Reasons For Cruelty to Animals
An Animal Rights Article from


Animal Consciousness Foundation
September 2008

Perceived differences between humans and other animals

One of the most important beliefs which makes animal abuse possible is the idea that humans and other animals are in some way separated by an unbridgeable gap. In fact, humans are great apes, rather than gods. Both genetically, and in terms of their behavior, humans are much more closely related to other great apes than these animals are to monkeys. Humans and chimpanzees have about 98.4% of their genes in common, whereas monkeys have only about 93% of the same genes as the apes. Gorillas are about twice as close to humans genetically as they are to chimpanzees. Compare this with the genetic difference between two similar birds such as the red-eyed vireo and the white-eyed vireo, which are 2.9% different genetically. In other words, these two very similar birds are twice as different genetically from each other as humans are from chimpanzees.

The genetic similarity between humans and other apes is reflected in their behavior. Recent experiments with gorillas and chimpanzees have shown that they can learn sign language, and use this to construct simple sentences. They express similar emotions to humans, and show self-awareness ó for example, by recognizing themselves in a mirror. Using a variety of different intelligent tests, they have been shown to have IQs at the lowest levels of human ability.

Yet for some reason, these obvious similarities are not enough to give them any kind of legal protection. People who would actively oppose the idea of experimenting on mentally-subnormal humans or small children are happy to condone the same actions on animals at the same level of awareness. Many humans eat animals, but few eat babies (even abandoned ones). A distinction is made between humans and all other species which is not based on actual differences between the two, but rather on prejudice. Peter Singer has coined the term "speciesism" to describe this attitude.

To realize how arbitrary this distinction is, it is worth considering distinctions that have existed in the past. For example, in ancient Rome, otherwise decent people watched as slaves or military prisoners were tortured and killed for their amusement. Roman citizens had well-developed rights, but slaves had no rights whatsoever. More recently, other races and other sexes have been treated as if their only purpose was for the convenience of those who did have rights. The barrier between those who matter and those who donít has been moving gradually throughout history, and today it stands at the barrier between humans and other species.

The roots of this distinction spring from the attitudes of scientists, religious beliefs and an elevated idea of human "specialness" based on human technical achievements.

Attitudes of scientists

In a society that is supposedly founded on rationalism, the attitudes of scientists are crucial in shaping peoplesí consciousness. Many people assume that a scientistís opinion on something carries more weight than the opinion of an average person. However, scientific attitudes are often a product of social beliefs, rather than of any process of logic.

Although scientists like to think that the scientific way of looking at the world is the only one which is valid, science is, in fact, based on a number of assumptions about the way the world works. One of the most important of these is that, except at the subatomic level, there is some kind of objective "reality" which exists irrespective of the person looking at it. This means that all a scientist has to do is to suspend his or her own feelings and personal experience of a situation, and he or she will arrive at the "truth". If a dog is hit, he yells. If this is understood as some kind of reflex, the scientist can measure it, test it, and form a theory about it. If, on the other hand, the scientist starts to see things from the dogís point of view, and to understand that the dog is in pain, he cannot measure this. An ordinary person would be able to empathize with the dog, but a scientist is forbidden from doing so, because this would compromise "scientific objectivity".

Unfortunately, while this approach works well in physics and chemistry, it does not work well when one is trying to understand the behavior of other individuals.

One of the biggest problems with any underlying assumption is that it is invisible. In other words, when scientists believe that they must try to understand animal behavior "objectively" the questions they ask and their interpretations of the results will all be based on this assumption. At some point, he has made the choice to look at things in this way. However, this way of looking at the world becomes so ingrained that it is soon very difficult to see that there is an alternative. Results are seen through the filter of this underlying assumption, and appear to justify the assumption.

The philosophical basis of "objectivism" comes from Rene Descartes. Descartes had the bizarre belief that humans were the only animals who were conscious, because only they had a soul. Thus an animal who was "obviously" in pain was in fact simply an automaton, exhibiting reflexes. Descartesí ideas were used to justify the vivisection of conscious dogs by scientists.

A very similar attitude is followed today. So long as a scientist imagines that he is dealing with inanimate objects which "show reflexes" rather than living creatures which experience pain, he will feel free to do whatever he pleases to them, in the belief that no harm is being done.

Descartesí ideas were based on the Christian belief that only humans have souls. Yet scientists have more to go on than the Bible, and should know better. All of biological science shows the essential similarity between the physiology of humans and that of other mammals ó and especially, that of other apes. A reasonable starting point would therefore be to assume that humans and other animals experience the world similarly ó unless there is some evidence to the contrary. For example, our brains are almost identical to the brains of other apes. We have larger cortices, and, consequently, are more intelligent. Chimpanzees are essentially like small, furry, unintelligent humans. But when we see a person who is unintelligent, we donít automatically assume that this person is incapable of feeling pain.

In any case, the scientific attitude of objectivism flies in the face of everyday experience. In his social experience with other humans, the scientist assumes that other people are capable of experiencing emotions, even though he has no direct knowledge of this. A scientist would presumably be aware that his pet dog is pleased to see him when he gets home. Yet this common-sense approach drops away completely when the same scientist starts to do his experiments.

Christian beliefs

Rene Descartesí ideas were based on the Christian view that there is an impenetrable divide between humans and other animals. Because humans have a soul, they are conscious and have feelings, whereas other animals do not.

Whereas this may be a Christian view, it is not based on anything found in the Bible. In fact, the Bible has very little to say about animal welfare. Following that tradition, despite centuries of moral rules and regulations, there does not appear to have been a single pope or bishop who has spoken up against animal cruelty, let alone done anything concrete to help prevent it.

A bizarre consequence of this attitude is that, whereas the church is aggressively opposed to abortion, on the grounds that "life is sacred", it is indifferent to the fate of other species. Even a bacterium is more complicated than a single fertilized human ovum. The churchís attitude might be better expressed as "only human life is sacred". Other apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, are on the same mental level as a small child or some mentally-retarded humans. Yet the Christian church, for all its apparent "love" is completely indifferent to their fate.

For more, visit Animal Consciousness Foundation and All-Creatures Animal Stories.

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