A big issue (framed in terms of dialogue and equality) is how we, humans, relate to everything else:
- other animals
- other life forms
- other sentient (perhaps intelligent) beings.
This problem is that we have evolved from these lower life forms and now we have come to a point where we consider those equal to us (=other humans in general, hopefully that means “all other humans, without exclusion”) as deserving respect and a degree of consideration that is not readily given to other (lower) animals.
You don’t care about what your dog has to say.
You don’t care enough to listen to what the dolphin in the “big” pool at the aquarium says to you.
What does he say to you? What does it say to you?
Do we develop a special pronoun to use for animals to show that
- they’re not humans
- they’re not equal partners in this dialogue?
When you go to an aquarium and you watch all these beings moving around, doing stuff, do you feel guilty for extracting them from their natural environment, from Nature itself, and placing them in a four-by-four box, a cage, a space which has four walls?
Why do we cage these animals? Because we’re more intelligent, because we can do it.
Think now about the fact that
we cage other animals, in much smaller cages, to eat them later on.
To keep them from moving while we wait for them to become big enough to be worthy of… the butcher’s knife? The butcher’s hammer?
Do we even want to know the practices that lead to that piece of meat that you have at the restaurant tonight as a steak? Do we want to know how it came to be?
This may explain why many religions have injunctions about the proper treatment of animals
- to be sacrificed
- to be eaten
- to be simply ignored.
Monotheistic religions used to have (and some still do have) strict prescriptions about what animals can be eaten, about the precise ritual to be followed in killing the animal and so on.
Let’s remember the rules for kosher food or halal food (in Judaism and Islam).
How about Christians? With Christians we begin to care less.
We still have people who fast in monasteries, but for the average people, there aren’t many rules about the proper food to be eaten.
Is there a particular rule to be followed by the person who cuts the throat of the pig (or the turkey) which the Christian will partake of? We don’t know (or care much).
However, this is not the case in Islam, and it’s not the case in Judaism, and probably many other religions which may refuse to have anything to do with certain animals, as they used to feel in Japan for a long time about four-legged beasts.
What could you kill to eat?
Killing is an act of cutting off dialogue at one point, an act of saying
I’m going to continue talking, I’m going to have more dialogues, but that’s it for you.
I’m going to finish your dialogue for you.
We probably do this to animals because we think they cannot have dialogues. They definitely don’t have language (at least not the kind that we speak).
We think we’re entitled, we have the right, and now we have the need, of course. Our nutritional needs… Do we now?
Could we switch? We might be able to switch, but the problem is we don’t want to switch because we are very comfortable where we are: There are many institutions which are very comfortable (with how things are), many corporations, many business interests which are comfortable in doing things the way things are being done right now,
comfortable in thinking about animals as things.
So there’s room for improvement, but notice that in terms of our dietary standards, our criteria for what should be eaten and what not, we have actually become more lax in some cultures, where we don’t care so much.
This is especially true in the more “developed” countries, the consumerist cultures, where people may want to improve when they hear about some bad practice about how the product they use has been created. Notice the consumer movement to
protect the rights of child-workers used by Nike in Indonesia, or I-don’t-know-what fashion designer using cloth woven in I-don’t-know-what factory in Bangladesh.
People dying because factory safety is not a big consideration
- to keep the cost down
- to keep us happy
- to keep some business interest happy.
To keep the current status, we have to refuse some dialogues about safety with people in these countries.
Why do we think this is okay? We don’t think it’s okay:
- When this problem is brought to our attention,
- a lot of people feel they need to take action
- then the business manager feels the need to do something to keep their market share.
The hand of the market, let’s say.
Can we expect the same sort of feedback about bad conditions among animals? Is it reasonable to think this “news” would be delivered at our door-step by an animal, by another human being, by what we call “those crazy animal rights activists”? Notice that we dismiss them from the start.
Why do we dismiss them? Because it is easier.
Of course, there are some exaggerations; we don’t need to jump to the other extreme, of starving ourselves to death.
Extremes will always plunge you into the abyss; keep to the golden middle path.
We’ve learned this in many cultures: Keep your balance.
However, that doesn’t mean that we have to stay in our ignorance, which is the other extreme.
The golden path involves becoming aware and changing (towards-Good).
Think about your consciousness as a river which flows (which is beyond your control), but whose banks you can mold to a certain degree.
A river whose path you can (up to a point) change when you think that you’re eroding, when you think that you’re biting into the soil that would create more life, that would create more goodness in the world.
We could change our paths. Of course, the flow of the water, the push of the water behind us is huge:
We are but a molecule, perhaps, a drop in all this, but if a couple of drops have the power to change their course by nature of their conscious decision to change their course (their path), and more molecules, more drops change their path, then we can start to hope that the river may change its course.
- When innocent people are dying because of our desire to keep things as they are, just because it’s convenient for us
- When animals are dying, just because we want to have a tasty morsel and don’t want to face the stark facts…
Aquariums and zoos show us
- how shut in our own private worlds we have become
- how shut in from Nature
- how much we want to box in all that’s out there
- how much we cobble it all into a shape that’s very easy to manipulate, as objects, not as dialogue partners.
When we do this, we ignore our privilege of being the extension of all living forms on this planet.
As Tohei Koichi (藤平光一) Sensei (先生 Before-Living) has said (my translation from Japanese):
Let us be thankful like children, who receive this gift of life from the Ki of Sky-Earth.
Let us honour our privilege of being given consciousness, of being an extension of the Spirit of animals, Grass and Trees.
Let us join in the great wheel of life-generating development.
Let us participate in this project of generating and developing life, and let us pledge to live our lives to that end.
(Chapter 2 The value of our existence as human beings 我が人生の存在価値)
Let us fulfill our mission to that end, of furthering life, be it human, animal, plant, or planet itself, Gaea, our mother, whose children we are.
Our mother who has given us the gift of life.
Let us not fall into the extreme of ignorance of our mother: Earth.