Friday, June 3, 2016

Jessica Pierce

Jessica Pierce has written extensively within the field of bioethics, beginning with an early interest in the interconnections between health care systems, environmental degradation, and health (The Ethics of Environmentally Sustainable Health Care). Over the past decade, her work has increasingly turned toward one of her principle passions in life: animals. Her 2009 book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, written in collaboration with cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff, builds a scientific case that nonhuman animals exhibit of a broad range of prosocial behaviors, including empathy, cooperation, fairness. Her 2012 book, The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the Ends of Their Lives, explores end-of-life care, dying, and euthanasia in the lives of our companion animals, weaving analysis together with a journal chronicling the decline and death of her beloved dog Odysseus.

Pierce's latest book is Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have at least one fiction and one nonfiction book going at all times. On the fiction side, I am currently reading The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. The story is set in Alaska in the 1920s, and centers around a middle-aged couple named Mabel and Jack. Unable to resolve their grief over a miscarriage and a childless future, the couple decides to homestead on the Alaska frontier. In a rare carefree moment, they build a snowman in the form of a little girl, outfitted with bright scarf and mittens. The snow-child becomes animate and begins haunting the woods around their cabin, bringing them small gifts. She seems to be the answer to their deepest desire, but is she even real? And what will the little snow child cost Mabel and Jack in the end? Based on a Russian fairy tale called The Snow Maiden, the narrative blurs the line between the real and the magical. And, as in many fairy tales, the granting of a wish carries with it the foreboding of a karmic debt whose payment will be unbearably high.

I have a special affection for fairy tales because they remind me of my father. When I was young, my father read or recounted to me nearly every story from Andrew Lang’s “Coloured” Fairy Books, a twelve-volume collection of fairy tales published around the turn of the 20th century, a few years before the setting of The Snow Child. Reading Ivey’s book has inspired me to dig through the basement bookshelves and pull out several of Lang’s colored Fairy Books. I’ll read these next.

On the nonfiction side, I’m working my way through primatologist Frans de Waal’s most recent book, Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? Although the title is rather cumbersome, it nicely encapsulates the main point of de Waal’s book: we won’t be able to really grasp the intelligence of animals if we don’t stop using ourselves as the gold standard for what “smart” is. For example, we have been quick to claim that almost no animals have theory of mind, because they fail the so-called mirror test. But it turns out that the mirror test is a very blunt instrument for assessing animal intelligence, and is optimally suited for testing human self-awareness. The limits of our own worldview and intelligence are a natural impediment to exploring the inner lives of other animals. With that in mind, we should cultivate a sense of respect for and curiosity about our fellow Earthlings.
Visit Jessica Pierce's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Pierce and Maya.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Walk.

--Marshal Zeringue