Imagine you’ve been kidnapped by a mad scientist…

He sticks a bag over your head, knocks you out, and takes you away to his secret island, where he pins you down on a lab bench and…

Takes your humanity away, one item at a time. First, he takes your opposable thumbs (just cuts them off. Without anaesthetic.) Then he deprives you of the power of speech (perhaps by plying you with alcohol. Who knows.) And then, he takes away your empathy for other humans. Now you don’t care what’s happening to the guy on the next lab table…aside from thinking he’d probably taste nice with gravy.

One by one, he takes away all those special qualities that make you human, until you’re…what? When exactly do you become ‘not’ human? When he slips you out of your skin and gives you scales instead? When he excises that weird bit in your brain that enables you to sense a higher power (one that has your welfare very much in mind)? When…you can’t plan beyond lunch time? When you can’t understand Schopenhauer? (I can’t understand Schopenhauer.)

If you think you’re in a tight spot, spare a thought for the bat in the next lab. Bit by bit, he’s having his batness removed, all those things that make him so much more special than a mere human. Soon he’ll be nothing but a…what is it when a bat loses his batness?

I’ve been thinking about these things because I recently wrote a story on the theme of ‘humanity’ (and here it is), exploring just what it is that makes us human, and whether there is any essential difference between us and the other animals. I don’t believe there is – other than the fact that we belong to this species of mammal, and not that. A dog, after all, is a dog, no matter what – unless of course you cross him with a chicken (in which case, you might get a dick?). The essential quality of dogness is…being a dog. He speaks in ‘bark’. He thinks about bones more than Schopenhauer. He worships you, rather than God. He has thoughts, feelings, dreams that we will never understand – unless it’s through the lens of being a mammal, just like he is.

While we are being anthropomorphic, he’s being caninomorphic. And wouldn’t you know it, our guesses about each other are mostly right, because we’re both mammals, and mammalian minds think alike.

What do you think?


  1. My forthcoming book, ‘A ruffled Calm,’ relates to a similar situation, when an eccentric visitor erupts into the life of a fairly normal family, and the way in which this affects the various individuals, especially the mother, who declines into a state of psychological collapse. Is there a happy ending? Well, maybe, but not until a long time of recovery and further mental and physical decline has passed.

  2. hmm. I couldn’t help thinking when I read this of the reductionist ideology of the Bloodhound Gang in that well known song, ‘The Bad Touch’: ‘you and me baby we’re nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel’. Beyond that, we have thought though animals may have that too; how about advanced creativity? like writing songs, poems, short stories,novels?

  3. It was very disturbing to me the day I realised how utterly fucked I would be without my thumbs.

    I suppose the one advantage of having your humanity removed is that by definition I guess you probably wouldn’t notice it was gone?

  4. love the mingling of horror with humour. what defines our humanity? good question. I’m still unsure. I’m going to hop across to your story: it might shine some more light on the topic 🙂

  5. certainly a gripping story with many horror references — and at the end, that eternal question: do animals have language, can they converse but across species ?

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