Famous vivisector René Descartes wanted us to believe animals are mere machines, incapable of feeling pain. He and others had many wordy ways of explaining why the animals squealing in pain were not really in pain, and why their preference for one food versus another was mindless “instinct.” (Descartes did some good for the world, but my focus here is on his vivisection and philosophy toward animals)
The belief that animals cannot feel emotion, much less pain, is an anthropocentric bias, contrived in arrogance and directly straining the reader away from their own experiences with animals. It is also suspiciously complex, and not what most of us would consider “common sense.”
What is more simple? That non-human animals can also feel anger and affection? Or that they are complex machines operating in a sterile vacuum of “instinct,” behaving in ways that even they do not understand, that they are machines, and that the supposedly great human capacity for emotion is generated spontaneously.
Animals are individuals with as much capacity for joy, rage and fear as we are.
We condemn people when we say they are behaving “like animals.” Usually the context indicates depraved, senseless violence, lacking the refined acumen of their human superiors.
We condemn emotions as simple, base things, as those of the uncontrolled and inattentive.
And then, in a special kind of obliviousness and arrogance, we find situations to assert that animals do not even possess feelings. That, as depraved as they are, they possess neither our brilliance nor our capacity for emotion.
So, we are to believe, the chicken cares nothing for her chicks. She cannot “care,” we are told, she can only do as instinct tells her. Only human mothers can possibly feel anything for their young. And what of dominance urges, for instance in turtles? What would the urge to attack a member of your own species feel like, if not fear and rage? And has anyone ever crossed between a mother bear and her cubs and thought, “Boy, am I glad she doesn’t have the capacity for emotion.”
Part of us is desperate. We will gladly believe anything which reinforces the illusion that animals are machines – and this illusion slides in nicely next to our guilt, next to the burning we feel when we repress the truth – the truth that we really do not want to treat them like machines because it does not even make sense to think of them that way, that our subconscious cries out to us to stop trying to believe confusing, cruel nonsense.