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The Animal Manifesto
Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint
By Marc Bekoff
New World Library Copyright © 2010 Marc Bekoff
All rights reserved.
All Animals Share the Earth and We Must Coexist
THE LATE THEOLOGIAN THOMAS BERRY stressed that our relationship with Nature should be one of awe, not one of use. Individuals have inherent or intrinsic value because they exist, and this alone mandates that we coexist with them. All animals, including humans, have a right to lives of dignity and respect, without forced intrusions. We need to accept all beings as and for who they are.
Any manifesto on behalf of animals must begin with this essential proposition, from which everything else flows. All animals, all beings, deserve respectful consideration simply for the fact that they exist. Whether animals think and feel, and what they know, is irrelevant. Reverence and awe for creation should guide human actions, along with a humble acknowledgment that humans have limited knowledge about the mysteries of our own existence. However, that animals do think, feel, and know only makes what humans often do to them worse.
If we humans acted with just this simple idea foremost in mind, our coexistence with animals would look a lot different. I'm constantly pleased to receive emails and the occasional letter from people who just love watching animals with the attitude of awe that Berry recommends. In July 2008, Ted Groszkiewicz of Berkeley, California, shared this story with me about his trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, where I studied coyotes in the mid-1970s. Ted wrote:
My wife and I have been coming here every summer for the past twenty years, and we had a singular experience this morning. We were driving to the park, traveling westward along the Big Thompson, when I noticed a line of oncoming traffic traveling very slowly. Odd at this time of the morning, I thought. And then I noticed that there was an animal in front of the lead car; first glance said, fawn.... But right away I could see that wasn't right; this animal was much more graceful. Ah, coyote! I stopped my car to watch the oncoming parade. What a happy beast, prancing in front of all those cars. Head held high this coyote wove back and forth across the lane of traffic at a slow trot. The coyote smiled and looked me straight in the eye as it came level with our car. And, still weaving back and forth across the lane like a highway patrol motorcycle cop running a traffic break, the bouncing tail receded into the east leading a procession of at least ten cars. I would have given a tidy sum to share the mind of that coyote!
Me too! I've learned firsthand that the worlds of our fellow animals are laden with magic and wonder. I've been extremely fortunate, having had numerous personal experiences around the world with both animals and people working on their behalf. I've seen lions, leopards, and spotted hyenas in Kenya, helped to rescue dogs and rehabilitate moon bears in China, observed dolphins off the coast of Adelaide, Australia, been confronted by an angry baboon in the Masai Mara, collected yellow snow in Boulder and elephant poop in Northern Kenya, and been nipped in the butt by a mother coyote who thought I was getting too close to her youngsters. I've also studied a wide range of animals over the past forty years, from domestic dogs, coyotes, wolves, and foxes to archer fish who catch prey by spitting water at them; from Adélie penguins living at Cape Crozier near the Ross Ice Shelf to Steller's jays and western evening grosbeaks living around my home.
The key to all these encounters, as Ted discovered, is slowing down or stopping in order to "share the road." Coexistence is a two-way street; it requires accommodations by all parties, not all parties but one.
Further, just as we exclaim "Wow" when we marvel over the mysterious lives of animals, I would not be surprised if animals say "Wow" in their own ways as they experience the ups and downs of their daily lives and the grandeur and magic of the environs in which they live. Look at their eyes — gleaming with joy when they are happy. How strange and marvelous must we sometimes appear to them?
The attitude that allows us to mistreat animals and habitually fail to consider their needs is speciesism. Speciesism is also behind our failure to consider ourselves as part of nature, as if humans were somehow separate from nature and exempt from the basic principles by which all species live and die. For example, overpopulation and overconsumption can lead to our own extinction just as they have caused the extinction of many other species that overwhelmed their environment. Our arrogance and denial of who we are — big-brained mammals with enormous potential, and power, to both improve and destroy the world we live in — is self-destructive in the long run. Indeed, we 're failing now in so many areas that we should be ashamed of ourselves.
For instance, through a combination of habitat loss, overconsumption, overpopulation, spread of invasive species, and climate change, Earth is in the midst of its sixth great extinction of species. Researchers agree that humans are the major cause of this incredible loss of biodiversity, and they have coined the term "anthropocene" to highlight humanity's significant anthropogenic impact on Earth's ecosystems and climate.
Speciesism results in animals being classified hierarchically as "lower" and "higher," with humans on the top rung of the ladder. This anthropocentric view not only leads humans to ignore the welfare of animals, but it is really bad biology. The Oxford English Dictionary defines speciesism as "discrimination against or exploitation of certain animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind's superiority." Terry Tempest Williams, in Finding Beauty in a Broken World, poignantly notes: "To regard any animal as something lesser than we are, not equal to our own vitality and adaptation as a species, is to begin a deadly descent into the dark abyss of arrogance where cruelty is nurtured in the corners of certitude. Daily acts of destruction and brutality are committed because we fail to see the dignity of Other." Truth be told, the obliteration of animal dignity happens more than daily — every second of every day a mouse or a rat is used in research, and a nonhuman primate is used about every seven and a half minutes.
Regardless of the differences among species, how we treat our fellow animals always comes down to individuals. In his book Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism, the late philosopher James Rachels presents the important notion of moral individualism, which is based on the following argument: "If A is to be treated differently from B, the justification must be in terms of A's individual characteristics and B's individual characteristics. Treating them differently cannot be justified by pointing out that one or the other is a member of some preferred group, not even the 'group' of human beings." According to this view, careful attention must be paid to individual variations in behavior within species. It is individuals who personally feel pain and suffer, not species.
Even further, leaving aside morality and simply peering into the biological mirror, the reflection shows that it's misleading to separate humans from other animals in an "us" versus "them" framework. Our reactions to animals are often contradictory: we are attracted to them, and wonder if we see thoughtful sentience in their behavior, while at the same time we push them away and emphasize our differences as a way to establish our superiority. When describing a deplorable act, how often have you heard someone say that the person "acted like an animal"? However, variations among species don't arrange themselves into a neat self-evident hierarchy from dumb to smart, from vicious to kind. Variations among species should be embraced and cherished rather than used to justify human dominance. If we instead focus on the numerous similarities among species, we see clearly that "we" are "them" and "they" are "us" in many ways. The borders are indeed blurred. Tool use, consciousness, rationality, morality, humor, language, culture, and art are shared among animal species to varying degrees and can no longer be used as the defining difference between humans and other animals.
Many of the differences between other animals and humans are differences in degree rather than differences in kind. Charles Darwin stressed this in his theory of natural selection in which he discovered evolutionary continuity in the anatomy, behavior, and mental lives — including thinking, consciousness, and emotions — of a wide variety of animals. Species that at first and superficial glance seem to be radically different from our own are actually not so different after all. This surely isn't a radical notion — if humans possess some skill or attribute, more than likely, other animals must possess it, too. If not, where did our intelligence, sentience, emotions, and morality come from?
Not only is the notion of a hierarchy of species used to justify our inhumane treatment of other animals, it is practically meaningless when comparing other species. For example, when chimpanzees do something that birds don't do, such as using joysticks and computers to negotiate mazes, people say, "See, chimpanzees are smarter than birds." However, when birds make and use more complex tools than chimpanzees, few if any say, "See, birds are smarter than chimpanzees." We really don't learn much when we try to establish that one species is smarter than another; instead, members of a given species do what they need to do to survive and to be card-carrying members of their species. Rather than refer to some real, verifiable continuum of intelligence, we tend to simply claim that species that are closer to us in the great chain of being, or species that look more like us, are more intelligent than species that are more distantly related to us or don't look like us.
Speciesism is lazy thinking. It's what allows us to abuse and kill animals "in the name of science," but what this really means is "in the name of humans." Once we declare we are special and better and more valuable than our animal kin, we close the door on their lives. We shut down our senses and our hearts to their pain, and we refuse to hear their pleas to be respected for who they are and not made into what we want them to be to justify our narrow anthropocentric view of the world. Who, after all, benefits from the invasive research on animals that scientists and others argue is often necessary, even required? Invariably humans. Rarely if ever are there any benefits for the relatives of the animals being used.
What Our Laws Say about Animals
Throughout the world animals have little to no legal standing. They're merely property or things, like backpacks or bicycles, and humans are their owners. Animals can legally be abused, disenfranchised, moved, bartered, harmed, and killed. Often this happens in the name of education, science, entertainment, decoration, clothing, or food, which amounts to in the name of humans. Yet this legal philosophy betrays our fundamental human understanding of animals. Even young children know that animals aren't merely property. Noah Williams, a secondgrade activist in Connecticut, wrote, "Animals should not be called things because they are beings, not things.... If you loved someone, would you call them a thing? ... A rug or something is a thing, but not an animal." Another youngster once asked me, "How can we hug a dog and cook a cow or pig?" Good question. Our relationships with animals are indeed confused.
Our laws betray the contradictions and ambivalence we have regarding animals. In his book Animals and the Moral Community, Bucknell University philosopher Gary Steiner argues that there is strong and enduring historical prejudice and momentum against animals. More people and organizations than ever before are interested in animal well-being, yet there is also more abuse. Our attitudes and practices are full of contradictions and ambivalence. It's as if we suffer from moral schizophrenia. Animal advocate and lawyer Gary Francione noted in an email to me, "We claim to accept the principle that we should not inflict suffering or death on nonhumans unless it is 'necessary' to do so, but we do so in situations in which 99.99999999% of the suffering and death cannot be justified under any plausible notion of coherence." On the one hand animals are revered, worshipped, and form an indispensable part of the tapestry of our own well-being — they make us whole, they shape us, and they make us feel good. On the other hand animals are used and abused in a morally repugnant array of human-centered activities.
Companions in Our Home
Overall, our relationship with our fellow animals may be complicated, frustrating, ambiguous, and paradoxical, but we typically feel no ambivalence at all when it comes to the domestic animals who share our lives and our homes — that is, our pets. We have come to love our pets so much that Cornell University historian Dominick LaCapra claims this is now the "century of the animal." Children in the United States are more likely to grow up with a companion animal than with a sibling or both parents. City University of New York psychologist William Crain reports, "Recent research has revealed that animals are so important to young children that they routinely dream about them. In fact, 3 to 5-year-olds dream more frequently about animals than about people or any other topic, and animal dreams continue to be prominent at least until the age of 7 years."
The only problem, it seems, is that sometimes we are accused of loving our domestic companions too much, such as when people leave tons of money in their will to their dogs. When she died, Leona Helmsley left$12 million in a trust to care for Trouble, her pint-sized Maltese dog, and many people were outraged. Trouble even received death threats. Eventually, as has happened with similar bequests, Ms. Helmsley's wishes were overturned in February 2009. Would people have been more accepting if Trouble were a racehorse?
Though few people could, or might, leave such a fortune to their companion animal, most pet owners (aka guardians) understand the devotion behind such a gesture. Many people embrace their pets like family, and they spend as freely on the care of their animals as they do on themselves. In the months before my late companion dog Jethro died, I arranged for him to have a massage once a week; I'm sure he loved it and felt loved, and I'm equally sure he would have done the same for me if our situations, and species, were reversed. When domestic animals share our lives, we feel their caring, gratitude, and love for us directly, and it inspires humans to respond in kind. Pet owners across the United States spent $16.1 billion on their dogs' veterinary bills in 2006, up from the $4.9 billion spent in 1991, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Cat owners spent $7 billion in 2006, up from the $2 billion spent in 1991. While paying for veterinary care is standard and expected, 27 percent of pet owners buy birthday gifts for their dogs, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. In 2004, U.S. pet owners spent $34.4 billion on their pets, making the pet industry larger than the toy industry (with sales of $20 billion).
Companion animals are also growing ever more popular. In 1988, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 56 percent of American households had a pet. By 2006, that figure had climbed to 63 percent, which works out to a national pet census of 88 million cats, 75 million dogs, 16 million birds, 14 million horses, 142 million fish, plus assorted small mammals and the occasional leopard or Madagascan hissing cockroach. And these are just the numbers for America. Taken altogether, this represents an enormous number of humans who have intimate, emotional relationships with animals, and who feel duty bound to care for and love them.
The number of stories that could be told to illustrate this is nearly endless. Take horses, for example. While racehorses often suffer abuse, they can also be extremely well cared for. Consider the extended care that the thoroughbred Barbaro received after shattering a leg in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. There's also the story of Molly, a gray speckled pony who was abandoned by her owners when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005. After weeks on her own, she was finally rescued and taken to a farm holding abandoned animals. While there, she almost died after being attacked by a pit bull terrier. When her injured right front leg became infected, her vet sought help at Louisiana State University, where surgeon
Excerpted from The Animal Manifesto by Marc Bekoff. Copyright © 2010 Marc Bekoff. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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