Vengeful Tiger, Glowing Rabbit: Americans do weird things with animals
Americans do weird things with animals.
Perhaps our imperious stance toward other species and the rest of the living world grows out of the same sensibility embodied in the 19th-century ideology of Manifest Destiny, invoked to justify unbounded American expansionism.
Today, with our having achieved geopolitical dominance, the ethos persists in our drive to conquer nature. More habitats must be bulldozed, more wetlands repurposed, more wilderness plundered in the name of American progress.
We have a dysfunctional and sometimes paranoid compulsion to disarm the threat we see emanating from nature as other. Consciously or subconsciously, our cultural exploitation of animals often facilitates this agenda of disempowering the nonhuman realm. We seem to embrace Freud’s expression that a civilized society is one in which “wild and dangerous animals have been exterminated.”
When we encounter other animals, we often selfishly abuse and manipulate them. When a person and an animal meet, the animal generally ends up somehow the worse for it. We simply do not understand them, and we are poorer for that.
Our cultural interactions and visual representations are ecologically significant. The way we relate to animals in culture affects how we relate to them in nature. The imaginative exploitation of animals foreshadows more-literal and destructive incursions into their world.