Overly sentimental, too emotional, naive, given to anthropomorphism, misanthropic, ignorant. This, says the critic, is the animal advocate. The women are simply being women. And the men are simply being, well, women. In a word, we are weak, unwilling to confront nature’s harshness and blind to violent predation. There is a Darwinian imperative governing survival and a natural order, a food chain if you will, to life. And man, as the most intelligent and only rational species, peers down from the top.
But, in truth, we advocates are not unworldly and are very much aware of Charles Darwin. We do not need to be reminded that suffering (injustice, death) is part of the condition, human and animal alike. And rather than offering up our advanced intelligence as justification for subjugating other species, we embrace this distinction (which, in fact, grows less profound with each new ethological study) as a (the) reason why human beings should be held to a higher standard. In other words, unlike true predators, we have a choice.
The vast majority of suffering that we cause is unnecessary: Vegetarians/vegans have flourished long enough to bear this out; we simply do not need their protein. And animal experimentation is unreliable, very often redundant, and increasingly easy to replace. Besides, until we are willing to cut up and psychologically torture nonconsenting human beings, we cannot rationally defend doing the same to the pig and primate subjects who are as intelligent and aware as some of us. It is speciesism defined.
While nature can be cruel, it isn’t always. And animals are not just perpetual foragers consumed with not dying. Like us, they have emotional experiences separate and distinct from a physical will to survive. They love and grieve and hurt and need. They seek comfort and find pleasure. And they care and bond, even across species. They also become friends. That is not anthropomorphism. Although the typical human life may involve greater depth or richness, is this reason alone to enslave others for our ends? Does not the rest of sentient creation share a common ground with us? At the very least, this should give us pause.
British psychologist Richard Ryder writes, “Pain [suffering] is the one and only true evil,” and “pain is pain regardless of its host.” When contemplating animal exploitation, Ryder concludes: “If we are going to care about the suffering of other humans then logically we should care about the suffering of non-humans too.” And, I would add, words and deeds should be aligned.
If Ryder is right, we are compelled, unless we wish to suffocate the better angels of our nature, to minimize suffering, not contribute with impunity. The obligate carnivore, killing (causing suffering) because he must, is excused. We who have options are not. Nature has bestowed upon us alone the capacity for moral reasoning and, as importantly, the tools to pursue a compassionate course. In the end, is there a more noble purpose than alleviating another being’s pain? Of course, nature will continue to be very often bloody, mean, and unfair. But our nature allows for mercy, and we can show this several times daily.