Why We Don’t Own This Planet

I remember reading an excerpt from My Family and Other Animals, probably as a fourteen-year-old (I eventually read the complete work last year), and wondering how fascinating it would be to spend one’s life with countless interesting animals around. My Family and Other Animals is a witty and humorous autobiographical account of the India-born British naturalist Gerald Durrell’s early childhood years on the Greek island of Corfu. Durrell later went on to establish the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust which, after his death, was renamed the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and continues to function to this date.

Over the last hundred years, both governmental and non-governmental organisations over the world have taken the task of conservation quite seriously. However, with the growing number of human-wildlife conflicts, there has also been an evident increase in extreme human-centric sentiments across communities. This in turn has hugely impacted the decisions of the policy-making bodies and we have ended up in a situation where a large fraction of these decisions adopt an utterly unscientific viewpoint of human supremacy over other species. This probably arises from the fact that deep inside we still consider non-human animals not “beings” enough. Deep within our prejudiced minds, we think we own this planet; we make the decisions, because only we can; because only we have a sense of fairness and morality.

You must watch this incredible TED talk by Dr. Frans de Waal (if you haven’t already). The talk will surely make you chuckle on occasions more than one, but probably the most important of its messages is to understand and acknowledge that humans are not unique in having notions of empathy, morality and compassion. And yes, we do not own this planet; we just share it with thousands of other species, each of which is unique, different and important.

 

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Called by to leave my thanks for your recent kind decision to follow Learning from Dogs. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liam says:

    How far do you think our moral responsibility towards animals goes? Do you think we are obligated to be vegetarians or vegans?

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    1. It goes without saying that our moral responsibility towards animals is a complex issue. What I do believe, however, is that this responsibility must include treating them with compassion whenever possible. If one can go without harming another animal, then yes, one should.

      To the question of there being an obligation on us to turn vegetarian/vegan, I really believe that it is a call an individual has to make for themselves. If one can give up killing an animal for food, then they should. But again the answer to the question of whether people should is something that can be answered only at a personal level, for it does depend on a large number of factors — nutritional availability, dietary requirements, et cetera. In certain situations, it may not be very practical for human populations to completely give up on meat. (For example, fishing communities cannot be expected to stop consuming fish.)

      To me, more important than the question of turning vegetarian is that of our treatment towards animals when they’re alive. Slaughterhouses and animal lab facilities, for example, are things that should surely come under the moral/ethical radar and these are the areas where we as a species must enforce a moral responsibility on ourselves.

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      1. Liam says:

        I also take a nuanced approach to animal ethics. I agree that we should be concerned about slaughterhouses and animal lab facilities.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True. Boundaries are more often than not extremely fuzzy. In any case, being conscious of the outcomes of our actions is important both at individual and collective levels.

          That other animals think, understand and feel like humans do — even though it is not always apparent or at times differs in the manner it becomes apparent — is an important message that needs to be shared with everyone.

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  3. Liam says:

    I agree. Do you think all animals are conscious?

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    1. That’s tricky. I don’t think there is a complete scientific understanding of what consciousness precisely means. And unless, one has (at least) a working definition, it’s not possible giving a concrete answer to your question.

      However, our present understanding does show that many animals do experience pain and joy and certain other emotions (that we have earlier believed to be restricted to us humans). So, even if we do not know whether they are “conscious” (by some definition of the word), these observations should be reasons enough to be more compassionate in our actions.

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      1. Liam says:

        I agree that we should be more compassionate in our actions.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. JoAnna says:

    Fascinating topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt other animals have feelings and more intelligence that most people understand. It’s often a different kind of intelligence. In college, I wrote a research paper on dolphin intelligence. The thing that still stands our in my mind 40 years later, is that we judge animal intelligence based on our own perspectives and environment. So we miss things. Watching the video, I was disturbed by the amount of laughter, and thought, what’s so funny? This reaction was strongest with the fairness experiment using cucumber and grapes. I might have chuckled a bit when the first cucumber was thrown, but my own empathy soon becomes dominant. I think we have greatly underestimated other animals, not just dogs and monkeys, but pigs and whales, too. I hope the monkey that threw the cucumber eventually got some grapes, and a better environment. One thing I learned years ago when I was active in the animal rights movement was that if other animals are enough like us to generalize experimental results, then they are enough like us to be given the same care and compassion. Maybe, in time, we will learn. Thank you for presenting this issue!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts, JoAnna! I completely agree with your argument that as more and more experiments reveal how alike we are to other animals, we should also realise that we need to give them the care and compassion they deserve.

      We, as a species, have perhaps gotten so accustomed to viewing ourselves as the centre of everything that our decisions invariably get affected by this bias. But I also feel that we are getting better at viewing the entire planet and all its inhabitants as a single unit, and acting accordingly with empathy and wisdom. It’s a long way to go, no doubt, but I am glad to see meaningful conversations and actions taking place.

      Thank you once again for your beautiful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. JoAnna says:

        Your welcome! We do have a long way to go, but seeing posts like yours gives me hope.

        Like

  5. Sumita Tah says:

    Humans are fast becoming the disease of the Earth. Feeding Father Greed is a neverending process.

    Like

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