue that some views are just unreasonable in their extremity.
This is not a work of philosophy, however, and while it is interdisciplinary, it is not academic. So the book never attempts to set out a detailed approach about what stance we should take towards other animals. Most of the book is spent setting out basic information and scientific facts, and telling stories. I will return to it mainly to find references to the scientific literature and I might even assign a chapter in an undergraduate introductory ethics course. For example, the chapter comparing the cruelty of cockfighting and happy meals is provocative and engaging, and it also identifies the ways in which people justify cockfighting, which helps the reader think through the moral issues.
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat is a useful book to have on one's bookshelf; it should spur popular interest in anthrozoology and will very likely alert readers to the contradictions on their own thinking about animals.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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