Animals Aren't Sentient and Can't Feel Pain, Tories Claim
This is an inane, reprehensible, and bloody move that ignores tons of science.
Posted Nov 21, 2017
Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” (Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals)
The data supporting widespread animal sentience speak for themselves so let's stop pretending that we are the only feeling beings
My email inbox has been ringing for the past day with notes from an incredibly diverse audience about an essay by Yas Necati called "The Tories have voted that animals can't feel pain as part of the EU bill, marking the beginning of our anti-science Brexit" (for more in this please see "MPs vote 'that animals cannot feel pain or emotions' into the Brexit bill"). Companion animals, AKA pets, are excluded from this incredibly stupid move. I thought I was having a very bad dream but unfortunately, I wasn't.
And just this morning, I learned about another essay by Melanie Phillips titled "Animals should never be treated as our equals," with a subtitle that states, "The Secret Life of Cows should not fool us into thinking that other species have feelings." Once again, I wished that this were just a bad dream about a fictitious and fatuous claim that would go away when my head cleared, but most, unfortunately, it wasn't. The Secret Life of Cows is a recently updated book by Rosamund Young.
Pets are spared from this insanity
Mr. Necati begins, "The Tory Government has outdone itself when it comes to neglecting animal rights this week – by voting that all animals (apart from humans, of course) have no emotions or feelings, including the ability to feel pain. Once we leave the EU in 2019, it’s not only badgers and foxes that will be threatened by this change in the law, but all animals that aren’t pets. So basically all animals that it will be profitable to exploit." Of course, companion animals are no more sentient than the animals who are idiotically dissed.
It's essential to make scientific data available to a broad audience to counter alt-facts about animal sentience
Many people asked me to write something about this most uninformed decision so I figured the best way to do it is to put out the data and leave it at that. When people make such stupid and uninformed decisions, there's little more that one can do. A large amount of data supporting widespread animal sentience speak for themselves as do basic principles of evolutionary biology, including Charles Darwin's ideas about evolutionary continuity. It's essential to make it available to a broad audience so that "this sham vote on animal feelings" can be widely challenged. People are entitled to air their beliefs, but it would be nice if they were based on well-established facts rather than on what they imagine to be so.
I'm frankly not sure where to begin, so first, please click here for wide-ranging discussions of research on animal sentience and here for discussions of research on animal pain that are supported by detailed comparative research. A scholarly publication called Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling provides up to date essays and commentaries on animal sentience in a wide variety of nonhumans. More mainstream essays and books can be found here and here. Recent discussions of the cognitive and emotional lives of cows and sheep can be seen in "Cows: Science Shows They're Bright and Emotional Individuals," "Sheep Discriminate Faces, So What's In It For the Sheep?" and links therein. An interview with Rob Percival, the founder and director of the Charter For Animal Compassion, can be found here.
“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
This is an incredibly important move by respected scientists. In an essay called "Scientists Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings" I noted that this declaration was long overdue and that being anti-science is harmful to other animals. I also said "let's all work together to use this information to stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious animals in the name of science, education, food, amusement and entertainment, and clothing. We really owe it to them to use what we know on their behalf and to factor compassion and empathy into our treatment of these amazing beings."
The Portuguese parliament also has recognized animals as sentient beings as has the New Zealand government. The latter example is very interesting and rather disturbing because the New Zealand government also has declared a war on wildlife that will make it predator-free by the year 2050, using horrifically brutal ways of killing millions upon millions of sentient animals (for more details please see "The 'Possum Stomp' vs. Compassionate Conservation and Ethics" and many links therein and "US professor condemns New Zealand's pest and possum 'murder')". Youngsters also are encouraged to harm and to kill these sentient beings as sanctioned school events. This inhumane education can possibly have long-term effects, including violence toward humans.
Let's do something now to stop the mistruths and stop pretending we're the only feeling beings
“Those who define ‘us’ by our ability to introspect give a distorted view of what is important to and about human beings and ignore the fact that many creatures are like us in more significant ways in that we all share the vulnerability, the pains, the fears, and the joys that are the life of social animals.” (Lynne Sharpe, Creatures Like Us)
It's essential to counter the alt-facts that basically are lies that are contained in the claim that nonhumans aren't sentient and don't feel pain. This is an inane, reprehensible, and bloody move that ignores tons of detailed and rigorous science. It's in the same camp as the brainless and utterly false claim in the United States Federal Animal Welfare Act that rats and mice are not animals (for more discussion please see "The Animal Welfare Act Claims Rats and Mice Are Not Animals" and links therein). Some people laugh when they hear this, but it's surely no laughing matter for these sentient beings and others.
In The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence In the Human Age Jessica Pierce and I write about the knowledge translation gap, referring to the practice of ignoring tons of science showing that other animals are sentient beings and going ahead and causing intentional harm in human-oriented arenas. On the broad scale, it means that what we have known for a long while about animal cognition and emotion has not yet been translated into an evolution in human attitudes and practices (for more discussion please see "Animals Need More Freedom, Not Bigger Cages").
In an essay called "A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience: No Pretending" I noted that we surely are not exceptional or alone in the arena of sentience and indeed, membership in the sentience club is rapidly growing. There are sound biological reasons for recognizing animals as sentient beings. We need to abandon the anthropocentric view that only big-brained animals such as ourselves, nonhuman great apes, elephants, and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) have sufficient mental capacities for complex forms of sentience and consciousness. So, the interesting and challenging question is why has sentience evolved in diverse species, not if it has evolved.
For an essay I wrote for New Scientist magazine called "Animals are conscious and should be treated as such" about The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, there is a wonderful cartoon by Andrzej Krauze of different animals sitting around a table discussing these issues. The print copy was called "Welcome to our world" and it's about time we did so with open hearts.
As I wrote above, there are more than enough data available to let those who still feel that nonhuman animals are unfeeling and unemotional objects know that they are dead wrong and putting out vacuous mistruths. Claiming otherwise is not only ridiculously stupid but also shows that the attitude that it's perfectly fine for humans to dominate all other animals is hardly dead. This claim not only is an insult to them, but also an insult to us.
All in all, we need to stop pretending we don't know if other animals are sentient. We also need to accept that we know what they want and need, namely to live in peace and safety just as we do. Their minds aren't as private as some claim them to be.
Three petitions to repeal the false and ludicrous claim that animals aren't sentient and can't feel pain can be found here (there are now more than 45,000 signatures), here (which for some reason is now closed), and here, and updates can be found here.
The implications of this anti-science move know no bounds. Beliefs should not and must not be used as substitutes for facts. The animals will be grateful and warmly thank us for paying attention to the science of animal sentience. And when we listen to our hearts we'll recognize and appreciate how much we know about what other animals are feeling and that we owe it to them to protect them however we can.
Other animals need all the help they can get. Please, let's give them what they need right now. It is easy to do and we must do no less.