by Dr. Michael W. Fox*
The gulf between animal
exploitation and animal kinship, and between animal abuse and animal
liberation, is fundamentally a spiritual one.
The absence of the Sacred is a societal norm today. So long as this
gulf persists between the 'two cultures' of those who see life as a
commodity and a means to an end for human gain, and of those who would treat
all life with reverence and speak for animal rights, we and the world will
never be well. And no amount of experimentation on animals in biomedical
research laboratories will come up with the right cure.
As we 'evolved' from being gatherer-hunters and started domesticating
plants and animals, we became sedentary, agrarian, and increasingly urban
and industrial. We also became increasingly disoriented and disconnected
from the natural world. As a consequence, we began to devolve, as Charles
Darwin implied in his book The Descent of Man. We lost some of our
sympathetic abilities and empathic wisdom that once enabled us to engage in
a degree of resonance or inter-subjective communication with other living
beings, which to our diminished sensibilities and rational empiricism of
today seems mystical or psychic.
Sometimes while treating sick animals and in making a diagnosis, I
have felt pain or discomfort in parts of my own body that correspond to an
animal's illness or injury. Other veterinarians and animal healers have told
me of similar experiences, sometimes even when the animal was many miles
away. Anthropologist Prof. M. Guenther describes such resonance in the
African Bushman that I believe is an innate ability of our species.
Considering the fact that for some 95-98 percent of our time on Earth as
humans we were gatherer-hunters and our survival depended on a deep
connection with animals, and not just for the killing, this ability may not
be permanently lost and could be restored.
Prof. Guenther writes:
"Throughout the hunt the hunter would
monitor his every thought, emotion and action, in order to sustain the bond
of connectedness with the animal by which he felt he could steer the hunt
towards an auspicious conclusion The bond of sympathy was something set up
in the hours or days preceding the hunt, when the hunters would attune
themselves spiritually to one animal species or another and, in the process,
attempt to gather whatever presentiments they could about the impending
hunt: the animals they might encounter, the direction they could come from,
the likely dangers, the duration of the hunt. These presentiments activated
the hunter’s entire body; they were felt at his ribs, his back, his calves,
his face and eyes. His body would be a stir with the 'antelope sensation',
at places on his body corresponding with those of the antelope's."
Anthropomorphizing and Rationalism
At veterinary college, and subsequently doing postgraduate work in
ethology (the study of animal behavior), I was confronted by a majority of
peers and teachers alike who were purely rationalists. They saw and treated
other animals as mere objects, essentially devoid of emotion. This attitude
or belief was evident in their behavior toward and treatment of the animals.
Any sense of kinship that I felt toward the animals I discovered, to my
surprise, to be confined to a small minority of my peer group and a few
teachers who became my friends.
So I had few close friends, and felt alienated from the consensus of
those rationalists who contended that it was unscientific and irrational to
believe that animals have emotions, an inner subjective self, and that to
believe so was to anthropomorphize them.
I could not comprehend this taboo in scientific circles of giving
other animals the benefit of the doubt when it came to accepting the
probability that their subjective, emotional world was more similar to ours
than it was different. This taboo confirmed for me the limited worldview of
the instrumental rationalist who, instead of empathically anthropomorphizing
animals, actually 'mechanomorphized' them, regarding them as machines,
Why would they choose to think this way? Perhaps it
was their way to distance themselves so as not to empathize with the animals
they exploited in the name of science and the pursuit of knowledge for
knowledges sake and feel guilt or remorse, and seek atonement. I felt that
the 'objective' scientific method was, as a consequence of this limited
worldview, seriously flawed and its applications in human and veterinary
medicine, and agriculture in particular, extremely harmful.
I was consoled somewhat at an international ethology conference when
my friend and Nobel Laureate the late Dr. Konrad Lorenz in his keynote
address advised, "'Before you can study an animal, you must first really
love it." I was standing with a group of American scientists who laughed
uncomfortably at Lorenz and whispered, "He’s gone soft." A few years later,
Dr. Lorenz was quoted by philosopher Helmut F. Kaplan, in an essay entitled
"Do Animals Have Souls?", saying, "A human who truly knows a higher mammal,
perhaps a dog or a monkey, and will not be satisfied that these beings
experience similarly to himself, is psychologically abnormal and belongs in
a psychiatric clinic," and is a "public enemy."
That is why I continue to be outraged when I see dogs and monkeys in
biomedical research laboratory cages, sows and veal calves kept in crates,
tigers in cages and elephants in chains: And when I read articles and books
that deny or seek to disprove how similar we are to other animals,
especially to dogs, rats, and elephants. If we agree with Lorenz, then a
society that condones such incarceration and extreme behavioral deprivation
is psychologically deranged. To acknowledge this is a first step toward the
recovery of our humanity and the liberation of animals.
Anthropocentrism in its extreme form is manifested as chauvinism and
human superiority, as I detail in my book The Boundless Circle. Scientific
anthropocentrism, coupled with the taboo against anthropomorphizing other
animals, results in a knee-jerk reaction against the concept of animal
rights. Rationalists reason that animals can’t have rights because they
can’t be 'moral agents;' they can't have interests or inherent value because
no inner subjective emotional and cognitive reference to a 'self' can be
scientifically proved. So to the rationalist, they are unfeeling,
irrational, instinct-driven automatons, and theres no objective scientific
evidence to prove to the contrary. What is subjective cannot be quantified,
weighed and measured, therefore, there is no proof of the existence of
emotion or soul in animals.
Jungian analyst James Hillman writes:
"Strict science says:
since animals cannot express their personalities in language stating what is
going on inside their minds, we may not assume they have personalities,
insides, or minds. Whatever we attribute to them are our own subjective
conjectures the scientific fear of falling into anthropomorphizing cuts the
human world from the animal kingdom. This fear also leads us to distrust our
intuitions and insights, putting a curse on empathy."
Hillman asserts that if we do not anthropomorphize, "we are doomed to
read a horse's gambol not as joy but as our projection, a stray dog's
whining not as desperation but as our sentimental identification with its
plight, a 'coon's thrashing in a trap not as its fear but as our own
claustrophobia and victimization." He concludes that anthropomorphism can
free us from the prison of our subjectivity and also liberate animals from
the arrogant philosophies that hold that consciousness is an exclusively
human property and that animals are dumb.
Hillman points out that the term anthropomorphism was "coined during
the heyday of materialist rationalism and is used to deny the inherent
intelligibility that species afford to one another." Indeed, to the
rationalist, nonverbal communication and empathic communion with other
species are in the realm of the irrational, delusional and mystical.
American psychologist William James in his studies of human nature
was concerned about the detrimental psychological and spiritual consequences
of rationalism. He sees mystical states and knowledge derived there from as
being indispensable "stages in our approach to the final fullness of the
truth," and debunks the "pretension of non-mystical states to be the sole
and ultimate dictators of what we may believe."
"When a person has an inborn genius for certain emotions, his life
differs strangely from that of ordinary people, for none of their usual
deterrents check him."
James goes on to contend:
"Rationalism insists that all our
beliefs ought ultimately to find for themselves articulate grounds. Such
grounds, for rationalism, must consist of four things: (1) definitely
statable abstract principles; (2) definite facts of sensation; (3) definite
hypotheses based on such facts; and (4) definite inferences logically drawn.
Vague impressions of something indefinable have no place in the
rationalistic system, which on its positive side is surely a splendid
intellectual tendency, for not only are all our philosophies fruits of it,
but physical science (amongst other good things) is its result”.
“Nevertheless, if we look on man’s whole mental life as it exists, on
the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and
that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of
it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is
the part that has the prestige undoubtedly, for it has the loquacity, it can
challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But
it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb
intuitions are opposed to its conclusions. If you have intuitions at all,
they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which
rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your
faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which
your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you
absolutely knows that that result must be true than any logic-chopping
rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it."
I absolutely know that chained, starved, and beaten elephants suffer,
and I need as much scientific data to prove it to myself as I would need to
determine that you would protest if I treated you, dear reader, so cruelly.
A typical example of the fatal flaw of scientific rationalism is the
response of world-renowned Indian elephant scientist Prof. Rama Sukumar. I
asked Sukumar, since beating and chaining of elephants in captivity is the
cultural norm in India, why, in the name of compassion, can he not
facilitate the adoption of recently developed and mainly Western humane
alternatives of elephant management. He answered that he would need more
"scientific documentation" to prove that these alternatives are valid and
preferable. Where in his thinking was there place and scope for humane and
ethical, rather than purely scientific considerations?
Having heard the screams of chained elephants being trained by
repeated beatings, and having seen their injuries and semi-starved and
deliberately weakened condition (which Prof. Sukumar calls a natural,
seasonal thing), I see rationalism as a kind of arrogant denial. Sukumar has
seen and heard it all, although he also insists that he has no expertise in
the care of captive elephants.
The kind of science that rational materialism gives birth to, what I
call 'scientism', has no feeling for organisms or natural systems, as Nobel
Laureate Barbara McClintock insisted every scientific investigator must
have: "to have a feeling for the organism." So how can the scientism of
Prof. Sukumar and others be of any use in improving the well-being of
captive animals, wild and domestic, still incarcerated in chains, crates,
pens, stalls, cages, tethers, and pits in this modern age? It cannot,
because 'scientism' has no capacity for subjectivity, sympathy and for
relationships, be they atomic, genetic or emotional. I once challenged U.S.
Animal Science Professor Stanley Curtis in debate before an audience of pig
producers by asking him, "Stanley, do you believe that pigs have feelings?"
He wavered and then said, "We need to do more research before we can really
Every country and every nation-state bears witness to the
consequences of rationalism - its own endemic cruelties and sufferings of
humans and nonhumans. But until each confronts their neighbors' animal abuses
and environmental harms, they must at the same time see to their own. We
must all make amends for the sins of omission and commission that our
rationalism has so often sanctified.
We have relied too much on employing the physical and biological
sciences - in a bioethical vacuum - for the betterment of society and the
economy, and not on moral philosophy, vision, and compassion. Author J.
Mortensen contends that, "There is a spiritual chasm between those people
who regard mankind as superior and unique and those who think we are merely
one of many animals." This is an important issue for religious leaders,
educators, lawmakers, and all citizens to address today, and to put ethics,
hope and love into our daily lives and all our relationships.
Toward a Unity of Spirit
You may have seen a flock of birds in fast flight, without an evident
leader, all turning at once in unison, their behavior reflecting their
oneness of body, mind, and spirit.
In my book The Soul of the Wolf, I describe this phenomenon as the
one-mindedness of the pack. Having witnessed riotous mob-violence in my own
species and also the ecstatic and transcendental consequences of group
chanting and dancing, it is also evident that humans can also become one in
body, mind, and spirit - for better or for worse.
Given the biological evidence in support of this phenomenon, we need
to reflect on it significance and potential for our own kind to be
collectively moved in body, mind, and spirit. While we live in a culture
that sanctifies individualism and equates it with personal freedom, the
power and potential of a humanity unified in spirit is something that many
fear because they are led to believe they would lose their autonomy and
self-identity. After all, any kind of collective consciousness or unity of
spirit is demeaned as being primitive, tribal, or cultishly anti-social.
One of the last bastions of a collective unity of spirit has been
religion, but the separation of Church and state, and the political and
fundamentalist perversions of religious traditions have done much to destroy
this unity. Little wonder, therefore, that what was once the collective
conscious of tribe and community, culture and religion, has become what
Jungian psychologists call the collective unconscious. In other words,
through oppression, subversion and denial, the power and potential of a
humanity consciously unified in spirit (and by that I mean a people linked
by shared virtues, ethics, and a morality that is Earth- or
Creation-centered and all- encompassing rather than self-centered and
self-serving) has been sublimated and rendered unconscious. But it is still
there and must be recovered if humanity is to be redeemed and all that is
Anarchy has been turned into a negative principle by the dominant
culture of today. This dominant culture, if we define evil as the absence of
empathy, is the Evil Empire that is racist, sexist and speciesist, and yet
incorporates, assimilates and exploits all races, both sexes and all species
if marginalization and annihilation are less profitable and expedient. This
dominant culture is the status quo of industrial consumer society, its
values being the hallmark of normalcy, while any nonconformist view,
community or movement is seen as an anarchistic threat.
Humanity unified in spirit is the essence of
spiritual anarchy. This does not mean mayhem but rather calls for personal
responsibility for one's own and other' freedom; a responsibility to be
ethical, caring, and respectful of the rights and interests of others and
their freedom to be. The 'others' includes all living beings, not just the
human species or members of one's own family, class, race or other
affinity-group. Anarchy (an-archy) means no hierarchy, no ruler, no tier of
power, and thus no structure for oppression and chauvinism because the truth
of anarchy is equalitarianism; giving equal and fair consideration to the
rights and interests of all members of the Earth community. And as we become
one in spirit, this sacred community will know peace and justice that only
we can bring into the world if we have the courage and commitment, and the
ethical compass of compassion.
Richard Brooks has translated a relevant passage from the Tao Te
Ching that was written by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu over 2,500 years
"I have three treasures that I hold and cherish:
first is compassion (or deep love) (tzu),
The second is frugality,
The third is not presuming to be first in the world.
compassionate, one can be courageous;
Being frugal, one can be
Not presuming to be first in the world, one can become a
leader (or minister).
Now, trying to be courageous without
Trying to be generous without frugality,
trying to be a leader without humility
Is sure to end in death.
For compassion brings triumph in attack and strength in defense.
What Heaven wishes to preserve it surrounds with compassion." [ch.67]
The rights and welfare of animals and protection of endangered
species and their threatened habitats were never mentioned in all the
various public, political debates I have heard in America. Solutions
to various environmental and related public health issues are deferred if
jobs, local tax-yielding “development” and the GNP are threatened; and
animal suffering is justified for the benefit of society.
I see no hope of significant progress until animal and environmental
issues are put on the political agenda with the same level of public concern
as human rights and interests. The biological deserts created by
agri-industry destroying rain forests and grasslands are a testament to
human ignorance and irreverence for life. Keeping animals confined and
crowded in factory farms is an abomination, causing billions of animals to
suffer every day that become the source of epidemic diseases that threaten
us year after year. Pesticides and other chemicals contaminate our
bodies, air, food and water.
We should include animals in our politics and put them on the public
agenda because of their many values and services to society ecologically,
economically, emotionally and morally. Animal protection laws and their
effective enforcement are the litmus test of societal compassion and
responsibility. Animals’ moral value lies in our recognition and
prohibition of animal cruelty and wanton annihilation of living beings and
their communities because such actions are considered immoral. Immorality in
any form is unacceptable in civil society. The late Cesar Chavez, President
of United Farm Workers of America, wrote: “Kindness and compassion toward
all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely,
cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is
not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people.
Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bull fighting and
rodeo are cut from the same fabric: Violence. Only when we have become
nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves”.
Crimes against humanity and crimes against Nature, and acts of
terrorism against innocent peoples and other animals are of the same
psychopathic currency, variously rationalized on the grounds of necessity by
the executioners. The recent report by the World Wildlife Fund and
Zoological Society of London shows that the world’s wildlife population has
dropped by a staggering 58% since 1970, with the greatest decline (81%) in
lakes and rivers. This debacle, along with the billions of our seven
billion population suffering war, poverty and starvation and many indigenous
cultures becoming extinct, means we must either evolve and flourish or
devolve and our humanity--virtue of being humane--perish. The antidote
is living by the Golden Rule which translates into the equalitarianism of
justice for all beings, social justice and environmental eco-justice being
complementary; and establishing mutually enhancing relationships with each
other and other species wild and domesticated as we strive to cause the
least harm in meeting our basic needs and executing our planetary
responsibilities. This is enlightened self-interest for us, the
dominant species, to prevent accelerating deterioration of all indices of
quality of life on planet Earth. We and all life are interconnected
and interdependent: One Health, One Environment and One Wealth.
* Michael W. Fox
BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS Veterinarian, bioethicist, syndicated columnist
(Animal Doctor with Universal-UClick). Website:
books: "HEALING ANIMALS & THE VISION OF ONE HEALTH" and “ANIMALS & NATURE
FIRST: CREATING NEW COVENANTS WITH ANIMALS & NATURE” with CreateSpace/