The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint - Marc Bekoff (2010)
REASON 6. Acting Compassionately Helps All Beings and Our World
“To see animals who have been tortured all their lives be able to live on this ranch and be loved, to have someone fall in love with one of the animals and want to care for it, is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.”
— David Groobman, founder of Kindness Ranch
ANY MANIFESTO IS A CALL TO ACTION. This animal manifesto is a plea to regard animals as fellow sentient, emotional beings, to recognize the cruelty that too often defines our relationship with them, and to change that by acting compassionately on their behalf. To a very large extent, we control the lives of our fellow animals. We’re their lifeguards. It’s essential that we move rapidly to make kindness and compassion the basis of our interactions with animals. We shouldn’t be afraid to make changes that improve animals’ lives. Indeed, we should embrace them. Such changes will only help heal ourselves and our world.
At a meeting in Palermo, Italy, a veterinarian who was in charge of the well-being of cows going to slaughter told me that he saw a cow cry. While he wasn’t absolutely certain the water dripping from the cow’s eye was a tear, the cow had reason to grieve, for she had just seen, heard, and smelled her friends being killed. The experience was enough for the veterinarian to request a transfer to another job.
As difficult as it can be, we must remain open to the emotions, and too often the pain, of our fellow creatures, and we must let this spur us to action. Our alienation from animals and nature kills our hearts, and we don’t even realize how numb we ‘ve become until we witness the beauty of nature and the wonder of life: something as simple as a squirrel performing acrobatics as she runs across a telephone wire, a bird alighting on a tree limb and singing a beautiful melody, a bee circling a flower, or a child reveling at a line of ants crossing a hiking trail. In these small moments, we feel our inherent connection to all creatures and all of nature. What will future generations say when they look back and see how, despite what we knew, we still tortured animals and decimated pristine habitats for our own gain? How could we miss the obvious connection? That when we destroy them we destroy ourselves? As the philosopher and master magician David Abram constantly reminds us, we live in a more-than-human-world, and we must never forget this.
Building an Animal Protection Movement
Those who care about animals and Earth are involved in an ever-growing social and political movement, and the time has indeed come to move forward proactively to educate, to raise consciousness, and to effect change in the lives of animals.
There is already a lot happening to make animal protection a meaningful part of the political agenda, and it’s encouraging news. In 2002, the Party for the Animals was founded in the
Netherlands, and in 2006 it gained two seats in the Dutch parliament, becoming the world’s first party to gain parliamentary seats with an agenda focused primarily on animal rights. Though it was founded to fight for animal rights and welfare, it also seeks to be more than a single-issue political party. As of January 1, 2007, the Party for the Animals had 6,370 members.
In August 2008, the International Primatological Congress held in Edinburgh, Scotland, held a symposium on invasive research on great apes, one of the first of its kind ever at this prestigious meeting. This important gathering occurred at the same time that the European Union was considering revising and updating its regulations over the use of animals in research (Directive 86/609), potentially to include a total ban on the use of great apes and wild-caught primates in invasive research. Then, in November 2008, the European Parliament adopted a written declaration urging the European Union to enact this change, along with establishing a timetable for replacing the use of all primates in scientific experiments with alternatives. In June 2009, animal activist Jasmijn de Boo, cofounder of the organization Animals Count, put animals on the agenda of the European Parliament elections. It turns out that EU politicians receive more mail on issues of animal protection than on any other topic.
In July 2009, China drafted the country’s first law on animal protection, which would cover all wild and domestic animals. This is the first Chinese legislation to propose criminal punishment for animal cruelty. Even in Spain, an anti-bullfighting movement is succeeding. In 2007, official government statistics tallied 2,622 bullfighting events that used 12,167 innocent animals, and the Spanish government subsidized bullfighting to the tune of 560 million euros. But as physician and animal activist Núria Querol i Viñas tells me, attitudes are changing.
According to a recent survey, 72 percent of Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting, and only 8 percent of Spaniards consider themselves supporters. In 1989, Tossa de Mar became the first city to declare itself as anti-bullfighting, and so far fortyseven cities have joined, including Barcelona in 2004. In the small Portuguese town of Viana do Castelo, which has a bullfighting tradition dating back to 1871, the mayor banned bullfighting in early 2009.
In the United States, California has passed some major legislation. In July 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that strengthened the protection of downed cows (prohibiting their sale or slaughter), and in November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, which helps protect farm animals from inhumane confinement and cages. In New Jersey, Farm Sanctuary achieved a precedent-setting victory after a ten-year battle with the state’s Department of Agriculture. To quote Farm Sanctuary’s press release: “In a monumental legal decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously declared that factory farming practices cannot be considered ‘humane’ simply because they are ‘routine husbandry practices.’”
A few years ago I discovered the wonderful book titled 1968 by Mark Kurlansky, and I was reminded how great it was to be a child of the 1960s — how important it is to look into your heart and to get out and do something to change the world for the better. Kurlansky notes that in the 1960s there were many people who were fed up with what was happening and that “this gave the world a sense of hope… and a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.” What was happening then was simply not acceptable. This surely holds for animal use and abuse by humans today. As the late Gretchen Wyler, founder of the Ark Trust, used to say, “Cruelty can’t stand the spotlight.” And it can’t.
Every individual action shines a light, whether it’s motivated by a desire to change society or simply to fix one injustice in the life of one animal. Also, we need to remain as light as we can despite the challenges and the abuse that breaks our hearts, to prevent ourselves from burnout. We need to speak to those who don’t agree with us. I know that it’s often exasperating, but there is hope, and every accomplishment, no matter how minor it seems, fuels our collective work on behalf of animals. Keep in mind what Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International, did in the 1970s working from his small apartment in New York City. Spira and his grassroots organization were responsible for having federal funding pulled on a project in which researchers at the American Museum of Natural History performed surgery on cat genitals and pumped them with various hormones to see how the mutilated cats would behave sexually. Spira also formed the Coalition to Abolish the Draize Test, a test that involves using rabbits to test eye makeup. The Draize test is torture, and rabbits, who have very sensitive eyes, suffer immensely. By 1981 the cosmetics industry itself awarded$1 million to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Hygiene and Public Health to establish the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. Most cruelty-free products trace their history back to Spira’s tireless and unflagging efforts to stop animal abuse.
A little bit of success here and there is all it takes to keep up our motivation to make the lives of animals better. Simply by speaking out, we can have an influence and change minds, and I’m happy to talk to those who need some convincing. In March 2006 I jumped at the opportunity to give a lecture at the annual meetings of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees in Boston. I was received warmly and the discussion that followed my lecture on animal sentience and emotions was friendly, even if it was met with some skepticism. After my talk, a man who’s responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at a major university admitted to me that I had confirmed his ambivalence about some of the research that’s permitted under the act. From now on, he said, he would enforce the current legal standards more strictly and also work to establish more stringent regulations. As with this man, many people have mixed feelings about how animals in their care are treated, and they just need someone to confirm their intuition that the animals they work with are suffering. Though I don’t know all that the man did afterward, I did learn that in 2008 he recommended that I be invited to a conference about enriching the lives of laboratory animals, and I was invited to such a meeting in November 2009 as a voice from the other side. Though I would like to see animal research phased out entirely, improving laboratory conditions is a first step, and clearly, this man had become one more person working with me to try to improve the lives of these animals.
Veal Crates Banned! Wild Horses Saved!
Around the world, individual citizens, politicians, and governments are working to save animal lives and to establish new laws that give them increased rights and protections. Here are some recent headlines:
Colorado Bans the Veal Crate and the Gestation Crate
“Compassion in World Farming” Press Release, May 19, 2008
“Colorado is now the first state in the country to ban the use of gestation crates and veal crates by action of a state legislature. Florida, Arizona and Oregon have prohibited gestation crates.
Arizona has prohibited veal crates. And a California measure to prohibit veal crates, gestation crates and battery cages recently qualified for November’s ballot.”
Appealing to Dallas’ Wallet,
Lily Tomlin Keeps Trying to Move Jenny the Elephant
Dallas Observer, January 28, 2009
“[Lily] Tomlin last year took up the cause of Jenny the psychologically scarred elephant at the Dallas Zoo, joining in a communitywide effort to have her … relocated to a sanctuary in Tennessee. The zoo did eventually drop its plan to ship Jenny to a wildlife park in Mexico, but Jenny fans still haven’t given up on landing Jenny a home in Tennessee.
“ ‘In today’s hard times, one must question the economic sense of keeping Jenny at the Dallas Zoo, when she could retire at no cost to the city to the peace and safety of the sanctuary,’ Tomlin wrote… . ’It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to just maintain a single elephant in a zoo. The City of Dallas plans to spend$30 million alone to build a controversial elephant exhibit to house up to five elephants… . And, all the while, thousands of people in Dallas are losing their jobs and homes.’”
A Dramatic Rescue for Doomed Wild Horses of the West
Washington Post, November 18, 2008
“The unwanted horses seemed destined for death. The wheels had been set in motion to put down about 2,000 healthy mustangs, those in a federally maintained herd of wild horses and burros that no one wanted to adopt.
“The Bureau of Land Management knew that euthanasia was a legal alternative, but officials were proceeding slowly, afraid of an intense public outcry… . Then… Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, made known her intentions to adopt not just the doomed wild horses but most or all of the 30,000 horses and burros kept in federal holding pens. Lifelong animal lovers, the Pickenses just a few years ago led the fight to close the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States.”
Spanish Parliament to Extend Rights to Apes
Reuters, June 25, 2008
“Spain’s parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans. Parliament’s environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.
“ ‘This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity,’ said the Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.
“Keeping apes for circuses, television commercials or filming will also be forbidden and breaking the new laws will become an offence under Spain’s penal code.”
US Congress Moves Swiftly on Legislation
to Stop “Pet” Primate Trade
Reuters, February 24, 2009
“Born Free USA…today congratulated the US House of Representatives for its swift passage of the Captive Primate Safety
Act (H.R.80) by an overwhelming vote of 323-95. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL)… , prohibits interstate and international movement of nonhuman primates if they are to be kept as ‘pets.’
“‘The primate trade involves enormous animal suffering and threats to human safety,’ says… Born Free USA. ‘These innocent animals may be confined in small cages or have their teeth or fingernails removed. We can’t allow animals to be mutilated in the name of companionship. There is simply no excuse for keeping primates as pets and the trade must stop. Wildlife belongs in the wild.’
“Each year, there are numerous incidents of privately-held primates harming people. Just this month, in an incident that has garnered international attention, a woman was critically mauled by a ‘pet’ chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut… .
“ ‘Primates are highly social and intelligent creatures who shouldn’t be shipped around the country just to languish in people’s bedrooms, basements, or backyards,’ added the Executive Vice President of HSUS.”
Protection Boost for Rare Gorilla
BBC News, November 28, 2008
“The government of Cameroon has created a new national park aimed at protecting the critically endangered Cross River gorilla, the world’s rarest. The total population of the subspecies is thought to be less than 300.
“The news comes as governments of 10 gorilla range states gather in Rome for the first meeting of a new partnership aimed at protecting the primates. The Gorilla Agreement was finalised in June, and brings together all the countries where the various species and subspecies are found.
“The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helped establish the Takamanda park, and believes it will help curb the hunting and forest destruction that have brought Cross River numbers to such a minuscule level.
“ ‘By forming this national park, Cameroon sends a powerful message about the importance of conservation,’[said the WCS president].
“Gorillas should be able to move freely between the Takamanda reserve and Nigeria’s Cross River National Park just across the border, helping to repair the fragmentation of habitat which can isolate tiny wildlife populations.”
Brussels Proposes Ban on Seal Cruelty
EU Observer, July 23, 2008
“The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a ban on seal products obtained by inhumane methods from entering or being produced within the European Union. ‘Seal products coming from countries that practice cruel hunting methods must not be allowed to enter the EU,’ said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas unveiling the proposal, which also covers sealing within the EU. ‘The EU is committed to upholding high standards of animal welfare.’
“The regulation aims to ensure that the killing and skinning of seals during a hunt does not cause ‘pain, distress or suffering.’ Trade in seal products would in future be allowed only where a certification scheme, coupled possibly with a product label, could guarantee the product as coming from a country meeting strict animal welfare conditions.”
The Compassionate Activist
To improve the lives of the animals in our care, we must appeal to the people who care for them. We must convince the people who run our zoos, research centers, and farms that animals think and feel, and that they suffer from many of today’s common practices. I know from experience that it’s possible to change people’s minds and attitudes, but this is always most successful when we appeal to a person’s natural compassion, to their innate sense of kindness.
In October 2008 I visited the Chengdu Zoo in China with Jill Robinson and other people from the Moon Bear Rescue Centre. I’m always saddened when visiting these sorts of places, and I was warned that conditions at the zoo were terrible, but I knew I had to see what the zoo was like before I could complain. The visit truly was a mixed blessing — bored and lonely elephants, bears, and monkeys, simply horrible conditions for the chimpanzees sitting alone in totally barren cages, and lone tigers in empty concrete cells. I asked my colleagues whether I should write to the director of the zoo, and while they thought it was a good idea, they thought it unlikely that I would receive a letter back.
As an unwavering optimist and dreamer, I wrote a very strong letter criticizing zoo conditions in as gentle a manner as I could. I know not to fight fire with fire; a lesson that I’ve learned from Jethro and other animals is that getting in someone’s face doesn’t get you what you want. Compassion begets compassion, and you often do receive what you give. In the letter, I said that I knew the director and his coworkers really cared for the animals, but that the conditions themselves were horrible and I knew they could do better. I was not expecting a reply, but about ten days later I received a lovely letter from the director himself agreeing that they could and would do more. He thanked me for writing and wanted me, as a field biologist, to know that he would do more. And they are. Since then, they’ve been working with Jill and others to enrich the lives of the animals at the zoo, in part because they realize that they simply have to treat the animals with more respect and dignity and in part because they know people all over the world are scrutinizing them. For example, I’ve recently learned that the zoo is completing a new and more naturalistic primate facility where the chimpanzees and orangutans will live more enriched and better lives. Once again, we see that it really is true that “cruelty can’t stand the spotlight.” Time and again, calling attention to cruelty has resulted in people changing their ways, even though it often takes a good deal of time for them to do so.
In my travels to countries around the world, I’ve learned that there is a deeply shared commitment to work for animals who need our help. I’ve also learned that there are many diverse cultural attitudes and beliefs, and if we want to convince people in cultures different from our own to work for the betterment of animals, we need to be sensitive to these differences. For example, when I was in Taipei a few years ago, I met a woman who wanted to study biology and ultimately to help enrich the lives of captive animals. The woman’s professor said she was required to dissect animals to complete his course, but she didn’t want to do this. The student was in a deep dilemma and experiencing a lot of conflict; the situation seemed irresolvable. After we spoke, the woman asked if I would talk to her professor. I did, emphasizing all the nonanimal alternatives that would satisfy the professor’s goals. The professor hadn’t realized these alternatives existed, and he agreed that if she could learn the material using them, it would be all right if she didn’t perform the dissections. Since then, the woman passed the course, and I like to believe that this professor will now grant similar requests not to dissect animals in his course. The key in this situation was that the professor didn’t lose face; he was allowed to change his mind without it being seen as giving in to pressure. I’ve known other students who didn’t want to dissect animals and directly confronted some of my colleagues, demanding not to do so. Because the professors felt pressured and cornered, they rarely yielded to the request.
We should, in other words, treat other people with the same dignity and respect we are asking them to extend to animals. Another story that exemplifies this was told to me by Leanne Deschenes, an intern with Green Mountain Animal Defenders in Burlington, Vermont. One day, Leanne became incredulous that some of her friends thought that it was just fine to kill a small bug who had walked across their picnic table. By talking to her friends gently, Leanne explained that the bug was here before they were and that being outdoors meant there would be bugs around. But equally important, as Leanne wrote: “Arguments and dialogues are sometimes necessary, oftentimes stimulating, and here and there discouraging, but we must demonstrate compassion to every person in every moment for them to see and feel the benefits. It is this way in which compassion is taught; our actions flow into the actions of others and become their own. If we practice compassion toward people repeatedly, we will open their eyes, ultimately saving the life of a quirky little bug on a beautiful-day picnic table somewhere.”
How right she is. We must remember that this is their turf, too, be it land, water, air, or picnic table.
Protests, Threats, and the Canadian Lynx
Of course, personal conversations and letters are not always effective or appropriate. Different circumstances require different actions. In the late 1990s, I was concerned with the way a state program run by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) to reintroduce the Canadian lynx into Southwestern Colorado was being handled, so I did something very simple: I organized protests and wrote letters to the local papers to call public attention to the project. I had serious ethical questions about this program. And it wasn’t just me. Opposition was broad-based and involved people who rarely talked with one another, field and conservation biologists, animal rights activists, ranchers and woolgrowers; we all had shared concerns about the political, social, economic, and biological aspects of the project.
The reasoning behind the translocation seemed to indicate an effort that was either ill-conceived or not what it seemed. For instance, we were told a death rate of 50 percent was expected and acceptable because “they’ll die up there anyway”; in Canada, the lynx were being trapped for their pelts. However, the area where they were to be moved in Colorado wasn’t likely to have enough food to support them, as shown by a survey of the area by a CDOW employee, who was later removed from the project. At one point, Mr. S, who oversaw the project, referred to the lynx release as “an experiment of sorts” and admitted the project was rushed. I was offended at the cavalier attitude of the CDOW and felt their “dump and pray” strategy was a perfect example of irresponsible biology and was ethically indefensible, especially for people who supposedly love animals.
No public opinion survey concerning the lynx project was done. In addition, we learned that a ski resort company, Vail Associates, had given$200,000 to the project, which would allow its ski resort to expand into suitable lynx habitat, and that no lynx surveys had been conducted around Vail after their expansion was approved in 1994. Sometimes, reintroductions of species have been done simply to avoid having a species declared endangered, at which point the federal government steps in with its own restrictions. Was that going on here? I subsequently wrote an essay titled “Jinxed Lynx” and organized three protests.
As planned, however, the Canadian lynx were translocated to Colorado on February 3,1999. As each lynx starved to death because of the predictable lack of food, others and I voiced our concerns. Our worries were ignored or categorically dismissed, but apparently raising public awareness had an effect. The response just became more personal than I expected.
I was teaching at the University of Colorado, and I learned that in March 1999, Mr. S wrote a letter to the president of the university that was an attempt to intimidate and coerce him into censuring me. Mr. S wrote that “my current will leaves 14% of my estate to the school of Environmental Studies at CU. Dr. Bekoff has seriously made me consider changing my will.” He also indicated that, because of my efforts, he was considering diverting a$30,000 study grant from the University of Colorado to Colorado State University.
Rather than give in to this pressure, the president forwarded the letter to me, the Chancellor of the Boulder Campus, and other campus officials, and the university unequivocally supported me. Money, in this case, didn’t talk. Yet in his letter, Mr. S made an interesting comment: “Animal rights is a difficult subject to teach since it involves core values and would probably be better dealt with in one’s quest for answers to spiritual questions. Is Dr. Bekoff paid to teach animal rights? There is considerable difference between animal behavior and animal rights.”
First, what I was being paid to teach wasn’t the issue; the lynx were the issue. And understanding the lynx was essential to evaluating whether their translocation made practical and ethical sense. Is it right to move animals if the only result will be they die of starvation in one place rather than by human hands in another? Many people, including policy makers, make decisions about animal use and animal well-being based on their behavior, based on what we know of their capacities to experience pain and suffering. In fact, there are tight links between animal behavior and animal protection (or rights).
What began as an inquiry as to why the Colorado Division of Wildlife was conducting this project went full circle to a personal attack. But in the end activism paid off, at least partially: in response to our efforts, changes were made in the ways in which lynx were transported and released that reduced the mortality rate. We couldn’t stop the project, but we made it better for the lynx.
Animals, Cultural Sensitivity,
and Our Compassion Footprint
As I mention above, we need to respect cultural differences as we work for animal rights; this is an integral part of expanding our compassion footprint. I’d surely like to see the entire world become vegan and drive less and pedal their bicycles more, but
I’m enough of a realist to know that this will not happen, even among people who would like to do so if they were able. We must resist judging others, and remember that improving the lives of animals frequently goes hand in hand with improving the lives of people.
A friend of mine told me that when she first went to South Africa she was incredibly naive about what life was like for many people there. She gave a well-received paper on ecofeminism and food, and she admonished people for eating animals. After her talk a mild-mannered woman approached her and said she really liked what she said, but that she needed to be more sensitive to cultural variations and poverty. The South African woman said she would love to be more of a vegetarian, but she simply didn’t have access to the food she needed to keep healthy; her ability to help animals was hampered by her circumstances. In 2009, I read a very disturbing story about how soldiers in Zimbabwe are being fed elephant meat for their rations. This is terrible for the elephants, but it does no good to blame the soldiers, who are unable to even withdraw their salaries from banks as the country’s economy collapses. We who are privileged need to work with fine-tuned humility with people of all sectors of society. Sometimes, we need to help other people before those people can help the animals with whom we share the Earth. Compassion begets compassion.
Sometimes poverty is a barrier. Sometimes it is cultural attitudes about animals. Only some people are intentionally cruel; many times, people just do not know or believe that when they harm animals they are slaughtering sentience. Even their understandings about what sentience is can be different. We need to educate people and raise consciousness, but be respectful of their point of view and circumstances. Some might ask who am I to make proclamations from the mountains of Colorado about how the people in other lands should treat the animals with whom they compete for space and resources. Indeed, in poorer countries, sometimes people do compete for resources, such as land, with wild animals; if animals are given preference, human welfare suffers. I’m very sensitive to these concerns and the fact that, as an American, I enjoy a very privileged lifestyle. I don’t compete directly with the animals who share the land around my home. When people have their own essential needs met, it is far easier for them to extend kindness to others, whether human or animal. We must work to understand why people do what they do, and not fall into the trap of simply telling people what to do. To expand our compassion footprint on behalf of animals, we must respect the cultural pluralism of the diverse world in which we live.
Here is another excellent story that appeared in Time magazine that illustrates how, by helping people, we can help wildlife:
If you want to protect wildlife in developing countries, the conventional wisdom has long been that you put the animals in a well-run reserve and safeguard it like it were a prison, keeping the wildlife separate from the people who actually live there. The locals, in this case, are the threat because they’re the ones who poach endangered wildlife, whether for the ivory or skin trade, or just for meat. But, so far, this conventional wisdom hasn’t led to much progress. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s annual report, nearly 40% of surveyed species are currently threatened, and their numbers are growing.
Dale Lewis has a different theory of conservation: Instead of helping the animals that are being hunted, help the people who are doing the hunting. In the West African country of Zambia, where he has lived and worked for nearly 30 years, Lewis has helped launch an innovative new program that seeks to save wildlife by improving the livelihoods of local people, giving them an economic incentive to give up poaching. The program is called Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), and it may help change the way wildlife is protected. “I realized I could have told you all the vital statistics of an elephant, but not the vital statistics of the people who lived with an elephant,” says Lewis, whose work is sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Once you really begin to know what they’re up against, you can really begin to understand[their behavior].”And once you understand that behavior, Lewis continues, you can change it.
Born to Be Good: The Significance of Jen
In Born to Be Good, psychologist Dacher Keltner notes that Charles Darwin believed that sympathy was our strongest passion and that our positive emotions such as joy, compassion, sympathy, and gratitude “were the basis for our moral instinct and capacity for good.” Darwin also believed that communities of sympathetic individuals were more successful in raising offspring. I found this to be true in studies I conducted with my students, in which we discovered that, among wild coyotes at least, there is a premium to playing fairly: individual coyotes who didn’t were more likely to leave their group of their own accord because they were avoided or their invitations to play were ignored, and thus they suffered higher mortality rates than those who played fairly and remained with their group.
Recall that Keltner uses the Confucian concept of jen, which refers to “kindness, humanity, and reverence” to discuss our “good nature” and offers the concept of the jen ratio to “look at the relative balance of good and uplifting versus bad and cynical in life.” I liken the jen ratio to the way we can consider the balance between our own compassion and cruelty. If we try to bring forth our innate compassion with every being we meet, whether they are human, animal, or plant, we will always be making progress and expanding our compassion footprint.
Author and filmmaker Michael Tobias often wonders how my Jain attitude toward animals can play out in the real world. As an eternal optimist, I don’t worry about it all that much, for there are so many good people around the world working hard to make the lives of animals better, to restore respect, appreciation, and dignity to beings who we have abused for far too long. Everybody works in their own ways, within the confines of their own circumstances, but we can all accumulate compassion credits; compassion comes naturally if we let it. We can all wear smaller shoes and share Earth with all other beings. Socially responsible science, compassion, heart, and love can be blended into a productive recipe to learn more about the lives of other animals and the world where each one of us lives. Thomas Berry stresses we should strive for a “benign presence” in nature. Native Americans are proud to claim that “animals are all our relations.” Animals and inanimate landscapes also speak for themselves, and it is up to us to listen to their messages very carefully. Trees and rocks need respect and love, too.
Every individual can make positive changes for all living beings by weaving compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, peace, and love into their lives. For instance, did you know that animal compassion has a gender gap? In a review of attitudes toward animals written for the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Jennifer Jackman notes that the renowned Yale University researcher and social ecologist Stephen Kellert and his colleague Joyce Berry concluded that gender is “among the most important demographic factors in determining attitudes about animals in our society.” Jackman goes on to note that women are more likely than men to support animal welfare positions and to express concerns about the moral treatment of animals, and women are less likely to support animal use. While women and men share similar levels of concern about conservation, women are more supportive of strengthening the Endangered Species Act. Women also are more likely to oppose lethal wildlife management.
First and foremost, being more compassionate with animals is about our everyday choices: it’s about what we eat and wear, how we educate students and conduct research, how we entertain ourselves. Political activism is also important, but if we only focused on changing our own lives, we would still influence the world.
For instance, as we discussed in chapter 4, factory-farmed meat is a significant factor in global warming. Factory farming is a global industry that’s intricately tied into many national economies. How can individuals influence that? Simply by changing what we choose to put into our mouth. As Mike Tidwell points out in his essay “The Low-Carbon Diet,” although he loves to eat meat, he’s now a dedicated vegetarian because “I have an 11-year-old son whose future — like yours and mine — is rapidly unraveling due to global warming. And what we put on our plates can directly accelerate or decelerate the heating trend.” Furthermore, Tidwell notes, “Simply put, raising beef, pigs, sheep, chicken, and eggs is very, very energy intensive. More than half of all the grains grown in America actually go to feed animals, not people, says the World Resources Institute. That means a huge fraction of the petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers applied to grains, plus staggering percentages of all agricultural land and water use, are put in the service of livestock. Stop eating animals and you use dramatically less fossil fuels, as much as 250 gallons less oil per year for vegans, says Cornell University’s David Pimentel, and 160 gallons less for egg-andcheese-eating vegetarians.”
Clearly, we can expand our compassion footprint simply by what we eat and the effects those choices have on everyone else. If we make ethical choices, we can change the way business is done. After all, money talks.
Inaction and Indifference Are Not Options
“In the relations of humans with the animals, with the flowers, with the objects of creation, there is a whole great ethic scarcely seen as yet, but which will eventually break through into the light and be the corollary and the complement to human ethics… . Doubtless it was first of all necessary to civilize man in relation to his fellow men. With this one must begin and the various lawmakers of the human spirit have been right to neglect every other care for this one. But it is also necessary to civilize humans in relation to nature. There, everything remains to be done.”
— Victor Hugo
While there are many small, easy actions we can take to help animals, two things that are no longer acceptable are inaction and indifference. We’ve reached the point where enough is enough, or really, enough is simply too much — we cause far too much unnecessary suffering and pain in the world. There are canaries in coal mines around the world telling us that something is profoundly wrong.
Nobel laureate and peace activist Elie Wiesel encourages us: “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Silence is deadly for animals. There is a sense of urgency — time is not on our side. Indifference is far too costly. We need to act now with compassion and love for this magnificent world.
Naturally, we shouldn’t let anger guide us. We need to remain compassionate activists at all times. This is what gives us real clout to influence others, but it also helps ourselves. Being kind makes us feel good; it is a profound and even spiritual experience to spread compassion, kindness, and love. It’s also contagious. We need to be kind and empathic and cooperate with one another, so that we can define and work toward common goals, even when we disagree on the exact path. We can never be too kind, nor is anyone perfect. Humility and the way forward is recognizing our own imperfections even as we seek change in the actions of others. We should question a person’s position and not attack people themselves.
Every day, we should look for opportunities to do something for animals, and create opportunities for others to do so. As we do, we need to be patient, for as long as we are moving in the right direction, things will get better for animals and Earth. As we ‘ve seen, there are costs to activism — such as harassment, intimidation, and frustration — but these are the price of putting one’s beliefs on the line to prevent cruelty and save lives. Activism also takes a lot of time, but it’s well worth it. Protest gently but forcefully; change actions as well as minds and hearts. Changes that are imposed on others are usually short-lived and make little difference.
Often it takes numerous efforts to accumulate the momentum needed to produce the deep changes in attitude and heart that truly make a difference. It’s important to listen to all views. This is important to help find and solve the root causes of problems, but it is also smart tactics. We must master our opponents’ arguments. Only by knowing your opponents’ tactics and arguments can you mount a successful offense.
Sometimes activists get depressed and discouraged from working on so many heart-breaking problems, so it’s also important to remember to have fun. Stay connected to joy. In his wonderful and bold book, A World of Wounds,renowned biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote: “Many of the students who have crossed my path in the last decade or so have wanted to do much, much more. They were drawn to ecology because they were brought up in a ‘world of wounds,’ and want to help heal it. But the current structure of ecology tends to dissuade them.” When we become dissuaded, we are not as effective, and we become inclined to give up. But having fun, being sentimental, and doing solid science are not mutually exclusive activities. Once again, to quote Ehrlich, “In my view, no area of science can be successful (or much fun!) without a mutually supportive interaction between theory and empiricism… . So let’s stop arguing about theory versus empiricism and worrying about the end of our science. Instead, let’s cooperate more, change some of our priorities, and have fun while we ‘re trying to save the world.”
Indeed, the problems facing animals are so broad that they require creative proactive solutions drenched in deep humility, compassion, caring, respect, and love. We cannot allow our worries and fears to make us inactive and pessimistic, and we must not give in to cynicism. As we consider what to do, we need to be pro-something, not anti-something — we need to advocate for whales and mice as sentient beings, not think of our position as being anti-whaling or anti-animal research, though we don’t favor either. Of course, advocating for mice means working to end invasive research on them, but in theory that research serves a purpose; we ‘ll only achieve our goals when scientists find ways to satisfy their goals without such research. We need to be pro-elephants, not anti-zoos, to make a difference in the lives of elephants who suffer in zoos. We need to concentrate on being positive in difficult and challenging times and not let our frustration get the best of us. We need to act locally and think globally.
Finally, it’s essential to remember that every individual counts and that every individual makes a difference. As Margaret Mead noted: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It’s also important to remember that Gandhi was right — no matter how hard people fight against you, believing in what you’re doing will eventually result in victory.
Open Eyes and Open Hearts:
Let Animals Move You
“Our stewardship of wild animals should continue to seek a balance of nature — but only ever upon a fulcrum of empathy.”
— Clive Marks
It’s impossible to develop a relationship with an animal and remain unmoved. We should encourage relationships with animals, particularly in our scientists, for we are always affected and changed by them. Surely, animals don’t communicate like we do. They don’t express themselves in the same ways. When they suffer, animals don’t cry in the way that we do. But if our eyes are open, we recognize their pain anyway, and if our hearts are open, we feel it and are affected by it. When it comes to animals, we can be certain that their eyes and hearts are always open.
My friend and esteemed colleague Benjamin Beck, Director of Conservation at the Great Ape Trust, wrote the following notes:
On the day of my retirement from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in 2003, I walked around to say farewell and express thanks to the many people and animals with whom I had worked for 20 years. I saved two of my favorite animals, orangutans Azy and Indah, for last. I had known them since they were youngsters and worked with them collaboratively in cognitive research projects. We had close and trusting relationships, although Azy sometimes treated me as a competitor and performed impressive displays of his dominance. Indah was always sweet and curious, and was probably the brightest ape I have ever met. When I said goodbye to her, my emotions caught up and tears streamed down my cheeks. Indah had probably seen people cry before, but she had never seen me cry. She watched my tears closely, and then fixed my eyes. She reached out, and gently patted me on the shoulder and neck. She had never before done this, usually preferring to examine my pockets or nudge me toward hidden treats whose location she, but not I, knew. I have no doubt that Indah was able to recognize my state of sadness, and that she responded appropriately, as a friend, with consolation. Later I realized that I had never seen Indah, or any other ape, cry. Our jobs would be easier if apes did cry, because we would have an observable measure of pain and sadness. Instead of tears we must rely on, in Jane Goodall’s words, ‘eyes filled with pain and hopelessness’ in an ill-treated, newly motherless chimpanzee orphan.
Ben is a renowned hardcore scientist with a heart. His sentimentalism makes him more human and also shows clearly that he appreciates that the animals with whom he has worked are sentient beings worthy of respect and admiration. We must stop averting our gaze and closing our hearts to our fellow animals. If we remain aware and attentive, who knows how our lives might be transformed?
Take, for instance, the experience of Dan Southerland, executive editor of Radio Free Asia, who found his life briefly upended and his worldview changed by an errant butterfly. In 2008 in the Washington Post, he wrote about his encounter, beginning: “In July last year, a butterfly landed on my shoulder while I was taking a break from my office for a few minutes one afternoon to talk business with a colleague. I was sure the butterfly would soon fly off. We were walking through an L Street canyon near 19th Street NW that was surrounded by granite, concrete and glass. I had never seen a butterfly in this part of the city before. Now I had one clinging to me. It migrated to my shirt collar and stayed there.” For over two hours, through a trip to a photo shop and lunch in a restaurant, the butterfly clung to Dan, who eventually decided to take him home in a taxicab. Dan named him Poppy, and the butterfly stayed in his family’s backyard for over five weeks, fluttering out to “greet” Dan almost every evening when he returned home from work. Along the way, Dan discovered that he wasn’t the first person to develop a relationship with a butterfly, and by his own admission, “my feelings at this point were approaching love for this small creature.” Observing the butterfly’s behavior so intimately, Dan came to believe Poppy “had a tremendous sense of joy,” and “I began paying a lot more respect to all insects.” One day, Poppy didn’t return; presumably, his short life had ended. But, Dan wrote: “I can certify that at least one D.C. butterfly managed to escape[living in the city], take a taxi ride out of town and survive to have the time of his life in the suburbs.”
This is the true “butterfly effect” that all animals can have: if we open our eyes and hearts to them once, we don’t ever forget it. We are, in ways large and small, transformed. Sarah Bexell, in her work with her Chinese colleagues Luo Lan and Hu Yan, has noted a similar “light bulb effect” in the attitudes of children toward animals in China, in her studies of animal conservation camps. Bexell told me that, after their experience, many teachers and children said they would never think about animals with indifference again. The program participants spent time getting to know animals as individuals with emotions and personalities, and this alone transformed attitudes. Bexell summed up her findings aptly: “Once you see them, you can’t unsee them.”
Why should we expand our compassion footprint and respect an animal manifesto? Why should we care about animals and treat them better? There are numerous reasons I could list, and yet sometimes getting to know one animal is all we need.
Still, here is the list of reasons, a work in progress, I originally wrote as I developed this book:
· because they’re smart
· because they feel
· because they are
· because they care
· because we don’t have to use or abuse them
· because we can do better science without them
· because we’d be healthier if we didn’t eat them
· because they’re our buddies/consummate companions
· because we’re so powerful
· because we all need to look out for each other
· because they’re good for our souls and we are for theirs
· because we’re a compassionate species
· because they’re innocent
· because animals make us human
· because they bring us joy
· because we’re all animals
· because silent springs are unacceptable
· because we’re their voice
· because compassion begets compassion
· because by taking care of animals, we take care of ourselves
· because if we lose animals, we’re screwed. . .we lose ourselves
· because we need more peace among all beings
· because animals do not harm Earth, humans do
This list is only a start. As we’ve seen, there are many more reasons to care for animals and to increase our compassion footprint, and these reasons generate even more reasons. I hope you will add to this list and do more for animals because there’s always more that can be done. All of us animals will surely benefit.
Deep Ethology and Cosmic Justice:
Creating a Sense of Unity
“In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth… . In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice… . We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of the planet. We cannot own the Earth or any part of the Earth in any absolute manner.”
— Thomas Berry, The Great Work
Most research nowadays supports what Dacher Keltner has said: “Human beings are wired to care… and it’s probably our best route to happiness.” It feels good to help others, and this is no accident. Egalitarianism as well as competition help shape animal societies, including human ones. It is natural to want to build a world based on compassion and unity, one that respects and cherishes the beautiful and magical webs of nature.
In order to transform our world, however, we have to transform ourselves. We owe it to future generations to transcend the present state of our relations to our fellow creatures, to dream of a better world, to step lightly, to move cautiously and with restraint. We all need to be both dreamers and doers. We owe it to ourselves and to our fellow animals. As big-brained, omnipresent mammals, we are the most powerful beings on Earth. We can influence every species and every ecosystem, and inextricably tied with that might are innumerable staggering responsibilities to be ethical. We can strive for no less, and we can always do more. “Good welfare” is never “good enough.”
My notion of “deep ethology” applies here. Deep ethology is similar to the term “deep ecology,” which asks people to recognize that not only are we an important part of nature but we have unique responsibilities to nature as moral agents. Deep ethological research pursues a detailed and compassionate understanding of the unique worlds of nonhuman animals in order to learn more about their own points of view — how they live, what they want, and how they experience emotions, pain, and suffering. Deep ethology recognizes that many animals have a broad set of feelings that function as social glue; these emotions are important for forming and maintaining social bonds among themselves and with human beings, they motivate specific actions and influence choices, and they insure behavioral flexibility, so that animals do what is appropriate in a given situation, whether with friends or competitors. By embracing deep ethology, we recognize animals as sentient beings, and as beings with intrinsic or inherent value with ways of life that deserve respect; living this belief, and working to improve the quality of life of our fellow animals when it’s threatened or destroyed, naturally expands our compassion footprint.
We must also adopt what philosopher Gary Steiner, in his book Animals and the Moral Community, calls cosmic justice, the principle that demands nonviolence toward animals just as social justice demands nonviolence toward humans. Cosmic justice “will let animals be in such a way that we no longer project upon them a diminished reflection of our own image but instead value their mortality as we value our own.” Animals aren’t third-class citizens; they’re nations of beings who deserve dignity and respect. So let’s get hopping toward elevating their moral status right now, not later when it’s more convenient for us and too late.
When we allow compassion, empathy, justice, and love to guide our actions, we surely will go a long way to healing wounds and dysfunctional relationships. If love is poured out in abundance, then it will be returned in abundance. There is no need to fear depleting the potent and self-reinforcing feeling of love, which only and continuously generates more compassion, respect, and love for life. Each and every individual plays an essential role, in part because each individual’s spirit and love are intertwined with the spirit and love of others. These emergent interrelationships, which transcend an individual’s embodied self, foster a sense of oneness. These interrelationships can work in harmony to make ours a better and more compassionate world for all beings. We must stroll with our kin and not leave them in the tumultuous wake of our rampant, self-serving destruction.
We need to replace “mindlessness” with “mindfulness” in our interactions with animals and Earth. If we do, nothing will be lost and much will be gained. We can never be too generous or too kind. Surely, we will come to feel better about ourselves if we know deep in our hearts that we did the best we could and took into account the well-being of the magnificent animals with whom we share Earth, the awesome and magical beings whose presence makes our lives richer, more challenging, and more enjoyable. Wouldn’t it feel good to know that we have helped animals “out there,” even if we cannot see, hear, or smell them? Wouldn’t it feel good to know that we did something to help Earth and other humans, even if we do not see the fruits of our labor?
It’s essential that we do better than our ancestors, and we surely have the resources to do so. Foresight is becoming the new survival skill — we have the facts and heart, and now we must put them to proper use. Perhaps the biggest question of all is whether enough of us will choose to make the heartfelt commitment to making this a better world, a more compassionate world, before it is too late. I believe we have already embarked on this pilgrimage. My optimism leads me in no other direction.
My colleague Jessica Pierce says that we need more “ruth,” a feeling oftender compassion for the suffering of others. Ruth is the opposite of ruthless, being cruel and lacking mercy. I agree. Kindness, living kindness, empathy, and compassion must always be first and foremost in our interactions with animals and every other being in this world. We need to remember that giving is a wonderful way of receiving. We need humility in head and resolve in heart. We must go from heartless to heart-full.
We owe it to all individual animals to make every attempt to come to a greater understanding and appreciation for who they are in their world and in ours. We must make kind and humane choices. We must all work together, for in the end we all want the same thing — a better life. Our better life must not come at the expense of other beings, and it is made truly better when it includes all beings. There’s nothing to fear and much to gain by developing deep and reciprocal interactions with our fellow animals. Animals can teach us a great deal about responsibility, compassion, caring, forgiveness, and the value of deep friendship and love. Animals generously share their hearts with us, and we should do the same. Animals naturally respond to each other because we are all feeling and passionate beings. Let us embrace our fellow animals as the kindred spirits they are.
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
Animals have no say in how humans change their lives. Animals simply live, doing the best they can in a human-dominated world. Taking the long view, it’s hard to imagine that their lives have ever been harder or more compromised, and that’s almost entirely due to us. To what degree do animals realize this? Birds can certainly witness the sweep of human civilization across continents, as can wolves, and even whales, who travel the globe and must have noticed long ago that humans are almost everywhere. Polar bears, too, who are losing precious ice floes due to climate change, along with urban wildlife, must alter their daily rhythms as they adapt to the way we ‘ve redecorated their homes. Domestic animals, certainly, understand on some level the human impact on their lives, for they live and die by our hands and are in constant contact with us.
In many ways and for most species, these are the worst of times. They may not recognize us as the cause, but animals certainly feel the pressure on their lives of the increasing global population of humans and our overconsumptive ways. As our society grows, there is less and less space for other animals without humans intruding into their lives and living rooms. People, meanwhile, deliberately manipulate the lives of animals almost relentlessly: killing them for sport and simply to lessen their numbers; catching and raising them for food and clothing; caging and dissecting them for research; and using them for entertainment. If our fellow animals don’t understand it as such, they are certainly impacted by our society’s alienation from nature in the way we treat animals in all these settings.
However, it’s also true that more and more people around the world are truly concerned about how we affect the lives of animals. More than ever, we understand that coexistence with other animals is essential, that our fate is tightly bound with them. Many people recognize that our species has been routinely overconsumptive for far too long, that we make messes wherever we go, and they are working to create a sustainable balance. Partly through our egregious errors, humans have learned how powerful a force in nature we are, and how essential it is to step lightly — to leave a smaller carbon footprint and a larger compassion footprint. More than ever, people are trying to change, so that our reliance on animals and our curiosity about them does not harm them. Though there is far too much work to be done, animals can no doubt look with hope that there are better times, and perhaps the best of times, to come. I’m an optimist and a dreamer and I do think that with hard work the future can be a much better one for animals, nonhuman and human.
It’s important to note that I’m not a blind optimist. I know well that bad things happen to animals and the Earth. Thinking positively about what we can do for animals and the Earth, and concentrating on what works and moving ahead with hope, will enable us to put our finite amounts of time, energy, and passion into making life better for animals and for us. Anything that drains our energy from what needs to be done will have a negative effect. Thinking positively is a significant part of the muchneeded paradigm shift about which this book is concerned.
There is much to gain and little to lose if we move forward with grace, humility, respect, compassion, empathy, and love. We are wired to be good, we are wired to be kind, and we are wired to be compassionate, but we also have a responsibility to be ethical. No more lame excuses for allowing the mistreatment of animals to continue. We will ultimately be judged by how we treat the least fortunate among us, so we need to treat animals better or leave them alone. Now is the time to tap into our innate goodness and kindness to make the world a better place for all beings. This revolutionary paradigm shift brings hope and life to our dreams for a more compassionate and peaceful planet.