ANIMALS ARE SENTIENT BEINGS
ANIMALS ARE SENTIENT BEINGS
why sentience is ignored
why sentience is ignored
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“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”- Alice Walker


My path to my reluctant decision to go fully vegetarian (I am now vegan, so this previous decision was awhile ago) taught me a lot about my
own resistance to really attuning to animals as other sentient beings. I spent much of my early years on a large (by Irish standards in the 1960s and 70s) working family farm. I grew up playing with pigs in the pig pen, watching the younger ones suckle their mothers in other pens, and visiting their great boar fathers in their large enclosures out in the woods. I had friends among the various cows and with one pony. I made friends with the shepherd and some of the sheep. I knew that some of my friends were eventually killed for food, but their lives were full and deaths were humane. I ate lots of meat and drank
lots of milk provided by these animals, and loved it.


As I grew up and time passed so did the ability of many small farms to stay in business because of the rise of much larger agro-businesses. I was aware of this and yet not really wondering what it might mean for the animals. Then, one day I was driving with a friend from Los Angeles to San Francisco. This was a drive that I had done a few times before, and I had always been upset by the stockyard through which the highway sped. It seemed to go for several miles and there was nothing but mud and cows staggering around on/in the mud. I know cows, and I knew that these cows could not be happy in such
uncomfortable, smelly, barren sludge. And there were way too many of them. No grass, just smell and mud with hundreds of cows.


This time, as we were going by I stopped trying to distract myself from observing this unpleasant situation and started to open my mind and heart to how I knew the cows must feel in such an unclean and unhealthy
environment. Cows like pastures, grass, space to hang out comfortably. Just like anybody would! I knew the truth was that these cows were very unhappy. Then a huge truck drove next to us and it was absolutely packed with ducks. Packed. And all the ducks had eyes, that I could see were completely terrified! They were absolutely crammed together and it was noisy, hot, dirty, with no water, food, or space. It was nothing but terrifying and I could see it in their eyes.


Now I loved meat, and I did not particularly like vegetables! But in those few minutes of really tuning in to the lives of
these creatures around me and their unhappiness or terror, I just knew that I could no longer be part of this food chain. Chain gang of innocent and sentient animals, who I knew were miserable, either absolutely sandwiched into an enormous and noisy truck or staggering around in filth. It was unnatural, inhumane, and wrong. Over time I have educated myself a lot about the truth of where “meat” comes from and what I saw on that highway years ago was a relatively pleasant tip
of the iceberg. The actual life and death of most cows used for meat, dairy, and leather is absolutely unspeakably horrific and a darkly kept and willfully ignored secret.


For now, however, let us return to my vision of the miserable cows and ducks on the highway. After seeing them I became vegetarian. This was not easy for me to do. I knew animals well and yet I had ignored their suffering for years because I did not want to give up my meat. It would have been even harder if I had not had such good farm animal friends as a child. I might have gone on ignoring the truth of how we humans increasingly treat our fellow creatures. Perhaps because of those early friendships, I could not continue to ignore similar animals’ suffering. And once I started to notice, I realized that there were many things that I enjoy consuming that are nowadays created by animal suffering.


Once I started down the path of not ignoring the
fact of animals’ suffering, in some ways my life got, and continues to get, harder. Not in terms of eating because it ends up being easy and even really good to eat healthier. It is that it is hard to bear the ache of witnessing all the accepted human treatment of other animals. The lives of those cows in that highway stockyard are just the tip of the iceberg. There are unimaginable abuses that our food animals, and many other animals are put through by humans. It is painful to keep learning more. It means that I have to give up more as well. I also feel imperfect and guilty about what I still do engage in that participates in the planet’s destruction and animal
misery. However, I am also so much more present and happy and have so much more health, joy and connection than when I was more blind. I have more zest and reverence for life! I think that I am more whole and truly happy when happy.


As a result of my experience of ignoring the suffering of farm animals for so long, I have given much thought to the reasons we humans are so unconscious about the absolute consciousness of the other creatures on the planet. I think that the reasons relate to our arrogance and greed. It is simply easier to pretend that animals are somehow not thoughtful or filled with feelings.  If we accept the actual reality that animals are feeling creatures like we are, we have to change our ways. We would have to care for how they felt, what they thought, and how we treated them. The world of commerce would be different. What we would lose would range from much of the “fast foods” and “meats”(cheaply and appallingly treated creatures to provide “meat”) to less leather and down and instead enjoy more synthetic shoes and
clothes. We would also have different, non-animal entertainment . No more animals in circuses, or dog and horse races (these are some legal examples). There would be more expense to meat, eggs, milk, and we would eat more vegetables and legumes (and be much healthier). No more frightful things like canned hunts and seal battering and exploding
harpoons in whales. “Research” would be redefined. We would have to care for animals with more respect.  The cost of our raising our consciousness is high in terms of needing to change some things we do with horrid, barbaric regularity, requiring extreme dissociation and denial on the part of all people involved.


“Atrocities are no less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called research.”- George Bernard Shaw


This dissociation has been true of humans towards other humans as well. Anywhere humans have turned others into slaves there has been a de-humanization of the enslaved group and intense de-sensitization and dissociation on the part of the enslavers. The enslaved are considered somehow “less than” or not conscious or with the same sensibilities as the enslavers. The enslaving group gains convenience, power, and other “enjoyments” at the cost of
the subjugation of other sentient beings. In this example we are speaking of other human beings. In this website we are speaking of other animals.


The changes needed once we stop denying animals’ rights are not impossible. We humans have made such changes before. However, people want what they want and thus have to continue to deny the reality of animal sentience. Wanting what one wants and denying costs and consequences to ourselves and others is a form of addiction and is based in greed and arrogance: seeing ourselves and our wants as more important than others. This sort of
self importance does not really serve us as it creates less whole, loving, and sentient people. We are less than what we can be as humans.


“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man”-Charles Darwin



This website is in part about helping people to fight their own internal addictive and self-centered forces and learn to live and love. This is an individual issue, but it must also become a social, and international issue. If we are to change the course of the planet we also need to come together and stand up against corporate, powerful, and greedy others who are destroying the planet for their self-centered and shortsighted gain. For example, if dolphins are recognized as sentient and protected in one part of the world and then hideously slaughtered and eaten in another (Google “the killing cove”) we clearly need to get more international cooperation. This is obviously true of marine animals (whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and the larger predatory fish being the “charismatic
mega- fauna” examples), but it is also true for all animals. For example, Yellowstone bears, Siberian tigers, and the African pangolin are poached for the international homeopathic trade and rare species are captured for individual entertainment everywhere.


We need to manage our own behavior and make loving and caring choices, and then we need to work politically and socially with organizations to help manage the behavior of other greedier members of the human race. Organizations like The International Whaling Commission, The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are imperative if we are to protect our creatures from random corporate, collective and individual greed and violence. Our part as individuals is to hold our elected officials accountable to protecting, strengthening, and increasing such organizations.


However, back to why so many humans do not accept the sentience of their fellow animals... it amazes me how threatened people get when their way of life and what they want to consume and control are challenged. Animals as fellow creatures, also capable of pain, boredom, pleasure, love, and suffering, is a concept so threatening to people that it is ridiculed prior to consideration. Ridiculed despite extensive research and data (there is a TON of research about this: please use the web to look for it) as well as the obvious and self- evident truth of animals suffering and showing pleasure right in front of our eyes. Just attune to an animal and you will see.


Then there are all the people who claim to love animals and/or identify themselves as spiritual and yet do not want to even know about the suffering they are colluding with and therefore condoning. This seems at best lazy and hypocritical, and at worst... well, inhuman. We all, these days with the web, sort of know the truth of how, for example, the animals are treated that end up as food for us in this country (I mean the ones who are in factory farms, which is where almost ALL food animals live out their indescribably unhappy lives); as our meat, eggs, fish, cheese, and milk. Animals are mostly treated so appallingly that it might literally make you very ill to look at the situation. And so we don’t! We let it happen.


“All the arguments to prove mans’ superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals”-Peter Singer



So it will take some courage to open our eyes. Courage here is defined as strength of heart. That is what we want to have, and with that we can be fully what it can mean to be human. Strong hearted. To keep our hearts and minds closed means that we are the slave-driver. The enslaver.  Sometimes when I think about the sort of monster movies in which the “monster” is a gorilla, a wolf, a lizard, or a shark. I think that the monster is actually us. People. We are the monster, most similar to vampires. A vampire greedily enslaving, torturing, using up the planet and all its’ other inhabitants. Sucking the life out of other creatures for our own demands, greed, laziness, and profit. It is interesting how we project our own greed or cruelty onto certain predator species and disavow the much more complex human capacity for
cruelty. Simply “Google” “pornography and violence” or “animals and violence” and you will find millions more examples of intentional human cruelty and sadism than anything found in the rest of the animal world. Yet we tend to call our basest and most malevolently primitive behavior “animal.” However, that is the opposite of the truth. Such behavior is uniquely and solely human.


It is the human pursuit of “more,” of “profit,” of making more for “me” versus thinking about “we” that is the engine that powers determined ignorance of our fellow animals’ sentience. Our endless need for things, and the rate at which the world’s population is growing all contribute to our destroying other species and their habitats. At this point the situation is critical. Only our individual choices and then insistence on collective choices will make a difference.


So my hope is that as you explore this website, you will try to just open your mind a little and when you start to close it please, please just honestly ask yourself what you are afraid would happen if you kept it open? Why are you afraid to consider, really be open to the presence, the contact, the connection
with the thinking, feeling creatures brought to you here in pictures and really all around you all the time?


The great gift that comes with acceptance of animals as sentient beings is an awareness of many impressive and amazing things. The world will be more beautiful and engaging, and without money and acquisition as the driver. You will see brilliant, creative, caring, thoughtful, imaginative, moving and profound things that other creatures can be do happening all around us all the time. You will also feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Fish are a whole group of animals for whom there is no protection from suffering. I remember as a child being distressed by the gasping death of fish and it took a fair amount of dissociation to believe the grown ups when I was told that they were not suffering. In fact they were and are. Horribly and extensively everywhere where they are caught. Please read Worse Things Happen at Sea: the Welfare of Wild-caught Fish, a profound report released on fishcount.org.uk. Please also read Peter Singer's review at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/sep/14/fish-forgotten-victims.


Now, let’s look at birds! They see you and are
thinking about what you are
doing from their bird perspective...which is different from ours, but just as valid. They are sensing, feeling, and responding to you and to the world around them. So are the chickens who live in such awful conditions... really sickeningly awful, whether “organic” (meaning only fed unnatural chicken diets, nothing to do with the way they are
treated) or “free range” (an absurd term meaning very little in legal reality, please “Google” and see for yourself).


We do not see animals as real living, thinking, feeling, and intentional creatures. Yet each and every one of them are. We treat their bodies as things to be consumed in a way that is unbelievably cruel and irresponsible… either overtly by being involved in doing things to them or covertly by turning the other way and denying them and their reality. The reality is that in the
business world animals are treated as though they have no feelings. Everything is done for profit. Really imagine how that reality proceeds. The life and pain of an animal means nothing and everything is designed around how a sentient creature can conveniently produce the desired product. (For a brief example I recommend watching “Fowl Play: The Untold Story of the Incredible Edible Egg” produced by Mercy For Animals. You can go to http://www.youtube.com/fowlplaymovie#p/u to see some excellent clips from this movie).

This has a twenty-four minute version and I recommend it highly). Nothing about care or pain or suffering of the creature is taken into account. That is what our treatment of other creatures has become. And we have become less loving and human as we ignore, dissociate, and condone and collude in this behavior.


“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
- Albert Schweitzer


One way we deny the sentience and value of other creatures is in how we define animals’ intelligence. We define it relative to our own intelligence! We think that if animals can be taught to speak our language, or to use tools as we do, then they are smart. What a weirdly self-centered way to look at things! Is that how you would define intelligence in someone from another culture? Would the Swiss define a Japanese doctor as less valuable and intelligent as a Swiss doctor, or anybody Swiss, if the Japanese doctor did not speak Swiss? Yet we define animal intelligence as based on our language and measurements. It seems to me that we would exhibit A LOT of smarts if we could speak “Dog” or “Parrot” as well as many dogs and parrots can understand and communicate with us.


"It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have

learned English -- up to fifty words used in correct context -- no human

being has been reported to have learned dolphinese."

-Carl Sagan

  

Another way we deny ourselves the
reality that animals are sentient and different but essentially similar creatures, is by listening to various religious doctrines. I remember as a child in church, thinking that if animals had no souls and therefore could not be in heaven, then why would I want to be in heaven? It was a relief to discover St. Francis, who essentially found a divine spark in everything.


I do not now adhere to any specific religious doctrine, though I do relate to the concept of divine spark, or soul. It is clear to me that this soul is in all creatures and one can see it in action, in the form of love, affection, sacrifice for others, and many other expressions of feeling and behavior in the animal kingdom. Here is a brief Youtube video of two different species of animals and their dear friendship.



Again, I ask you to use the web to find all the current research and many more examples of animal kindness and sentience. Some recent books putting together information about animal sentience are The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights by Newkirk, The Emotional Lives of Animals by Bekoff, Wild Justice, The Moral Lives of Animals by Bekoff and Pierce, Pleasurable Kingdom by Balcombe, and The Pig Who sang to the Moon by Masson).






“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”-Buddha


Much organized religious dogma attempts to make other creatures less than we, as it also often tries to make certain groups of people more worthy than others. It is important to remember that religious doctrine is written and interpreted by man and is not the spirit of a religion, so it may be twisted to help support a dominant culture, often one which is entrenched in enslavement and cruelty to animals (and sometimes certain groups of other humans) for human convenience. This is about power and exploitation and mirrors the denial in the culture as a whole. Pagan and monotheistic religions tend to do this less.
  Cultures which treat animals with more respect, for example many indigenous tribal cultures, have much more respectful spiritual beliefs about animals.


“How smart does a chimp have to be before killing him constitutes murder?”

-Carl Sagan



The current situation is critical. The suffering of other sentient beings is immense. The extinction of other species is happening swiftly and recklessly. Our individual choices will make a difference. So I hope that you will try to open your mind a little as you explore this website. And if you should start to close it, please, please just honestly ask yourself what you are afraid would happen if you kept it open? Ask yourself why you might be afraid to consider being open to the presence, the contact, the connection with thinking, feeling creatures in life who are all around you? What is the true reason you might be pushing away the aliveness and reality of each and every animals’ presence as well as their capacity to feel and have intention? Is it that you cannot see it if you look? Or is it because the fact of animal sentience will be inconvenient and painful to acknowledge? Because if one acknowledges equal sentience on takes on the responsibility of humane care? And yet it is the right thing to do... and  the world will be more beautiful... and will it give you and others a much better life... and maybe we can save the planet!



                            





 
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