I was pondering about the way in which we think about non-human animals. I think we have a problem! The very expression, 'animal rights' suggests that there are only two categories of being; a singular human species and a collective non-human ‘animal’ species who is somehow inferior. By categorizing all beings into these two artificial groups, we create a collective 'other' who we can exploit for our own gain.
There is a vast array of non-human species, who live on this planet with us. The majority of non-humans exist outside daily human interaction and have their own worlds that are independent of us. We are quite irrelevant to them. Through observations it is clear that they, like us, are unique individuals. They want to be safe, experience love, and to live free and self-determined lives. Yet, through a skewed understanding of the way things are, we have come to presume ownership and so have taken their rights away from them.
The notion of humans owning non-humans is the seed of the greatest form of legislated exploitation and killing in history. Humans are inclined to an irrational sense of being at the top of an unidentified hierarchy of species. Presumed superiority. Yet - when examined - there is no evidence that this superiority is legitimate. It is a presumed notion within the human mind. Through evidence-based science, and our own observation, it is clear that there is one grand ecosystem of which humans are a part. It is an intricate interdependent eco-system.
When observing non-humans, it is obvious to even a passive onlooker that other species have the same interest in living as we do. Non-humans all have an interest in perpetuating their lives and in not suffering, just like us. The species that are particularly exploited by humans - non-humans harmed and killed for food – share some fundamental aspects of life with us. They protect their young, and look after themselves and each other: they nest, create places to rear their young, feed and care for their offspring, and display clear individuality and self-determination. During their lifetimes, they demonstrate reciprocal morality. They watch and learn from each other and they problem-solve. They play and have complex social relationships unique to their species. Non-human species all communicate, and many have voices that we can hear.
Non-humans wish to live, just as we do. The fact that non-humans can pre-empt their death, demonstrates that they contemplate life. Their self-awareness is obvious when they jump out of slaughter trucks, try to bond empathically with their slaughter-men, and kick and scream while trying to escape the knife. This is why special machinery and routing systems have to be made for slaughterhouses: to deceive the animals on one hand, and make the humans who kill them feel better about what they do on the other. Non-humans want to live. They wish not to suffer. This is patent.
Non-humans also experience fear and joy. Regrettably, we humans are limited in our ability to understand other species, and it is unfortunate that we visit our limitation upon them. As sentient beings who share the experience of life, other species intrinsically – by their very birth – have the same rights that humans do. However, because we don’t know them, we deem them incapable of reciprocal morality, and so void them of value in our own minds. Because we can’t understand their languages, we say they have no voice. Because we don't understand them, we say they lack intelligence. This is our lack of wisdom. This is our lack of insight. This is our skewed logic. Non-humans communicate in varied and complex ways. The limitation in understanding them is ours.
When we discuss 'animals' as a collective, it flattens the complexity inherent within the numerous non-human species in our world. Non-humans exhibit unique gifts and abilities, many of which are superior to ours. The abilities of other species to hear, hide, swim, fly, camouflage, protect, leap, run, communicate, remember and adapt to their surroundings far exceed ours.
If we decide that mental dexterity and intellectual prowess is the basis for our superiority, does this mean we should farm those who are mentally and intellectually inferior for food? If we decide that not being able to imagine a future renders one inferior, should we explain to the eastern mystics, who endeavour to remain in an eternal present to stop their spiritual endeavours for risk they may be exploited for the more ‘superior’ humans?
As long as we make decisions based on the illusion that there is a hierarchy of species, we will sustain the thinking that contributes to racism, sexism, classism and other tenets of war. The world will remain at war, and we will all continue to suffer. It is possible for the world to change, but each of us has to take the responsibility of one life – our own life - for that to happen. Just as other species carry their gift, the human species carries the capacity for deep wisdom and deep compassion.
Understandably people can feel overwhelmed by the weight of the problem, and underwhelmed by their capacity to bring change. However, considering how much we influence each other, and how frequently we engage in activities that are related to non-humans, your (and my) one humble life, has the power to stimulate wide-sweeping change. Every day we choose what to eat, what to drink and what to wear. Any of us, at any time, can choose not to be involved in the exploitation of others, based on this misguided notion of superiority. Understanding ourselves as one small part of a vast interconnected multi-species ecosystem can bring us a sense of humility and awe. Through this understanding, we can find deep purpose, peace, and real fulfilment and joy. May we all keep working to that end, so we can realise our place in this vast and beautiful ecosystem, and actualise a better world for all.