Our Animals, Ourselves

With the undertaking of domestication of plants and animals humans took advantage of their environments and essentially stylized them to facilitate the acquisition of food.  One general long term effect is that gathering became centralized and hunting was restructured as highly “organized predation”.  [i]  With the advent of specialized food producers other members of the community were free to think about other things. [ii] This led to a boon of innovation for humans, and acquisition of knowledge about life and nature that we could hardly wish to be without, but did not come without a price.

When we domesticated those others we domesticated ourselves as well.  In the same ways that we cultivated, tamed, restricted, categorized, labeled and used plants and animals, so did many men, women and children fall into line as “others” while populations developed a hierarchical system of ownership, suppression of many by the few, and, most sadly, divorced themselves from nature by labeling animals and some humans as having an otherness less worthy of a full free life than some.

What astonishes me is that while humanitarian and civil activism rages against the segregations, the imprisonments, the slavery, the rapes  and any other humiliating injustice you can think of for humans, so come the cries to the effect of  “ These people are forced to live like animals!” or “It is a crime to treat people like animals!”

Statements like this are common vernacular.  In the dialog of recent episode of a popular science fiction television program a father defends his daughter’s right to privacy against authorities who want to study her ability to predict the future by saying he will not allow her to cooperate  since they only want to test her and probe her “like an animal.”  He is well aware of the inhumane consequences of such treatment.

And what of those animals brought up for comparison to humans? If people can see animals that live in such conditions or receive such treatment that no human should be subjected to the same, what have we done?  How can we point to an example of our own making as if it is somehow something animals bring upon themselves, as if it is a fault of their characters or that it doesn’t really matter to them?

Animals in their natural environments avoid unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and anti-social behavior.

Domesticated animals – most often animals raised as food, but even pets and service animals – are routinely subjected to lives of compartmentalized storage, artificial and forced breeding arrangements, and separation from family bonding, nurturing and socialization that can leave them emotionally ruined. Horses most certainly live within such programs.  In the name of human superiority and economics, not to mention frivolous entertainment,  this is usually ignored or twisted to fit neatly into our rationale for using animals for personal gain.

If the greatness of a civilization is judged by how it treats its animals, as has been variously quoted, most notably by Gandhi, I ask, is there yet a civilization that deserves the mark of greatness on that premise?   If we exploit fear and inflict pain, humiliate with punishment and deny intelligence and emotions of the animals we incorporate into our cultures we are operating at the lowest level of our potential.

The knowledge we have gained on the backs of animals has brought us to a place where it is not necessary to continue the practice. It’s time to listen to our words and actions towards animals and realize that if we would not accept treatment toward them as reasonable for ourselves it must cease.  Only then will the accolade of greatness we hope to attach to our civilizations be apt.


[i] Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape  , McGraw-Hill Book Company (1967)

[ii] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel , W.W. Norton Company (2000)

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2 responses to “Our Animals, Ourselves

  1. Love that line about “…operating at the lowest level of our potential.” May I borrow and share?

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