Misanthropy and a fondness for animals: a connection?

I did a half-assed Internet search on this and came up dry.
By “this” I mean: Do people who have difficulty forming or maintaining relationships with other people develop an unusual fondness for animals? I ask because I’m regularly in contact with people who have frail, frayed, or failed relationships with human beings (above and beyond the norm, you understand) and as a group they seem to harbor a particular fondness for pets–especially whose with which (whom?) one can interact, which basically means dogs. (Not to knock cats, cockateels, gerbils, or turtles, but I think most people would agree that among common pets, dogs are are really the only ones you can “talk to” and retain any sense of reciprocation.)
Actually, the very title of this post is misleading, though I won’t change it since I prefer to shamelessly personalize everything. Misanthropes, by whatever definition, are often able to form stable, mutually compassionate relationships with other people in spite of spiting humanity as a whole, as I know well from my own experience with forming bonds with people that ultimately result in homicidal forms of resentment. Included in the aegis of those who don’t do well with other people are those with various forms of mood disorders, including people with deep depression, derangements involving mania, and so on; members of this group might not hate people, but generally don’t deal well with them.
I propose this mainly because my empathy toward animals seems disproportionate in comparison to that I summon up toward people. I recoil at the idea of abject human suffering, but am, I’m afraid, much less apt to do anything about it than I am when faced with the idea that a random dog or cat is under duress. I see human homelessness as a fact of life, but have a difficult time with the idea of a stray pet wandering around in the cold streets scrounging for food and basic survival.
Why is that? Well, from a blunt and largely irrational personal perspective, I see people as having generated their own circumstances. If they are in trouble or disliked, they have likely invited it. Animals, on the other hand, don’t ask for any of this, and have merely been cast into nothingness as a result of asshole human beings. And there’s a patronizing element, not necessarily a bad one: I can regard animals as so supremely stupid and helpless that I look at them as people with cut-and-dried forms of mental retardation, and can therefore “absolve” them. There’s no self-comparison at all, no sense of “Well, if that were me…”
This stance encompasses both bias and reality, I know. I suppose it makes sense that someone who thinks that people as a group should do better would be more forgiving toward those with literally no choice in things. But this gets at the heart of a deeper idea: Don’t we all need to care about something living?
I suspect that this is the case–that with the exception of genuine psychopaths, everyone needs an outlet for his or her affection and concern. And though I write this post from a glaringly cynical perspective, maybe that speaks to the inborn coolness evolution compels us to embrace.

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  1. #1 by Larry Ayers on March 1, 2009 - 5:57 pm

    Well, Kevin, sometimes people just have extraordinarily bad luck through no fault of their own. We like to imagine that we are “masters of our fate”, but this is true only to a limited degree.
    Bad parents, bad economic times, and bad company can slide a person into penury. I try to take these factors into account when I meet someone seemingly crushed beneath the wheels of fate.
    As for the idea of pets as a substitute for real human contact, that’s a real phenomenon. Widows and widowers, victims of flawed relationships– sure, a dog or cat can provide emotional solace. All these animals want is a certain amount of attention (and food!) and they make few demands.
    I do have a streak of misanthropy — look what people have done to this world and to each other! But I also have a streak of empathy and try to treat the individual people I meet well.

  2. #2 by Sylvanite on March 1, 2009 - 6:21 pm

    I think people who have trouble with human relationships may be particularly fond of animals in part because animals are simple and non-judgmental. For people with social skill issues, animals give love without providing the potential landmines that humans bring to social interactions.

  3. #3 by anand on March 1, 2009 - 11:19 pm

    Well i gotta agree with you… people mostly bring it onto themselves, either by doing things that are irrelevant..or by not doing anything at all… and I am quite used to seeing homeless people on the roads doing nothing but just random begging…
    But on the other hand i also see their point of view at times(like how they lost their basic life/wealth while taking some risk and now nobody will lend them money to set it all up…)..
    I would probably say i go with the first view only when i have given up any hope of being able to improve these people’s lives..
    I mean only when I decide not to do anything abt helping them??? And why did I become a cynic?? coz i tried helping people and they made decisions which i think were crazy….. so it becomes a cycle. you see… :D
    On the pet part, no i am just indifferent till now…but may be that’s becos i don’t have a pet yet, I say yet bcoz i can see it happening in the future, given the way i am going with people ……

  4. #4 by anand on March 1, 2009 - 11:19 pm

    Well i gotta agree with you… people mostly bring it onto themselves, either by doing things that are irrelevant..or by not doing anything at all… and I am quite used to seeing homeless people on the roads doing nothing but just random begging…
    But on the other hand i also see their point of view at times(like how they lost their basic life/wealth while taking some risk and now nobody will lend them money to set it all up…)..
    I would probably say i go with the first view only when i have given up any hope of being able to improve these people’s lives..
    I mean only when I decide not to do anything abt helping them??? And why did I become a cynic?? coz i tried helping people and they made decisions which i think were crazy….. so it becomes a cycle. you see… :D
    On the pet part, no i am just indifferent till now…but may be that’s becos i don’t have a pet yet, I say yet bcoz i can see it happening in the future, given the way i am going with people ……

  5. #5 by Lance Lessler on March 2, 2009 - 10:12 am

    I think the attitudes people have toward other people and animals are pretty much independent, and shaped by many other factors, besides their location on the one-dimensional scale of misanthropism. In some cultures, people may not form connections with animals as close as we do, not because they love people so much, but because they are used to seeing animals more as property and resources, than as companions. On the other hand, some people go overboard in their connections to animals, with unjustified anthropomorphism, treating animals more as kin or soul mates, rather than as simple companions or as their conservators. In my personal experience, there are plenty of these animal lovers who also have close connections with people. For example, my wife’s cousin has numerous dogs, cats, and birds, but also has strong attachments to people. Don’t some people see other people as “property” and as resources? I could see where those people would not be forming very close relationships with either animals or people! My wife shares my love of animals, primarily dogs and cats. She is hardly misanthropic. We have eight white German Shepherds in our home (along with one black-and-tan one, and two cats). (My 15-month-old puppy, Nicco, brings me my shoes in the morning, puts my dirty socks in the laundry basket, fetches my TV remote control, and fetches my leather key case, among other jobs he does. I would call him a valuable resource, as well as a beloved pet.) We breed and train these dogs, and really enjoy having them around to pet and hug. Does that make us misanthropes? I don’t think so. We hug people too!

  6. #6 by Warren on March 2, 2009 - 1:54 pm

    It’s so much easier to be patient with animals, because they aren’t assholes.

    • #7 by Ultra-Humanite on April 8, 2010 - 6:52 pm

      Well put sir.

  7. #8 by llewelly on March 3, 2009 - 7:13 pm

    Once I learned to avoid people who constantly pressured me about romantic relationships, I found that my long standing lack of one no longer bothered me, and no longer seemed like a ‘failure’.
    (I’ve never wanted pets, either, so I have no idea what, if anything, this has to do with animals.)

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