Psychology


Animals aren’t less than human.
Published on August 24, 2009

Spare the chimps, boil the shrimps, shock the mice, kill the lice, eat the hogs, pith the frogs, blind the rabbits, what drives these habits?

One hundred and fifty years ago Charles Darwin published his classic book On the Origin of Species. This book is considered by many to be one of the most influential works ever published. There and elsewhere Darwin emphasized that differences among species are differences in degree rather than kind, and his ideas about evolutionary continuity revolutionized the ways in which we think about who “we” (humans) are and who “they” (other animals) are

Human animals use nonhuman animals (hereafter animals) in many ways – for food, research, education, entertainment, and testing cosmetics and other products. Animals are also routinely and wantonly killed because humans want to expand their horizons – building more shopping malls, parking lots, subdivisions or office buildings. Human benefits are said to outweigh the costs to the animals – their anxiety, pain, and death — and human interests trump those of the animals.

People often use species membership to decide which animals
can be used for various purposes. Using species membership for such
decisions rather than an individual’s unique characteristics is called
“speciesism”, a term coined by the psychologist Richard Ryder to
indicate prejudice
based on physical differences.

The Oxford English Dictionary
defines speciesism as “discrimination against or exploitation of certain
animal species by human beings, based on an assumption of mankind’s
superiority.” For example, all and only humans might constitute a
protected group regardless of an individual’s unique characteristics.
When animals such as great apes are protected from invasive research
this decision is speciesist because all great apes are protected
regardless of an individual’s unique characteristics. Speciesism results
in animals being classified hierarchically as “lower” and “higher” with
humans on the top rung of the ladder. This speciesist view ignores
individual variations in behavior within and between species and
hierarchical speciesism results in endless harm and is bad biology.

Speciesists
often use taxonomic or behavioral (cognitive,
emotional) closeness to humans, similar appearance, or the possession of
various cognitive capacities displayed by normal adult humans to draw
the line that separates humans from other animals. Cognitive abilities
include the capacities for self-consciousness, to engage in purposive
behavior, to communicate using a language, to make moral judgments, and
to reason (rationality).

Using these criteria, many animals
cannot qualify for protection. But there also are some humans (young
infants and adults whose lives are compromised physically or
psychologically) who cannot qualify either, and this can be a problem
for speciesists who rely on species-typical cognitive or emotional
capacities and ignore individual differences.

Because of
individual differences within a species, this view from the top, a
human-centered “them” versus “us” perspective, can be difficult to apply
consistently. Speciesists also often use such words as “higher” and
“lower” to refer to different groups of animals. But, such words fail to
consider the lives and the worlds of the animals themselves. Value
judgments also accompany words like “lower” and “higher” and can result
in mistreating individuals who are thought to be lower – not as smart,
emotional, good, or valuable – than others based on species membership.



    Animal Emotions

    Do animals think and feel?
    Little things count when we make humane choices concerning animals
    Published on December 12, 2009

    We live in a troubled and wounded world that is in dire need of healing. We all should be troubled and terrified by what we have done and continue to do. Humans are an arrogant lot and we have made huge and horrific global messes that need to be repaired now. The overriding sense of turmoil is apparent to anyone who takes the time to pay attention. Researchers and non-researchers alike are extremely concerned about unprecedented global losses of biodiversity and how humans suffer because of our destructive ways. We are animals and we should be proud and aware of our membership in the animal kingdom. However, our unique contribution to the wanton decimation of the planet and its many life forms is an insult to other animal beings and demeans us.

    Humans are big-brained, invasive, and omnipresent mammals who seem to think they can do almost anything they want. Individuals in most cultures claim to love nature and other animals but then go on to wantonly abuse them in a multitude of ways. Clearly, our relationship with the rest of the world is a very confused one and our actions are often contradictory and paradoxical.

    Ecosystems and webs in nature are being recklessly and routinely destroyed. Animals are dying and vanishing before our eyes – even as you read this essay – and concerned citizens all over the world are asking, “Where have all the animals gone?”  We are deep in a serious crisis out of which it will be difficult to emerge successfully. We have annihilated the planet in very undignified and shameful self-centered ways.

    There can be no doubt that animal suffering continues in all
    corners of the world. However, there are also “good” things happening
    and these can be used to keep us inspired and engaged when it looks like
    there is little or no hope. From time to time people ask me about
    animal activism, burnout, and other matters associated with working for
    animals, so I’ve penned some short “one-liners” that I’ve found helpful
    over the years. Whether you agree or disagree with some of them, I know
    you all agree that we must keep on working for animals and earth and
    peace and justice for all. So here are some thoughts that keep me going,
    in no particular order.

    — Think positively. Don’t let people
    get you down. I’m not a blind optimist but along with all the ‘bad’
    things there are ‘good’ things happening and that’s what kindles and
    rekindles me, at least. Negativity is a time and energy suck and all of
    you good people need to keep doing what you are for as long as you can
    and this means, at least for me, rekindling from time to time and taking
    deep breaths and enjoying whatever it is I enjoy. The bottom line is
    take care of yourself so you can do what you do for as long as possible.

    — We are not the radicals or the “bad guys” who are
    trying to impede human “progress.” We are caring people and we don’t
    have to apologize for feeling. We should be unapologetic and
    compassionate activists working for a better world. In fact, those who
    care about animals and earth should be seen as heroes who are not only
    fighting for animals, but also for humanity. Biodiversity is what
    enables human life as well as enriches it. It is imperative that all of
    humanity reconnects with what sustains the ability of our species to
    persist and that we will act as a unified collective while coexisting
    with other species and retaining the integrity of ecosystems. There are
    no quick fixes and we need to realize that when animals die, we die too.

    — Be proactive. We need to look at what’s happening and prevent
    further abuse and not always be “putting out the fires” that have
    started.

    — Be nice and kind to those with whom you disagree and
    move on. Sometimes it’s just better to let something go, so pick your
    “battles” carefully and don’t waste time and energy. Don’t waste time
    ‘fighting’ people who won’t change and don’t let them deflect attention
    from the important work that needs to be done. Don’t get in ‘pissing
    matches’ with people who want you to waste precious time and energy
    fighting them, time and energy that must go into working for animals and
    earth and peace and justice.

    — If we let those who do horrible
    things get us down or deflect us from the work we must do, they “win”
    and animals, earth, and we lose. While this may be obvious I thought it
    worth saying again because it’s a common ploy to get people to get into
    tangential discussions and arguments that take them away from the
    important work that must be done.

    — Teach the children well,
    for they are the ambassadors for a more harmonious, peaceful,
    compassionate, and gentle world (Bexell et al. 2010a,b, Myers 2006,
    Clayton and Myers 2009).

    In the future there likely will be fewer
    people who will actually be able to make a positive difference in our
    relationships with animals and ecosystems. Joel Cohen (2009), head of
    the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia
    University, offers the sobering fact that the difference in the
    population numbers between less developed areas of the world (the
    have-nots) and more developed regions of the world (the haves) will have
    increased from two-fold in the 1950s to about six-fold by 2050. This
    means that it is imperative – perhaps it is truly a moral imperative –
    that those who can do something good for animals and earth do
    it because the division between those who can and those are can’t is
    rapidly growing and this will be challenging to humanity as the ratio
    shifts. Of course, because not all “the haves” choose to do much if
    anything at all, it is even more essential that those who choose to do
    something do it for as long as they can and not succumb to the
    inevitable disappointments, frustrations, and burnout that are
    associated with animal and environmental activism (Bekoff 2007a,b, 2010,
    van Dernoot Lipsky and Burk 2009).

    We can all make more humane and compassionate choices to expand our compassion footprint,

    and we can all do better.

    We must all try as hard as we can to keep thinking positively and
    proactively. Never say never, ever. Perhaps a good resolution as we
    welcome in a new year is that we will all try to do better for animals –
    both non-human and human – and earth and work for more peace and
    justice for all. We can and must keep our hopes and dreams alive.

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