No apologies: Why ARA writers should not fear accusations of “Anthropomorphism!” “Sentimentality!”

An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Heidi Stephenson
June 2016

Man is not the pedestalled individual pictured by his imagination – a being glittering with prerogatives, and towering apart from and above all other beings. He is a pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organism, differing in particulars, but not in kind, from the pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking, death-dreading organisms below and around him.
– (J. Howard Moore, The Universal Kinship)

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
– (Mahatma Gandhi)

Animals have no voice in our wilfully deaf and conveniently anthropocentric, speciesist culture. Despite their clearly having consciousness (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) and high levels of sapiency as well as sentiency, (which any of us who have had any sort of genuine relationship with a non-human being cannot fail to recognize,) their many languages are not understood by the majority of our fellow humans.

The failure is not on the animals’ part; it is on ours. Not even familiar canine, feline and equine languages, or methods of communication, are comprehended by the vast majority, after all these many aeons of loyal, devoted companionship, friendship and service. And this despite the fact that our fellow beings, (and especially those who are in close relationship with us) have more than managed to learn our own languages. They understand and interpret not only our many, different verbal requests, whether in French, Russian, Japanese, Arabic or Spanish, (all too frequently delivered as arrogant, dominionist commands, unfortunately) but also our physical body languages and our energetic, non-verbal (if you like, telepathic) communications. They read our emotions.

But, tragically, our determined, utilitarianist habits of exploitative thinking and living, deny them any right of response or recognition. We have reduced our highly evolved, non-human kin to mere “things,” to “livestock”, to “experimental subjects,” to “specimens,” – to commodities, to so many “its.” Our blatantly self-serving reductionism has deliberately negated their individuality, their conscious existence and experience, their personalities and their souls. We have disingenuously dismissed all their emotional, psychological and spiritual complexities (which we have barely even begun to fathom, having not wanted to look for so long,) to a simplistic, mechanized “instinct.”

Ours is the herd mentality.

How guilty and remorseful we would all feel if they spoke back to us in a language we couldn’t fail to understand, and we were actually forced to listen! (The Bible’s story about Balaam’s ass makes just this point. And the Divine is clearly on the poor ass’s side.)

It is here that the enlightened writer needs to come in. Our moral and our creative duty is to convey their point of view; to translate it for those who seem unable (or unwilling) to comprehend it otherwise.

The writer is by nature and disposition an empath. The writer is sensitive, observant and importantly able to engage with the experience of another. The writer’s heart is mostly wide open. (Very few respond to the writings of a closed heart. Clever, clever, mind-only writings simply don’t touch us. They pass through our own minds as just another load of ego-centric baloney; ‘intelligent’ perhaps, but abstract, cold. The world is not transformed by them in any way at all.) A good writer feels, sees fully, hears everything, actually dares to bear witness to what is, on all levels – and thus, thankfully, has a different, more developed lens of perception to share.

Writers who write about animals, about their fellow beings, care. We care very deeply. Our compassion and understanding, our capacity to connect, are highly developed. That is why we write. Because we cannot just remain silent. Having uncovered, having discovered, having born witness to the living hell that is most animals’ experience at our hands, we have to make use of so often inadequate, man-made words to pierce through the cold walls of human indifference.

We have to touch. We have to bring viscerally to life. We have to use the power of truthfully observed detail, noticing everything (inside and out) feeling everything, to rekindle the embers of better being in us all, to remind us of our tragically long-forgotten inter-species unity, of our sameness, (and not our petty differences). We have to break down centuries of hardened, calloused indifference.

Abstractions and vast statistics simply don’t touch the majority. If they cannot, as readers, imagine themselves inside the experience of the suffering other, if they cannot identify, they will not be motivated to make personal changes, and to fight for change. Reading is a co-creative process – and it requires the writer to have gone there fully first; to powerfully evoke.

Writers who have the conscience, kindness and commitment to actually write about animals, who have the courage to look their suffering directly in the eye (a tough, torturous path, though very necessary) who have the devotion to their animal brothers and sisters to dedicate themselves to ending all the terrible oppression, all the atrocity, abuse and pain – must never be held back by that old, bitter and selfishly motivated accusation of “anthropomorphism!”

To empathise is not to fantasize or to project at all – but rather to recognise fellow suffering when we see, hear, smell, know and touch it. To empathise is to connect to the vivid reality of another. It is to make real, to embody the cosmic Golden Rule to “Do as you would be done by” and the Silver Rule to “Not do as you would not be done by.” It is love in action.

There is nothing sentimental whatsoever about this compulsion at all. It is, in fact, our highest calling. And there should be no apologies for it either.

Where would we be if we had failed to empathize with the many victims of the slave-trade, of vicious, racist and sexist attacks, of war, terrorism and famine? Where would all the children be, all the people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, all the political prisoners who suffered so long at human hands, if we had failed to finally empathize with their plight, to bring it to light so that others could feel it for themselves – and thus demand change?

By contrast, sentimentality is to imagine what is not there. It is to dump idealized longings onto others for our own selfish sakes. It is to bypass reality.

That is not what writers who empathize with their fellow beings do at all. Writers who empathize connect again, (where most have disconnected,) and report back. We do this in order to wake ourselves and others up, to shake us all out of our self-centred reveries, to pour a cold bucket of water over our conveniently slumbering consciences. We cry out with everything we have in us: “Have you seen what’s going on here? Will you please look! How can you bear it? Do something! We each have a moral responsibility! They are just like us – how can you not care?”

Writers who empathize force us all to look at what we each are doing, what we are colluding in, what weare contributing to. We are forced to take responsibility for our negative day-to-day choices that directly correlate, incrementally, to immense, unimaginable, abominable animal suffering. Empathic writing cuts through all those guilt-filled attempts at avoidance and dismissal, the desperate pleas of “don’t tell me, don’t tell me – I don’t want to know!”

I say it again, there must be no apologies. It is our violent culture that is so wrong, not the courageous writers who dare to expose this violence. It is not the writer who should modify his or her approach for fear of upsetting the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders, for fear of public ridicule – but rather the oppressors, the animal abusers, the exploiters and the colluders who should hang their heads in shame.

The time will come when we will look back on this longest of struggles, this most devilish of slaveries – the enslavement of our vulnerable, innocent, animal kin, (who should have had our protection,) as we now do on human slavers, on human murderers, on rapists and paedophiles. (Let’s not forget all the ‘licensed’ animal brothels currently open across the world, and the crush video sadists who are making a fortune in this twenty-first century.) It is the unenlightened who need to apologize and repent for their cruel abominations – not the empathic writers who seek to understand and communicate the hidden truth.

I would rather be accused of “anthropomorphism!” and “sentimentality!” any day, than of animal rape or animal murder. I would rather care too deeply (is there such a thing?) than not enough. I would rather be accused of being over-soft, than over-hard. I would rather love, than hate. And I would far rather be defined as a bunny-hugger than a bunny vivisector, a bunny killer, a bunny torturer, an angora wool-puller, a blood-covered, live animal skinner.

Let us never be ashamed. Let us write passionately and movingly on behalf of our suffering, animal kin, in order to shine the most powerful light we possibly can, the Divine light of creativity, on the world’s man-made darkness. Let us break open hearts in the process, so that healing can begin. As Francis of Assisi said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

Let us write without any fear of retribution or of societal reprimand. Let us remember the billions of animal victims instead, and forget our human accusers.

One day they will thank us for it. One day they will try and claim they too were part of the resistance.

http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-no-apologies.html

Maybe It’s Time to Take Animal Feelings Seriously

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/

By

Dogs can read human emotions. So, it appears, can horses. Whales have regional accents. Ravens have demonstrated that they might be able to guess at the thoughts of other ravens — something scientists call “theory of mind,” which has long been considered a uniquely human ability. All of these findings have been published within the past several weeks, and taken together they suggest that many of the traits and abilities we believe are “uniquely human” are, in fact, not so unique to us.

That statement probably sounds as if it is veering perilously close to anthropomorphism, and if you know anything about research concerning animal behavior, you likely know this: Anthropomorphism is bad. Animals are animals, and people are people; to assume that an elephant, for example, experiences joy in the same way a human does is laughably unscientific. This has been the prevailing mode of thought in this line of scientific inquiry for most of the last century — to staunchly avoid, and even ridicule, any research project that dared to suggest that animals might be thinking or feeling in the same way that humans do.

But new studies like these, along with a slew of recent books by respected biologists and science writers, are seriously considering the inner lives of animals. Now some prominent scientists are arguing that, though the impulse was well-intentioned, decades of knee-jerk avoidance of all things anthropomorphic may have mostly served to hold this field back. “It ruined the field,” biologist and author Carl Safina told Science of Us. “Not just held it back — it’s ruined the field. It prevented people from even asking those questions for about 40 years.”

The theme of Safina’s book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel pairs nicely with a forthcoming title from famed primatologist Frans de Waal called Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Both scientists make the case for something the biologist Gordon Burghardt called “critical anthropomorphism” — using your own human intuition and understanding as a starting point for understanding animal cognition. “Thus, saying that animals ‘plan’ for the future or ‘reconcile’ after fights is more than anthropomorphic language: These terms propose testable ideas,” de Waal writes.

More:   http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/

I’m not a humanist, I’m a nonhumanist

With all the patrician talk about who were the original occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I was planning to write a post about the nonhuman animals being the only inhabitants for millions of years until about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago.

But Marc Bender beat me to it, with the following comment:

“…humans are not indigenous to the Americas. The original inhabitants of the wildlife refuge are, of course, the wildlife.”

Likewise, I was going to inaugurate the word, “nonhumanist” to classify those of us whose ethical values incorporate nonhuman needs and interests. But when I looked it up, I found that “nonhumanistic” is already in use (in reference to those who are Not humanistic).

Meanwhile, that same search produced this related article:

Why I Am Not a Humanist

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 11, 2009 in Ethics,General Atheism

humanismSome people think atheism is synonymous with humanism. If you’re an atheist, you must be a humanist.

Not so. I am an atheist but not a humanist.

Why?

Let’s look at at what humanism is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, humanism is “a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”

I can already distance myself from this position, but before I say why, let’s get more specific.

The “standard” positions of humanists are summarized in the latest (2003) Humanist Manifesto, which states:

  1. Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  2. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  3. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
  4. Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  5. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  6. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

It’s #3 that bothers me. I do not believe that moral values are derived from human desires. I believe moral values are derived from desires, period. To focus on human desires and ignore all other desires in the universe is blatant speciesism.

But can’t I just sign on with humanism, understanding there’s one qualification to be made on point #3?

No, for speciesism is central to humanism. Heck, it’s in the name of the thing. Humanity is the whole point of humanism. Now that is good progress beyond religious ethics, but it’s not progress far enough.

I count humanists as my brothers as sisters. We’re fighting for the same things. Mostly.

But if this post persuades you to cancel membership in a humanist association, please don’t quit activism altogether. Please join another organization that will help you live out your moral values.

That way, we can all work together to make this world a better place, for all of us.

chimpanzee_with_baby

– See more at: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=4630#sthash.zfGe8n2A.dpuf

Holly Bites Cesar: When You Hit a Dog There’s a Price to Pay

A video of Holly displaying aggressive behavior is a lesson in canid ethology

Animal Rights, Steven Wise, and Steven Colbert

This five and half minute interview filled with humor is really a very good one

“Fish Are Sentient and Must Be Included in Our Moral Circle”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201406/fish-are-sentient-and-emotional-beings-and-clearly-feel-pain

Fish are Sentient and Emotional Beings and Clearly Feel Pain

By Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. on June, 19, 2014 in Animal Emotions

Fish deserve better treatment based on a review of scientific data on their cognitive and emotional lives. According to the author, “the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” Fish must be included in our moral circle. Read More

Crafty Cod Use Tool to Get Food: Nothing Fishy About It

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201405/crafty-cod-use-tool-get-food-nothing-fishy-about-it

The more we learn about other animals the more fascinating they are

Dolphin Speak: Did a Dolphin Really Say “Seaweed”?

dolphin_228398

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201404/dolphin-speak-did-dolphin-really-say-seaweed

”I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Dr. Terrence Deacon
Dolphin tool use influences a population’s genetic structure and they may talk.
 
Dolphins are unquestionably highly charismatic animals. They have unique and sophisticated communication skills and also are known to use tools, including sponges to protect their sensitive beaks, when foraging for food.

During the past two weeks I came across two extremely interesting articles about these crafty cetaceans. The first, titled “Dolphin whistle instantly translated by computer” by Hal Hodson, considers the possibility that dolphins are able to whistle the same words we use to denote an object. The print version of the latter essay is called “Decoding dolphin.” The second, called “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specializations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” by Anna Kopps of the University of New South Wales and her colleagues, focuses on their use of protective sponges during foraging and its effect on the genetic structure of dolphin populations.

Say what? Did you really whistle seaweed?

Denise Herzing is well known for her and her team’s long-term field research on Atlantic spotted dolphins. Among many aspects of the amazing lives of dolphins, she has long been interested in dolphin communication and whether or not they and other animals use language to communicate with one another or can use language to communicate with us.

While it’s too early to know for sure, there is compelling evidence that some animals are language users (see, for example, a brief review of the research by Dr. Con Slobochikoff on prairie dogs). I found Hal Hodson’s essay called “Decoding dolphin” to be an extremely interesting, stimulating, and easy read. To wit, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, Mr. Hodson begins: “IT was late August 2013 and Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean. The dolphin pod she had been tracking for the past 25 years was playing around her boat. Suddenly, she heard one of them say, ‘Sargassum'”. And, what did Dr. Herzing exclaim? “‘I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned.'” Dr. Herzing “was wearing a prototype dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) and it had just translated a live dolphin whistle for the first time.” So, “When the computer picked up the sargassum whistle, Herzing heard her own recorded voice saying the word into her ear.” I, too, would have been stunned and I can’t wait for more research in this fascinating area of study.

Perhaps we are not the only animals who use language. Dr. Terrence Deacon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who also is an expert in animal communication, notes, “I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Only time and research will tell if we’re alone in the language arena. For now it’s a good idea to keep the door wide open.

Cultural hitchhiking: Was there a “sponging Eve”?

An informative summary of the research on the genetics of tool use in dolphins living in Shark Bay in Western Australia can be found in an article called “Cultural hitchhiking: How social behavior can affect genetic makeup in dolphins.” It turns out that the culturally transmitted use of sponges—called vertical social transmission—can actually “shape the genetic makeup” of wild dolphins. Dolphins, who live deep in the bay, show mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types called Haplotype E or Haplotype F that are inherited solely from the mother, whereas non-sponging dolphins who live in shallower water mainly show Haplotype H. All of the 22 sponging dolphins who were observed turned out to be members of one matriline and were Haplotype E.

This novel and significant discovery demonstrates a strong correlation between haplotype and habitat. According to Dr. Kopps, “Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population.” She also notes, “For humans we have known for a long time that culture is an important factor in shaping our genetics. Now we have shown for the first time that a socially transmitted behaviour like tool use can also lead to different genetic characteristics within a single animal population, depending on which habitat they live in.” This is one of the first demonstrations of what is called “cultural hitchhiking” in nonhuman animals.

What an exciting time it is to study the behavior of nonhuman animals. Stay tuned for more on their fascinating lives.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014.