Fado or learnt helplessness?
According to a friend of mine the cruelty to animals in Spain and Portugal is one of the remnants of Muslim culture, which left its mark during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula. The occupation lasted around thousand years, until the end of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, another friend argued it is part of the endemic Christian(!) faith, in which man is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Creation, and animals are considered subordinate to humans’ needs as they have no soul – the animals, I mean. [If the latter is true, then I consider ‘animal’ an ill-chosen word from a linguistic point of view. But… that’s me and semantics.]
It is true that in the predominantly Christian Orient we have no qualms about subjecting animals to inhumane conditions in the name of scientific progress, supposedly for the good of our species. Seligman and Maier for example systematically administered electric shocks to dogs half a century ago. And, I hate to admit, but the outcomes of their research were quite interesting…
One group of dogs learnt how to stop the shocks from being administered by pushing a lever with their snout.
The other group which was kept physically separated from the first one did not have have any means of stopping the shocks from happening; but they reaped the benefits from the active intervention by the first group – that is, the shocks did stop for them as well as soon as the first group pushed the lever. So, to the second group the electric shocks must have seemed some evil force majeure like earthquakes – either they happen or they do not: ‘It’s doggone fate, man, that’s what it is!’
What surprised the scientists most, was the fact that the first group recovered fairly quickly, and soon were frolicking as if nothing had happened. The other group – the ‘victims’ one might call them – remained passive, however, and depressed: ‘Let me tell ye, man: it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there! It’s absolute dogshit!’
What left the scientists gobsmacked though, was the second experiment. In that experiment to both groups was offered the possibility of active intervention…
The first group discovered in a jiffy what needed to be done to stop the shocks from happening. The dogs in the group of ‘victims’, however, didn’t even begin to look for a solution of the problem; it seemed as if their earlier experiences had made them believe they were subject to some force majeure, and it were best to passively wait for it to pass as it cannot be helped – passivity had already become part of their attitude.
There you go – learnt helplessness.
It won’t surprise you that in similar experiments (without shocks though) in which humans were the guinea pigs, the results turned out to be exactly the same.
With me the experiments raise the question if learnt helplessness could become part of the soul of an entire nation.
I mean, if people are being told from childhood that everything is predestined (‘Tudo isto existe, tudo isto é triste, tudo isto é fado!’) and that one has to bear one’s fate humbly and patiently, could that be regarded as ‘learnt helplessness’? And if that is so, could this attitude be a remnant, an echo of the words of the prophet Mohammed who taught: ‘There’s no need to hurry after your destiny, your destiny will hurry after you!’?
If the belief in predestination has become a part of the soul of the Portuguese people after nearly 1.000 years of Muslim rule, then the courage of the great seafarers – Magalhães, Da Gama, Colombo and others – must have been endless.
As endless as the courage (or despair) of the Portuguese youngsters that take fate into their own hands nowadays and emigrate, in order to find a better future elsewhere.
As endless as the courage (or despair) of the Muslims that on the Libyan beaches board vessels that are not half seaworthy, in order to find a better life elsewhere (or a better death) – the second Moorish wave?
Will the latter – provided that they make it to shore (alive) – be received with open arms, like we were when we moved out of Africa?
Then again, the Neanderthals were very warm and welcoming chaps of course, very humane – very… unlike humans.