Why It Takes More Than Sympathy To Help Animals

All animals have unique personalities, the desire to live, and the ability to experience pain. I constantly hear people saying humans are “superior” to other animals, which always baffles me. Yeah, we’re better at being humans and doing human stuff than they are. Agreed. But that does make us smarter — it just makes us human. Would we say that sharks are superior to lions because they can swim? Or that kangaroos are superior to horses because they can jump higher? It’s absurd.

So what if we can build airplanes and use computers? What use does a zebra have for either? Cows are only stupid if we’re measuring them by human intelligence. No, they don’t speak human. And when I was in Paris, I didn’t speak French. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid; it just means I communicate in a different language. Perhaps if we took the time to learn the languages of these animals — instead of assuming moral superiority that they don’t speak ours — we would see their intelligence and sensitivity.

Animals have figured out how to live in harmony with each other and the planet. We’re the only species that has completely messed up the earth — air pollution, and degradation, rainforest destruction, ocean decimation, and climate change. We’re the ones suffering from addiction to alcohol, food, drugs, tobacco, work, TV, sex, pornography, cell phones; we’re the ones depressed, anxious, angry, and lethargic; we’re the ones who seem to have it all, yet cant make our lives work. Our so-called complexities and intelligence haven’t done us any good.

It’s my opinion that animals are much smarter than humans. But their intelligence is irrelevant. The systematic confinement, exploitation, and murder of living and feeling beings is wrong. Jeremy Bentham, eighteenth-century English philosopher and social reformer, hit the nail on the head when he said, about all animals, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but Can they suffer?

According to a survey of nearly 2,000 people, 92 percent agreed that it’s important that farm animals are well cared for; 85 percent said that the quality of life for farm animals is important, even when they’re used for meat; 81 percent agreed that well-being of farm animals is as important as the well-being of pets; and 75 percent agreed that farm animals should be protected from feeling physical pain.

Fantastic — at least three-fourths of us agree on paper that animals should be spared from suffering. Can we put that compassion into action and make different choices? Because unfortunately, sympathy alone doesn’t help animals.

Reprinted with permission from BEG: A Radical New Way of Regarding Animals © 2013 by Rory Freedman, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

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