Animal Welfare Quote Of The Day

Another from my ongoing reading about morality and our treatment of animals, found in Matthew Scully’s Dominion. The quote is from Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, and perfectly captures the humility and sense of connection we need to see animals as worthy of moral consideration:

“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts. Even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

That puts it in some perspective, no?

Trumplandia

So, we now, to the shock of many, we live in President Trump’s world. The environment will suffer. Animals will suffer. Kindness and empathy will suffer. But the trajectory of our culture on these issues under President Trump, in my view, won’t be an order of magnitude different than what they would have been under President Clinton. And orders of magnitude is what is needed.

I have long thought the status quo was unsustainable and unacceptable. On that I agree with many Trump voters. But I certainly didn’t think Trump was the answer. Quite the opposite. Still, I also didn’t think Hillary Clinton, while she would point in a better direction, would even have the ambition to deliver the scale of change I think we really need, much less the ability. Yes, she believes climate change is real and would have kept pushing us toward incremental progress on environmental and other issues I care about. So in that sense President Trump will be a painful setback, because he will push in the opposite direction and we don’t have time to be pushing the wrong way.

But deep down I never felt either Trump or Clinton was the answer I have been looking for. They both live too much within the existing status quo. Their thinking and policy frame is too much within the status quo. Deep down I have long felt that the only real answer is a growing grassroots revolution in how we live, how we value other species, and how we value the planet. That’s the work I want to do, and it’s work any of us can pursue because no matter who is president we can make our own choices about how we live and what we choose to value. And we can try to lead by example, and make our case person by person. That’s the solution I seek. And nothing in last night’s election changes that.

Moby Mobilizes

I’ve never been a big Moby fan, but I have unbounded respect for the way that he puts his music behind big moral causes.

This is one powerful way to confront the world on animal welfare:

And this cry for more connectedness and empathy in our global culture of distraction is heartbreaking.

President Trump And Animals

Don't forget us when you vote....
Don’t forget us when you vote….

There are many, many reasons to be wary of a Trump presidency, and hope that one does not come to pass. But concern for animals and animal welfare should not be forgotten. And the tea leaves are not encouraging:

From a four-legged vantage point, a Trump administration would be a disaster. Last month, the Trump campaign floated billionaire Forrest Lucas as the potential secretary of the interior in his administration, a position that oversees vital animal-related programs at the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Described as “the leading anti-animal advocate in the United States” by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Lucas has dedicated much of his time and fortune to defending some of the worst animal abuse industries in our country.

Lucas’ anti-animal front organization, Protect the Harvest, spent a quarter of a million dollars to try to block a ballot initiative in North Dakota that would have set felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to dogs, cats and horses. That’s relevant to Lucas’ potential influence in a Trump administration, given that the Bureau of Land Management manages tens of thousands of wild horses in the West.

Lucas’ political machine has also advanced other anti-animal causes, including so-called “right to farm” legislation in states like North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and Oklahoma. Such legislation would leave millions of animals suffering in silence on factory farms and slaughterhouses, while undermining the Bureau of Land Management’s role in humanely administering 155 million acres of grazing land for cattle and sheep.

So if you are tempted to try and blow up conventional politics and the status quo (which I would love to blow up, but just in a more hopeful, more productive, and less risky manner), it doesn’t look like the animal world will be grateful.

Full story is here.

Animal Citizenship?

“Whoa, back off citizen! Sheep have rights, too.”

 

Well, we already have the Nonhuman Rights Project going for personhood. This angle, explored via Vox, is worth pursuing as well:

What if domestic animals — pets such as dogs and cats as well livestock like cows and chickens — were granted citizenship rights? That may sound like a crazy question, but Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka thinks it’s a critically important one.

Kymlicka, a professor at Queen’s University, is a well-regarded figure in modern political philosophy. He’s also the author, along with writer Sue Donaldson, of Zoopolis, a book making the case for animal citizenship. Their basic premise is simple: animals are already part of our society, as pets and work animals, therefore we should formally recognize them as such.

That’s not just a head-in-the-clouds thought experiment. We already have basic laws forbidding animal abuse and regulating industrial slaughterhouses. But, as anyone who has visited an animal shelter or thought about the ethics of what they eat can attest, we as a society have not come anywhere close to solving the problem of animal mistreatment. If we really want to improve animals’ lives, Kymlicka and Donaldson argue, we need to stop thinking in terms of merely treating animals better. Rather, we need to acknowledge on a fundamental level that animals are a part of society and deserve to be treated as such. That leads you, however improbable it might sound, to citizenship.

Here’s a key point from Kymlicka, in an interview with Vox:

We need to create a shared interspecies society which is responsive to the interests of both its human and animal members. That means that it’s not just a question of how you ensure that animals aren’t abused. If we view them as members of society — it’s as much their society as ours — then it changes the perspective 180 degrees. The question is no longer “how do we make sure they’re not so badly treated?” We instead need to ask “what kind of relationships do they want to have with us?”

That’s really a radical question. It’s one we’ve never really bothered to ask. I think there are some domesticated animals that enjoy activities with us — I think that’s clearest in the case of dogs, but it’s also true of other domesticated animals whose lives are enriched by being part of interspecies activities with us. But there are other animals who, if we took what they wanted seriously, would probably choose to have less and less to do with us. I think this would be true of horses.

And if you are still with him to this point then there is a logical implication that follows. As Kymlicka puts it: “We can’t go around eating our co-citizens.”

Fair point, fair point. Read Vox’s full interview with Kymlicka here. It is a very interesting way to stretch our thinking and logic as we apply it to animals. One way or another, via personhood or citizenship or some other cultural/legal construct, we will eventually give animals the rights and protections they deserve.

 

Why Do We Continue To Abuse And Exploit Animals?

It’s a profoundly important question. I tend do go with the simple explanation that we can, we have retrograde beliefs about the moral consideration we should give animals, and doing so often yields profit or profits human in some way (allowing them, for example, to go around saying “MMMM. Bacon.”).

But Dr. Lori Marino and Michael Mountain go deeper. In an attempt to better understand our very troubled relationship with the other species on the planet, they argue that awareness of our own mortality plays a role. The result is a paper for Anthrozoos called “Denial of Death and the Relationship Between Humans and Other Animals.

Here is the abstract:

The focus of this paper is to explore how cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s claim that human behavior is largely motivated by fear of death may explain important aspects of our relationship with nonhuman animals. Terror Management Theory (TMT) suggests that when we humans are reminded of our personal mortality, we tend to deny our biological identity or creatureliness and distance ourselves from the other animals, since they remind us of our own mortal nature. In support of this, an abundance of peer-reviewed experimental literature shows that reminders of our own mortality create a strong psychological need to proclaim that “I am not an animal.” We contend that the denial of death is an important factor in driving how and why our relationships with other animals are fundamentally exploitive and harmful. Even though today there are more animal advocacy and protection organizations than ever, the situation for nonhuman animals continues to deteriorate (e.g. more factory farming, mass extinction of wildlife species, and ocean life under severe stress). We also suggest that developing a new and more appropriate relationship with the natural world would be a key factor in resolving the question that Becker was never able to answer: How can we deal with the existential anxiety that is engendered by the awareness of our own mortality?

Got it? Michael Mountain, in a blog post, explains further, in an effort to better understand whether this dynamic can help explain the disastrous and destructive trajectory of the human race:

Why are we doing this? Why have we created a way of living that’s destroying the only home we have and bringing on a mass extinction that will most likely consume us, too? And all in the name of “progress.” Why can’t we stop?

Those are the questions Dr. Lori Marino and I set out to answer in a paper that will be published in March in the journal Anthrozoos, but is already fast-tracked online here. (You need a subscription to Anthrozoos to access the full text.)

The paper, entitled Denial of Death and the Relationship between Humans and Other Animals”, explores the psychology of how and why we humans feel compelled to treat our fellow animals as commodities and resources – and the whole natural world as our property.

The reason lies at the core of the human condition. It’s probably best summed up by the French author Albert Camus, who wrote:

“Humans are the only creatures who don’t want to be what they are.”

And what we absolutely don’t want to be is an animal.

Our central problem, as humans, is that as much as we reach for the stars and create profoundly beautiful works of art, we cannot escape the knowledge that, just like all the other animals, we are destined to die, go into the ground, and become food for worms.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, social anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote that the awareness we humans have of our personal mortality creates a level of anxiety that drives much of our behavior. Certainly other animals experience bursts of terror in the face of death, but for us humans it’s a lifelong awareness, and one that brings about a chronic level of anxiety.

And so, to alleviate the anxiety we feel over our animal nature, we try to separate ourselves from our fellow animals and to exert control over the natural world. We tell ourselves that we’re superior to them and that they exist for our benefit. We treat them as commodities and resources, use them as biomedical “models” or “systems” in research, and force them to perform for our entertainment.

I personally am comfortable with my animal nature (though that doesn’t mean I don’t try to better understand it and resist its more aggressive tendencies). And I experience joy at the connectedness I feel with regard to other creatures.

That connection is where true empathy comes from, and is the foundation of the idea that while we may be more powerful than other species our power should not be mistaken for moral superiority or the right of dominion. In fact, our power to dominate (and destroy) should be the moral basis for greater consideration and care for other species. We should be stewards, not exploiters. But since that is clearly not a view that our global culture accepts or promotes, I am glad that Lori Marino and Michael Mountain are making a bold intellectual bid to explain why.

Cory Booker Takes Out A Trial Membership In The The Vegan Club

Photo: The Daily Beast

 

A long-time vegetarian, Booker says he’s trying veganism through the end of they year. He tried and failed once before. Hopefully, this time it will stick. Because he knows that vegetarianism doesn’t quite resolve the moral issues involved in animal production:

There’s tension in vegetarianism, though, since many of the reasons we have to give up meat—the animal death and suffering, the negative environmental impact, the health consequences—are still problems when we look at milk or eggs. The milk industry tacitly supports veal production, since lactation requires frequent pregnancies and something has to be done with the calves. The egg industry, too, takes a staggering number of lives—every male chick is killed shortly after it hatches, and egg-laying hens are killed at around a quarter or fifth of their natural lifespan. Even more, animal agriculture produces a startling proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions (by some accounts nearly 20 percent) and consumes ashocking amount of water. The environmental consequences of animal agriculture don’t change whether a cow is grown for dairy or meat nor whether a chicken is raised for poultry or eggs.

Booker also expressed concern about his own health. “African-American males have some of the worst health data out of any sort of gender-race combination in our country,” he said. “Do I want to be an exemplar of good health and health outcomes, or do I want to participate in things that are making me unhealthy?”

Hard to argue with that. And if he sneaks some Ben & Jerry’s every once in a while, no one should think the worse of him.

Veganism: it’s a wave that’s building…

Concept Of The Day: Scientism

Just came across this, from this engrossing story called “Zoo Animals And Their Discontents“:

The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who wrote the seminal essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” used a term for the tendency to deny the existence of phenomena that cannot be proved empirically. “Scientism,” he wrote in 1986, “puts one type of human understanding in charge of the universe and what can be said about it. At its most myopic, it assumes that everything there is must be understandable by the employment of scientific theories like those we have developed to date — physics and evolutionary biology are the current paradigms — as if the present age were not just another in the series.”

It is presented in the article as an argument against the tendency among animal scientists and animal keepers to go to extremes to avoid anthropomorphism. But scientism–the idea that if science hasn’t proved it yet it must not be true; ignoring the possibility that science may YET prove it–is a phenomenon that I see across many spheres, from animal intelligence to the connections between diet and health (for example in the gluten debate).

We should be open to anecdotal evidence, and what our instincts and experience tell us, about the world around us (pet owners, for a long time, knew more about the emotional lives of animals than researchers did). We may not KNOW the truth, or have proof, of why something is the way it is. But sometimes we might have a pretty good idea, good enough to act on, even if the science isn’t definitive one way or the other yet.

Animal Care Chronicles Wrap-Up

King Ralph

The final installment of my conversations with former Animal Care workers Jim Horton, Cynthia Payne, and Krissy Dodge is now up on The Dodo. (Previous conversations are here and here).

In this round, Jim and Cynthia talk about what it was like to try and dive the dolphin feeding pools to keep them clear of objects that either fell in or were thrown in by guests. And Jim explains the impossible situation he faced with an irate male dolphin called Ralph:

The young calves would maybe grab your flippers and drag you back. That was kind of fun, though the number one rule was never to react. You didn’t want to reinforce it so we would never react to any behavior. We’d just ignore the animals totally. But Ralph would really mess with you. He’d get in your face and be jaw popping really hard. He’d be 6 inches from your face slamming his mouth shut with 200 pounds of force. It would sound like firecrackers going off underwater. You could tell [he was coming]. He’d start vocalizing really loud, and you’d go ‘Oh lord, Ralph is getting worked up.’ He’d get right in your face and scream and vocalize, really, really loud. Or he’d grab you by the head and pull you around. He’d lay on top of you.

Krissy concludes with the traumatic death of a sea lion named Eric, which prompted her to quit SeaWorld. It is a story she has never before told publicly:

We went to give him fluids and Eric began to go into convulsions. His head was shaking involuntarily. All of a sudden he arched his back into what they call the ‘death arch’ and he laid down and stopped breathing. He had no pulse. We thought he had died. Several people left to get ready for the necropsy. I stayed with him. He then started breathing again and I felt a pulse in his neck. The decision was made to euthanize him. But Eric’s body was not taking the poison. Even though it was injected into his heart, he didn’t die. Eric was taken to necropsy anyway. He was hoisted onto the truck, taken to the necropsy room and laid on the floor. He was still breathing. I figured we’d just wait for him to die, but I was wrong. What happened next I will never forget.

Read the whole thing here.

Since this is the last in the series I want to emphasize that it took courage for Jim, Cynthia, and Krissy to tell their stories, especially because they knew that doing so would provoke criticism and personal attacks from all sides of the spectrum. And, already, I have seen many unthinking and knee-jerk comments on social media that add nothing to the debate our our thinking about animal care, marine mammal captivity and marine parks.

We all expected that. But the reason to put these stories on the record is to add to the growing wealth of information and experience that comes from people who have worked in the industry. So anyone who really wants to learn and think about marine mammal captivity, and what it is like for both animals and those who work and care for them, can now read what Jim, Cynthia and Krissy had to say. And hopefully that will help deepen, inform, and expand the post-Blackfish debate about marine mammal captivity.

So I greatly appreciate the spirit Jim, Cynthia and Krissy have shown in sharing their experiences. And I hope you do too, no matter how you react to the information.

Quote Of The Day

“I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?’”

–Pope Francis (from his list of tips to becoming a happier person).