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Part 9. Who We Eat Is a Moral Question

Marc Bekoff New World Library ePub

HUMANS PAY VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to the food they choose to eat. I call this a “moral question” because the animals who wind up in our mouth are sentient beings who quite often suffered enormously on the way to our stomach — either on factory farms and in slaughterhouses where they see, hear, and smell others get slaughtered, or when they’re writhing on the deck of a boat or a dock after they’ve been pulled from their watery homes. Animals aren’t objects. When I give lectures and very gently remind people that they’re eating formerly sentient beings, it often gets very quiet because we’re so accustomed to asking “What’s for dinner?” not “Who’s for dinner?” After these discussions I’ve had people tell me they’ll never eat animals again. I fully realize that our meal plans raise many difficult questions that we wish would just go away, but they won’t, and each of us needs to be responsible for the choices we make. It’s easy to show in a compassionate and gentle way how a vegetarian or vegan diet can work for just about everybody.

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Part 1. Animals and Us: Reflections on Our Challenging, Frustrating, Confusing, and Deep Interrelationships with Other Animals

Marc Bekoff New World Library ePub

Reflections on Our Challenging, Frustrating, Confusing, and Deep Interrelationships with Other Animals

FROM TIME TO TIME, people ask me and the editors at Psychology Today why I write for them. I was astounded when these queries first came in, but I came to realize that it’s often not clear how the lives and emotions of animals relate to human psychology. In fact, our interactions with animals tell us a good deal about how we perceive ourselves, we who are also animals. Our interactions with animals run deep, and in very direct and pragmatic ways, these interactions affect both ourselves and the animals involved. Simply put, when we harm other animals, we hurt ourselves, and when we protect and nurture other animals, we heal ourselves. Whether we deny or recognize animal emotions and intelligence, this has real-world consequences for everyone. This is why I prefer using the word “interrelationships” rather than “relationships,” and why I prefer phrases like “other animals” and “nonhuman animals” rather than “animals,” as if humans were somehow separate from or not animals. In these ways I try to emphasize that all animal species share a continuum of being, which includes the way we feel and what we think.

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Part 7. Wild Justice and Moral Intelligence: Don’t Blame Other Animals for Our Destructive Ways

Marc Bekoff New World Library ePub

Don’t Blame Other Animals for Our Destructive Ways

IT IS CLEAR THAT OTHER ANIMALS are conscious and emotional beings. But are they moral? Do they know right from wrong? This is a hot area of research, and comparative studies are showing that indeed they are and they do. In fact, we’re learning that all animals, including humans, are far nicer and more cooperative than we previously imagined. One thing this means is that we shouldn’t blame nonhuman animals for our destructive ways. As this part points out, nonhuman animals have been observed intentionally harming one another, but on balance humans clearly do much more intentional harm to their own species than other animals ever do to their own. Further, we also can learn a lot about compassion, empathy, and morality from observing other species. But finally, new research shows that across cultures humans are really much nicer than we ever give them credit for. It’s a relative few who wage wars, kill people, and harm children. Most people in the world are nice, kind, and generous, just like their nonhuman cousins.

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Part 5. Consciousness, Sentience, and Cognition: A Potpourri of Current Research on Flies, Fish, and Other Animals

Marc Bekoff New World Library ePub

A Potpourri of Current Research on Flies, Fish, and Other Animals

THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY EXCITING TIME to study the behavior of other animals. It seems like every day we’re learning more and more about the fascinating lives of other animals — how smart and clever they are and how they’re able to solve problems we never imagined they could. Here I consider a wide range of research on animals that shows clearly just how well-developed and amazing are their cognitive skills. A very few people continue to ignore what we really know about other animals, but they are in the vast minority. Here you can read about flies, bees, lizards, fish, a back-scratching dog, how climate change is influencing behavior, and why respected scientists are pondering the spiritual lives of animals.

However, before getting into this wonderful research on animal minds and consciousness, I start this part with an essay that tackles one of the main and enduring criticisms of such research and of my work in particular: anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human characteristics to non-human animals, objects, or events (such as when people talk about “nasty thunderstorms.” The charge of anthropomorphism is often used to bash ideas that other animals are emotional beings. Skeptics claim that dogs, for example, are merely acting “as if” they’re happy or sad, but they really aren’t; they might be feeling something we don’t know or feeling nothing at all. Skeptics propose, because we can’t know with absolute certainty the thoughts of another being, we should take the stance that we can’t know anything or even that consciousness in other animals doesn’t exist. For Psychology Today and elsewhere, I have written extensively about the “problem” of “being anthropomorphic.” For instance, see “Anthropomorphic Double-Talk” in my book The Emotional Lives of Animals (see Endnotes, page 335). In my opinion, there’s no way to avoid anthropomorphism. Even those who eschew anthropomorphism must make their arguments using anthropomorphic terms, and they often do so in self-serving ways. If a scientist says an animal is “happy,” no one questions it, but if the animal is described as sad or suffering, then charges of anthropomorphism are leveled. Scientists can accept and treat their own companion animals as if they feel love, affection, gratitude, and pain, and then deny these very emotions in the animals they use, and abuse, while conducting experiments in the lab.

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Part 2. Against Speciesism: Why All Individuals Are Unique and Special

Marc Bekoff New World Library ePub

Why All Individuals Are Unique and Special

ANIMALS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES. Biologists try to organize and make sense of this variety by classifying animals as members of different phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, species, and subspecies. In this way, scientists create our “family tree,” which shows how the various types of animals are related and where they diverge. Often scientists use words like “simple” and “complex,” or “higher” and “lower,” to characterize different species based on particular traits, such as the complexity of the nervous system or the size of the brain relative to the size of the body. Within biological classification systems, these words are useful. However, they are also often translated into qualitative judgments: “higher” becomes “better” or “more valuable”; “lower” becomes “lesser” or “easily discarded.” In the essays in this part, I argue that this usage is misleading, incorrect, and inappropriate. It is “speciesism,” which serves little purpose except to justify the killing or bad treatment of certain classes of animals that humans find either useful or inconvenient. We should not use species membership to make decisions about how an animal can be treated, or more pointedly, what level of mistreatment is permissible. Rather, we should approach each animal as an individual with unique characteristics and an inherent value equal to all other beings. Individual animals do what they need to do to be card-carrying members of their respective species. Within their species, this has the most value, and no individual is “better” or “more valuable” than the rest. Just as all species count, all individuals count, and all beings are unique and special in their own ways.

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