Monday 25 July 2011: Just Too Much Like Us
"Humans - who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals - have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and 'animals' is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them - without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us."
- Carl Sagan, in "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (1992) (co-written with Dr. Ann Druyan)
I've been thinking a lot lately about how different from other animals we are not. Fish using tools, rooks solving problems better than 7 year old human children or great apes, crows making tools, parrots giving their offspring names ... To think we are special is an incredible conceit. Honestly I can't even see why we think we are necessarily the only creatures to have consciousness or emotions - the cow shown on the recent video of a slaughterhouse in Indonesia that shocked Australia into suspending live exports was sure as eggs in the grip of pretty strong emotion having seen what was happening to all the other cows.
This Masked Lapwing I think also showed some emotion as I came towards it with my camera. It was quite clearly unhappy with my presence, and when it stood up, I saw the reason(s) why: a bunch of tiny chicks. Seeing the way the father (?) then was advancing towards me, I can be forgiven I think, for suggesting he might have been angry - perhaps some avian equivalent, but while we can't know what the experience might be like for another species, to believe they necessarily function simply on a stimulus-response basis, with no emotions or consciousness is pretty grandiose and self-centred.
I look at birds courting and pair-bonding, and clearly enjoying their flight - why else would they swoop around so "needlessly" instead of just going where they need to go? One the other morning skimmed the ground as low as possible before landing on the far side of the road, instead of just flying there.
Why am I blithering on about this? Because I eat meat. And eggs. And butter and cheese. I wear leather. And so on. If I think that many of these animals could well be conscious/sentient, how can I go on devouring them?
Mind you, simply swearing off red meat is ethically pretty wet, as you're still eating animals. Butter and cheese? The calf needs to be taken from its mother in order to get the milk...
So, where did I end up? Our species is a top predator, that's where. It's not pretty, but that's the way it is. Perhaps not how it has to be, and I won't pretend that my personal love of the taste of all the aforementioned animal products doesn't play a large part in my decision to keep devouring other living beings.
I am aware though. I am aware that as Sagan says: "they are just too much like us". I do have a sense of regret and thanks for the animal that has died for me.
...I think this is my longest blip entry evar. ;-)
Lumix G10, iPad, Photogene (cropped, sharpened, increased contrast, S curve, lowered saturation), Blipfoto iPhone app