Animals or individuals? The Human Arrogance…

BBC News published an article on dolphins recently, explaining the point of view that some scientists have come to conclude  that dolphins and whales are “people” and should be given rights as individuals. See the article here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17116882

Reading this article provoked conflicting emotions within me – both happiness that finally some people are starting to catch on, and anger at the continuing human arrogance and ignorance that is our perpetual state of being for the majority of humankind.

The exceeding arrogance, that we as human animals, determine whether an animal is “sufficiently intelligent” just rocks me to my very core.  As an animist, I see and hear, I acknowledge, with respect, the soul song, the physical manifestation of every living thing in as much as I can with total awareness – I’m not perfect, but I usually catch myself out when I find I am lacking.  That this outmoded and outdated worldview still exists today, coming from philosophies and religions that place humankind at the top of some existential hierarchy makes me want to scream my outrage at the complete and utter stupidity of it all.

“It is based on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness. This has led the experts to conclude that although non-human, dolphins and whales are “people” in a philosophical sense, which has far-reaching implications.” What I want to know is why we are always comparing other animals to our own selves, our own brains and ideas about self-awareness, especially using really really old philosophy that maybe, just maybe, needs to be rethought? How limiting is that – to compare all animals to our own humanity? Sounds primitive, totally ridiculous – reminds me of the saying “Dogs think they’re human, cats think they’re Gods”.  If we are so damned self-aware, why can we not recognise that this ability may be in other animals as well – we just don’t see it, we can’t find the “place in the brain” or the trigger cues, such as the mirror test mentioned in the article, because we are lacking in sufficient knowledge to see or find it.

My point is made clear in Dr Marino’s statement in the article –  “We went from seeing the dolphin/whale brain as being a giant amorphous blob that doesn’t carry a lot of intelligence and complexity to not only being an enormous brain but an enormous brain with an enormous amount of complexity, and a complexity that rivals our own.” We failed to recognise something, and so we discounted it – what we don’t understand, we throw away, ignore, or worse – we demean it.  And the icing on the cake? Believing that we are special, that we have enormously complex brains that make us different.  How about we just have different brains?  We can’t say for 100% that other animals don’t have complex brains – they may just use them differently.  We cannot compare apples to oranges.  And that also raises the question – what of all the livings things that don’t have brains?

It is interesting to hear Ethics Professor, Tom White, discussing at what point we needs to step in to defend what we see as equal to our own self.   He defined dolphins as “non-human persons”, stating that “a person needs to be an individual. If individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being”.

Does a person have to be an individual to count?  What are the criteria? Is it universal? Why?

In an interesting related article, five Killer Whales are sueing Seaworld on slavery charges – full article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16920866. Interestingly, one of the whales in on the plaintiff’s side is also a murderer – he killed his trainer in a show, and has been linked to two other deaths http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12920267 .  Clearly, he is not a happy bunny, so to speak – that or he is demonstrating his natural song, to kill things seal-size (note he did not eat them, however, as he would have a seal – could we taste that bad, or is this demonstrative behaviour against slavery?) If we see him as a person, could we then charge him with murder?  The icing on the cake, is the trainer’s opinion on the matter to put him back in the shows still (with the trainers safely behind steel bars where they can’t be harmed – yet). “ Participating in shows is just a portion of Tilikum’s day, but we feel it is an important component of his physical, social and mental enrichment,” he said in a statement. Once again, human arrogance and ignorance rears its ugly, ugly head. That, and the whale makes a killing financially for Seaworld (pun intended, with all due respect to the family of the dead trainer and two others victims).

When are we going to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee? When are we going to admit that we are not smarter, cleverer, or the dominant species in a world that is so rich and vast with other living beings?  When are we going to admit to ourselves that we don’t know everything, that we can’t really even know anything?  This has really got me thinking – it is even okay to ride horses?  In my love of horse riding, have I been ignorant too?  I have never ridden a horse that, from what I can tell, doesn’t want to be ridden – I learned my lesson from a temperamental Arab mare who threw me off whenever she just wanted to be left alone.  But what of the others who were not so overt in their opinions? Does that cat really want to be picked up an cuddled?  Do those dogs really enjoy pulling that sled?

How much longer can we all be complicit in our arrogance and ignorance?