Feeling for Animals and Animal Liberation
Dr. Michael W. Fox
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.
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.
"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."
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 knowledges 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, "Hes 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 theres 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 conjecturesThe 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 therefrom 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."
"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
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
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
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:
"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
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." [ch.67]