I remember as a child not caring much about animals. There were times when I connected unexpectedly with an animal (like the baby chick I brought home from my job as a voice actor). But I recall that most of the time I thought that TV shows, stories and movies about animals were boring and that real animals were an irritant.
Now I would diagnose my childhood self as nature deprived. My anti-animal sentiment was a “reaction formation,” adopting the opposite attitude as a form of defense against caring.
It is human heritage to be deeply embedded in the natural world where one is raised—and we feel a little empty and restless when we are not. At least this was so before industrialization and urbanization, before keeping children away from the wild and now in buildings most of the time. This was also before the time when nature was demonized as an enemy to be feared, dominated and controlled for human interests, with little concern for the interests or agency of the plants, mountains or animals themselves.
The notion that humans can treat all non-humans as objects to be used any way desired is rather ridiculous in the face of it because our lives depend on the wellbeing of water, air, animals and plants. So if we do not honor nature and its wellbeing, we in the end harm ourselves.
Some argue the human species is facing its (slow) end because of its dishonoring of nature which has led to the wrecking of planet Earth. Indeed, fear and sense of superiority often lead to conflict and harm among humans (Eidelson & Eidelson, 2003). In recent centuries humans have been taught to think they are superior to non-human others, to disown relationships and responsibility to non-human entities. This has led to vast deliberate, as well as accidental, destruction of the natural world. (See the list of books below for more detail.)
There are a plethora of examples in everyday news about how far people have removed themselves from a partnership with nature.
A very astounding example (though not the best) in recent news is of an animal rescue. The elephant, Raju, had been in captivity for 50 years, held by a drug addict, and tortured, starved and made to beg. He was rescued by Wildlife SOS of India.
While being rescued, Raju cried. See here and here.
This story struck a blow to my heart because in middle adulthood I have reawakened my connection to and sense of responsibility for creatures and entities in the natural world.
The weeping elephant, Raju, is a symbol of the vast pain and devastation humans are causing to animals and entities (e.g., mountains, rivers, oceans). Humanity’s careless disrespect for natural laws have made Earth’s climate go crazy and so begins an increasing price to be paid by human beings (along with all the non-humans already suffering).
But the elephant’s tale is also a symbol of hope. Hope for change of heart and mind. It only takes a moment to shift consciousness—to realize that everything is connected, that all things are alive, and that our every action affects the Whole. Science (physics) uncovered this knowledge in the 20th century. But this is very old wisdom, found among indigenous cultures. There are still remnants of these cultures left who nurture a sense of connection and responsibility for the non-humans around them and who know how to care for their well-being.
To turn hope into action, we need to attend to the ecological wisdom the world’s indigenous peoples have known for so long. We need to shape our modern skills and tools with that wisdom. Then we can turn things around, for the human race and also for those entities still with us, liberating the Rajus that we have harmed across species.
*For more, see my forthcoming book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom.
LIST OF RECOMMENDED READINGS
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animalsby Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy
Nature and Madness by Paul Shepard
Becoming Animal by David Abram
In the Spirit of the Earth by David Luther Martin
Eidelson, R.J., & Eidelson, J.I. (2003). Dangerous ideas: Five beliefs that propel groups toward conflict. American Psychologist, 58(3), 182-192.