2020 Hindsight Demands Changes in Animal-Human Interactions
From All-Creatures.org Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
January 2020

People will look back at what we knew and ignored and be utterly dismayed.

Sheep Jared
Jared, a rescued sheep, at Luvin' arms Animal Sanctuary - Source: Myles Robinson

"Often, Americans think about their relationships with animals as only about the pets in their homes. But from the food we eat to the drugs we develop to the protection of our wilderness areas and climate change and even to how we wage war, animal lives touch nearly every aspect of human life."
—Jane Desmond, "Presidential candidates should talk about animals"

"More than 200 million animals are killed for food around the world every day—just on land. That comes out to 72 billion land animals killed for food around the world every year. Including wild caught and farmed fishes, we get a daily total closer to 3 billion animals killed."

Years ago when someone asked me questions about what I thought the world would be like in 2020 for nonhuman animals (animals), I couldn't even fathom what anything would be like in 2020. It seemed so far away and there were many more pressing issues with which I was concerned.

Nonetheless, 2020 is here, and while there has been some progress in animal-human interactions and the ways in which animal-human conflicts are resolved, there's still tons of work to be done to even the playing field and to get harming and killing nonhuman beings—in the name of humans, in the name of food, in the name of entertainment, in the name of research, or in the name of conservation—off the table.

When it comes to animal-human interactions, humans routinely harm and slaughter sentience by the trillions each and every year in the name of many things. While some people are shocked to see the word "trillions," it's really the case when one considers the wide variety of nonhumans, including fishes, who are used and abused in various venues, including the food industrial complex.

It's essential to broaden our taxonomic interests and include those nonhumans who we think aren't sentient beings, but who in fact are thinking and feeling individuals, in our deliberations about how to interact with them.

One appalling example that defies any sense of reality—perhaps the lowest of the lowest hanging fruit—is the inane claim that laboratory rats and mice aren't really animals. The science that clearly shows these rodents are sentient beings continues to be totally ignored. Thus, in the 2002 iteration of the Federal Animal Welfare Act we read, "Enacted January 23, 2002, Title X, Subtitle D of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, changed the definition of 'animal' in the Animal Welfare Act, specifically excluding birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research."

The first time I saw this I had to read it a few times to be sure my eyes were still working. And sadly, numerous scientists sign on to this ludicrous idea. I've often pondered, "How do you explain to a youngster that rats aren't really animals?" It beats me, but it's clear they're written off because of their widespread use and because they make a lot of money for those who wantonly breed and use them in all sorts of research.

There is hope, but we must use science sense and common sense on behalf of other animals

"Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.”
—Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals

2020 hindsight demands that we change our ways and recognize that we need a major paradigm shift in how we view other animals and that we use what we know on their behalf. We need to stop pretending that other animals don't care about what happens to them, their families, or their friends, and solid science and a good dose of common sense tell us this is so. The Anthropocene is often called "the age of humanity." In reality, it's morphed into "the rage of inhumanity." Countless nonhumans are treated with excessive, unnecessary, and reprehensible violence every second of every day, and this has got to stop.

Despite all of the negativity that surrounds and engulfs us, I remain hopeful, fully recognizing that there's a lot of work to be done. We need to listen to all nonhumans' voices and those of the people who are trying to save them. We need to accept that the life of each and every individual matters because they are alive, not because of what they can do for us. Two of the guiding principles of compassionate conservation are, "First, do no harm" and the lives of all individuals matter.

We also need to confront the cognitive dissonance that allows some people to say that although they love other animals, it's also okay for them to harm and to kill them. And, we need to be nice to people with whom we interact and accept that sometimes we just need to agree to disagree and move on to work with people who are open to changing how we interact with other animals. Colorado's First Gentleman, Marlon Reis, with whom I work closely on the Governor's Coalition for Animal Protection (GCAP), recently told me about a saying with which I'm in total agreement: "If you can't be nice, be quiet." We have limited resources and we must be very careful not to waste finite and precious time, energy, and money on those who just want to deflect us from the work that needs to be done on behalf of nonhuman animals.

If we don't make these sorts of changes, and perhaps even if we do, I'm sure that many people in future generations will likely ask how in the world could you do what you did knowing what you knew about the cognitive and emotional lives of other animals? In fact, I've been asked that question in the past and even nowadays by many people, including youngsters, who are incredulous that we've ignored and continue to ignore what we know about the lives of other animal beings. And what's especially disturbing is that the very traits that we use to talk about them and to make them more appealing and charismatic—for example, their deep and rich family and emotional lives—are disregarded using a plethora of self-serving reasons and lame excuses.

By developing and implementing programs centering on humane education for all—not only for youngsters but also for all people who deeply care about protecting other animals and for politicians and people actively developing guidelines for how we must interact with other animals—all animals, including humans, can benefit. By expanding our umbrellas and footprints of compassion, empathy, respect, and dignity, nonhumans and humans will benefit, a win-win for all. Let's hope that all animal beings will be as fortunate as Jared, a very lucky rescued resident sheep at Luvin' Arms Animal Sanctuary, and other nonhumans who reside at other places where they can live in peace and safety with dignity.

2020 is a great time to begin or to continue on this inclusive, ambitious, and much-needed journey. More and more people seem to be awakening and recognizing the plight of countless animals in all of the habitats in which they try to live in peace and safety, absent human interference and domination.

Perhaps we can do things that will decrease the likelihood of future humans wondering in dismay how we could possibly intentionally cause all of the pain, suffering, and death we did. And, even if they remain surprised, there are still numerous reasons why we have to change our ways, right now. The status quo doesn't work, hasn't worked for far too long, and fails far too many nonhumans in an increasingly human-dominated world. We can always do more.

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