The Deafening Silence

The past week has produced a number of interesting articles which have become instant talking points. There was one about the continuing lack of opportunities & hurdles facing women in the sciences. There was another about how rich people subconsciously empathize less towards people who aren’t as powerful as them. As can be expected, both articles immediately became major talking points in the online world.

However, there was another article which I found just as, if not more, interesting. It was relating to the emotional capabilities of animals, especially dogs. Written by neuroscientists who had done extensive research on this, it contained a number of explosive findings.

“Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.”

“In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money.”

“Specific parts of the caudate stand out for their consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy. Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preferences for food, music and even beauty.”

“many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions. The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.”

“By using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.”

“One alternative is a sort of limited personhood for animals that show neurobiological evidence of positive emotions. There are no laws that cover animals as wards, so the patchwork of rescue groups that operate under a guardianship model have little legal foundation to protect the animals’ interest.”

“If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.”

The article makes a very powerful case for the deep injustice, exploitation & oppression being perpetuated by our society … and it was greeted by a deafening silence. Some offered the same tired old arguments. “Animals belong to a different species, so that makes it ok.” “I don’t believe in neuroscience.” “The study isn’t 100% conclusive.” But for the most part, the vast majority of people simply shrugged and moved on to the next articles.

One can easily understand why. People innately know that the evidence of animal intellect & emotion is overwhelming. That inflicting pain & suffering on animals for their own hedonistic pleasure is wrong. Even children innately understand this, without requiring any formal education. And yet, what alternative do people have? We have been eating meat all our lives, and can’t imagine giving it up. Our entire society has revolved around animals as property, and changing this would require a major upheaval. Pet owners would suddenly face legal responsibilities for their pets. The entire meat-industry would find themselves out of a job. 99% of the population will find their diet suddenly changed overnight. People know that inflicting pain & suffering on animals is wrong… but there simply isn’t any practical answer to this. So what else is there to do, but to shrug & walk away?

If there’s anyone who can sympathize with this dilemma, it has to be our forefathers from two centuries ago, back when America was a slave-owning country. Slaves formed the bedrock for the agriculture industry, and the American way-of-life. The idea of declaring slavery illegal & treating them not as property but as persons deserving of rights & freedoms seemed utterly impractical & inconceivable to an American society built around the institution of slavery.

And yet, the answer to those objections seems obvious today to every single person in America. Our forefathers who defended slavery aren’t sympathized with for their practical objections & problems. No one even considers the idea that they were right to allow slavery in light of their practical objections. The fact of the matter is, with the benefit of distance, we’re able to expose these practical arguments for what they really are: Fraudulent justifications. There is no practical reason on earth that can be used to justify the suffering, pain & oppression inflicted on others who are capable of grief, sorrow & pain, just like us.

Slavery might be gone today, but the arguments used to justify it in centuries past can still find close cousins in the arguments used to justify animal-ownership today. The evidence is now overwhelming. Animals too are capable of emotions, joy, grief, pain & suffering… just like humans. There is no practical objection on earth that can be used to justify inflicting those things on animals. There will come a day when our descendants will look back at us, shake their heads, and wonder how we could have willfully closed our minds & participated in this abhorrent lifestyle. One can only wonder what our response to them would be.

Related News:
Do elephants have souls?
Rolling Stone: Animal cruelty is the price we pay for cheap meat

8 thoughts on “The Deafening Silence

  1. Two brief points:

    1) Transitioning away from a meat-based diet is entirely possible. I used to be a meat eater. In fact, I used to eat a lot of meat. I come from a family of meat eaters, and they think I’m crazy for being a vegitarian. (Mostly – To be fair and completely honest, every now and then I have some seafood for the protein.) One day, I simply decided to try not eating meat for a while. It took some time to figure out (and for my body to adapt), but now I find meat repulsive, and am generally much healthier than I was before. It’s been about 5 years now, and I’m happy I made the change, though I find it is very easy to become nutritionally imbalanced if you are not careful (saying this as a 6-foot, 26 year old male.)

    2) Animals and emotional intelligence: I grew up on a horse ranch, and have spent a lifetime around horses. I have also bred and raised several. I can tell you firsthand that I have seen happy horses, and I have seen sad horses. Certain breeds in particular have a very high intelligence (in general) and an incredibly high emotional intelligence. Many horses, if they are trained with compassion rather than violence, are even happy to be ridden. (On several occasions I have seen horses “take care of” very, very young riders by adjusting their weight so they would not fall off.) However, much like people, attitude varies between horses, and greatly depends on how they were raised and the people currently with them. Good horsepeople view horses more as partners than property.

    Anyway, you’ve raised some very interesting points. I’m not sure factory farming is quite on par with slavery, but more and more people are beginning to think it isn’t ethical. I live in America, and feel this problem is closely related to fast food culture as well. As a simple, though shocking exercise, compare the quality of food that is served by McDonalds in different countries – many people around the world are not willing toeat what is served here.

  2. I am frequently astonished on this point. Look at every mammal, especially those nearest to we primates, and you see that we ALL share nearly every single component of our bodies, without exception, from the obvious bits like eyes, skin, hair and bones, to the less obvious like almost every single aspect of our metabolic processes. Included in the list, of course, is the brain and all its parts. For the very most part, only proportions differ, all body parts perform nearly identical functions across all mammals. We humans must also acknowledge that much of who we are and how we feel, mentally and emotionally, is derived biologically, inherited, just as it is with all the animals we study, and twin studies have sealed this as fact.

    So where the hell did anyone ever think the other animals would or should feel very differently from we humans? How utterly idiotic, this assumption that we should so obviously share every other aspect of our biology, but then magically (perhaps as if granted by “god”?) we humans should be the sole exception in all the animal kingdom concerning how OUR precious fucking emotions work. I tell you this absolutely common assumption is utterly absurd and runs contrary to any sane logic, if we understand anything at all about nature. We humans are animals like all others, and in spite of our profound ignorance and delusions of grandeur, the only significant difference for us is that our kind of monkey goes blah blah blah a lot more than the rest. The end.

    Your article echoes (thankfully not in a supporting way) the common sentiment that it bears proving that animals have emotions. I say the notion that animals wouldn’t have emotions bears our deepest ridicule, and should only be entertained upon the most extraordinary evidence (which of course is non existent) because it contradicts everything we know about nature. It has only ever been an assumption born our our original total ignorance. Nature evolved us able to learn, but with heads empty, and long have been the ages of our profound failure to grasp the true ways of nature. Indeed even today, only a small minority of us can recognize, and are willing to accept that we humans are simply fancy brained primates, while some large majority of us still live in myths from thousands years old myth books full of nonsense and gibberish utterly divorced from nature’s reality. I think science needs to look more carefully at some common assumptions and be more critical of Western thought’s often bad heritage.

    Of course animals have emotions. Of course they are proportioned differently than ours, and of course they are less complicated by the incessant word-speaking human process. But watch any humans and other animals interacting together, especially when they have a close relationship, and you will see, and everyone always has seen, an OBVIOUS emotional rapport of some sort. That we have so long failed to acknowledge that fundamental fact, simply because we have a hard time formally proving emotional things, only attests to our ability to be emotionally active, and yet unaware of those emotions and unable to formulate coherent ideas or speech about them. I imagine here some breeder of working dogs a hundred years ago, warmly stroking the ears of his dog, while telling you the dog has no emotions. That breeder was literally doing an emotional engagement with his dog but knew not his own actions. Sadly, it seems like science still mirrors the ignorant stance of his era, which if it was informed by anything, was informed by bad religion telling us that animals were here for humans to exploit, along with the niggers and chinks and anyone else that we didn’t find familiar in our ignorance.

    I can only rejoice that some of us are waking up to the truth of our absolute kinship with all of nature, and all our cousins within it. And good riddance to our past ignorance, may we only realize better the truth of our place in nature.


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