Birds are people, too!

in #writinglast year (edited)

My 92-year-old grandma re-examined a lifetime of meat eating after seeing unique personalities in the chickadees at her feeder.

I was raised in an animal-product-focused family. Dinner was meat, potatoes with butter, and vegetables - plus a big glass of milk. Breakfast was eggs and cereal with milk. Lunch was salami sandwiches, and there was always cheese on hand. Until my grandparents, my ancestors were all farmers, many who suffered with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes as they aged.

10 years ago, as part of the greater 'conscious awakening' and self-improvement process I began, I decided to do a trial "no meat" week, where I stopped buying (and eating) red meat and poultry. It wasn't exactly easy, but I saw several immediate benefits, and decided to extend it beyond the 7 days. 14 days, then a month and here I am 10+ years later. I've since cut out all dairy and eggs as well, essentially taking in nothing at all from other animals.

My family, on the other hand, is largely unchanged (and don't agree with my decision to stop eating other animals). I don't try to change them, but they do try to get me to 'switch back'. I'm in good physical shape, I eat like a horse, and I have the cardiovascular system of a 14 year old boy.

When I moved in with my elderly grandmother to grant her wish of dying in her own home, she never hassled me about my diet. Sure, it got in the way of family meals, and baked treats she wanted to make for me, but otherwise it wasn't an issue. A few times, she tried to explain to me her rationale for eating meat, but it never really made sense to me. I respected her greatly, but found some of her ways unscientific and backwards. She would say things like "you're raising the animal up to a higher energy level when you use its nutrients". I still don't think I really know what she meant, or if I can discard that nugget as the ramblings of a well-meaning old woman.

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Grama was a nature-lover. Her and Grampa were gardeners above almost everything else in their full lives, always with many plants and crops and projects on the go, year after year for the many decades of their life together. When he died about 10 years back, I took over most of the gardening at their place, so Grama could enjoy all her favourite plants.

Grama's birds

She didn't keep any pets in her old age, but Grama LOVED the birds that visited her yard and garden. Chickadees, finches, tits - anything except crows and starlings, which she saw as noisy, aggressive, destructive birds. The smaller and gentler birds were her favourites. I don't know how many times she sent me to the store for bags of bird seed - and she would get the expensive stuff, too! Her yard was a sanctuary for them. No threats, just friendly gardeners, lots of trees and shrubs, a source of water, and fresh bird seed 24/7. They came from blocks around and she loved to watch them.

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Just weeks before she died, I came into the kitchen and found her quietly sitting at the table, looking out at the chickadees taking turns at the feeder. "You know what? I think they're all different. I can tell them apart by their markings. Some of them are kinder than others, some are skittish, they don't all act the same." Of course, my mind went to the fact that she routinely eats chickens, turkeys, and other birds, but I said nothing of it. "Could there be little..... people.... inside there?" she asked, as though the idea had just come to her for the first time. After observing them for decades, she finally noticed that birds aren't all the same, that they have behaviours, and that they think and feel. A day late and a dollar short, perhaps, though it was something.

But what about her question? Can birds be considered people? Aren't humans the only people?

To answer that, consider that 'human' has its own definition, different from that of 'person'. A human is simply a member of the species Homo sapiens - it's a matter of our DNA. Are all humans 'people'? How about a human embryo consisting of just a few cells - is it a person? What about somebody whose brain is severely damaged in an accident, who exists in a vegetative state? They're alive, that's not in question, and their DNA confirms they're human. But is there a person in there?

Imagine an advanced alien visitor to Earth, vastly more intelligent, with intricate communication and a complex society. They're not human, but it would be difficult to argue they aren't people.

It appears that not all humans are people. And likewise, not all people are humans.

It's usually easy to tell if an animal is a human or not, by looking at it. If in doubt, we can look at it really close - under a microscope - and make the determination by its DNA. But it's not always as easy to tell if an animal is a person or not without other investigation - observing its behaviour, attempting to communicate with it. Perhaps this is why many of us tend to use the two words interchangeably, assuming all humans are people, and assuming all nonhumans aren't.

"Birds are people, too"?

In philosophy, we say a person is a living individual with a 'personality' and 'rationality'.

  • 'personality' refers to the characteristics and qualities of an individual that make it behaviourally different from others
  • 'rationality' is ability to reason (form conclusions) or exercise sense/judgment

'People' is the plural of 'person'. It's the same as saying "persons", but sounds better.

So people are: Individuals with differentiating behavioural characteristics that can form conclusions and exercise judgment. There's something special about conscious beings that sense, infer, calculate, reason, plan, and whose traits vary between individuals. Yes, most humans fall into this category, but what matters to this discussion is that so do some other animals.

Man's best friend

A common concept many people identify with is family pets. Did you ever know a cat or dog for many years? Did you notice that it had any behavioural traits that other cats or dogs didn't have, or was it's behaviour identical to that of all others from its species? Did you ever mourn for a dead pet you loved very much? Why did you mourn? Was the pet an individual to you, not the same as every other pet of the same species? Did you know them? Did they know you? They certainly weren't a human, but were they not a unique, thinking individual with traits and qualities that made them behave or act the way they did? Have you ever known a cat who always hides when somebody new is around? Dogs that are overly friendly? Budgies or parrots that are more talkative than others? Family pets have personalities. They are sometimes called "part of the family". Would we say that about a houseplant we had owned for several years?

Dogs and cats are people. Pigs and dolphins, generally considered smarter than cats and dogs, are also people. Primates, including humans, are people. All mammals are people. Birds are generally less capable of reason and judgment than mammals, but they certainly DO have personalities, as Grama noted, and they have unique behavioural traits. Yes, I believe that at least some birds are people.

So what's next, are we going to claim bugs are people? Plants and fungi?

Bugs, plants, and fungi don't fit the definition of person. They're alive, and they're individuals (in most cases), but they can't form conclusions, they can't use judgment, and they have no behaviour to speak of. The definition has clear boundaries.

I believe my dying grandmother was correct - the tiny flitting birds at her feeder were individuals with thoughts and unique behaviours. So different from us, in so many ways, but also so similar. Indeed, they were people.

Concluding thoughts

Some humans are people, and some people are humans. Some animals are humans, and some animals are people. All people and all humans are animals.

And "vegans", what are they?

Vegans are people who don't eat other people.

(I hope this made you think about these topics in a new way without offending you.)

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I regret eating KFC and other chicken no matter how tasty it was. Birds are definitely little people, and adorable ones too especiallt the chickadees. They're chirping is one of my favourite sounds in the world. That's interesting how they make a sophisticated proto-language with those little noises. I think my favourite one is their happy one, that one you hear in early morning or sunset.

I love the sound too, but the birds outside my bedroom window tend to wake me up a little too early. Since I am not a morning person, I don't tend to appreciate it as much as I probably would if I was a morning person :)

My family too was raised on meat and potatoes. They are still that way for the most part and have had health problems as well. Maybe what she meant by "you're raising the animal up to a higher energy level when you use its nutrients" is that by you consuming them, they becoming a part of you, therefore raising it up to a higher being? That is just my speculation on what she could have meant, not that that makes a whole lot of sense either.

That is kind of bullshit that they keep trying to get you to eat meat again. Why can't they accept your life choices? I am glad your grandma got to notice the difference in the birds personalities. I think the more time you spend around animals and nature in general the more you will get to know things personally. You brought up the great point of our house hold animals we have such as cats and dogs and how they all have their own unique personalities, why would other animals be any different? I have noticed personalities with my dog and snake, it is just something we do after spending time with them. So yeah birds would be no different.

Your point about plants and fungi, they might not be able to speak how we do, but take psilocybin for example, would you not think that by consuming that and having an experience that in itself being a form of communication? Think of when you mow your grass, the fresh cut grass smell is the grass' chemical distress call. I think they have ways of non-verbal chemical communication, but it's still there, at least I think so.

That is really great analysis that you have done about your grandma having this experience and it seemed to have impacted you as well. I also like the saying how vegans are people who do not eat other people. That is very true and you summed up beautifully why :)

Thanks for the great read!

And thank you for the thoughtful and interesting comment!

"That is just my speculation on what she could have meant, not that that makes a whole lot of sense either."

Yes, your take on it also sounds like something she would say. Her and Grampa were somewhat quiet about their beliefs (unless asked), but I know they were into some alternative ideas. Back then it wasn't called "alternative" though, it was just how people chose to think and act. One thing they were into was "laying on hands". I remember skinning my knee and having one of them hover over the wound while soothing me with their words. Can't say I know if it helped or not, but I seriously doubt it caused any damage.

Good point about spending time around nature, ie other living things. We live in such a sterile world now, greenery only seen at a distance most of the time, if at all. Being around other animals (and plants) teaches me so much about life. Just staring at my cannabis plants as they grow has led to many revelations that have made me a better gardener and person.

It's interesting about your snake. Reptiles, amphibians, and fish are groups of animals that I consider somewhat less evolutionary developed. That isn't to put them down, of course, it's just to say they developed earlier on and found a niche to inhabit, whereas other forms (like mammals) developed more recently, are more genetically complex, and have more reason to have actually developed emotions, reasoning, etc. I did eat fish until 2 years ago. My uncle (an evolutionary marine biologist with a specialty in salmon brains) told me that fish don't feel pain "as we understand it" and it's more of a negative stimulus they try to move away from. It doesn't distress them emotionally, they don't remember it later, they aren't capable of being traumatized, and so on. Snakes and frogs are probably somewhere around the same level of complexity. Even if they were tasty to me, I doubt I'd choose to eat them. I just don't need the amino acids that badly! I get them all in the other food I eat. :)

You're right, plants and fungi have chemical methods of 'communication' of a sort. And when I take the right fungi on board, yes, I certainly feel the communication happening! Heheh.

Vegans are people who don't eat other people, heh. That's actually how I began the entire article - that concept popped into my head. I wrote the rest around it. :)

I was thinking, isn't that also a definition for "non-cannibal"?

But no, non-cannibals are humans who don't eat other humans. And as we've discussed, that's not the same thing! :)

You are welcome my friend :)

I personally want to understand this plant communication more. I think it is something at least partially overlooked in science. Love the saying and it makes! I love articles like this that you write. There is so much too them that I could spend hours discussing, but I try to be mindful to the author to not overload them with comments and what not. Great post though, I really enjoyed it.

I really appreciate hearing that, because I like to know the details I'm spending time going into are being picked up by someone. I'm not the best writer, but I feel I have a decent way of saying things, sometimes. :) I wouldn't be sharing my thoughts if I didn't hope they were being received and considered.
Perhaps some new info about plant communication will arise soon? It seems that you and I have a way of cocreating and manifesting together. We've put the idea out there. I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for clues :)

I think you are a great writer. You have a great way of adding a personal touch to your work that captivates the reader. So good job on that :)

You bet we do! and yes we should be looking for clues. I am going to add the plant communication to my list of research topics so if I do come across anything I will be sure to let you know!

Dude, something funny happened when I was using my windows calculator to work up some numbers for your question on my other post:

I've literally never seen that error (on that calc anyway) before today.

Ah yes, I have seen that before. Not sure what version of Windows you are on, but they have probably updated most supported versions to say that. Not that a lot of people sit there and divide by zero (at least intentionally).

I just thought it was funny that I'd never pushed a combination of buttons to end up with that error message before. And when it finally happened for the first time was when a new friend called "dividebyzero" and I were discussing serendipity and related concepts. :)