Feeling for Animals and Animal Liberation

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Feeling for Animals and Animal Liberation

Dr. Michael W. Fox
February 2010

If we agree with Lorenz, then a society that condones such incarceration and extreme behavioral deprivation is psychologically deranged. To acknowledge this is a first step toward the recovery of our humanity and the liberation of animals.

The gulf between animal exploitation and animal kinship, and between animal abuse and animal liberation, is fundamentally a spiritual one.

The absence of the Sacred is a societal norm today. So long as this gulf persists between the 'two cultures' of those who see life as a commodity and a means to an end for human gain, and of those who would treat all life with reverence and speak for animal rights, we and the world will never be well. And no amount of experimentation on animals in biomedical research laboratories will come up with the right cure.

As we 'evolved' from being gatherer-hunters and started domesticating plants and animals, we became sedentary, agrarian, and increasingly urban and industrial. We also became increasingly disoriented and disconnected from the natural world. As a consequence, we began to devolve, as Charles Darwin implied in his book The Descent of Man. We lost some of our sympathetic abilities and empathic wisdom that once enabled us to engage in a degree of resonance or inter-subjective communication with other living beings, which to our diminished sensibilities and rational empiricism of today seems mystical or psychic.

Sometimes while treating sick animals and in making a diagnosis, I have felt pain or discomfort in parts of my own body that correspond to an animal's illness or injury. Other veterinarians and animal healers have told me of similar experiences, sometimes even when the animal was many miles away. Anthropologist Prof. M. Guenther describes such resonance in the African Bushman that I believe is an innate ability of our species. Considering the fact that for some 95-98 percent of our time on Earth as humans we were gatherer-hunters and our survival depended on a deep connection with animals, and not just for the killing, this ability may not be permanently lost and could be restored.

Prof. Guenther writes:

Throughout the hunt the hunter would monitor his every thought, emotion and action, in order to sustain the bond of connectedness with the animal by which he felt he could steer the hunt towards an auspicious conclusion. The bond of sympathy was something set up in the hours or days preceding the hunt, when the hunters would attune themselves spiritually to one animal species or another and, in the process, attempt to gather whatever presentiments they could about the impending hunt: the animals they might encounter, the direction they could come form, the likely dangers, the duration of the hunt. These presentiments activated the hunters entire body; they were felt at his ribs, his back, his calves, his face and eyes. His body would be astir with the 'antelope sensation', at places on his body corresponding with those of the antelope's.

Anthropomorphizing and Rationalism

At veterinary college, and subsequently doing postgraduate work in ethology (the study of animal behavior), I was confronted by a majority of peers and teachers alike who were purely rationalists. They saw and treated other animals as mere objects, essentially devoid of emotion. This attitude or belief was evident in their behavior toward and treatment of the animals. Any sense of kinship that I felt toward the animals I discovered, to my surprise, to be confined to a small minority of my peer group and a few teachers who became my friends.

So I had few close friends, and felt alienated from the consensus of those rationalists who contended that it was unscientific and irrational to believe that animals have emotions, an inner subjective self, and that to believe so was to anthropomorphize them.

I could not comprehend this taboo in scientific circles of giving other animals the benefit of the doubt when it came to accepting the probability that their subjective, emotional world was more similar to ours than it was different. This taboo confirmed for me the limited worldview of the instrumental rationalist who, instead of empathically anthropomorphizing animals, actually 'mechanomorphized' them, regarding them as machines, unfeeling automatons.

Why would they choose to think this way? Perhaps it was their way to distance themselves so as not to empathize with the animals they exploited in the name of science and the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake and feel guilt or remorse, and seek atonement. I felt that the 'objective' scientific method was, as a consequence of this limited worldview, seriously flawed and its applications in human and veterinary medicine, and agriculture in particular, extremely harmful.

I was consoled somewhat at an international ethology conference when my friend and Nobel Laureate the late Dr. Konrad Lorenz in his keynote address advised, "'Before you can study an animal, you must first really love it." I was standing with a group of American scientists who laughed uncomfortably at Lorenz and whispered, "He's gone soft." A few years later, Dr. Lorenz was quoted by philosopher Helmut F. Kaplan, in an essay entitled "Do Animals Have Souls?", saying, "A human who truly knows a higher mammal, perhaps a dog or a monkey, and will not be satisfied that these beings experience similarly to himself, is psychologically abnormal and belongs in a psychiatric clinic," and is a "public enemy."

That is why I continue to be outraged when I see dogs and monkeys in biomedical research laboratory cages, sows and veal calves kept in crates, tigers in cages and elephants in chains: And when I read articles and books that deny or seek to disprove how similar we are to other animals, especially to dogs, rats, and elephants. If we agree with Lorenz, then a society that condones such incarceration and extreme behavioral deprivation is psychologically deranged. To acknowledge this is a first step toward the recovery of our humanity and the liberation of animals.

Anthropocentrism in its extreme form is manifested as chauvinism and human superiority, as I detail in my book The Boundless Circle. Scientific anthropocentrism, coupled with the taboo against anthropomorphizing other animals, results in a knee-jerk reaction against the concept of animal rights. Rationalists reason that animals cant have rights because they cant be 'moral agents;' they can't have interests or inherent value because no inner subjective emotional and cognitive reference to a 'self' can be scientifically proved. So to the rationalist, they are unfeeling, irrational, instinct-driven automatons, and there’s no objective scientific evidence to prove to the contrary. What is subjective cannot be quantified, weighed and measured, therefore, there is no proof of the existence of emotion or soul in animals.

Jungian analyst James Hillman writes:

Strict science says: since animals cannot express their personalities in language stating what is going on inside their minds, we may not assume they have personalities, insides, or minds. Whatever we attribute to them are our own subjective conjectures. The scientific fear of falling into anthropomorphizing cuts the human world from the animal kingdom. This fear also leads us to distrust our intuitions and insights, putting a curse on empathy. (italics mine)

Hillman asserts that if we do not anthropomorphize, "we are doomed to read a horse's gambol not as joy but as our projection, a stray dog's whining not as desperation but as our sentimental identification with its plight, a 'coon's thrashing in a trap not as its fear but as our own claustrophobia and victimization." He concludes that anthropomorphism can free us from the prison of our subjectivity and also liberate animals from the arrogant philosophies that hold that consciousness is an exclusively human property and that animals are dumb.

Hillman points out that the term anthropomorphism was
"coined during the heyday of materialist rationalism and is used to deny the inherent intelligibility that species afford to one another." Indeed to the rationalist, nonverbal communication and empathic communion with other species are in the realm of the irrational, delusional and mystical.

American psychologist William James in his studies of human nature was concerned about the detrimental psychological and spiritual consequences of rationalism. He sees mystical states and knowledge derived there from as being indispensable "stages in our approach to the final fullness of the truth," and debunks the "pretension of non-mystical states to be the sole and ultimate dictators of what we may believe."

James observes:

When a person has an inborn genius for certain emotions, his life differs strangely from that of ordinary people, for none of their usual deterrents check him.

James goes on to contend:

Rationalism insists that all our beliefs ought ultimately to find for themselves articulate grounds. Such grounds, for rationalism, must consist of four things: (1) definitely statable abstract principles; (2) definite facts of sensation; (3) definite hypotheses based on such facts; and (4) definite inferences logically drawn. Vague impressions of something indefinable have no place in the rationalistic system, which on its positive side is surely a splendid intellectual tendency, for not only are all our philosophies fruits of it, but physical science (amongst other good things) is its result.

Nevertheless, if we look on mans whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is the part that has the prestige undoubtedly, for it has the loquacity, it can challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb intuitions are opposed to its conclusions. If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be true than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.

I absolutely know that chained, starved, and beaten elephants suffer, and I need as much scientific data to prove it to myself as I would need to determine that you would protest if I treated you, dear reader, so cruelly. A typical example of the fatal flaw of scientific rationalism is the response of world-renowned Indian elephant scientist Prof. Rama Sukumar. I asked Sukumar, since beating and chaining of elephants in captivity is the cultural norm in India, why, in the name of compassion, can he not facilitate the adoption of recently developed and mainly Western humane alternatives of elephant management. He answered that he would need more "scientific documentation" to prove that these alternatives are valid and preferable. Where in his thinking was there place and scope for humane and ethical, rather than purely scientific considerations?

Having heard the screams of chained elephants being trained by repeated beatings, and having seen their injuries and semi-starved and deliberately weakened condition (which Prof. Sukumar calls a natural, seasonal thing), I see rationalism as a kind of arrogant denial. Sukumar has seen and heard it all, although he also insists that he has no expertise in the care of captive elephants.

The kind of science that rational materialism gives birth to, what I call 'scientism', has no feeling for organisms or natural systems, as Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock insisted every scientific investigator must have: "to have a feeling for the organism." So how can the scientism of Prof. Sukumar and others be of any use in improving the well-being of captive animals, wild and domestic, still incarcerated in chains, crates, pens, stalls, cages, tethers, and pits in this modern age? It cannot, because 'scientism' has no capacity for subjectivity, sympathy and for relationships, be they atomic, genetic or emotional. I once challenged U.S. Animal Science Professor Stanley Curtis in debate before an audience of pig producers by asking him, "Stanley, do you believe that pigs have feelings?" He wavered and then said, "We need to do more research before we can really be sure."

Every country and every nation-state bears witness to the consequences of rationalism - its own endemic cruelties and sufferings of humans and nonhumans. But until each confronts their neighbors animal abuses and environmental harms, they must at the same time see to their own. We must all make amends for the sins of omission and commission that our rationalism has so often sanctified.

We have relied too much on employing the physical and biological sciences - in a bioethical vacuum - for the betterment of society and the economy, and not on moral philosophy, vision, and compassion. Author J. Mortensen contends that, "There is a spiritual chasm between those people who regard mankind as superior and unique and those who think we are merely one of many animals." This is an important issue for religious leaders, educators, lawmakers, and all citizens to address today, and to put ethics, hope and love into our daily lives and all our relationships.

Toward a Unity of Spirit

You may have seen a flock of birds in fast flight, without an evident leader, all turning at once in unison, their behavior reflecting their oneness of body, mind, and spirit.

In my book The Soul of the Wolf, I describe this phenomenon as the one-mindedness of the pack. Having witnessed riotous mob-violence in my own species and also the ecstatic and transcendental consequences of group chanting and dancing, it is also evident that humans can also become one in body, mind, and spirit - for better or for worse.

Given the biological evidence in support of this phenomenon, we need to reflect on it significance and potential for our own kind to be collectively moved in body, mind, and spirit. While we live in a culture that sanctifies individualism and equates it with personal freedom, the power and potential of a humanity unified in spirit is something that many fear because they are led to believe they would lose their autonomy and self-identity. After all, any kind of collective consciousness or unity of spirit is demeaned as being primitive, tribal, or cultishly anti-social.

One of the last bastions of a collective unity of spirit has been religion, but the separation of Church and state, and the political and fundamentalist perversions of religious traditions have done much to destroy this unity. Little wonder, therefore, that what was once the collective conscious of tribe and community, culture and religion, has become what Jungian psychologists call the collective unconscious. In other words, through oppression, subversion and denial, the power and potential of a humanity consciously unified in spirit (and by that I mean a people linked by shared virtues, ethics, and a morality that is Earth- or Creation-centered and all encompassing rather than self-centered and self-serving) has been sublimated and rendered unconscious. But it is still there and must be recovered if humanity is to be redeemed and all that is sacred restored.

Anarchy has been turned into a negative principle by the dominant culture of today. This dominant culture, if we define evil as the absence of empathy, is the Evil Empire that is racist, sexist and speciesist, and yet incorporates, assimilates and exploits all races, both sexes and all species if marginalization and annihilation are less profitable and expedient. This dominant culture is the status quo of industrial consumer society, its values being the hallmark of normalcy, while any nonconformist view, community or movement is seen as an anarchistic threat.

Humanity unified in spirit is the essence of spiritual anarchy. This does not mean mayhem but rather calls for personal responsibility for one's own and other' freedom; a responsibility to be ethical, caring, and respectful of the rights and interests of others and their freedom to be. The 'others' includes all living beings, not just the human species or members of one's own family, class, race or other affinity-group. Anarchy (an-archy) means no hierarchy, no ruler, no tier of power, and thus no structure for oppression and chauvinism because the truth of anarchy is equalitarianism; giving equal and fair consideration to the rights and interests of all members of the Earth community. And as we become one in spirit, this sacred community will know peace and justice that only we can bring into the world if we have the courage and commitment, and the ethical compass of compassion.

Richard Brooks has translated a relevant passage from the Tao Te Ching that was written by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu over 2,500 years ago [ch.67]

I have three treasures that I hold and cherish:
The first is compassion (or deep love) (tzu),
The second is frugality,
The third is not presuming to be first in the world.
Being compassionate, one can be courageous;
Being frugal, one can be generous;
Not presuming to be first in the world, one can become a leader (or minister).
Now, trying to be courageous without compassion,
Trying to be generous without frugality,
And trying to be a leader without humility
Is sure to end in death.
For compassion brings triumph in attack and strength in defense.
What Heaven wishes to preserve it surrounds with compassion.

Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian, former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president of Humane Society International and the author of more than 40 adult and children’s books on animal care, animal behavior and bioethics. For more about by Dr. Fox, visit Two Bit Dog.