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longgone's avatar

Do you agree with this statement about humanity?

Asked by longgone (18378points) September 21st, 2015

“If your dog is misbehaving, he isn’t trying to spite you. Only humans are capable of such cruel behavior.”

This was just posted by a dog-loving friend. Do you agree? Why? What makes us capable of being spiteful?

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33 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

Long term memory and free will.

majorrich's avatar

People in general are no damned good.

vertz's avatar

I agree. It is evolutionary. Spitefulness increased adaptability. If you let harm befall you by another and didn’t respond in kind, you were seen as prey, but if you punished and diminished the gain they got from harming you, you set a reputation for yourself and an acceptable mode of conduct which helps prevent future confrontations.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@vertz If you think it’s evolutionary, that pretty much means you don’t think it’s something that only humans are capable of as a species.

@longgone I think there must be concrete examples of animals showing cruelty. It’s just harder for us to lay blame because most species don’t (as far as we know) have a moral context for their behaviour. I know there are arguments about whether certain species do show moral behaviour. A little digging would turn up examples. But cruelty is something we see even in children, who aren’t yet fully self aware – why wouldn’t we see it in some animals, too?

vertz's avatar

@dappled_leaves Oh! I misread the “only humans”. No, I don’t think it is only humans. Monkeys, elephants, birds, fish, dolphins, are spiteful too. Not sure about dogs.

stanleybmanly's avatar

See, there it is once again. What do words like cruel or spite mean to a dog? The dog is capable of deliberately upsetting you, and there is no question that animals can be driven to behaviors that most would describe as psychotic.

majorrich's avatar

I know Cats can be spiteful. My Cuddles poops in the living room when I piss him off.

kritiper's avatar

Only humans can reason and therefore be spiteful.

Coloma's avatar

Absolutrly true.

Ego gets offended and makes up all sorts of stories about what has offended it, mostly untrue. lol
Animals don’t have egos, they react in the present moment and when that moment has passed, so has their emotional reaction.
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual, philosophical teacher describes watching 2 ducks on a pond have an altercation when one invades the others space.

After some flapping and quacking and a brief confrontation, the ducks go their separate ways and they extend their wings again, flap to release tension, tuck their wings back in and float off in peace.

He says that if these were humans they would be mentally carrying on for hours, if not days and week, making up a huge story about how insulted they were, their egos so affronted.
” How DARE that duck come into my space, WHO does he think he is anyway. I can’t BELIEVE his audacity, to actually think he could swim right in front of ME!” lol
This story would be kept alive for who knows how long, replete with telling anyone that would listen how wronged they had been. haha

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Coloma Uh, yeah, but male ducks are notorious for their violent attacks on females, to the point that it has influenced the shape of female duck genitalia. How about we not make them role models for human behaviour?

In fact, let’s not anthropomorphize other animal species at all.

rojo's avatar

Well, humans and cats; I know from personal experience that them little furry shits are spiteful. So, 50% correct.

SmashTheState's avatar

Spite isn’t unique to humans, but almost. There’s a handful of species known to use spite as a survival technique. The stickleback, for example. Stickleback females all lay their eggs together in a big heap, then immediately turn and begin trying to gobble up all the eggs while the males try to prevent them. This is because each individual stickleback has a much better chance of eating another female’s eggs than her own in the pile.

Coloma's avatar

@dappled_leaves That’s not the point and I am well aware of duck mating habits as we have a pair here along with geese. The point is that animals do not have egos and when a confrontation is over, it is over. No residual ruminating and egoic gyrations, no feelings of being done wrong by, victimized or singled out for persecution. Only human animals make up these sorts of stories that create emotional unrest.

longgone's avatar

@vertz “If you let harm befall you by another and didn’t respond in kind, you were seen as prey, but if you punished and diminished the gain they got from harming you, you set a reputation for yourself and an acceptable mode of conduct which helps prevent future confrontations.”

Is that “spitefulness”, though? It seems like the definition of aggression. I’d think that there is another element to spite, an evil element. That’s what I’m not sure about.

@dappled_leaves Do you have an example of real cruelty? I agree that we may hesitate to think of an animal’s action as spiteful, simply because we decide that they don’t know any better. I’m hard pressed to see spite in humans as well, though. I’ve been trying to find an example.

@Coloma “If these were humans they would be mentally carrying on for hours, if not days and week, making up a huge story about how insulted they were, their egos so affronted.”

Oh, I’ve seen dogs hold grudges for ages. I often foster dogs, and while they usually get along, there have been spats. They last seconds, but they definitely stay active in all dogs’ memories. I have to pay special attention to dogs who have squabbled before.
My old Labrador is probably the best example of this. She gets along with all dogs, but in puppyhood, she found a half-empty bottle of chocolate milk in the local park. Another dog stole it, and that was that – those two have been hating each other for eleven years, with a passion.

@SmashTheState Interesting. I’ve heard baby cuckoos be mentioned in the same context. However, I always feel that those often wide-spread/universal behaviors are more likely to be instinctual. In baby cuckoos, the behavior must be instinct – they have no contact with their parents, so they can’t have been taught.

majorrich's avatar

My Female cat made sure I was watching when she peed on my pants in the bathroom this morning, I kicked her off the bed because she was in the throes of a hairball. She is a spiteful bitch. She actually chirped before doing it. The C##t!

dappled_leaves's avatar

^ @longgone There’s one.

@Coloma Well, if you don’t think that animals feel emotion, we are not going to agree on anything in this thread. I don’t understand how anyone who has ever had a pet can believe that.

Assuming animals do feel emotions, why is it so hard for people to believe they can feel so-called negative emotions? Why are we so invested in believing they are perfect innocents?

longgone's avatar

@majorrich Love the visual.

@dappled_leaves Don’t get me wrong, assuming you are also speaking to me. I believe animals’ emotional landscape is very much like ours. I believe they can get angry, jealous, annoyed, just like us. I’m just not sure I believe in spite, in humans or other animals. Your question is what motivated me to start this thread. I don’t agree with the post in my details.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@longgone Yes, I’m genuinely interested in people’s answers to that question. It mystifies me.

Coloma's avatar

@longgone Of course animals have memories and make associations but they are not spending any tome at all THINKING about their rivals, only when they are in their face again in the moment.

@dappled_leaves Again you miss the point entirely. Of course animals feel emotion and possess memory but, refer above to my reply to longgone in between the moments of emotion or their memories being triggered, they do not spend any time formulating thoughts and stories about past events or worrying about future events. They do not mentally RUMINATE which is the human egos condition. When a frightening moment, an aggressive encounter, a particular experience is over, it is over, there is no lying awake nights reliving the situation and obsessing on it. If the stimuli is re-introduced they will react but they do not mentally masturbate over any past events or worry about the future. It is all present moment cause and effect.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Coloma But these things you describe as purely human, like the rumination (very punny), or reliving or obsessing over things one has done – none of the is required for a cruel act. I find that many cruel acts are spontaneous, don’t you? Think of the way children are with each other or with animals, sometimes. They can act cruelly specifically because it’s hard for them to imagine the consequences. That’s how I think of animal cruelty.

Coloma's avatar

@dappled_leaves I agree, cruelty can be spontaneous, it can also be premeditated where animals do not think in a premeditated manner. They might act on opportunity but your dog isn’t plotting how to get revenge on you for neutering him or with holding a treat. lol
Spite, revenge, etc. are human behaviors only.
I was primarily addressing the spite part of the question.

Animals do not do things out of spite, humans do because of their ego defenses. Now they will act out of transference, if they are feeling anger or threatened they are liable to turn on anything in their immediate range. My old cat would attack my other cat, not viciously, but he would pounce on her if I disciplined him. Take his aggression out on her, haha

longgone's avatar

@Coloma Really? I don’t agree. Do you believe animals do not think at all? Do you believe they can make plans, for example?

@dappled_leaves Interesting. By that definition, I could describe my puppy as cruel. He does not understand that his teeth are pointy, so he likes to use them on other dogs. This also explains why a cat’s playing with prey is often considered cruel. I, in my personal thesaurus, define cruelty as an action motivated by the desire to cause harm. I guess that’s why I’m having trouble finding examples.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@longgone “I, in my personal thesaurus, define cruelty as an action motivated by the desire to cause harm.”

So do I.

“I could describe my puppy as cruel. He does not understand that his teeth are pointy, so he likes to use them on other dogs.”

No… I wouldn’t describe that as cruel at all – if your assumption that he doesn’t know his teeth are pointy is correct, and I’m sure it is, then that is not cruel behaviour.

“This also explains why a cat’s playing with prey is often considered cruel.”

Does it? You don’t think a cat ever takes pleasure in frightening or injuring a mouse? Why wouldn’t they?

Coloma's avatar

@longgone Yes animals think but they don’t make plans, they act in the moment. A cat does not plan to go outside and climb a tree, they see the tree and act in the moment. It feels hungry and goes to it’s food bowl but does not plan to eat like we do. The cat does not think to itself ” I hope they give me tuna tonight, that would be great, last week they gave me tuna on Tues. night. ” lol

@dappled_leaves No, cats hunting instincts are excited by movement which intensifies their instinct to capture and kill. Again ego projection you are doing there. The cat feels excitement ( an emotion ) when the mouse or lizard moves away from them, they are stimulated by toying with small prey but they do not take “pleasure” in frightening or injuring the mouse. They simply respond to their preys movements and attempts to escape.

longgone's avatar

@dappled_leaves “They can act cruelly specifically because it’s hard for them to imagine the consequences. That’s how I think of animal cruelty.”
I understood this ^ as a different definition. To me, it sounds like you are saying that the lack of empathy in young children may result in cruel acts. Did I get that wrong?

I don’t know whether cats take pleasure in frightening mice. I’m sure they love the chase. I was thinking about my own cruel acts, and I don’t think my childhood self took pleasure in hurting or frightening others. Pleasure in winning an argument or getting a rise out of people – yes, that definitely.

@Coloma I read the book, “Alex and Me” recently. It’s about an African Grey Parrot who, when he was alive, taught us a lot about bird brains. I think you might enjoy it, actually.
Alex did many things we would not expect of an animal. He could correctly identify similarities and differences of objects, such as “colour” or “shape”. He had a concept of “zero”, corrected his fellow parrots when their vocalizations were unclear, and willfully gave wrong answers when he wasn’t happy with training sessions. Here’s a paraphrased example:

Dr. Pepperberg: Alex, how many blue?

Alex: Four. Want a nut. (Correct answer would have been two)

Dr. Pepperberg: Later, Alex. How many blue?

Alex: No. Want a nut. (This goes on for a while)

Dr. Pepperberg: Okay, Alex, looks like you’re done. (Takes him back to his cage)

Alex: Two! Two! I’m sorry. Come here! Two!

Alex definitely made plans. When he asked for corn and received a grape, he would protest. He said, “Wanna go back” when he wanted to be put back in his cage, and he asked to “Go see tree” to spend time at a particular window in the research facility.

Coloma's avatar

@longgone Yes, Alex, you’re right, Alex showed exceptional ability, but your average dog, cat, horse, and most other animals do not have the advanced cognitive functions that an exceptional animal such as Alex possessed. He was a rare bird indeed. Pun intended.
Certain species, parrots, dolphins, some higher primates do show advanced ability but your cat is still not plotting against you or planning ahead to raid the fridge next Saturday night. haha

longgone's avatar

@Coloma How likely is it that Alex is unique, and just happened to be discovered? He was one of the first animals to receive media attention because he could talk, quite simply.
I think it’s telling that we are in need of a talking animal to allow for abstract thinking. We have a hard time accepting animals as anything other than primitive creatures when they do not speak our language. Anyway, both Griffin and Wart, Alex’ successors, showed similar abilities. The stories about them are very cool, as well.
I, personally, find that I can imagine my dogs to make plans when I allow myself to. Especially the older one. Once, she had removed the blanket from her bed. She got restless, slapping her paw on the ground like she always does when she is annoyed. I didn’t pay any attention at first, but at some point, I looked at her and off-handedly asked, “What’s wrong?” She got up, stood in the middle of the room and looked at the blanket, her bed, and me, in turn. She was very clearly communicating what she wanted. When I put the blanket back where it belonged, she wagged her tail and settled back down.

I’m aware that this is anecdotal, and I’m grateful people like Irene Pepperberg are working on gathering real evidence.

Coloma's avatar

@longgone Alex may not be unique, but his species is known for superior intelligence.
You would not get those same results with a hamster let me assure you. haha
Although brain size has nothing to do with intelligence. Rats are smarter than dogs and Octopus are smarter than many animals, perhaps the smartest yet to be discovered.

I am talking ego here and the ability to make complicated and advanced plans, like a retirement plan. Your dog is not capable of thinking in terms of future as it has no concept of future and no ego to cause it angst and worry. ” What if I don;t save enough dog cookies for retirement.” It is not lying awake nights worrying about it’s future, that is human ego.
Of course animals have likes, dislikes and preferences and they do make associations and communicate those likes/dislikes/associations.

They also possess memory, some more than others and will, of course, use repetitive actions if those actions deliver positive rewards. My 17 yr. old goose has an amazing memory and makes many associations relating to his likes/dislikes/preferences. He likes to be ” way up high ” and stands on his flakes of hay in his barn so he can look at the window.
He whines and mumbles if his hay pile shrinks and he cannot see out the window and he carries on in the mornings if he is not let out by the time he is conditioned to and often runs from being put to bed if he doesn’t want to go to bed yet. haha

He knows and makes associations with over 20 words and commands, but…what I am saying is that animals do not possess egos and ruminate the way humans do or make advanced plans that was where I started with all this.
When I am gone my goose is not standing in his barn thinking about where I am, when I will return or fantasizing about his evening slice of Oat Nut bread. lol
Just like humans every animals of every species will have more of less in the intelligence realm, and they certainly experience emotions but they do not have the ability to create fictitious scenarios and ruminate on a thinking level as humans do.
You said that you can “imagine” your dogs to make plans, but that is your ego projecting human thought processes onto your dogs when, really, yes, she was frustrated that her blanket was out of place and was signaling her frustration by the paw slapping gesture, but… she did not sit there imagining/thinking about how she could get you to re-arrange her blanket.

Animals communicate with us in many ways but, again, they do not spend minutes, hours or days plotting their behaviors, worrying, making up scenarios in their minds or holding grudges and other human related egoic behaviors as this question asked.
I’m talking ego here, which is a human condition only and has nothing to do with IQ, learned behaviors, associations and communication in animals.

longgone's avatar

@Coloma

“His species is known for superior intelligence.”

That’s my point. We keep discovering “superior intelligence”, as soon as we take the time to look.

Naturally, my dog is not making retirement plans. She does not live in the human world. To equate that with a complete inability to make plans is very extreme, though. We can’t see an animal’s thoughts, but absence of evidence doesn’t equal evidence of absence. Especially when one hasn’t even looked for evidence.

“You can ‘imagine’ your dogs to make plans, but that is your ego projecting human thought processes onto your dogs when, really, yes, she was frustrated that her blanket was out of place and was signaling her frustration by the paw slapping gesture, but… she did not sit there imagining/thinking about how she could get you to re-arrange her blanket.”

I used the word ‘imagine’ intentionally, because my point was that we look at animals a certain way. Everything they do gets analyzed within our pre-determined parameters. It would be entirely possible to observe a human’s behavior, not allowing for thought processes. We don’t do that, and thus come to conclusions we would not accept while observing animals.

Just like I am imagining my dogs’ thought processes, you are imagining animals’ minds as very simple tools of input and output. Neither one of us can be sure about this, because science is not there yet.

When it is, I think we’ll be in trouble. I’m guessing that we will be dealing with a couple of inconvenient truths, and many of the atrocious things we do with animals will need to be outlawed. We’ll see.

Coloma's avatar

@longgone Superior intelligence is still not ego.
Animals do not identify with their species, breed, lifestyle, relationships, body image, educational back round, work etc. etc. as humans do.
Intelligence is based on problem solving ability in animals, as well as creative use of tools, just like humans but animals have no capacity for abstract thinking or long term planning.
Migrating birds do not plan to winter over in Florida they react, in the moment, to climatic changes and instinct borne of the season.
Animals do not possess the human ability to make up stories, assume, presume, worry, ruminate, project, hold grudges.

To make plans one must understand the concept of past and future, animals have no concept of past and future, other than emotional associations with something either pleasant or unpleasant that is in their immediate present moment again.
Your dog is absolutely not planning what he might want to do next Thursday afternoon, nor is he thinking that he really had fun when he went on a car ride with you last Saturday.

I am one of the biggest defenders of animals in how they are treated and do not condone the atrocious cruelties perpetrated against them, ( we just adopted a new 10 yr. old Buff goose who lost her mate and she is adjusting nicely with her new friends here ) even the more benign, such as living in isolation, boredom, loneliness.
It has been shown that the more stimulation young animals receive the larger their brains develop. Not unlike human children who, without stimulation and care fail to thrive.
While I agree that there are still plenty of mysteries to be solved in the animal realm humans project a lot of emotional stories and behaviors onto animals that, most likely, do not exist such as grudge holding.

The original part of this question.
Because animals lack ego they are always inhabiting the present moment and have no concept of past or future.
An old friend of mine used to project that her horse was missing her when she left the boarding facility and I had to let her know that this was HER projection. Once she was gone her mare went back to doing her thing until the next time my friend showed up with the apples-n-oats treats.

The horse was not staying awake nights thinking to herself ” I can’t believe she hasn’t come to see me for a week now.” haha
I certainly do hope we can find a way to really unlock more mysteries of the animal mind in my lifetime.
Anyway, lively discussion but for lack of a better term I think this horse is dead now. lol

longgone's avatar

@Coloma Yeah, we won’t change each other’s minds here. Thanks for your input, though, I had fun!

longgone's avatar

[Mod says] Moved to Social.

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