We live in a whole different world today then the world that was seen through the eyes of our earliest ancestors. We have made the earth our slave laborer instead of acknowledging that it is the only thing keeping us alive. We pollute our air, lands, and oceans; as well as, killing off some of it’s most beautiful creatures. We have greatly processed as a human race but at the same time we’ve lost touch with the ways we were naturally supposed to survive on our mother and creator, the earth. Practically nothing is natural anymore, our industrial and technical society is spreading like a disease upon the earth’s flesh, she is suffering, but are we taking any initiative to nursing her back to health? Much-like the mad scientist that is often seen in fiction, our intelligence is resulting in a detrimental outcome.
Humans the Highest Form of Nature Creation?
Throughout history, it has been debated that humans are dominant over non-human creatures. We have invoked dominance over the earth and all the creatures on it, taking more than giving back, but just because we can, should we do it? We created a man-made civilization far from being anything organic like what nature instills; therefore, civilization is seen as dominant to nature. But didn’t nature come before man, and aren’t we products of nature? The theory that suggests only beings with mental state should be of moral concern is called sentientism. In this theory, animals and the earth harbor no reasoning or sense of self, so it is believed that the misuse or exploitation of such beings doesn’t hold any importance or not as much importance when compared to humans. This theory is applied to environmental ethic issues like the pollution of the earth, experimentation on animals, and the mistreatment of the livestock in the meat industry.
Also related is the theory speciesism which refers to humans being superior to all living creatures. Are we and should we be dominant to all that inhabits the earth? Should we apply moral concern to non-human life-forms? The theory in favor of nature is called wholism, and it is the belief that all in nature is one, so everything co-exists together without any dominance over the other. With the theories of Speciesism, sentientism, and wholism; ethical issues regarding exploitation, farming, experimentation, and the unnecessary killing of nature and animals can be applied.
Humans Vs. Non-Human Creatures
Humans have been considered the most intelligent creatures to inhabit the earth, and we even have named ourselves homo sapiens which translates to “wise man”, but does this directly refer us to being the most important of all species? Speciesists and sentientist believe that we are. Sentientist may believe that since humans have reasoning, they are superior to those creatures that don’t, while a speciesist believes we are simply superior to all living things that aren’t human. Regarding these theories, in issues like experimentation on animals, it is seen as less controversial than if experiments were to be conducted on humans; although, experimentation done on humans without consent is another story, a human still has the ability to give consent or not unlike an animal. The animal has no control over what we are to do to them and are completely defenseless, which could be argued as morally wrong because the animal has no choice, and also be seen as evidence for human dominance.
Animal experimentation is a controversial issue because it is seen as unfair treatment to a defenseless creature, at the same time, it is crucial to the advancement of medical technologies. Without it we may not have the medical treatments we have today, so is there any way around it? Animals have been commonly used as crash test dummies for new technologies before they are ever considered to be tested on humans. Nasa has sent animals like dogs and monkeys to space to as a test and they even killed a few animals in the process. Is this morally right and less important than if they were a human? Does a human’s life hold more value than any other creature just because we are considered to be the only species with conscious thoughts?
Do Animals Suffer Like We Do?
It has also been greatly debated if non-human animals are sentient creatures with mental awareness and consciousness, especially when concerning ethical issues regarding animal suffering like hunting and raising livestock to kill. The animals being raised for food sometimes never see the world outside their cage where they are confined like some animal holocaust, while in hunting, animals are killed for profit because of their skin, fur, tusks, etc., or they are otherwise killed senselessly just for sport.
Are these creatures aware of their own fate and also of their own suffering? Some people think that sentience is merely a human mechanism; the idea that animals might not experience suffering dates back to 17th-century France, where philosopher Rene’ Descartes argued that animals lack consciousness. This concept even goes as far to a pop culture perspective with Nirvana’s lyrics, “it’s okay to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings”, in their 1991 song “Something in the Way.” Is there any way to determine if this concept has any truth if there is no way to physically feel if non-human animals do in fact feel pain? Do animals have anthropomorphic characteristics?
In Lynne U. Sneddon’s article “Can animals feel pain?”, she observes that animals have similar mechanisms of pain detection; as well as, the pain process is seen in a similar area of the brain as humans, and that animals are also known to show pain behaviors. Going further into the topic of animal suffering, Pete Wedderburn wrote in his Telegraph article “Animals grieve just like we do”, that humans feel emotion in a primitive portion of the brain, which is shared by all mammals, and that also some of the neurotransmitters chemicals we have are identical to some species. He also noted that one of the key differences between human and animal brains is in the frontal cortex, which allows us to think and do things more cognitively. A speciesist or sentientists may question this information by asking “well if we share the same brain mechanisms then why aren’t animals more like us?”. They physiologically are similar to us in lots of ways, but mentally, it’s much harder to determine. Relating back to animals having similar brain functions, some species have even been shown to grieve death, this is seen in animals such as birds, horses, and elephants, but isn’t grief a human emotion? I think we forget sometimes that we are a species; as well as, the creatures that co-inhabit the world with us.
Our One and Only Earth
It is pretty much common sense to say that nothing ever lasts forever, but I think sometimes with things regarding conservation of the earth and its creatures, something gets lost in translation. The earth is changing rapidly and going through several environmental changes due to our pollution, and certain species are being wiped off the planet with the extinction rate being 1,000 times higher than the natural rate. It all comes down to our attitude about nature and the earth, people in favor of human dominance believe that nature simply exists for us to use, and a sentientist mindset would be that nature isn’t of moral concern because it lacks a mental state. It doesn’t make sense to believe that nature exists solely for us to use, billions of creatures before there were humans used it as well, was it existing solely for them also? It’s also unrealistic to believe civilization is superior over nature, because likely without nature we would cease to exist unless technology progresses far enough. If we look at importance in means of what a creature produces, humans would be on the bottom of the list.
In George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the 1945 dystopian novel seen from the perspective of a farm’s livestock, he quotes, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself”. Primitive humans weren’t so greedy, and didn’t use more than what was needed. In Wholism beliefs, there is a monistic relationship in regards to nature, and that man and nature aren’t separate from each other; these views are seen in Native American and eastern religions.
Modernized society distorts our views toward nature, it makes it seem that humans and nature are two completely different things, though we forget that we are products of nature and without nature we wouldn’t even exist. We use the earth to live, we drink its water, eat its food, and live on its land. The human race tends to favor things destructive, all the favored aspects are generally unhealthy, from food to habits. We are genetically modifying our livestock to produce more meat, hunting species into extinction, and knowingly continuously polluting the earth. How long and what is it going to take to realize the damage that is being done?
Nature and Humans As One
When it’s comes down to our overall attitude toward the earth, the Native Americans had the right idea, they never used more than they needed, respected nature, and had a connection to all that inhabits the earth. If everyone followed the wholism theory, we’d have a healthier earth and healthier relationship with everything upon it. We wouldn’t be as greedy and only take what we needed, while at the same time giving back what was taken. Our lifestyles would be more healthier and our diets as well. We would be living as nature intended; however, we’d still have some kind of modernized society because we’d progressed far from living in huts or caves, but we’d take more consideration into our treatment of the earth. As for sentientism and speciesism beliefs, it is best to acknowledge them on a smaller scale, like with understanding that we are different from the creatures on this earth and that we may be the most cognitively intelligent of species, but also should have respect for these creatures and not exploit or abuse them for no reason. As far as being the most intelligent species altogether, if we really were the most intelligent, we’d be smart enough to have realized what we were doing to the earth early on, and before it progressed this far. There’s still time for change; besides, we only have one chance on this earth, as well as all species, and only have one earth.
Alford, Justine. (2014, September 3) Current Extinction Rate 10 Times Worse Than Previously Thought. Retrieved from http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/current-extinction-rate-10-times-worse-previously-thought
Cobain, Kurt (1991). Something in the Way [Recorded by Nirvana]. Nevermind [CD]. Devonshire: Sound City.
Orwell, George.(1945, August 17). Animal Farm. London: Secker and Warburg.
Sheddon, Lynne U. (2003) Can Animals Feel Pain? Retrieved from http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/culture2.html
Wedderburn, Pete (2015, January 10) Animals Grieve just like We Do. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/pets/animals-grieve-just-as-people-do/
Wilson, Scott D. (2002) Animals and Ethics
Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/anim-eth/