For well over a century the main questions concerning animal rights have moved from whether some animals can reason and communicate to whether they can suffer. Beyond any reasonable doubt the most brilliant minds in biology have concluded that animals are capable of suffering both physically and emotionally. There is even an exciting new area of research which explores the spiritual dimension of animal suffering among the higher primates and intellectually superior creatures like dolphins.
But what if love is the real factor? Psychologist Charles Snowden describes love as a “preference for one other individual that is more or less exclusive and long lasting and that transcends other relationships.” If we take this definition as a starting place for examining the intrinsic value of animals we will find that countless animal species are indeed capable of experiencing and sharing the capacity for love.
For example, Cotton-top tamarin cuddle and have sex after long periods of separation. Albatross geese appear to form life long bonds and share elaborate courtship rituals. Mother and daughter elephants can form bonds which have been recorded to last as long as 50 years! Among mating flamingos there have been seen incredible levels of sophisticated team work and mutual aid. And when a baby chimp dies the mother will sometimes carry the dead body on her back until the bones begin to fall apart. Clearly animals can love. It would be inefficient for nature to produce the same behavior in a different way. Therefore, we can assume that the emotions are the same.
Having said all of that I would like to propose that the capacity for love makes all animals a candidate for universal protection and dignity, and that this categorical imperative is based on the moral principles established by the Golden Rule. The commandment to love thy neighbor as one would like to be loved does not in any way prohibit the inclusion of non- animals as neighbors in our vast circle of moral concern. Other animals can love and seek love, and that is the basis for their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
This matters. Until we are able to view animals as neighbors with innate rights, our laws and customs will continue to threaten their existence. In other words an animal ethic which is based on an animal’s capacity to suffer is not going to change the paradigm of exploitation and even genocide which still exists in many parts of the world. It’s that simple.
To reiterate, the question is not whether animals can reason or suffer but whether they can love and be loved. If this is the real question, then the only answer is a revolution which will change how we see other living beings. It is the next great leap in our development as a socially conscious lifeform with the blessed gift of compassion. This revolution is happening now. From the fight against extinction in the Amazon to the war against GMOs in the heartland of America, philosophical confusion and religious justification is giving way to scientific awareness and ethical courage. The revolution is happening and it is beautiful.
by George Payne, founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International
George Payne is founder-director of Gandhi Earth Keepers International based out of Rochester, NY. He written blogs, essays, letters, and op-eds for a variety of local and national publications including the Rochester City Newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, the Minority Reporter, the Atlantic, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Campaign Nonviolence, Veterans for Peace, and many more. He can be contacted directly at George@gandhiearthkeepers.org.