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.
I had the opportunity to talk about veganism to a professor the other day. He responded without rebutting any one particular statement. Instead, he kept repeating that mankind is the most cunning, the most intelligent, and the most ruthless of all the creatures on earth. He toted these values incessantly (He also banged his fist on the table and raised his voice – but I can overlook that as a personality flaw). It is thanks to these traits, he said, that we evolved from apes to man. Specifically, he said it was our ability to suck marrow out of discarded bones in the desert that helped us survive famines.
"Go back to banging rocks together, human!"
He seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in repeating the words “ruthless, cunning,” and “intelligent.” I imagine if we knew him better, we’d find out that he cherishes these aspects of consciousness most about himself, as well. Isn’t that obvious? Why else, with such gusto and satisfaction, would he dwell on them?
He might be right. In a starved, desperate, depraved past, eating marrow may have brought us biologically up from early hominids into homo sapiens. But he is very wrong if he thinks that same kind of behavior will move us forward.
Cunning and ruthless savagery are for war and killing. War and killing is out of control and will cause the extinction of man. Or, indirectly, soak up so many resources that man cannot afford to fight natural pandemics.
Compassion, communication and cooperation are our only hope.
When was the last time you employed cunning and ruthlessness to fall in love or do anything really meaningful?
It won’t be marrow-sucking, lethal cunning and remorseless intellect that keeps our civilization alive. These traits do nothing but threaten our existence. We are apes no longer.
Here’s another way to look at it. Ultimately, even if eating flesh – practically lethal to us unless cooked – nudged us up a branch in the evolutionary tree, we are not obligated to continue doing so. Continued eating of meat won’t help us make the next jump any more than throwing our own feces or swinging from trees will.