Human Exceptionalism and its Impact on the Home & Habitat


Amy Rae 1313322

Prof. Susie O’Brien

TA: Danielle Martak

English 2Z03, Tues T03 12:30-13:20

10 December 2015

Essay Question Number One: Human Exceptionalism and its Impact on the Home & Habitat

            The home and habitat are significant aspects to the lives of both humans and all other species that inhabit the earth. In this essay I argue that the relationship between the home and habitat is seen and complicated by the notion of human exceptionalism. This is further explored through the analysis of the ways in which the texts presented work to challenge how home and habitat are constructed throughout the world. Both Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls and Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves focuses on human exceptionalism from an interspecies standpoint, working to explore how interspecies relations challenge the superiority of humans. Savage-Rumbaugh’s TED Talk “The Gentle Genius of Bonobo’s” is then used to further assert how interspecies relationships and human exceptionalism coincide. Finally, the documentary Home looks to issues surrounding development and the rapid change of the earth, affecting both home and habitat. These works are significant in that they expresses how these factors convolutes the relationship between home and habitat, as it presses one to better understand this relationship. By having a full understanding of these terms one is then able to question and challenge the structure of the home and habitat in terms of how it has been constructed and how it has changed throughout the years.

Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls plays a significant role in regards to the impact that human exceptionalism has on the home and habitat. This piece looks to the interspecies relationship between humans and wolves, examining how these relationships are constituted. It is when the protagonist Lucy and her family are forced to leave their house because the wolves had taken over, that one is able to deconstruct how human exceptionalism is at work. The wolves are used as a metaphor to critique the lifestyle of humans in the scene where they are in the house watching TV, smearing jam on the walls, playing video games and using Lucy’s father’s Tuba (Gaiman). It is when the family witnesses the wolves’ using and ruining their material goods that they decide to take action against the wolves (Gaiman 40). This is significant because it draws attention to the overconsumption of the human race that begins with the reliance on excess goods. The humans reclaim their home and restore the ideology of their dominancy over animals at the end of the story. This explains the relationship between home and habitat by revealing how humans are unwilling to share their home or habitat with other species because of the collective belief that humans are of a higher worth than them. Another part of the story that points to human exceptionalism is how Lucy’s family speaks about the idea of wolves taking over, saying “[i]f the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over” (Gaiman 9). The fear that is instilled through the idea of wolves coming ‘out of the walls’, gives rise to humans not being in control – which from the standpoint of human exceptionalism is unthinkable. Once again, this presses one to critically think about how humans have complicated the relationship of home and habitat.

Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves also addresses the connection between the two terms from an interspecies perspective, looking at the relationship between Rosemary and the chimp Fern. Fowler depicts the relationship between them as that of a family relationship, where Fern is seen as Rosemary’s sister and they live together in the same house (Fowler). Human exceptionalism is noted by the way in which Rosemary’s family brings Fern to live with them for their own selfish gain. It is when Rosemary develops feelings of jealousy towards Fern that she lies about Fern hurting and scaring her, which results in her family choosing to send Fern away to a lab (Fowler 252-53). This illustrates how the relationship between home and habitat is challenged by human exceptionalism because Fern is originally taken from a chimp’s natural home/habitat and brought to a human household. She is then eventually sent to another place in which humans will use her for scientific gain. By examining interspecies relationships in such a way, humans illustrate how the home and habitat of other species is not as important as theirs.

Savage-Rumbaugh’s TED talk “The Gentle Genius of Bonobos” is linked to Fowler’s piece, in that it exemplifies the way in which the idea of human exceptionalism can affect the home and habitat of other species. This TED Talk speaks to the similarities between humans and Bonobos – a certain type of chimp (Savage-Rumbaugh). It is through these similarities that one is able to make connections between how humans view other species and their homes/habitats. One example that speaks to human exceptionalism in the video is when the mother Bonobo grooms her offspring with the use of scissors (Savage-Rumbaugh 8:12). Bonobo’s in their natural habitat would not be grooming with the use of scissors, which demonstrates how humans work tirelessly to conform other species to live or act in a manner similar to theirs. This is problematic because by placing animals in a human habitat they way upon which the home operates for the other species is changed, in order to suit human wants and needs. By exploring how the Bonobo’s interact in a partial human habitat, it brings one to question the reasoning behind why humans keep animals from their natural homes in the wild.

The documentary Home explores many issues regarding the sustainability of the earth, looking closely at how the evolution of humanity has resulted in the rapid deterioration of our earth. When speaking to the relationship of home and habitat, this documentary addresses how the many problems humans have caused have affected the place of home and habitat to all species. By looking at how humans have developed and changed the earth, Home speaks to how humans are of more worth than other species and investigates how this frame of thought impacts the world that has come to be our home. All environmental issues in today’s society are a result of the existence of humans developing the land to suit their needs (homeproject). This has consequently culminated in an anthropogenic trauma that entails a vigorous amount of environmental change to reverse the process. Although not explicitly stated in Home, the documentary addresses issues pertaining to the many homes and habitats of other species that have been damaged due to human exceptionalism. This challenges viewers to critically think about the impact humans have had on the various ecosystems and habitats of animals and other species.

Through this analysis it is clear that the concept of human superiority has stemmed from the amount of agency many humans have when it comes to receiving what they want, exactly when they want it. Therefore, in the process of developing and altering our ‘homes’ we have come to destroy and neglect the true homes and habitats for all species living on earth. Home addresses this issue from many angles and is overtly seen by the emphasis of how quickly humans have come to change the homes and habitats of all. For example, the narrator undertakes how humans have shaped the land through the development of agriculture, the use of machines to replace hands, creating pesticides and fertilizers, etcetera (homeproject). While unpacking how harmful these actions have been to the earth there is a continuous emphasis put on time, which is seen when the narrator says, “faster and faster, the more the world develops the greater its thirst for energy” (homeproject 33:07). This directly speaks to how human exceptionalism has influenced the home and habitat, explaining how humans have come to be impatient. Because patience seems to no longer be a virtue that human’s value, all homes and habitats have been changed in the process of industrialization.

After a critical reading and viewing of these four texts, it is clear that the concept of human exceptionalism has greatly impacted the relationship between home and habitat. It is through the examination of interspecies relationship and environmental factors that one is able to make connections between human superiority and its affect on the home and habitat of all living species on the planet. Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls works to contest this ideology through critiquing the overconsumption of humans. Fowler and Savage-Rumbaugh’s pieces focuses on how the interspecies relationships humans have constituted, has resulted in harm to the home and habitat. Home is then used to prove how human exceptionalism has resulted in the seemingly irreparable damage to the home of all species. Now that this relationship between home and habitat has been considered, one is able to take the various critiques presented, in order to challenge how these aspects are constituted and affect the earth, upon which all species reside. If a positive change is desired, humans must be willing to alter they way the home and habitat is thought about in relation to the superiority of the human race.

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