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Michael Charles Tobias 5/21/2012 @ 2:39PM
The Hearts and Minds of Animals: A Discussion with Dr. Marc Bekoff
Marc Bekoff is a former professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He’s won various research awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship and has published numerous books and essays, including The Ten Trustswith Jane Goodall and The Emotional Lives of Animals . Two new works of Dr. Bekoff will appear in 2013, Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservationand Rewilding our hearts.
Animal Rights in an Age of Climate Change Michael Tobias: Marc, not to be entirely rhetorical, but with every ecological system in utter flux, chaos, and unpredictable revolution, why should animal rights even rank as a priority for most people, recognizing that our species is, itself, under siege, economically beleaguered, hurting? Marc Bekoff: This is the sort of question that I’m often asked because some people think that if one cares passionately about nonhuman animals (hereafter animals) then they care less about human animals or think that humans are not as important as our animal kin. In my opinion, this simply is not so, as I point out in my book The Animal Manifesto. Many, some might argue most, people who work hard for animal protection and well-being also care very much about human well-being. While I work hard to protect animals of all stripes, shapes, and sizes, I prefer to say that I’m interested in animal protection rather than animal rights because the phrase “animal rights” turns so many people off mainly because they don’t understand what it means. It often serves as a conversation stopper, and then the door is closed for further useful dialogue. Nonetheless, I would like to see animals get legal and moral rights in the future and I’m thrilled there are a number of highly motivated and bright people working on their behalf. The phrase “Animal Rights in an Age of Climate Change” is really compelling because we see the same sort of denialism in both areas despite the fact that rigorous science has shown us that numerous animal species are in serious trouble and that climate change is real. I like to call our species Homo denialus. And, we’re in deep trouble if politicians and others continue to deny the havoc for which we’re responsible. We’re also letting down future generations that will follow in our wake. Michael Tobias: And the notion of ecological reciprocity? Marc Bekoff: I like to stress to people, many of whom don’t even realize it, that how we treat other animals has direct effects on how we feel about ourselves. I argue in many places that compassion begets compassion and that there is an ever-growing compassion umbrella that encompasses or embraces many different species including humans. So, when we’re nice to other animals and empathize compassionately with their physical and mental health we’re also spreading compassion to other people. Michael Tobias: You’ve recently been a champion for the cause of compassionate conservation. Marc Bekoff: The new field in which I’m a very active participant called “compassionate conservation” pays attention to animal and human well-being in many different cultures. I have a book coming out in 2013 from theUniversity of Chicago Press called Ignoring Nature No More: The Case For Compassionate Conservation that shows clearly that being at war with other animals and nature simply has not and cannot work. In the end, we suffer the indignities to which we expose other animals. I’ve also been working on the notion of thecompassion footprint and how simple it is to expand it each and every day. The Book of Revelations Michael Tobias: In a career of zoosemiotics, interspecies observations, communications, and first-hand participation spanning many decades, what are a few of the greatest revelations you have personally experienced as a scientist, and an animal? Marc Bekoff: I’ve experienced many different revelations over the past four or so decades. Here are some, but not in order of importance. As a scientist I’ve learned that “good” people can do horrific things to other animals. While I don’t at all like much of what they do in invasive research, for example, they are passionate about their beliefs that what they are doing will help humans, and whether I like it or not, I and others must factor this in to our efforts to change them. I’ve also seen how people with different agendas can look at the same data set and come to radically different conclusions. Michael Tobias: So few scientists ever speak of animal consciousness, inter-species empathy, deep ethology, the sentience that surrounds us…. Marc Bekoff: Absolutely. Given what we now know we can be sure that other animals are conscious and sentient beings. However, there are still some people who don’t agree and argue we need more data despite the fact that much research on animal consciousness, cognition, and emotions has been published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals. They continually up the ante to
2 exclude other animals from the consciousness club.It’s so important for us to educate people about how we relentlessly harm other animals in a wide variety of venues each second of each and every day. Michael Tobias: Where have the myriad of interpretations of Darwin led many researchers down blind alleys in terms of outright denial of a rich history of ecological revelations? Marc Bekoff: As an animal, the revelations I’ve experienced are far too numerous to list but among the most important is that when someone says “Oh, you’re acting like an animal” to insult me I say “Thanks for the compliment.” That’s because rapidly accumulating data are showing that both nonhuman and human animals are by nature compassionate, kind, and empathic and we’ve been radically mislead by misreadings of Charles Darwin’s ideas about the role of competition in the evolution of social behavior and by mass media for whom blood sells. In Jessica Pierce’s and my book, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (see also) we show that nature read in tooth and claw is a misrepresentation of what’s really going on “out there.” Indeed, there are more and more scientists who now see how we’ve been misled and also fewer skeptics about the nature of animal minds and consciousness. I Am An Animal Michael Tobias: People forget, too frequently, that they, we, all of us are animals. As a leading scientist in the fast changing world of animal rights, animal legislation, animal research, what does it mean to you to be a mammal, a vertebrate, a primate, a member of the Genus Homo, in terms of our obligations, and special permits, if any, as members of planet Earth? Marc Bekoff: I know that as a mammal I’m a member of a group of big-brained, big-footed, overproducing, over-consuming, invasive, and often arrogant and self-centered individuals. But I also know that there are many good human mammals all over the globe who are doing wonderful things for animals and their homes. As a human mammal we are obliged to provide the best life possible to all individuals of all species and also to protect their living rooms, their homes and habitats. I like to say that we are special and so, too, are other animals, but that as individuals of a dominant species who can do whatever we want whenever we want wherever we want – and don’t hesitate to do so – we have special obligations to animals and to Earth. It bothers me a great deal when people say they love other animals and then harm them. I’m glad they don’t love me. Michael Tobias: Tell me some of the ways in which these obligations can be met? Marc Bekoff: I like to say that our universal moral imperative is to do no harm and to take responsibility for our actions. We are wounding the world at an unprecedented rate because we act myopically and selfishly, and this is not only harming other animals but also ourselves. For a book I’m writing calledRewilding Our Hearts, I show people how easy it is to connect with other animals and that accepting them for who they are is crucial. I also explain how data collected across different animal species and different human cultures show that we are much more cooperative, compassionate, and empathic than we previously thought or have been led to believe. So What Has To Happen? Michael Tobias: Where are the biggest gaps in animal protection, from your point of view, both in the U.S. and globally? Marc Bekoff: Nonhuman animals are amazing beings.Daily we’re learning more and more about their fascinating cognitive abilities, emotional capacities, and moral lives. We know that fish are conscious and sentient, rats, mice, and chickens display empathy and feel not only their own pain but also that of other individuals, and that New Caledonian crows outdo chimpanzees in their ability to make and use complex tools. Michael Tobias: Key question: What are the most appalling omissions that you see in terms of the sweeping human abnegation of animals’ rights? Marc Bekoff: Among the largest gaps is the failure to incorporate what we know about other animals into legislation that will protect them from reprehensible and wide-ranging abuse, whether in laboratories, circuses, zoos, or rodeos or on factory farms. Knowledge about nonhuman empathy, for example, has not been factored into the Federal Animal Welfare Act in the United States. Michael Tobias: This enormous abyss between what we, as children, inherently understand about all of our animal friends; and as adults strive to marvel at – the beauty, mystery, dignity and sheer loveliness of animals – remains absent from almost every piece of focused legislation. This animal rights schizophrenia does not really bode all that well, in my opinion, for the future of life on earth. What we do to others is increasingly, fundamentally a question of reciprocity. Marc Bekoff: Yes. There is an egregious oversight, one example after another of how legislation greatly lags behind “the science.” Furthermore, there is a rather widespread lack of enforcement of the pretty weak legislation that exists to protect other animals. Numerous laboratories routinely violate federal regulations and get away with it, and the many ways in which animals are horrifically mistreated in the food, clothing, and entertainment industries just blows my mind. It continues because people know
3 they can get away with it. While this is slowly changing we need to be much more vigilant about animal abuse and punish the abusers. Michael Tobias: I was extremely pleased to hear your speech at the recent University of London School of Oriental and African Studies Biodiversity Conservation and Animal Rights and Religions conference. You injected very appreciative, insightful and upbeat science, optimism, even humor, into a realm more usually cast in a dark pall of end-of-days horror, and irrevocable Apocalypse. Is there, in fact, evidence for some light at the end of the tunnel, or tunnels?’ Marc Bekoff: Thanks, Michael. I am by nature a dreamer and an optimist and believe in the inherent goodness of nonhuman animals and that we are basically cooperative and compassionate beings. (In your review of my bookMinding Animals you called me Jain-like and I was thrilled to see this.) I see a lot of light at the end of a very long tunnel, if you will, because significant changes in how we treat other animals and wantonly redecorate their homes is going to take time, a lot of time. People who are working on these matters now – and likely those who work on them after I’m long gone – will not get gold stars on their foreheads because there’s going to be a lag between what we do and seeing positive and enduring effects that really make a difference across species. Michael Tobias: But you feel a change is occurring? Marc Bekoff: Rest assured that we are indeed making positive differences even if we don’t see them now. I also travel a lot, like you, and meet incredibly passionate and committed people all over the world who are dedicated to making the lives of other animals much better than they are. So, there is light, it sometimes seems very dark, but there is that ever-present glow that keeps me and many others going. I like to say we must get rid of all negativity, focus on what works, keep the faith, be nice to everyone including our opponents, and never say never – ever. We also need to “pick our battles” and accept that some people will never change, and that’s the way it is. Michael Tobias: But there are good people out there. Marc Bekoff: Definitely. And many, many people who can and will change, and that’s where we need to focus. And, of course, we need to focus on children, ambassadors for the future. To this end I do a lot of work with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programs , mainly with kids, prisoners, and senior citizens. We always need to show kids that what we and what they are doing will work! We must always stress the importance of humane education and conservation for youngsters . How Do You Get Up in the Morning? Michael Tobias: Knowing what you do about canids, penguins, birds, and nearly every other major animal group, and also recognizing that you belong to a certain species notorious for outrageous behavior throughout the rest of the animal kingdom, what specifics motivate you to get up in the morning? Marc Bekoff: I wake up each and every morning thanking my house for taking care of me and thanking all of the amazing animals with whom I share my home and home range for being there. I also think about how lucky I am to do what I do each and every day. I really do. I wake up full of energy after a few hours of sleep and really look forward to each and every day, no matter what lies ahead. I also know there are many people all over the world who are working hard for animals and Earth and can’t wait to work with them as a member of a compassionate community working for common goals. Michael Tobias: You once told me about your parents in this context? Marc Bekoff: My father was one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever known, and I’m sure my mother was instrumental in showing me how important rampant compassion really is. I know that we are making a difference and that proactive and compassionate activism will win the day. I also often think of what I call “the animal manifesto:” treat us better or leave us alone. Michael Tobias: And if our species should fail to heed your deeply virtuous and pragmatic wakeup call? Marc Bekoff: The stakes are huge if we fail to take care of other animals and Earth because we are on the brink of numerous irreversible losses to magnificent webs of nature. Our wholeness and that of the world at large is in peril. We must stop ignoring nature and rewild our hearts now, not when it’s more convenient. I remain optimistic, but time is not on our side, nor on the side of numerous magnificent species who depend on our goodwill and best efforts to keep them alive and thriving.
Copyright Michael Charles Tobias/Jane Gray Morrison/Dancing Star Foundation, 2012. Special Thanks, Ms. Jane Delson.
Dario Ringach Animal protection/welfarism is not the same as animal rights. The public understands what you mean. The reason that the mention of animal rights is a “conversation stopper” is simply that most members of the public do not hold the view espoused by Dr. Bekoff and other animal rights proponents.
4 Namely, that we owe the same exact moral consideration to a mouse and a human and that all living beings have the same basic right to life and freedom. Most members of the public agree that all living beings are worth of moral consideration, and we recognize we must also protect the environment on which the welfare these living beings depend on. We accept a graded moral status of animals and the existence of moral dilemmas — such as the use of animals in medical research that has saved billions of human lives.In contrast, animal rights activists reject such nuanced positions in favor of an extremist view — animals must have the same rights as human beings or nothing at all. They reject the graded moral status view. It is when animal activists display more empathy for animals than human patients and their families that one can conclude they care more about animals than humans. “Many, some might argue most, people who work hard for animal protection and well-being also care very much about human well-being.” Care very much?! Do you mean equally? More? Reply Marc Bekoff Thanks Dario – I really can’t answer your question as I’m not aware that anyone has empirically studied it. For now I feel comfortable saying “care very much” and I know for many people with whom I’m in contact it’s equal. We need to wait for those interested in these ? to study them in more depth. Reply Dario Ringach Yes, there is some data from Plous 1991. http://speakingofresearch.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/psychological-science-1991-plous-animal-rightsactivists-attitudes.pdf He found 15% of animal activists to value non-human life over human life (there is no typo here), and 78% value them equally. In comparison, 69% of the members of the public placed higher value on human life over that of non-human life, 31% valued them equally and none valued nonhuman life over human life. What is your personal position? Reply Robin Oree I disagree that to demand human and non-human animals receive equal moral consideration is extremist. It only appears extremist because it radically opposes mainstream thinking, but so did pretty much every revolutionary idea, from humanism to women’s suffrage to civil rights. I think “nuanced positions” are a very dangerous concept when it comes to morality. Once you work out reasons to deny moral consideration to some forms of life, what is to stop you from expanding those reasons more and more? After all, we didn’t always stop at the species boundary when it comes to discrimination. We used to treat each other in the same way we treat animals today, and we drew upon the same relativist morals to justify it. What exactly prevents us from treating the life of a mouse or a pig with the same kind of respect as the life of a human? The only thing that prevents us is our continued vested interest in maintaining moral inequality, because this allows us to profit from animal exploitation with a clear conscience. The same mental operations were at work in the time of slavery. It’s important to admit that we all have the capacity to extend full moral consideration to animals, but that we actively choose not do so, because we wish to continue eating meat and dairy, going to the circus and test on animals (on which I am no expert, but I believe there are a range of viable alternatives that are not sufficiently explored because animal testing is simply more established and convenient.) Reply Dario Ringach “What exactly prevents us from treating the life of a mouse or a pig with the same kind of respect as the life of a human?” Good question. I think it is moral dilemmas as when the interests of living beings are in conflict. So, one could ask, should we use a mouse to try to develop a cure for cancer or vaccines? Or should we use the heart of a pig to make an artificial heart valve that can save your life? Do I take your answer to these is no? See: http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/01/12/a-proposal-for-the-labeling-of-medicines/ Reply Robin Oree If it’s just about me, then no, I would not want another creature’s death so that I can live on… unless the pig died of natural causes. If it’s about cures for endemic diseases that cost millions of lives each year and there is absolutely no other alternative apart from animal research, I think the moral dilemma of weighing one life against another becomes much more potent, in a way that is similar to the
5 abortion issue (which life do we value more? The life of the mother or the life of the unborn child? It’s an ugly question, but we need to have an answer for it.) So, polemically speaking, if you told me you had a cure for HIV in the making and all it took to complete was to kill a hundred animals for testing purposes, I would, with a very heavy heart, admit that’s a price we should pay. However, I doubt the likelihood of that scenario. I believe there are viable alternatives to animal testing, which are not pursued properly due to sheer laziness. Also, we’re talking about extremely dire life-or-death situations here, which have absolutely nothing to do with the unnecessary cruelty we inflict on billions of animals each year, for perfectly trivial reasons (flavour, entertainment). I think we have a moral obligation to cause as little harm as possible, and to honestly and thoroughly evaluate if the harm we are about to cause is in any way avoidable. In other words: If it’s within our means to grant rights, we should grant them. Reply Zoe Weil It’s thrilling to read such an interview in Forbes. Marc Bekoff’s tireless work on behalf of other animals is inspiring to all of us, but it’s especially important given his role and vocation as a scientist. There was a time when ethologists like Marc Bekoff and Jane Goodall were marginalized. Now they are not. The optimism in this interview is warranted. Dr. Bekoff has seen the shifts he describes over his career. Of course, the numbers of abused and mistreated animals continues to grow as human population grows, but as Dr. Bekoff rightly points out, there are people working across the globe to make a difference. More will join them, and this interview in Forbes bodes well for the spread of compassionate conservation. Thanks Michael Tobias for this great interview, and thanks Marc Bekoff for all you do. Reply Marc Bekoff Thank you Zoe – Of course you’re among those who have been working tirelessly for other animals and I really believe that as time goes on and more and more people get interested in humane education we will see compassion spread widely among all sorts of species. I see positive changes just about everyday and there are more to come. Reply John Fentress A truly insightful interview with Marc and Forbes magazine. I was indeed delighted and surprised to see that this business oriented magazine has offered its readers such a valuable conversation. Marc has long been a pioneer for animal lives, whether in fur, features, or scales. His message is important. I do hope others will read this interview with an open mind and an open heart. Its important, for us and for the diverse creatures we have the good fortune to share this world with. Let’s not lose the gifts the animals have given us. In my view that in itself would make us less human, at least in the way that compassionate souls can be. Well done, Marc. John Fentress, PhD. Reply Marc Bekoff Thanks Dr. Fentress – your comments are much appreciated and in order to make the world a better place for all animals, including humans, we need to engage many different communities … Reply Dale Peterson This is a fascinating interview on an enormously important (if often neglected) subject, and I hope to read more on this subject and more on or of Marc Bekoff. Thank you. Reply geoffh Marc Bekoff and Michael Tobias, two very decent and compassionate human beings. These are the kind of people that should be leading the world. Reply Michael Charles Tobias, Contributor Geoffh, Thanks for that! Of course, “leadership” is about listening, keen observation, selfless service, tolerance, empathy, pragmatic idealism, as I term it; all of the qualities that one finds generously distributed throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. That is the only true consortium of biological leadership. Those officials elected to oversee governance of the rambunctious, too often solipsistic human species -in nation after nation- would do well to simply spend more time outdoors, feeling, being open to, the natural world and the possibilities of true inter-species connections, as Dr. Bekoff so poignantly evokes in his deeplyconsidered remarks. Reply Dario Ringach I am sorry… Empathy in plants?
6 Reply Michael Charles Tobias, Contributor As the poet writes, Who has not been grateful for the scent of a rose, a gift; the shade of a tree, a blessing; when we have offered naught. Only the chaos and pain of so many slain. One war after another. Whereas the flower truly marks the hour, sleeps with the moon, arises with the sun. A mentor, from the beginning, until the world is done. Two hundred years ago a Scottish Lord, Erskine, advocated for an end to the abuse of equines, suggesting that they had a heart, a soul, and consciousness. Only to be scorned by an entire house of “colleagues” who insisted that “dumb brutes”- the horses and burros, all the dogs and cats and birds, were nothing but machines. We will look back and wonder how we could have ignored, so ungrateful and unaware, the vast realm of gentleness that gives us life, the plants, the trees, the moss, the roots underground without which we would not exist. We use words without caution; aim our cynicism without understanding. I, personally, am of the opinion, that the plants are very patient with us, given that we have done nothing but manipulate, hybridize, deforest and defoliate their precious worlds, upon which – whether we are quick or slow to admit it – our lives depend. Reply Dario Ringach Our ethical consideration for living beings must be based on their capacity for suffering and not poetry (no matter how beautiful it sounds.) Nor it can be based on mental states you attribute to them without providing a scientific basis for your assessment. I agree we have to consider our actions on the environment because the suffering and well-being of other living being depends on it. Not because the environment, or plants, have interests of their own. They simply don’t. Reply Michael Charles Tobias, Contributor You’ve acknowledged that plants can feel suffering. Moreover, if the hundreds of thousands of known tree species, for example, did not have “interests of their own” then they would not have invested the energy they have on toxicological defense mechanisms, nor the enormous range of symbiosis in one form or other with so many other species. A case in point is the Amazonian strangler vine and the lemon tree, in relation to a number of known ant species who protect the tree in return for their own sustenance. This is basic ecological science. “The Secret Life of Plants” is an undeniable rule-of-thumb, particularly for vascular (flowering) species. Many trees (though far too few, as yet) -the true unacknowledged legislators of the world- have legal standing because human poets, legislators, and scientists have spoken on their behalf. People like John Muir, or Justice William Douglas or Aldo Leopold. Their interests are at the heart of our interests. They are the lungs of the world. Without them, the oceans will turn to acid; nearly every soil type will desiccate, shade will be lost to the world, and no matter how hard you rely on science, it will not save us from starvation should the plants which you would like to assert have no interests of their own, perish. Poetry, not science, will impact the views of people. And the plants will sequester carbon, not academic debates. It was science, said Keats, that nearly destroyed the rainbow for the rest of us. Reply Natalia Tobón Mr. Bekoff: I share your views. I have an animal shelter, and when people want to adopt a dog with pedigree I answer them ¿what is your breed? My thesis is that humans are all mixed races, so there is no need to demand pure dogs…After all, ¿who is pure? ¿Can you give me tips to share this views with other people? ¿Do you need a free translator to spanish for your books and documents? From Bogotá, Colombia, South America Natalia Tobon www.nataliatobon.com
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