Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Expanding Our Compassion Footprint: Minding Animals As We Redecorate Nature

It's essy to accrue compassion credits


It's simple to make changes to accrue compassion credits

Our relationships with nonhuman animals (animals) are complicated,
frustrating, ambiguous, paradoxical, and range all over the place.
When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them
I tell them I'm glad they don't love me.

Surely we can do better in our relationships with animals and other
people. Indeed, our relationships with human animals often are of the
same ilk. We observe animals, gawk at them in wonder, experiment on
them, eat them, wear them, write about them, draw and paint them, move
them from here to there as we "redecorate nature," make decisions for
them without their consent, and represent them in many varied ways yet
we often dispassionately ignore who they are and what they want and
need. "Redecorating nature" refers to the global tendency, almost a human obsession, to move into the living rooms of other animals with little or no regard for what we are doing to them, their friends, and their families. We unrelentingly intrude because their are too many of us. 


We currently know a lot about animal sentience and animal emotions,
more than we often give ourselves credit for. Behavioral and
neuroscientific research shows that animals' lives aren't all that
private, hidden, or secret. The "privacy of mind" argument is too often

used as an excuse to maintain the status quo concerning our wanton abuse of other animals. When someone says they're not sure if
dogs, for example, have emotions, if they feel joy or grief, I say I'm
glad I'm not their dog.

Compassion is the key for bettering animal and human lives. People all
over the globe are talking about ways to lighten our carbon footprint
and accrue carbon credits. But what about our compassion footprint
and accruing compassion credits?

A good way to make the world a more compassionate and peaceful place
for all animals, to increase our compassion footprint, is to "mind"
them. "Minding" animals means that we must "mind" them by recognizing
that they have active minds and feelings. We must also "mind" them as
their caretakers in a human dominated world in which their interests
are continually trumped in deference to ours.

To mind animals it's essential for people with varied expertise and
interests to talk to one another, to share what we know about animals
and use this knowledge for bettering their and our lives. There are
many ways of knowing and figuring out how science and the humanities,
including those interested in animal protection, conservation, and
environmentalism (with concerns ranging from individuals to
populations, species, and ecosystems), can learn from one another is
essential.

We still have a long way to go. Existing laws and regulations allow
animals living on earth, in water, and in air to be treated in
regrettable ways that demean us as a species. Indeed, in the eyes of
the law animals are mere property and they can be treated like
backpacks, couches, and bicycles with no legal recourse. The animals
own eyes tell us that they don't like this at all. They do, of course,
have a point of view. Objective views of animals don't work.

We also double-cross animals. I can imagine an utterly exhausted polar
bear asking, "Where's the ice?" as she attempts to swim with her
offspring from one ice floe to another as she had in years past only
to discover that the ice is gone due to climate change. Despite global
attempts to protect animals from wanton use and abuse, what we've been
doing hasn't been working - "good welfare" just isn't "good enough."
Excuses justifying animal exploitation such as "Well, it's okay, I'm
doing this in the name of science" or "in the name of this or that"
usually mean "in the name of humans." We're a very arrogant and
self-centered lot.

It's time for people to begin to think about how to accrue compassion
credits as they do carbon credits (see for example
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1709186,00.html). Every
individual can make positive changes for all living beings by weaving
compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, peace, and love into their
lives. It's simple to make more compassionate choices about what we
eat and wear and how we educate students, conduct research, and
entertain ourselves at animal's expenses. Increased compassion for
animals can readily lead to less carbon because there's an inverse
relationship between these markers especially in our consumption of
factory-farmed meat from highly abused animals
(http://www.ciwf.org.uk/globalwarning/index.html).

We can also focus on the value of individual lives when we try to
restore animal populations and ecosystems. It's fair to ask if the
life of an individual should be traded off for the good of their
species, for example, when we try to restore wolves to Yellowstone
National Park and individual wolves die so that others might live?

It's a win-win situation to make every attempt to coexist peacefully
and to do so in the most compassionate ways possible. For compassion
for animals will make for more compassion among people and that's what
we need as we journey into the future. Cruelty to animals has serious
implications for humans as well. Studies by Frank Ascione, Phil Arkow,
Barbara Boat, and many others show that children who are cruel to
animals are significantly more likely to commit violence against
humans later in life—the absence of empathy for one indicates lack of
empathy for the other. Indeed, studies of prison inmates reveal that
as many as 75 percent of violent offenders had early records of animal
cruelty. The Humane Society of the United States has a program, called
"First Strike," devoted to learning more about the connection between
cruelty to animals and to humans
(http://www.hsus.org/hsus_field/first_strike_the_connection_between_animal_cruelty_and_human_violence/).
The Society & Animals Forum and the Human/Animal Violence Education
Network have also launched similar programs that deserve our support.
Albert Schweitzer once wrote: "Until he extends his circle of
compassion for all living things, man will not himself find peace."

We can always add more compassion to the world. Ultimately, I believe
compassion for animals will make for more compassion among people,
weaving more empathy, respect, dignity, and love into all our lives.
Animals are asking us to treat them better or leave them alone. So,
whenever you try to reduce carbon at the same time try to expand
compassion. Animals and future generations of humans will thank us for
our efforts and I'm sure each of us will feel better about ourselves.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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