What have we in common with animals?

You’ve seen the elephant painting pictures on You Tube. Is it a trick? Is the trainer driving the elephant to make the marks? Has the elephant suffered for their art? How else can these sanctuaries raise money to look after these abandoned creatures? It’s well known that elephants are intelligent, sentient beings. Maybe they wouldn’t choose to paint pictures if they didn’t have to but a beast’s gotta eat …

You know that chimpanzees can recognise themselves in a mirror. You’ve heard dolphins are retiring from the USA navy and you’ve heard about The Great Apes Project. You know that some chimpanzees have been taught sign language to the level of a normal four–year-old human. In a controversial remark Peter Singer pointed out that whatever test we propose as a means for separating humans from non-humans, then some humans will fail as well.

cover of In Defense of Animals by Peter Singer

Infants are neither rational nor autonomous. They do not use language and they do not possess a sense of justice. Are they therefore to be treated like non-human animals, to be fattened for the table, if we should fancy the taste of their flesh, or to be used to find out if some new shampoo will blister human eyeballs? …[…]… those unfortunate enough to be born with brain damage so severe that they will never be able to reason, or talk or do any of the other things that are often said to distinguish us from non-human animals. (Pg 5 In Defence)  ( … but they are still awarded the rights and privileges of our species.)

In contrast to Singer, American legal scholar, Gary L. Francione, states in his blog discussing the Great Apes Project, that using any animal for the benefit of humans, is repugnant. Although he was involved in setting up the project, he has come to think that The Great Apes project is elitist. He prefers the Abolitionist approach which means humans should not lean on our animal cousins at all. We should all be vegan.

Although chimpanzees are more like humans, perhaps, like humans, they have certain psychological mechanisms that allow them to “shut down” in the face of stress that rats, mice, and other sentient nonhumans do not have. In any event, it is very dangerous to play the “X suffers more than Y” game. This is precisely the mischief that has led us to think that the use of chimpanzees in research is justified in the first place—we supposedly suffer more than they do because we have even more of the “special” mental characteristics so it is acceptable to use them so that we can suffer less.

Clearly we have much in common with animals; our biology, our sentience and our devotion to others. We are all part of nature.

           ‘But it’s unfair,’ cried Fern. ‘The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?’

Mr Arable smiled. ‘Certainly not,’ he said, looking down at his daughter with love. ‘But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a runty pig is another.’

‘I see no difference,’ replied Fern, still hanging on to the axe. ‘This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of.’ (Pg 8 Charlotte)

Cover of Charlotte's web by EB White

I guess humans are animals too!

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