This is a political post. It’s also a post about ethics. And animal rights. And human rights. It’s a post about all of those things and more because they are all deeply and inextricably connected, as are we.
In the history of humanity, we the people as a whole have never truly understood that. It is from that lack of understanding, indeed from our active and often angry denial of our mutual connection, that most of our problems spring. It is one thing to celebrate and marvel at our differences, human to human and across species we are all extraordinary in ways both similar and breathtakingly unique. This is not an argument for homogenization. It is, however, an argument against otherness in all its dangerous and ugly forms. It is an argument for the value, the dignity, the inherent rights, and the profound connection that runs through the very core of all that lives.
“There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” -Audre Lorde
It’s incredible the ease and frequency with which people argue passionately for one cause while dismissing another. More than that, it is asserted on a disturbingly consistent basis that not only is the cause or marginalized and suffering subset that you care about the wrong one or not as good as the one someone else cares about, but that your choice to invest caring there comes at the expense and exclusion of all others.
Reality is the exact opposite. True empathy and compassion know no bounds or borders. To wish for equity and compassion for one, you must wish it for all. There is no true compassion that extends to only the subset of life that it makes you feel the best to advocate for. That’s not compassion, it’s self-righteousness and it serves to oppress rather than to lift up. When someone tells you that a life matters, they are not saying that others don’t.
We need to move away from a mindset that pits struggles against each other and seeks to arrange them in a hierarchy. When we let go of our defensiveness and need to win or feel superior, our response to someone’s work on behalf of an area of need immediately changes from, but what about this to, thank you for working to make our world a kinder, safer, more equitable place. It opens the door for phrases like how can I help and did you also know instead of slamming it because someone is not talking about your pet issue.
We all have different gifts, different passions, and different life experiences that will lead us to being most active in different areas of need. It’s because of those differences that were each of us to get involved in the places our paths lead, there’d be no shortage of hands on deck to achieve our ends. Instead, we exist in a perpetual shortage of open hands and open hearts and it is in no small part because too many of us sit back and accuse and judge rather than doing the work and embracing the value in a collective, compassionate good.
“Almost every week there is a new finding regarding sophisticated animal cognition, often with compelling videos to back it up. We hear that rats may regret their own decisions, that crows manufacture tools, that octopuses recognize human faces, and that special neurons allow monkeys to learn from each other’s mistakes. We speak openly about culture in animals and about their empathy and friendships. Nothing is off limits anymore, not even the rationality that was once considered humanity’s trademark.” -Frans de Waal
History is littered with atrocities perpetrated on the basis of otherness. We kid ourselves if we believe our treatment of other species does not permeate our treatment of our fellow humans. The drive to be superior, the desire to climb higher by stepping on those below or beside us, the rationalizing and minimizing of suffering because it’s inconvenient to our comfortable lives, the subjugation for entertainment and frivolity…each of these choices devalues life and normalizes oppression and injustice. Through our treatment of other species, we are socialized from a young age to believe that there are groups we are better than, more deserving than, and thus able to hurt with impunity.
Embracing the inherent value and rights of all who walk (or swim, fly, or climb as the case may be) the earth immediately shifts the paradigm. It is never okay to oppress, to subjugate, to assign a value of less than. We are all celebrated for the uniquely beautiful contribution we make to the world. The place we occupy matters and its connection and value are assumed, not subjected to a level of worth determined only by a set of standards to which we could never belong, be it on the basis of species, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any of the many categories with which we differentiate ourselves. We are expert empathizers and the perspectives and cultures to which we are exposed make our lives immeasurably richer, and kinder.
It’s disheartening that both the leap to compassion for animals and the leap to compassion for other humans for those able to muster deep compassion for animals seem so difficult. Each are mocked in various incarnations and all of that mocking devalues life and moves us farther away from ethical coherence and our ability to live wholly compassionate and just lives.
“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” -Ani DiFranco
The more diverse a coalition, the more fragile its bonds of unity. But does that have to be true? It would seem that by truly embracing both what makes us different and what binds us together, we have the potential for the strongest coalition ever to take shape and go to the mat for what makes the world good. Diversity is strength. It’s the opportunity to learn, to stretch your heart and your mind and find friendship, love, camaraderie, and healing where previously there was disconnection or empty space. It’s a deeper well of ideas, experience, and inspiration. It’s more hands joined together to carry the weight and lift up those who stumble or fall.
This may seem like far too optimistic an assertion for the world that currently surrounds us. But what are our choices, really? We gain nothing, and lose much, by walking away because it’s too hard but what we stand to gain, to protect, and to transform by opening our hearts and minds and putting in the work is boundless.
“Speak to me: I will spend my lifetime trying to understand you.” -Kamand Kojouri
*The thoughts and opinions in each post on this blog are those solely of the attributed author and do not necessarily extend to all program collaborators or to Ethics in Animal Care itself.*