Please Don't Eat the Panda

Julie Douglas

Waving panda sez it's futile to resist her glut of cuteness.
Waving panda sez it's futile to resist her glut of cuteness.
Gary Vestal/Photographer's Choice/Getty

In the animal kingdom, if you've got a cute mug you just scored yourself a "pass" as a potential meal for most humans. But if your homo sapien overlords aren't circulating photos of you with funny captions, or if you're widely feared, you're probably on the menu -- or at the very least persona non grata at the dinner table.

In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and I break down psycholinguistics, the "parental instinct," and the theory of mind as they relate to animals. We'll also discuss the shocking way in which "Bambi" became artistically realized on his way into the Pantheon of Cuteness. But first, what's all the fuss?

Human-animal relations can be tricky territory, particularly when one culture disregards a particular creature while another puts it on a pedestal. For example, why are some dogs considered the occasional meat source for a meal while others are a coddled member of the family, replete with a down vest for inclement weather? According to Hal Herzog, who authored the illuminating, "Some We Love, Some We Hate and Some We Eat," our muddled thinking about animals reveals deeply discordant logic, some of which produces empathy and some that produces denial, or even hatred.

STREAM THE EPISODE RIGHT HERE: [audio http://podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/sciencelab/2011-08-30-stbym-dont-eat-pandas.mp3]

Recently PETA interviewed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on ethics and promoting kindness to animals. This is a brief excerpt of what de Grasse Tyson had to say:

Ethics evolves as we come to learn about the natural world and relationship to it. And I'd like to think that it's evolving in the right direction in the sense that we're not apart from but we're participants in a great unfolding cosmic story. And I see that not simply as the consequence of an ethical perspective. I come to it from a cosmic perspective when I look at the commonality of the chemistry of life and the chemistry of the universe and the origin of our elements traceable to the universe. There's a connectivity there that gives me a sense of participation and belonging to the universe, not a sense of being apart from it where it's my duty to lord over it.

... The fact that someone can find themselves in the position of saying, 'It's just a dog' harps back to me hearing people say, 'Oh it's just a -- put your nationality there or put your religion there ' - and people justifying wanton slaughter of each other. I think it's deeper within the species than just whether one person treats a dog one way or the other."

Squeamish yet? Listen in for the many reasons why logic fails us when it comes to animals and why there's a saying in Swahili, "Never look a baboon in the eye."

For more reading on human-animal relations, check out "Some We Love, Some We Hate and Some We Eat."

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