Elephants mourning their dead. This must be some kind of robot-instinct acted out in a stupid, robotic, 'instincty' kind of way. Photo by Kelly Landen.
Some want to assert that because animals have “no interest in the future,” or “no concept of the future,” it is morally acceptable to enslave and kill them.
We can say killing someone steals their future. Stealing from an individual, whether or not they have a sense of the loss, is still stealing from them. Just like burning someone with congenital analgesia (insensitivity to pain) is still burning them.
It is the dream of the exploiter to find a blanket statement which permits them to continue the exploitation. The more philosophical and abstract the statement, the better, it seems.
Animals Actually Do Have an Interest in the Future
Why do we remember things? In the case of stoves, we remember they may be hot even when they look inactive because, otherwise, we might get burned. Strawberries are tart and sweet. A red light means stop.
Memory serves the purpose of decision making. The hot stove is not touched and the strawberry is eaten to extract its flavor. Our most basic interests are in avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.
We remember things because we want to change the future.
Pleasure from anticipated strawberries and pain from anticipated shock collars exist in the future. If they exist in the present, we might salivate or twitch or jump out of reflex, and reflexes are one of the few things we do without decision-making. But reflex is done without cognition, as far as we know. It need not consult memory.
When we spy the hot stove or lay our eyes on the red of a shining, freshly washed strawberry, we are contemplating the future.
One with memories is one with an interest in the future. Even interests as simple as “eat until full” and “avoid hissing cats” concern themselves with the future. And this future always includes one thing: the entity thinking about it.
Do dogs have memories? Of course they do. Pavlov’s experiments prove dogs can be conditioned. And where are they be conditioned but in their minds? The dog who salivates at the ring of a bell because she hears it every time dinner is served is thinking about the past (or, at least, considering it) and preparing her body for the future. She expects to receive food.
The sound of the bell is as good as the smell of a fresh meal. Be the input through ears or nose, something is telling her food is near.
What chicken, as “dumb” as they are supposed to be, would forget the sweetest patch of land with the most worms in their pecking ground?
There is a long-held belief that birds are simply too stupid to remember coastlines and geographic landmarks, that they migrate by “pure instinct,” whatever that is. But even this is in question now, with evidence showing that some birds navigate by memory and reason.
If a creature, bird or bear or hare or fish, has a memory then that creature has self-interest and self-awareness. Why else remember anything? Why remember if not to alter the future?
Penguins mourning their dead children. This must be some kind of robot-instinct acted out in a stupid, robotic,'instincty' kind of way.
The Herd Has an Interest in Its Future
Is gassing a nursery full of infant morally acceptable? Of course not. How about gassing one of them? Again, no.
In the dreamworld where each animal “has no interest in his or her future,” it is easy to overlook the fact that animals do mourn. They need social structures, and dropping in Chimp 520 to replace Chimp 519 does not work. Animals are not machines; they are living beings. Even if the fanciful interest-in-future criteria was morally acceptable, which logic suggests it is not, removing the individuals has a profound impact upon their families and social circles.
It makes no difference that the individuals are black, white, Jewish, cows, chickens or salmon. The type of organism is irrelevant to the crime being committed against his or her group. Unlike the survival situations of lions chomping on gazelles, humans committing acts of violence and enslavement against animals is a crime because the act is completely unnecessary to our survival.
Neither of these has to see a dentist because of being too stupid to avoid sweets.
A mirror test is supposed to demonstrate self-awareness. Put an animal to sleep, place a dot on her head and, when she wakes up, and show her a mirror. If she looks at her image in the mirror and somehow acknowl-edges the dot, she’s self-aware. If she doesn’t, she is not. Simple, right?
The problem is this is a test of self-awareness as designed by human minds. We can’t escape our own way of thinking. It’s all we’ve got.
The only thing tests like these prove is that the subject is thinking like a human, or is self-aware like a human.
Are we supposed to believe that thinking like a human is the only way to think intelligently? Or that it is the only way to be self-aware? Such ideas are nothing more than human-centric egotism. We’ve built the internet and flown to the moon, but we also commit heinous acts of barbarism against all living beings on the planet (do not try to think of one we overlook; the effort will depress you). This contrast is not a scale which balances ethical depravity against in-tellectual and scientific triumphs.
We must refuse to accept the notion that human intelligence is the ultimate in any intelligence. We are simply the most intelligent humans.
Let us not fall into the trap of requiring human-like behavior from high-functioning predators like alligators and sharks, neither of which have needed to evolve for eons, and both of which are perfectly evolved for their environments.
I am not opposed to mirror tests. I am opposed to using the results of them to justify discrimination, and subsequently violence, against living beings.
To be vegan is to be consistent. We extend our natural feelings of empathy not just to dogs and cats, but to cows, geese, and humans.
Today a neighbor of ours found a stray Dachshund mother wandering in the woods between our neighborhood and a very busy road. He took her home. She was not spayed, had no collar, and shivered with more than a little fear as he brought her food and water. She had recently given birth.
Let us do a little visualizing. This won’t hurt, and it won’t be disgusting. Bear with me.
You are a Dachshund. You are alone, wandering through unknown territory. Your babies are where you left them, whimpering and hungry, still wet from birth, crawling over each other in search of you, their sole sources of warmth, love, and of course life-giving food.
What would drive you to leave? What would have to go through your head that you would leave your freshly born children defenseless in a strange place?
I cannot speak for her, but I imagine it was fear and desperation. Maybe all she wanted was water. Or maybe she hadn’t eaten in days, and now she was going to risk her children’s lives because it was either stay with them, and die of starvation herself, or wander off and risk her children being eaten by a predator.
My heart goes out to her. I really cannot imagine being in desperate, hopeless situation. I work a desk job. Maybe you feel similarly. Maybe you agree. Most people wish her what she deserves: safety, shelter, food, water and a clean place to raise her children.
Now transpose those feelings onto a cow. Why is she any less deserving of our mercy? Why are her children relegated to a few short days, or weeks, of terrible life before being slain for their pale flesh? Surely, the cow and her calves are every bit as scared and sensitive as the Dachshund.
Before I was vegan, reading stories like these evoked sickening feelings of guilt and helplessness. I was only able to console myself with a (false) reminder that eating flesh and drinking non-human milk are necessary for human life. Now I know that vegan diets are healthy – extremely healthy. I know that flesh is not mine to take, nor milk mine to demand from captive, lactating mothers.
The idea of exploiting a Dachshund for some weird, personal pleasure was as repulsive to younger me as it is today. But, back then I ate flesh and drank dairy. I had not made the connection yet. What pleasure, you might wonder, could anyone gain from her? Shudders arise at the mere suggestion.
One day, we will protect and respect all sentient beings. Be consistent. Go vegan.
Cows, chickens, fish, goats, geese, and all other individuals are every bit as deserving of justice and compassion as is any beloved family member.
In the wee hours of the pre-dawn morning, our cat Titus was struck by a car and killed. Judging by his wounds, and the fact that he crawled not an inch from where he was struck, we can guess he died instantly. I’d like to think so.
To help cope with his passing, I posted some pictures of him online as well as a video I made the night before, in which I scratched his belly and rubbed his head. He playfully batted at my hands, flipped himself over and over, and rolled around, alternating between swatting at me and hugging me. We will miss him dearly.
I don’t think anyone would say that the car which ran him over was a compassionate car, nor would they say that the act was exonerated if the driver got out and chanted or prayed or somehow showed respect to Titus. No, Titus is still dead, regardless of the means, intent or ritual around it.
Are baby cows any less worthy of our compassion simply because they had no humans to love them, to name them, and to dote upon them? Do they deserve freedom any less?
When we can mourn the passing of a neighbor’s cat, yet feed our children the milk of a mother cow, we are denying the connection between them. When we snack on the dessicated remains of sentient beings (“beef jerky”) on the way to the veterinary clinic, we practice numbness and denial. The animals we consume are every bit as deserving of life as my cat was, and in consuming them we reinforce a disharmony and a confusion in ourselves that reverberates with every meal.
If inflicting pain on any helpless creature, human or not, brings you unease, then I beg of you to cease eating animals. If we are ever to experience the world honestly, without fear, and without denial then we must begin by facing our actions toward all animals that way.
The murder of “food animals” is more tragic than accidentally flattening them with our cars because these unnecessary deaths are intentionally ordered. We pay individuals to kill individuals. We crush them under our own machinery for absolutely no good reason.
Let me leave you with a deeply salient point Dr. Will Tuttle makes in his book, The World Peace Diet:
Most of us have had the experience of receiving pain at the hands of doctors or dentists, yet the hands that administer the pain are, we feel, ultimately well-intentioned. The fact that they are doing these painful things for our own good makes the infliction of pain tolerable and gives it a meaningful context. To imagine those same hands performing painful procedures on our bodies with the sense that these hands do not care at all about our good, but are causing us pain simply because it profits them or they enjoy doing so, is horrifying in the extreme, particularly if we are powerless in their hands. When we put animals in this position by purchasing their flesh, fluids and eggs, we must bear responsibility not only for their suffering but for the hardening of the human hands and hearts that inflict this suffering.
Here, the complex and mysterious Bear-Machine grooms another machine purely because a complex part of it's "instinct" tells it to do so. Note the proper usage of 'it' when applied to fur-covered machinery, such as these two Bear Machines.
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.
Guess who's smarter than your newborn?
People say our intelligence permits us to use and harm animals. This belief pushes the fallacy that biological differences between two individuals can be used to justify discrimination and cruelty.
Citing our supposed superior intelligence while enslaving innocent beings is the most reprehensible act of willful discrimination. It is the cerebral equivalent of endorsing a strength-based society, where might makes right, and the man who can lift the largest stone defines the law.
All use is abuse. Listen carefully when you hear someone stating that we are justified in using those weaker, less privileged, and certainly listen carefully when the justification is that we are smarter, or have souls.
Those supposedly less intelligent, or those without souls, deserve our mercy even more.