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16 May 2001 Issue
On Misanthropy

by Andrew Linzey
from The Animals' Agenda - January/February 2001

Here's a confession: I find most people untrustworthy, and not a few downright treacherous. As I get older, I find myself able to trust fewer and fewer people. I don't even seek new friends, and whatever solace I find is invariably not in the company of fellow human beings.

Now I know that is a shocking confession, and people will be right to complain. Here is a theologian -- and a priest to boot -- saying these dreadful things about his fellow humans. He should be ashamed of himself.

Well, I'm not proud of these words. But my conclusion arises not from some abstract principle but rather from my own experience. I have found humans (including myself) to be deeply flawed, irreducibly mean, and, in truth, the only unlovable species.

I venture to be so bold with my feelings because I know that they are shared my many animal advocates. If one looks unflinchingly and regularly at the enormity of the evil we inflict upon other sentient, it is very difficult not, to put it mildly, to have a sense of the moral ambiguity of the human race.

Indeed, I regularly hear talk from animal advocates that seems pretty close to despair -- despair about our seeming inability to see a moral problem about animals, despair about the cruelty we inflict, and especially despair about the human capacity for moral self-improvement. Such despair often leads to an indifferent, even hateful, attitude toward other humans.

However understandable such feeling may be, it is absolutely vital that we do not give way to them. Most especially, it is essential that we do not fall into the trap set for us by animal exploiters who are only too ready to write us off as "human haters." Sadly, I have heard some animal advocates saying that we should experiment on prisoners rather than animals. And I have heard some advocates calling exploiters "scum" and other hateful words.

I do not believe that these sentiments represent the best of our movement, and neither do I believe that 99 percent of animal advocates are genuine misanthropes. But we must be careful (and here I preach especially to myself) not to let our genuine sense of disillusion with the moral record of our own species spill over into negative, even hostile, attitudes.

It is not for nothing that George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "I know many [blood] sportsmen and none of them are ferocious. I know several humanitarians; and they are all ferocious."

Most especially, we must not base any animal rights strategy on anything remotely resembling misanthropy. I mention no names, but there are some people in our movement who at least speak as if animal rights can be secured at the expense of human rights. Rather than chiding or rebuking sensitivity to humans, we need to build upon it -- and help individuals to enlarge it still further in the direction of other creatures.

Whenever I find myself recoiling in disbelief and moral repugnance at my fellow humans, I picture in my mind other exploited human subjects such as children cruelly abused, families facing grinding poverty, and minorities denied basic rights. I say to myself, "These too are victims along with the animals." Humans like animals, also need liberation.

In one sense, animal advocates have to believe in humanity. We have to believe that we can do better. Our whole moral case depends upon humans recovering some lost humanity. Of course it mustn't be a starry-eyed optimism, without a deep practical grasp of the human potential for depravity, but perhaps it can at lease be a qualified optimism. Speaking for myself, I find despair not only understandable, but also far too easy.

The Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey is a member of the Faculty of Theology, university of Oxford, England. The U.S. edition of his book "Animal Gospel" is published by Westminster/John Knox Press.

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566; www.animalsagenda.org.”
Email: office@animalsagenda.org 

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