25 July 2011

Post 407: Sex on Six Legs

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World by Marlene Zuk. ISBN: 9780151013739 (eGalley - publishes August 2, 2011).

This is a case of the subtitle being slightly more accurate than the title, unless of course you are referring to sex as in "That species of ant is like sex on six legs." Perhaps you would be more comfortable with a different analogy: "That 1963 Thunderbird is sex on wheels." This colloquialism likely refers to an attraction to or interest in an object that we normally reserve for the act of sex... er, the interest reserved, not the object.

Zuk's primary thesis seemed to be that insects deserve our sex. Um, or interest rather, because insects are so... not sexy. Zuk claims that they are just too alien to anthropomorphize, and so they are perfect for human study. They aren't cute puppies rolling around playing with each other, so we aren't going to say, "Aw, Fluffy tackled Spot because they're playing," when really it's territorial or aggressive behavior. But here I think Zuk somewhat denies the human ability to relate to anything if they put their minds to it. She seems to even ignore this trait in herself after espousing her own fondness for crickets and how ingenious and fascinating they are.

What I would be interested in knowing is why and how some people are able to anthropomorphize things like insects. It would make sense for some community members in our pre-"civilized" society to be able to extend their circle to include what more discerning cavemen might consider "the other." If you encountered another group of people, who were physically and culturally different than you, it would be beneficial genetically to incorporate that group of people, or at least their genetics. Additionally, the people who are more easily able to anthropomorphize animals were probably the ones who began domesticating animals. Being able to see a similarity in an animal is the first step to curiosity, which would lead to a desire to experiment with incorporating those into the family as well. Of course, that kind of behavior can get you killed too.

I suppose it makes sense that the stranger an animal or person (not necessarily of the human variety) is, the harder it is to accept them as being "like us." It makes it harder to understand their motivations or behavior if they look like us, but don't act like us, and equally hard if they act like us but look nothing like us. Given that we already have problems figuring out each other, it is amazing that any of us are capable of anthropomorphizing anything. I wonder if perhaps somewhere down the line it will be discovered that there's a mental disease, perhaps the coin side to psychopathy,* in which people are too easily able to form human connections... with animals. I am not indicating bestiality here, but perhaps anthropomorphizing animals to the extreme is just as likely to harm as the reverse. I'll let professionals decide on whether or not that should be acted upon, but it certainly is interesting to think about.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.
*Here I am primarily referring to the psychopath's inability to empathize with their fellow human beings, which to me is an indication that they likely have trouble seeing people as "like me/us."

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