What Humans’ Views about Animals Tells Us about Humans
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

What Humans’ Views about Animals Tells Us about Humans

A recent guest of the On Being podcast was John Powell, who made the interesting observation that what Whites think about Blacks tells us little about what Blacks are really like, but it does tell us a lot about what Whites think about what it means to be white. When we see ourselves as different from other groups, the perceived differences relate to what we think is important or distinctive about ourselves.

It follows that the attributes that seem to distinguish humans from nonhumans are those that humans do not want to attribute to themselves. This helps explain why humans have tended to project viciousness or lack of sexual restraint onto many nonhumans. Humans not want to see themselves as violent or sexually inappropriate. In truth, many of us are prone to violence (that is, hurtful force exceeding that needed for defense), most of us have violent fantasies directed against those we believe have wronged us, and nearly all of us have sexual desires that, if publicly known, would be disapproved by a significant fraction of our communities.

People often condemn nonhumans for being “stupid,” evidently because humans want to see themselves as special creations. In truth, animals are well endowed with the mental abilities they need to survive, and we can only marvel at some of their skills. For example, homing pigeons can travel up to 1100 miles to return home, guided by sensors that orient them to the earth’s magnetic field, and elephants can track up to 30 absent members of their families.

Mischaracterizing nonhumans has facilitated massive abuse of innocent creatures. It is also harmful for humans. I will explore this in the next essay.

Go on to: Harmful Misunderstandings about Animals
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