Carl Sagan

Sagan was the faculty adviser for the Cornell Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"If there is life, then I believe we should do nothing to disturb that life.
Mars then, belongs to the Martians, even if they are microbes."

-Carl Sagan, COSMOS, episode "Blues for a Red Planet"

You can hear Carl make the Mars statement here:  It starts at about 2:50

"How smart does a chimpanzee have to be before killing him constitutes murder? If chimpanzees have consciousness, do they not have what until now has been described as 'human rights'?"

"Humans -- who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals - -- have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and "animals" is essential if we are to bend them to our will, wear them, eat them -- without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.

In the annals of primate ethics, there are some accounts that have the ring of parable. In a laboratory setting, macaques were fed if they were willing to pull a chain and electrically shock an unrelated macaque whose agony was in plain view through a one-way mirror. Otherwise, they starved. After learning the ropes, the monkeys frequently refused to pull the chain; in one experiment only 13% would do so -- 87% preferred to go hungry. One macaque went without food for nearly two weeks rather than hurt its fellow. Macaques who had themselves been shocked in previous experiments were even less willing to pull the chain. The relative social status or gender of the macaques had little bearing on their reluctance to hurt others.

If asked to choose between the human experimenters offering the macaques this Faustian bargain and the macaques themselves -- suffering from real hunger rather than causing pain to others -- our own moral sympathies do not lie with the scientists. But their experiments permit us to glimpse in non-humans a saintly willingness to make sacrifices in order to save others -- even those who are not close kin. By conventional human standards, these macaques -- who have never gone to Sunday school, never heard of the Ten Commandments, never squirmed through a single junior high school civics lesson -- seem exemplary in their moral grounding and their courageous resistance to evil. Among these macaques, at least in this case, heroism is the norm. If the circumstances were reversed, and captive humans were offered the same deal by macaque scientists, would we do as well? (Especially when there is an authority figure urging us to administer the electric shocks, we humans are disturbingly willing to cause pain -- and for a reward much more paltry than food is for a starving macaque (cf. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental Overview). In human history there are a precious few whose memory we revere because they knowingly sacrificed themselves for others. For each of them, there are multitudes who did nothing."

~ Drs. Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan,
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

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