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About Animal Magnetism


By long tendency, humans inhabit communities of affection and symbiosis with other species. We all know this; in fact, it seems so "natural" that what is actually a remarkable and deeply complex phenomenon has too often escaped analysis and wonder.

That situation has, of course, been changing in recent years, with 'animal studies' increasingly on the rise in numerous divergent fields, from classics to cognitive science. Such studies have tended to remain, by and large, within disciplinary bounds despite the subject's enormous cross-over potential, not to mention innate appeal.

Also, while humans and animals have cohabited for millennia, controlled comparisons and assessments of these relationships -- across epochs ranging from ancient to modern times -- have not been undertaken. This disconnection leaves a vast and sensitive record of past human-animal relations unexplored by those considering present-day themes or employing novel scientific techniques, while those absorbed in the past fail to perceive the potential long-term implications and consequences of their work.

The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans

Emotions flow from humans to envelop other creatures, such as a treasured pet or a feared predator.  Sometimes, too, in both reality and perception, emotions flow back from animals to humans, as part of an “ecology” of sentiment that transcends the boundaries of species and establishes new forms of social communion.  From this interaction arises the possibility of an “extended society”—a web of “con-socials” that interact on a regular basis—as well as novel, supra-human definitions of society itself.

That this sense of connection is problematic—both linking humans to animals and preserving categorical distinctions between them—offers rich material for study and debate.  

Questions about the Con-Social

“Pets” or, more generally, “con-socials”—those who live with humans in extended society, a category that embraces other symbiotic relationships than those governed mainly by affection—are terms that categorize the fellow beings who share human lives.  Nonetheless, as labels, they do scant justice to the varied presence of animals and the opportunities and predicaments they pose in human society.  

To an extraordinary degree, con-socials also exemplify the multiple ways in which humans hold close to non-humans, assigning to them, with care and hedged precedent, a set of qualities perceived in other people.  The variety of this fraught relationship—walking the line between assimilation and segregation (“we are they, yet they are different”)—is so great that its full exploration manifestly lies beyond the reach of any single disciplinary specialization.