Birds make flying look so effortless. With one gentle push, they cast off into the air, soar into the sky and in seconds, pass the limitations of flightless humans. They resemble everything we could ever dream to have: grace, independence, and most importantly – freedom. Keeping a bird in a cage, clipping their wings, and taking away their natural right to freedom – is commonly seen as torturous and inhumane. But the thing is – birds aren’t human. Why should we pity them? Why do we just assume that they have human emotion – do birds even know the feeling of loss, grief, loneliness? We hear their communication as songs, see their flocks as friendship, and describe their means of reproduction as ‘true love’.
Anthropomorphism is the attributing human traits, emotions and intentions to animals. We see it everywhere, books, television, folklore, even religion. Over centuries, fables and stories have taught cultural morals and values through the use of animal characters. For instance, the tale of The Hare and Tortoise taught children that “slow and steady wins the race”, and The Ugly Duckling taught that discrimination of those who are different is wrong. Through the use of animals, we not only portray the human condition, but also connect to the natural world. By attributing familiar traits to unfamiliar animals, we make them seemingly easier to understand.
So, when we see a bird in a cage, we see ourselves in a cage. We take our emotions and complexity as a human and give it to the bird, and come to the conclusion that the bird must be suffering, as we would if we were caged. I talked to Mia Judy, a sophomore Animal Rights Activist, who signed a petition against bird cages in Singapore.
“Birds weren’t meant to be caged. They were meant to fly, and migrate, and be birds. Why would we cage them for our own selfish reasons?”
I asked, “So, do you think that it is morally wrong?”
“Yes it is wrong. They want freedom. They’re supposed to be wild.”
“But if a bird was born in a cage, grew up in a cage, and never knew what freedom was like, how could they want something they don’t know exists?”
It was here where we reached some grey area. The thing is, we can tell if birds are sick or unhealthy. We can study their behavior, and see if they are showing signs of distress or happiness. But these are observations are purely physical. We can’t really know what a bird in a cage feels, if anything. We know how we would feel in a cage, but we shouldn’t equate those feelings to one of an animal. They are a different species altogether. But because of Anthropomorphism, we make assumptions about them, and believe we do know why the caged bird sings.
Instead, we should recognize animals probably have very different feelings and emotions from us. For example, a common misconception is that dogs like it when we shower them with affection, as we do. However, studies have shown it gives them anxiety and raises their stress levels. Because of the influence of movies, television, and stories have had on us since childhood it is a habit -almost an instinct- for us to Anthropomorphize. When it comes to Animal Rights, there is always going to be a debate. But one thing is for certain – making assumptions will always affect our perception on animals and the way we treat them, for good or bad.