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An abbreviated version of this interview was published in the June 2012 issue of the Animal Liberation NSW (Australia) magazine Release.
Gay Bradshaw holds doctorates in ecology and psychology. She’s the author of the award-winning and highly acclaimed book ‘Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity’ (Yale University Press, 2009). Through her extensive work on wildlife psychology and experience, she established the new field of trans-species psychology, which explicitly recognizes the scientific foundation for human-other animal psychological comparability. Gay is the founder and CEO of The Kerulos Center in Oregon, USA, a non-profit organisation with the mission to translate knowledge of animals as fully sentient beings into animal care, conservation, policy, and humannature relationships. Here in conversation with Teja Brooks Pribac for Release.
Photo credit: Winni Wintermeyer
Release: Let’s start with trans-species psychology. The foundations and logic of this new field are explained in detail in your elephant book, which was nominated1 for the Pulitzer Prize! Wow! Congratulations! Could you explain what trans-species psychology is and why the need to found this new field? Gay: Before, we delve into this question, I would first like to thank the editors for inviting me to this interview and also thank readers and other animal advocates and activists for their essential commitment and work. Your efforts will make possible the changes needed that will liberate animals and enable them to live and enjoy the kinds of lives we cherish for ourselves. Thank you so very much.
The term nomination refers to the usually three works which have been shortlisted for a particular category, work that has been submitted but not chosen/shortlisted is termed entry or submission
Now to your question about trans-species psychology – the short, formal definition is that it is a field of study and practice based on scientific understanding that the brains, minds, and behaviour of all animals, including humans, are described by a common model. Across the board, science shows that other animals possess the capacity to think and feel like we do. Sheep and elephants can recognize faces and hundreds of relatives and others including other species, ants show altruism, bonobos show that they understand humans’ language, crows use tools, fish feel pain and distress, foxes and parrots succumb with grief at the loss of a loved one, chimpanzees are better at math than we are, and so forth. What we know about how the brain works is reflected in what we see all around us in the animal kingdom. No real surprise. But, then you might ask: why start a new field if we know this already? The answer is: to break through the political barrier. Science routinely uses “animal models”, other species in lieu of humans, for all sorts of experiments that we would not permit for ethical reasons in our own species. These experiments are performed to find out things about humans! So animals are similar enough to us to experiment on, but not enough to provide them with laws and ethics that give them the same rights created to protect us. Technically, this violation of logic and science is called “unidirectional inference”. This is the convention that it is okay to take what we know about animals and apply it to us, but not the other way around. When we do that –infer things about a cow or pig or cat from what we know about ourselves, it is labelled “anthropomorphism”. What science really says is that bidirectional inference holds. What we know about humans can be applied to other animals with as much rigor as the other way around. So why the scientific inconsistency? Politics. Or more simply, profit. Our entire modern western culture that is now globalized operates on the subjugation of other species. If scientists openly admitted to what science is saying, and spoke out as to the profound ethical implications, we would have a true scientific “revolution” of a much grander scale than Copernicus or even quantum physics! Admitting to animal sentience is one thing, acting on it, is a very different one. Even if they claim to be sympathetic to other animals, most people really are not willing to give up their privilege – our power and falsely conceived “independence”, and learn to live like other animals, what I call trans-species living. The “trans” re-embeds humans into the matrix of life and nature. I established the field of transspecies psychology to bridge paradigms and to represent science accurately— explicitly acknowledge the science that established human-animal psychological and emotional comparability. That bats, cats, fish, octopi, cockroaches, and everyone else have all the things that we have said make us humans special and deserving of special rights and privileges. Now science and society find themselves in a very awkward situation. This defines the cusp of a paradigm shift the way Thomas Kuhn, author of the now famous book on revolutions in science, talked about it. Earlier I said “falsely conceived independence”, referring to the convention of seeing ourselves separate and better than other species. We are now faced with the consequences of this politically motivated delusion: drowning polar bears, GMO foods and pesticides that are causing us cancer, state-size garbage heaps in the oceans, fishery collapse, elephants going extinct… Not nice things. R: As you say, in practice nobody is really denying human-nonhuman animal biological and other comparability (science, for example, paradoxically or not, uses animals even to study emotional processes and test antidepressants for humans), nonetheless, your trans-species proposition has encountered some resistance, perceived as too radical, even among some people/academics who present themselves as – and in fact are – animal advocates. The issue of zoos comes to mind. You get criticised, among other things, for using the umbrella term “captivity”, which you define as institutionalised trauma, to include both zoos and circuses. While it is most probable that your critics wouldn’t like the idea of a human zoo regardless of how “nicely” the exhibited humans
were treated, such objectification of other species is still deeply ingrained and so is the failure to recognise nonhuman animals as other nations. But that’s what they are, you say, distinct societies with their own history, traditions and consciousness. G: Yes, what is exciting about trans-species perspective is that it releases and opens doors to really see who other animals are. When you look closer, you see a wondrous world and one that really isn’t that foreign. There are glorious variations on themes, but similar to human cultures, underlying it all there are so many commonalities: ritual, drama, grief and ecstasy, interpersonal conflict and profound love and admiration for each other – you name it. Anthropomorphism, seeing other animals through our own eyes, can be very insightful. However, not in the way our society has usually objectified and demeaned animals because of fear or ignorance. For example, people often say how “stupid” chickens and turkeys are. Calling someone “bird brained” refers to this projection. However, if one really looks beyond the cultural projection, chickens and turkeys reveal as beautiful, sensitive, and insightful. In contrast to your own, birds cultures are based on loyalty, honesty, love, and compassion. Turkeys have intricate social and linguistic traditions, tortoise who are not considered very sociable, have in fact equally complex societies and relationships. When the cultural projection is removed, “bird brains” turn out to be geniuses with deep heartfelt emotions. The point is not only we humans, and the few species we admit to, have the capacity for consciousness, feelings, dreams, and aspirations, but the entire animal world. All we have to do is open our eyes, ears, and hearts and what is revealed is an incredible universe, MULTIPLE universes to get to know and share. The western mindset and its dualistic viewpoint has to get over this damaging over simplistic paradigm of needing to show and know what is different and what is same, get over constantly judging, and be more present to what is. Dualism is a very insecure worldview, always needing some sort of a priori categorization to tell you what and how to feel and act. It’s fear that underlies the pervasive denial of what science and our own senses tell us. And humans go through all sorts of contortions to make the world fit into nice neat boxes - such as captivity, as you have mentioned. It is a wonder to me how people, even those who claim to be supportive of animals, can talk about zoos as “not so bad”. I refer to zoos as institutionalized trauma because that is what they are in more technical terms. They are “institutionalized” because they are legal and culturally accepted. They are traumatic because, beyond how the individual got there (most were wild caught, torn from their families violently and from their homes, and those who are “captive born” are neurobiologically and psychologically compromised because they are raised in artificial surroundings and usually taken from their mothers), captive victims are robbed of the ability to live natural lives, make decisions on their own and be with whom they wish. Psychologists refer to this as lack of agency. This deprivation profoundly undermines wellbeing. Just talk to a human prisoner if you want to get an idea of what captivity does to someone. R: The Kerulos Center that you established in 2008, aims at creating a world where animals live in dignity and freedom. It promotes trans-species living, it includes some wonderful programs, such as Being Sanctuary, which teaches people how to be a sanctuary to themselves and other animals, and the multi-layered conservation project Sacred Bones, which you would like to bring to Australia in the near future. Just recently Kerulos has obtained land in Costa Rica for a parrot sanctuary. Tell us more about Kerulos, its work and its human and nonhuman animals.
G: The Kerulos Center was established to provide a space and place for people and other animals to galvanize trans-species living – to help catalyze a way of living and thinking that will usher in a world where animals live in dignity and freedom. That is our vision statement. It is quite simple. It means start on the path now to giving back what we have taken from other animals – their freedom, their dignity, the ability to make decisions that affect their lives and their children and societies (selfdetermination). Our Center also explores and cultivates ways in which we can take down this wall that has been erected as a barrier that prevents us from hearing what animals are saying and, critically, stop ignoring what we know in our hearts. A lot of our work is based in science but it is not limited to that. Science acts as a kind of bridge from the past paradigm to a new trans-species one. This new paradigm by definition embraces multiple modalities of knowing, seeing, speaking and living – modalities that foster animal wellbeing and our ability to live well with each other. It entails some very practical things. For example, while we do not prescribe plant-based eating, it is a natural and logical first step to trans-species living. We have also created a new online education program called Being Sanctuary (www.beingsanctuary.org) that builds on the Ten Principles of Sanctuary. Release: You are also planning webinars to help people who work with animal cruelty cope more efficiently with the impact the regular exposure to the horrors of animal abuse has on their own psyche. I’m sure a lot of animal rights and care people could do with some support in that regard! Are these seminars open to an international audience and if so how can interested people register for them? G: Yes, we are putting together a curriculum that includes a spectrum of different topics and internships that people can take to learn more and importantly help animals in their effort to obtain self-determination. Topics include traumatology (which is aimed at understanding animal trauma and that of our own and ways in which we can heal and help others heal), inter-species communication, various series on animal psychology and culture including elephants, bears, parrots, great apes, and domesticated animals from the perspective of trans-species psychology. The courses tend to be very interdisciplinary and bring in materials from psychology, consciousness studies, neurobiology, philosophy, etc. We are also planning a series of webinars from our faculty who have amazing expertise. This is also to emphasize the uniqueness of individual animals and species. If someone is interested, they can write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and request to be on the mailing list. Then they will receive information pertaining to the course and upcoming events. R: You have recently co-authored a study on the forensic psychiatric aspects of chimpanzees used in biomedical research entitled The Bioethics of Great Ape Well-Being: Psychiatric Injury and Duty of Care, published in the Animals & Society Institute's (ASI) Public Policy series. This is the third in a series of papers you have authored on chimpanzee PTSD that provide the scientific foundation for getting chimpanzees and other animals out of laboratories. Chimpanzees, elephants and parrots have been the main focus of your work, but it was the lions you met in Africa while you were still working as a government scientist in the environmental sciences and conservation that opened your eyes. Tell us more… G: Sometimes the most profound changes in one’s life happen not by what you plan but by some sort of small detail, some chance encounter. I first went to Africa to help with understanding what was happening to lions who were mysteriously dying. Wildlife was being reintroduced to South Africa after being extirpated (locally made extinct by hunting). After apartheid was abolished, the country was opening its doors to ecotourism. It was incredible to be in Africa and be up close to the
stupendous culture of lions. But after the first day, literally, I felt sick. This scientific “research” and my participation was nothing more than high class voyeurism. I understood that most of science and conservation was driven by a desire to be close with wildlife, to keep them around for us not for their sakes. It was not much different than a zoo. So, I came home changed and realized that I could not go on in the work that I was doing. Science and scientists were part of the problem. The research paradigm is colonial and predatory. I was not sure how to proceed to “help wildlife” as such because the best thing seemed not to do anything. Wildlife needs less people. Humans need to stop growing in population and stop over consuming. This is not news. A lot of scientists like Paul Erhlich have been saying this for decades. We don’t need more research, we need individual and political willpower to be humble and modest in what we do and how we live. I am continually amazed at the tolerance of animals. I recently wrote this about elephant and other wildlife slaughter: “Even when genocide created by the human mind becomes unbearable, animals will not split the world. Instead, they split inside. Humanity’s unrelenting violence has finally penetrated the animal mind including that of the great Elephant. Those who have graced African savannahs for millennia have been driven to their knees in anguished surrender to human violence. Mass slaughter and decimation of their homeland has caused elephant society to implode. Epidemic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has erupted. Never-before seen symptoms of infant neglect, elephant-on-elephant violence and murder are observational evidence of what is reified in science - human and nonhuman animal share the same structures and functions of the brain that make us human. The news is shockingly unpalatable. We are Them and Them are Us. But the real message is profoundly disturbing. Elephant symptoms herald collapse of a collective psyche. The animals are leaving.” This is what we humans must admit to and address. Solve the world’s problems by fixing what is inside of us. R: After reading some of your academic works full of incomprehensible terminological compounds I was quite surprised to find poetry in your blogs on animal psychology. How does poetry fit in? G: We need to find a new way of communicating with each other and with animals. A way that does not exclude other species from dialogue and meaning making and decision making. This is integral to trans-species living and culture. We need ways to express that reflect and describe the world as it is and might be. Poetry does that. It can be very inclusive and leave the full meaning to the experience of hearing or reading. Poetry and movement are much more inclusive, more partnered than standard modern ways of writing that seek to be closed and finished, end of story. Life is not something with a close. It keeps on going and it is experience in plural. R: Any last thoughts for the animal liberation movement? G: Yes, the time is now. Dedicate your life in service to animals, to be open to what they are saying and respond to this – learn to live like an animal. Believe your heart and the goodness of the face in front of you whether in scales, fins, or feathers. Mirror the love that the animals show.
There was murder last night
In memory of Reggie Rabbit by G.A. Bradshaw It happened in broad daylight. Despite the waning light of fall, there are few shadows by six. We sat outside encased in the still of blue cold and reddened leaves. The squirrels are out, they have yet to burrow, but their movements are focused. They know that the day's blush of warmth is only a quick last breath of summer's grace. Cold awaits in certainty. Wings stretched and flapping, bodies fluffed, the wild turkeys also understand that time is short. But no one knows this better than the deer. Suddenly, the quiet of summer's exhale implodes. Our bodies shake and minds go blank. The birds freeze, beaks and eyes raised upward. Squirrels run for cover. Cats and dogs cower. The touch of a finger on a gun's trigger has ripped out a soul and flung its body to the ground. A man and his two children stand over the corpse. He was young, at the cusp of tender teasing childhood and the audacity of budding manhood. I had watched him change this year. Without words, we both recognized his shift from a child seeking nurturing care to a youth demanding affirmation of his bold new status. I bowed to his transformation. Defeated by nature's unrelenting honesty, I confessed my impotence to protect him forever. I acquiesced to his declaration of muscled immortality while crying inside pretending his truth. It made me feel old. Now he lies lifeless. My fear realized. I weep in red anger, cold rage,
and blue black grief. This sorrow has brought more fearful truth. They have left. The herd who has lived in these hills for decades, whose faces were as familiar as my own, has left. They have left in sorrow. The matriarch finally understood that even I, a human, could not halt my species' lust. She knew that, like the young buck, every one of her children would stagger, eyes unblinking in innocent surprise until the bullet found its deathly home. Yes, the deer have gone, dissolved into unconscious mists and I know that they will never return. Others will follow— the turkey, the bear, the salmon, the eagle— none will return until we stop killing. There was a murder last night. My tears fall. I stand alone with only the silence staring back.
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