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Most Funny Animals moments compilations | Cutest Dogs & Cats video | Awesome Funny Animals' Life #51

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The internet is, famously, terrible. Try it sometime; you’ll see. It is designed to coax all of your neural pathways open and then, while they are in a state of ecstatic receptivity, to dump horrible things into them. You hardly even need to click: These days, much of the badness is automatic. It sprouts at the edges of otherwise innocuous pages. You will be enjoying yourself, and then all of a sudden you’ll be watching video of a conspiracy monger screaming at people in a fried-chicken restaurant or of a basketball player snapping his leg in half or of a sprinting athlete crashing onto a track, midstride, because his genitals have spilled out of his shorts. The online world is an interactive museum of humiliation, sadism, greed, bleak news, bad faith and gross memes.

This is why we need animal videos. They are small windows of grace. To watch a baby rhino hopping through the mud or a cluster of capybaras sitting stoically in a hot tub is to momentarily exit the tainted ecosystem of the human world. A good animal video is free of political spin or calculation. It shows us something blessedly pure: a creature wanting a thing — food, fun, dominance, peace — and then trying to get it. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. A tortoise clatters across a wooden floor in pursuit of a purple ball. (The ball ends up under a cupboard.) A hedgehog looks drunk with pleasure as a human hand rubs its fat, furry belly. A young elephant harasses a man who is trying to paint a fence. Two ferrets wrestle in a tiny hammock.

Maybe the best way to say all this is that we love animals because they don’t use the internet. And our favorite way to see animals not using the internet is to watch videos of them on the internet.

What keeps me coming back to animal videos, I think, is not just entertainment but something deeper. A great animal video forces us to grapple with what psychologists call “theory of mind” — our ability, learned as children, to imagine our way into the perspectives of others. The videos require us to put ourselves, at least for a moment, into an alien consciousness. Why does this creature want what it wants? What does it know and not know? How is its wanting like our own wanting?

In the case of the peekaboo parrot, these questions run particularly deep. A bird does not have our capacity to laugh, at least as we understand laughter, and yet this bird is doing something indisputably funny: pranking a vicious predator, over and over, from inches away. Does the cat understand how funny this is? Does the parrot? How big is the gulf between their two different minds — and then between their minds and ours? Even as we laugh at the video, we have to perform this kind of back-of-the-envelope cognitive mapping. It creates a woozy, uncanny, existentialist feeling. We are simultaneously ourselves and not ourselves.

Which brings us back to the festering horrorscape of the internet. Animal videos feel like a delightful relief because they force us, in their small way, to exercise our theory-of-mind muscles. These creatures are enough like us to identify with, but not so much like us that they are threatening. Online people, of course, are a different story altogether. Social media sites notoriously flatten social interaction. Human beings typing things onto distant screens easily become inhuman. We can go for days at a time feeling mostly anger; we survey the landscape like soldiers in bunkers, looking out of our gun slits.

Theoretically, the online world is the richest gallery of human psychology ever assembled. Tapping on your phone for a few minutes should be the rough equivalent of listening in on 300 million therapy sessions. Every GIF, retweet and Reddit thread is the product of long chains (years, decades, generations) of psychodrama.

And yet, in the moment-to-moment reality of online life, theory of mind fritzes out. I find it easier to identify with a parrot playing peekaboo or with a ferret stuck in a toilet-paper tube than I do with the loudest voices on Twitter. The internet, the great connector, ends up atrophying our most basic connective skill: that imaginative leap into another mind, the attempt to understand what it knows and believes, why it moves the way it moves.

Not that this has ever been easy. It takes heroic investments of time and emotional intelligence and sincerity and mental effort. At the risk of sounding like the world’s tweediest professor, I would like to point out that your local library contains millions of pages designed to help with exactly this problem. We’re not going to snap our fingers and make one another more humane. But the commercial internet does seem aggressively engineered to prevent us from getting any closer. We are online constantly, looking for each other, and yet we are so rarely there to be seen. And so instead we watch the animals. Peekaboo.
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